Norwich Castle

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Norwich Castle
Norwich, Norfolk
Norwich Castle keep, 2009.jpg
Norwich Castle's keep
Norwich Castle is located in Norfolk
Norwich Castle
Norwich Castle
Coordinates grid reference TG23190853
Type Motte-and-bailey castle
Height 70 ft (21 m)
Site information
Controlled by Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service
Open to
the public
Website Norwich Castle
Site history
Built circa 1067 onwards

Norwich Castle is a medieval royal fortification in the city of Norwich, in the English county of Norfolk. It was founded in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of England when William the Conqueror (1066–1087) ordered its construction because he wished to have a fortified place in the important city of Norwich. It proved to be his only castle in East Anglia. It is one of the Norwich 12 heritage sites. The castle now houses the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, which holds significant objects from the region, especially archaeological finds.


Norwich Castle was founded by William the Conqueror some time between 1066 and 1075. It originally took the form of a motte and bailey.[1] Early in 1067, William the Conqueror embarked on a campaign to subjugate East Anglia, and according to military historian R. Allen Brown it was probably around this time that Norwich Castle was founded.[2] The castle is first mentioned in 1075 when Ralph de Gael, Earl of Norfolk, rebelled against William the Conqueror and Norwich was held by his men. A siege was undertaken, but ended when the garrison secured promises that they would not be harmed.[3]

Norwich is one of 48 castles mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. Building a castle in a pre-existing settlement could require demolishing properties on the site. At Norwich, estimates vary that between 17 and 113 houses occupied the site of the castle.[4] Excavations in the late 1970s discovered that the castle bailey was built over a Saxon cemetery.[5] Historian Robert Liddiard remarks that "to glance at the urban landscape of Norwich, Durham or Lincoln is to be forcibly reminded of the impact of the Norman invasion".[6] Until the construction of Orford Castle in the mid-12th century under Henry II, Norwich was the only major royal castle in East Anglia.[7]

A mid-19th-century engraving of Norwich Castle from Charles Knight's Old England: A Pictorial Museum (1845).

The stone keep, which still stands today, was probably built between 1095 and 1110.[1] In about the year 1100, the motte was made higher and the surrounding ditch deepened.[8] During the Revolt of 1173–1174, in which Henry II's sons rebelled against him and started a civil war, Norwich Castle was put in a state of readiness. Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk was one of the more powerful earls who joined the revolt against Henry.[9] With 318 Flemish soldiers that landed in England in May 1174, and 500 of his own men, Bigod advanced on Norwich Castle. They captured the castle and took fourteen prisoners who were held for ransom. When peace was restored later that year, Norwich was returned to royal control.[10]

The Normans introduced the Jews to Norwich and they lived close to the castle. A cult was founded in Norwich in the wake of the murder of a young boy, William of Norwich, for which the Jews of the town were blamed.[11] In Lent 1190, violence against Jews erupted in East Anglia and on 6 February (Shrove Tuesday) it spread to Norwich. Some fled to the safety of the castle, but those who did not were killed.[12] The Pipe Rolls, records of royal expenditure, note that repairs were carried out at the castle in 1156–1158 and 1204–1205.[13]

The castle was used as a gaol from 1220, with additional buildings constructed on the top of the motte next to the keep. These buildings were demolished and rebuilt between 1789 and 1793 by Sir John Soane, and more alterations were made in 1820. The use of the castle as a gaol ended in 1887, when it was bought by the city of Norwich to be used as a museum. The conversion was undertaken by Edward Boardman, and the museum opened in 1895.[8]

The forebuilding attached to the keep was pulled down in 1825.[14] Although the keep remains, its outer shell has been repaired repeatedly, most recently in 1835–9 by Anthony Salvin, with James Watson as mason using Bath stone. None of the inner or outer bailey buildings survive, and the original Norman bridge over the inner ditch was replaced in about the year 1825.[8] During the renovation, the keep was completely refaced based faithfully on the original ornamentation.[15]

Present day

Part of the Snettisham Hoard on display in the museum.

The castle remains a museum and art gallery today and still contains many of its first exhibits, as well as many more recent ones. Two galleries feature the museum's decorative art collections, including costume, textiles, jewellery, glass, ceramics and silverware, and a large display of ceramic teapots. Other gallery themes include Anglo-Saxons (including the Harford Farm Brooch [16]) and Vikings, Queen Boudica and the Iceni tribe, Ancient Egypt, and natural history.

Norwich Castle and cattle market at the end of the 19th century

The fine art galleries include works from the 17th to 20th centuries, and include English watercolour paintings, Dutch landscapes and modern British paintings. The Castle also houses a good collection of the work of the Flemish artist Peter Tillemans.[17] Two galleries feature changing exhibits of modern art, history and culture.

