Norwich Castle Museum – Pull’s Ferry Water Gate by Joseph Stannard


In the collections of Norwich Castle Museum, this is a pencil and watercolour by Joseph Stannard (1797-1830) from 1808. My first thought is that this shows just what a heap of dreadful buildings that had been shoved up in front of the historic Pull’s Ferry water gate. But, back to Stannard, who had his first painting exhibited at the Norwich Society of Artists when he was just 14. He suffered from poor health throughout most of his life, dying of tuberculosis at the age of 33, but despite that short life he became an important member of the Norwich School of Painters.

Here’s what it looks like today, with the River Wensum just visible in the left hand corner. I wonder whether the marks on the right-hand tower, looking like where a window or door once was, once led into the structure that Stannard drew. I rather like looking at how buildings have changed over the centuries during their repairs and reconstructions and this structure has gone through some periods when it was quite unloved.

By the late nineteenth century, the building had fallen into some state of disrepair and the roof had fallen in which was really all quite sub-optimal. On the bright side at least, the ramshackle arrangement of rickety buildings in front of the gate have been removed, although perhaps it was those that was holding them up.

In terms of when things improved for the building, George Plunkett, as ever, helps with this as he has a photo from 1949 showing a modernisation taking place and this was overseen by Cecil Upcher. Pull’s Ferry was for centuries used as a ferry house (the ferry operated until 1943), and the gate itself was built in the fourteenth century over the canal that had been used to take stone the short distance down to the cathedral during its construction. The canal was filled in during the late eighteenth century and for a while the building was used as a pub, which strikes me as a useful enterprise.