Norwich History by Parish : St. Peter Hungate

And a new little project that Jonathan and I are undertaking because this lockdown is clearly here for at least a few more weeks. It’s a bit niche (our project I mean, not the lockdown), I’ll accept that, but there we go. Effectively, it’s walking around Norwich, ancient parish by ancient parish and seeing what is there now compared to a map from the 1880s (the map above is from 1789, but the one from the 1880s is more detailed, which is why we used that). There’s a PDF of these boundaries to provide some extra background to this whole project.

St. Peter Hungate is the fourth parish we’ve done this for and although it’s relatively small in size, it has got some considerable heritage packed into it. There’s substantially more history than I can mention in this post, a reminder of just how much heritage remains in Norwich.

The parish boundaries map.

And a map of the area from the 1880s.

The parish boundary goes right through the middle of this building, better today known as the Halls and it’s where Norwich Beer Festival is held. It’s actually though two buildings, St. Andrew’s Hall on the left and the building off to the right is Blackfriars’ Hall. We ignored the former today, as it’s in a different parish, just looking at Blackfriars’ Hall which is named after the Dominican Order which took over here in 1307. There’s imagery of inside of Blackfriars’ Hall on their official web-site.

The area next to Blackfriars’ Hall, which isn’t accessible to the public, but the parish boundary runs through the middle of it, along the line of the concrete wall.

This keyboard mould was pushed into the concrete in around 2000 by Molly Sole, a local art student, and there was a wave of public interest about it in 2020.

Formerly one residential property, this house has now been divided into two and in the nineteenth century a corner shop was opened. It’s been used for numerous purposes since then, including as a cafe.

At the top of Elm Hill, a pair of eighteenth century residential houses, with a plaque noting that the Friars de Sacco settled in a property on this site which was given to them by William de Gissing in around 1250.

The rear of Blackfriars’ Hall, this is the most complete friary complex remaining in the country. Volunteering at Norwich Beer Festival has numerous exciting benefits, including free beer and food (and meeting people and all that stuff), but also being able to explore this wonderful building.

The entrance to Monastery Yard.

This area is now a car park (I think the city council have a plan for Norwich to become the European City of Car Parks), but there were residential properties which were on the left-hand side here. On the right-hand side is a monastery chapel which was built by Father Ignatius (more on him later), but which was forced to close in 1876.

The rear wall of Monastery Street and there used to be residential properties which backed onto it.

It’s now possible to walk by the River Wensum, but there were once buildings all along here which went down to the riverside. The situation here was that in the medieval period there were some grand properties owned by wealthy merchants on Elm Hill and they would have gone down to the river. Over time, these rear areas were filled with often poor quality residential properties and industrial buildings accessed by courts and yards, most of which were pulled down during slum clearances.

This was once Crown Court Yard and its entrance remains, but the buildings have gone and it’s just a car park now. This really isn’t a great use for a site such as this in a prime part of the city.

This is the remains of Towler’s Court which connects from the river to Elm Hill, with the buildings here being demolished as part of the 1920s slum clearances.

And these are the parish boundary markers on Elm Hill, with the boundary of St. Simon and St. Jude on the left from 1842, and St. Peter Hungate on the right from 1814 and 1834. The parish boundaries are rarely logical, twisting and turning through buildings, so these iron markers really were essential.

And the same parish boundary markers on the other side of the road, a real legacy of this system of dividing up the city.

37 Elm Hill, with an entrance to Norris Court Gardens.

Elm Hill is one of the more historic streets in Norwich and there are numerous Tudor buildings and undercrofts along here. So, what did the city council want to do in the 1920s? They proposed demolishing the properties along here so that they could build a swimming pool. Fortunately, local opposition and the intervention of the Norwich Society saw off these misguided plans and fortunately this marvellous area survived.