Norwich Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I listed building.[1] Visitors can tour the castle keep and learn about the castle through interactive displays. Separate tours are also available of the dungeon and the battlements. Although not permanently on display, one of the largest collections it holds is the butterfly collection of Margaret Fountaine. An unusual artefact is the needlework done by Lorina Bulwer at the turn of the twentieth century whilst she was confined in a workhouse. The work has featured on the BBC.[18]


G. T. Clark, a 19th-century antiquary and engineer, described Norwich's great tower as "the most highly ornamented keep in England".[19] It was faced with Caen stone over a flint core. The keep is some 95 ft (29 m) by 90 ft (27 m) and 70 ft (21 m) high, and is of the hall-keep type, entered at first floor level through an external structure called the Bigod Tower. The exterior is decorated with blank arcading. Castle Rising is the only other comparable keep in this respect.[8] Internally, the keep has been gutted so that nothing remains of its medieval layout. The uncertainty surrounding the keep's arrangement has led to scholarly debate. What is agreed on is that it had a complex domestic arrangement, with a kitchen, chapel, a two-storey high hall, and 16 latrines.[20]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Norwich Castle", Pastscape, English Heritage, retrieved 29 December 2010<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Allen Brown 1976, p. 31
  3. Cathcart King 1983, pp. 308, 312
  4. Harfield 1991, pp. 373, 384
  5. Webster & Cherry 1980, pp. 228–229
  6. Liddiard 2005, p. 36
  7. Campbell 2004, p. 164
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Pevsner 1997, pp. 256–260
  9. Warren 1973, p. 135
  10. Wareham 1994, p. 241
  11. Rawcliffe & Wilson 2006, p. 42
  12. Skinner 2006, p. 30
  13. Renn 1968, p. 262
  14. Renn 1968, p. 259
  15. Renn 1968, p. 259, plate XXXII
  16. "". A Sense Of Place. BBC. 21 May 2004. Retrieved 3 October 2012. External link in |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Norfolk Museums Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum Art Gallery): Peter Tillemans, BBC, 2011, retrieved 6 September 2011<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. BBC Documentary 2015 - Antiques Roadshow Detectives 2 Lorina Bulwer, BBC, retrieved 11 April 2015
  19. Clark 1881, p. 268
  20. Goodall 2011, p. 112
  • Allen Brown, Reginald (1976) [1954], Allen Brown's English Castles, Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, ISBN 1-84383-069-8<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Campbell, J. (2004), "The Building of Orford Castle: A Translation from the Pipe Rolls, 1163–78" (PDF), English Historical Review, 119<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cathcart King, David James (1983), Castellarium Anglicanum: An Index and Bibliography of the Castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Volume II: Norfolk–Yorkshire and the Islands, London: Kraus International Publications, ISBN 0-527-50110-7<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Clark, George Thomas (1881), "The castles of England and Wales at the Latter part of the Twelfth Century", The Archaeological Journal, 38: 258–276, 335–351, doi:10.1080/00665983.1881.10851987<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Goodall, John (2011), The English Castle 1066–1650, London: Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-11058-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Harfield, C. G. (1991), "A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book", English Historical Review, 106: 371–392, doi:10.1093/ehr/CVI.CCCCXIX.371, JSTOR 573107<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Liddiard, Robert (2005), Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape, 1066 to 1500, Macclesfield: Windgather Press Ltd, ISBN 0-9545575-2-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus, Pevsner Architectural Guides, Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East (1962, revised Bill Wilson 1997), pp. 256–260 ISBN 0-300-09607-0
  • Rawcliffe, Carole; Wilson, Richard (2006), Medieval Norwich, Continuum, ISBN 978-1-85285-546-8<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Renn, Derek F. (1968), Norman Castles in Britain, John Baker Publishers<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Skinner, Patricia (2003), The Jews in Medieval Britain: Historical, Literary, and Archaeological Perspectives, Boydell Press, ISBN 978-0-85115-931-7<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wareham, Andrew (1994), "The Motives and Politics of the Bigod Family, c.1066–1177", Anglo-Norman Studies, The Boydell Press, XVII, ISSN 0954-9927<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Warren, W. L. (1973), Henry II, Eyre Methuen, ISBN 978-0-520-02282-9<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Webster, Leslie; Cherry, John (1980), "Medieval Britain in 1979" (PDF), Medieval Archaeology, 24: 218–264, doi:10.5284/1000320<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Heslop, T. A. (1994), Norwich Castle Keep: Romanesque Architecture and Social Context, Norwich: Centre for East Anglian Studies, ISBN 978-0-906219-38-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Shepherd Popescu, Elizabeth (1997), Guy De Boe and Frans Verhaeghe (eds.), "Recent Excavations at Norwich Castle", Military Studies in Medieval Europe – Papers of the 'Medieval Europe Brugge 1997' Conference, 11: 187–191CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Shepherd, Elizabeth (2000), "Norwich Castle", Current Archaeology, 170: 52–59<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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