Norwich | travellers' comments

Travellers' comments

In 1507 the poet John Skelton (1460–1529) wrote of two destructive fires in his Lament for the City of Norwich.

All life is brief, and frail all man's estate. City, farewell: I mourn thy cruel fate.

Thomas Fuller in his The Worthies of England described the City in 1662 as:

Either a city in an orchard or an orchard in a city, so equally are houses and trees blended in it, so that the pleasure of the country and the populousness of the city meet here together. Yet in this mixture, the inhabitants participate nothing of the rusticalness of the one, but altogether the urbanity and civility of the other.

Celia Fiennes (1662–1741) visited Norwich in 1698 and described it as

a city walled full round of towers, except on the river side which serves as a wall; they seem the best in repair of any walled city I know.

She also records that three times a year the city held:

great fairs. … to which resort a vast concourse of people and wares a full trade, Norwich being a rich, thriving industrious place full of weaving, knitting and dyeing.

Daniel Defoe in his Tour of the whole Island of Great Britain (1724) wrote:

the inhabitants being all busy at their manufactures, dwell in their garrets at their looms, in their combing-shops, so they call them, twisting-mills, and other work-houses; almost all the works they are employed in being done within doors.

John Evelyn (1620–1706), royalist, traveller and diarist, wrote to Sir Thomas Browne:

I hear Norwich is a place very much addicted to the flowery part.

He visited the City as a courtier to King Charles II in 1671 and described it thus:

The suburbs are large, the prospect sweet, and other amenities, not omitting the flower-garden, which all the Inhabitants excel in of this City, the fabric of stuffs, which affords the Merchants, and brings a vast trade to this populous Town.

George Borrow in his semi-autobiographical novel Lavengro (1851) wrote of Norwich as:

A fine old city, perhaps the most curious specimen at present extant of the genuine old English Town ….There it spreads from north to south, with its venerable houses, its numerous gardens, its thrice twelve churches, its mighty mound ….There is an old grey castle on top of that mighty mound: and yonder rising three hundred feet above the soil, from amongst those noble forest trees, behold that old Norman master-work, that cloud-enriched cathedral spire ….Now who can wonder that the children of that fine old city are proud, and offer up prayers for her prosperity?

Borrow wrote far less favourably of the City in his translation of Faust:

They found the people of the place modelled after so unsightly a pattern, with such ugly figures and flat features that the devil owned he had never seen them equalled, except by the inhabitants of an English town, called Norwich, when dressed in their Sunday's best.

In 1812, Andrew Robertson wrote to the painter Constable:

I arrived here a week ago and find it a place where the arts are very much cultivated … some branches of knowledge, chemistry, botany, etc. are carried to a great length. General literature seems to be pursued with an ardour which is astonishing when we consider that it does not contain a university, as is merely a manufacturing town.

In 1962, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner stated in his North-West Norfolk and Norwich volume of The Buildings of England that:

Norwich is distinguished by a prouder sense of civic responsibility than any other town of about the same size in Britain.
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