Some on the council were entirely blindsided by the local opposition, with Mr Manning saying in a council meeting in 1926:

“The city would be purer and better if the site was cleared. It is one of the festering sores in the city and the council would be well advised if they cleared the whole of the street away and made a public restplace”.

Just weeks later, the city said that it was reversing its decision and the City Engineer was drawing up plans to restore the frontage of the buildings along Elm Hill, working with William Weir, the architect to the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings.

As an aside, there was a meeting in early 1926 held by the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society and the chairman said that he was hopeful that there were some members of the Labour Party present. The chair said that he was aware that it wasn’t everyone in the Labour Party who wanted old buildings pulled down as “some members in the Labour Party were now very cultured and fond of anything artistic and antique”.

I mentioned Crown Court Yard earlier in this post, and this is the sign visible from Elm Hill.

And the entrance to Crown Court Yard from Elm Hill, not that there’s much of a yard to go through to.

Looking back down Elm Hill.

There’s a parish pump and an elm tree, although both are modern replacements.

An old doorway with a plaque commemorating the life of Father Ignatius (1837-1908) who was an Anglican Benedictine monk who wanted to bring back the monastery system. He purchased this house on Elm Hill, definitely suitably located given he could see Blackfriars’ Hall from his window, which must have been a constant inspiration. George Plunkett has a photo from 1935 of this doorway.

Briton’s Arms is currently closed and is for sale, after being run by sisters Sue Skipper and Gilly Mixer for 45 years. The building likely dates to the middle of the fourteenth century and was a beguinage, or a house for religious women. It was the only house in the street to survive the fire in 1507 and for the next couple of centuries it was used by barbour surgeons and individuals involved in the wool trade. Timothy Gridley, a woolcomber, was perhaps the first landlord here when he was listed as a licensee in 1760. The pub was initially known as the Kings Arms, being changed to the Briton’s Arms in the early part of the nineteenth century. It remained in use as a pub until 1945, when it became a restaurant and cafe.

Looking back down Elm Hill.

A drawing, from around the same spot as the above photo, drawn in the 1920s as part of the plan to restore the street.

The porchway of St. Peter Hungate, the first church in the country to be repurposed when it was declared redundant in 1936. It housed a museum of church art, an inspired and forward-thinking idea, but sadly it closed in 1995. Now under the management of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, the church is now home to Hungate Medieval Art, a charity which promotes the city’s medieval history.

Inside the porch, which can’t be accessed and I took this photo through the gate…. I will at some point hopefully find my photos of when I visited this church during the Flintspiration weekend in 2017. There are some photos of how the church looked on the web-site of Hungate Medieval Art.

There may have been a church on this since the Anglo-Saxon period, although most of the current building dates to the fifteenth century. Much of the cost of this was paid for by John Paston and Margaret Paston, best known perhaps for the Paston Letters. The chancel and tower had been built in 1431 under the supervision of Thomas Ingham, although the chancel had to be rebuilt in 1604 when it fell down, which wasn’t entirely ideal. The church tower was shortened at the beginning of the twentieth century and the belfry was also knocked down, a period when the building was in generally a poor state of repair.

The chancel end of the church with the graveyard behind, which is currently inaccessible to the general public.

This building is on Prince’s Street and it used to be a shop, visible in this 1936 photo from George Plunkett. We went to stand by the entrance to where the shop was, but there’s no trace of it left at all, although the grate is in the same place.

Two more parish markers, St. George Tombland 1777 and St. Peter Hungate from 1834. George Plunkett has a photo of these from 1934, and unfortunately one has gone missing, as his photo showed a St. George Tombland 1828 marker as well.

Located on a new building on the other side of Princes Street is this parish boundary marker from 1834, a real survivor since this had to be taken off an older building and placed onto its replacement.

And that was the end of our little tour, which was quite a moist expedition given the amount of rain. There are 16 listed buildings in this one parish and the streetlines haven’t really changed in this parish for over 500 years, so it’s an area of the city that is worth meandering to.