Norwich - Julian’s City

Norwich lies at the heart of rural East Anglia. It was the Anglo-Saxons who first made their homes on gravel terraces beside the River Wensum, and it was from one of their settlements, which bore the name Northwic, that the city got its name. At the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, Norwich was one of the most important boroughs in the kingdom, and even had its own mint. There was a thriving market on Tombland (the name means an open space) with a variety of local goods and produce, including North Sea herring, as well as pottery, cloth and furs from the Continent.
Work began on the Cathedral in 1096. Saxon houses and churches were cleared, and a canal was dug from the River Wensum, so that stone from Caen in Normandy could be brought by water directly to the building site. A cathedral monastery was built to house 60 Benedictine monks. By medieval times there were 56 churches within the walls. Many of these had been built, not purely out of piety but also to reflect the wealth of local landowners.

Richard I had made Norwich a city in 1194, and in 1404 a charter allowed it to have its own mayor, two sheriffs and 24 aldermen, who were elected for life. The wealthy merchants who ran the city became increasingly powerful, and the Cow Tower, the Guildhall and almost all the city’s churches were rebuilt between 1350 and 1530. Weaving was the most important of the 130 trades being followed in the city at the beginning of the 14th century, and within 100 years Norwich was the main center of worsted manufacture in the country. The importance of the cloth trade in Norwich is seen in the variety of allied trades present in the city. Dyers, bleachers, fullers, and shearmen were concentrated on the western side of the city. Moreover, there existed an important market called Maddermarket, which dealt with dyestuffs in the city’s cloth trade. In 1427, a large cloth merchant’s warehouse, now known as Dragon Hall, was built on King Street.

The city was an important commercial outlet for goods to northern Europe. The buildings in Elm Hill in the picture below were originally homes to weavers, who worked at their looms in attics lit by wide dormer windows.

The anchoress called Julian or Juliana of Norwich was born around 1342. At a certain point in her life she became very ill. During her illness she received a series of divine revelations or showings. Once Julian recovered, she wrote down her experiences in a short book. Soon after she became an “anchoress” (hermit) in a cell attached to St. Julian’s Church, off King Street; and hence took the name of Julian.

The church of St. Julian was almost totally destroyed by wartime bombing in 1942, only part of the north wall surviving. (You can see the round Saxon windows in the photo). It was rebuilt in 1953 on the original foundations using parts from other bombed churches.