NorwichCastle

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle stands high on its mound overlooking the market and the city centre.

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A Royal Palace

Artist's impression of Norwich Castle Keep c. 2021, © Norfolk Museums Service.

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Aerial view of Norwich Castle

An aerial view showing the buildings of the former gaol radiating from the centre of the castle mound. Built in the 1820s to the north and east of the keep, they now house the museum's display galleries. The garden area to the south of the mound is on the roof of the Castle Mall, a shopping centre opened in 1993 and built on the site of part of the old castle bailey. Image: Google Earth, © 2016 Getmapping plc.

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Shortly after the Battle of Hastings the Normans began the building of Norwich Castle. The Domesday Book records that some ninety-eight Saxon houses were demolished to make way for the construction of an earthwork mound, at the time the largest in the country, topped by a wooden fort and surrounded by dry ditches. Although of the defensive motte and bailey* design much favoured by the Normans the castle was built more as a royal palace than as a fortification – at that time Norwich was the administrative capital of East Anglia and one of the most highly populated towns in the land.

During the reign of William II work commenced to replace the wooden building with the stone keep which we see today. Limestone was imported at great expense from Caen in Normandy, as was much of the stone used to build Norwich Cathedral. Identical masons' marks still visible on the stonework of both buildings suggest that the same stonemasons worked on both projects.

By the time the new building was completed William had been succeeded by his brother, Henry I, and it is known that the latter stayed at the castle over the Christmas of 1121. The royal palace was situated on the upper storey of the keep, with its floor at the level of the balcony from which the photograph, above, was taken, and included a Great Hall, bedrooms, a parlour and a private chapel.

From the fourteenth century the castle served as the county gaol. By the mid-eighteenth century it had become overcrowded and in the 1790s a new prison block was constructed. This soon proved difficult to manage, however, and in the 1820s a new gaol, of a radial design, was built adjoining the north and east walls of the keep. Public hangings took place between the gatehouses on the castle bridge until 1867, and held a morbid fascination for the public. In 1849 the execution of James Blomfield Rush, convicted of a double murder, was advertised widely in advance and attracted a crowd of thousands of spectators, many of whom were brought in as day trippers by special trains from as far afield as London. The Staffordshire potteries even produced models of Rush, the Castle and the farm where he lived to be sold as souvenirs on the day.

By the early nineteenth century the external stonework of the keep had become eroded by more than 600 years of exposure to the elements, and in the 1830s the keep was refaced in Bath stone by architect John Salvin to a design which faithfully replicated that of the original stonework.

Norwich Castle continued to be used as a prison until 1883, when the county gaol was moved to its present location on Mousehold Heath. The Norwich architect Edward Boardman was commissioned to convert the castle and the prison buildings into a museum which opened its doors to the public in 1894.

Today, the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery holds some of the best collections anywhere of items as diverse as ceramic teapots, Norwich silver, Lowestoft porcelain and the paintings of the Norwich School of Artists. There are galleries containing exhibits relating to the Egyptians, Boudica and the Romans, the Anglo Saxons and Vikings, and Natural History. Teas, coffees and light meals are available in the café. Tours of the dungeons and the battlements can be pre-booked at the ticket desks.

At the time of writing an ambitious four-year, £13m project titled Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England is about to commence. Funded partly by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project will see the reinstatement of the principal Norman floor at the current balcony level and the transformation of the keep back to the royal palace of the time of Henry I. A new battlements experience will allow visitors to compare the views of the city as seen today with those of medieval times.

For opening times of the Castle Museum and Art Gallery and further information please click here to visit the official website.


* Motte and bailey: A method of castle building brought to England by the Normans. The castle keep, often made of wood to facilitate a quick construction, was built on a steep sided earthwork mound – the motte – formed by laying down alternate layers of soil and stone and usually surrounded by a high wooden palisade and a defensive ditch, the digging of which provided much of the earth for the mound. At the base of the motte would be the castle bailey, one or more enclosures also surrounded by ditches and palisades and within which would be the stables, kitchens, barracks and other buildings necessary to support and defend the castle's inhabitants. Often the castle keep would be connected to the bailey by a wooden bridge which could be quickly and easily destroyed as a last resort to hinder access in the event of an attack.

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle stands high on its mound overlooking the market and the city centre.

A Royal Palace

Artist's impression of Norwich Castle Keep c. 2021, © Norfolk Museums Service.

Aerial view of Norwich Castle

An aerial view showing the buildings of the former gaol radiating from the centre of the castle mound. Built in the 1820s to the north and east of the keep, they now house the museum's display galleries. The garden area to the south of the mound is on the roof of the Castle Mall, a shopping centre opened in 1993 and built on the site of part of the old castle bailey. Image: Google Earth, © 2016 Getmapping plc.

Norwich Castle

Above: Norwich Castle stands high on its mound overlooking the market and the city centre.

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A Royal Palace

Above: Artist's impression of Norwich Castle Keep c. 2021, © Norfolk Museums Service.

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Aerial view of Norwich Castle

Image: Google Earth, © 2016 Getmapping plc.

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Left: An aerial view showing the buildings of the former gaol radiating from the centre of the castle mound. Built in the 1820s to the north and east of the keep, they now house the museum's display galleries. The garden area to the south of the mound is on the roof of the Castle Mall, a shopping centre opened in 1993 and built on the site of part of the old castle bailey.

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