Although there’s no end of brilliant walking tours you can join from outside The Forum, we fancied creating our own walking tour, centred on one of those grisly subjects that fascinate so many: crime & punishment! And Norfolk has its fair share of history linked to the theme of capital (and, in the case of witches, spiritual) punishment! Even better, you can still visit and see most of these places of interest, so let the (self-guided) tour begin!
Image: The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell by Fisheye Images
Image: The Ribs of Beef, situated next to Fye Bridge in Norwich
We all know Salem, in America, as a famous town struck by ‘witch’ hunting hysteria, but England was whipping up plenty of witch-related crime and punishment before this – and the trails lead back to Norfolk on many an occasion. It’s interesting to note that Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk) had the single largest scale witch trial in the UK, back in 1645, when 18 people were executed by hanging. The famous witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins - who initiated over 100 ‘witch’ hangings - spent a good portion of his time hunting witches in the area too.
There are plenty of records of witch trials across the county, and one of our favourite pubs in Norwich – The Ribs of Beef – sits right next to a key punishment spot for suspected witches, so it’s the perfect spot to start your trail! Pop in for a pint or a G&T and then stand on Fye Bridge to look out over the river; it’s the oldest bridge in the city and, although it’s been rebuilt several times, you’ll be standing on the exact spot where a medieval ducking stool was used to punish “strumpets and common scolds”. During the Witchfinder General’s reign of terror, 350 years ago, the stool was used as a way to test for witches; if the accused woman survived the ducking (ie. didn’t drown a horrendous death) she was a confirmed witch and was then burnt to death. If she did not survive, she was cleared of her ‘crimes’ and declared innocent – but she’d be dead. Obviously…
Image: The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell by Fisheye Images
The key is in the word ‘Bridewell’ here – defined as ‘a prison or reform school for petty offenders’, the building was initially built in 1386 by William Appleyard – who went on to become a Mayor of Norwich - before being sold to the local authority in the 17th century. It was then used to house the city’s poor and destitute as well as petty offenders. The building has had various uses over the years; you can find out more about the building’s history in this blog post.
Today it’s the site of The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, which you can visit Tuesday to Saturday – and we’d highly recommend you do, as it’s positively stuffed full of incredible artefacts and stories which illustrate Norwich’s amazing history. Find out more about the museum here.
IN THE STOCKS
Image: Norwich Market's colourful rooftops
Next head over to Norwich Market – or the current site of the market, anyway (back in medieval times it used to be located in Tombland) – to see where offenders would be punished for surprisingly small crimes, such as not following regulations regarding the price of bread, or brawling. There was also stocks outside Norwich Guildhall, and this form of retribution would also see adulterous women be punished, as well as those accused of ‘scolding’ their husbands!
Spectators would often buy fruit from the market to throw at these humiliated wrongdoers, and of course you can buy your own fruit - and many other weird and wonderful items - from the market today. (But we don’t advise throwing them at anyone).
HANGINGS, DUNGEONS & DEATH MASKS
Image: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Norwich Castle is today a fantastic museum and art gallery, but you can still take a tour of its dungeons, where prisoners were kept during the 14th to the 19th century for a variety of crimes, ranging from horse thievery to murder! If you do take the dungeon tour you’ll learn plenty more about the Castle prison (it’s a fascinating experience, trust us!) and also see some of the 19th century ‘death heads’ that they hold in their collections. These were modelled on executed convicts, and used for the ‘science’ of phrenology, in which the study of certain characteristics of the skull (such as certain bumps or ridges) whether someone was predisposed to kill. Nowadays, of course, we know there are no such links.
Prisoners were kept in the dungeons in awful conditions but the castle remained as the city’s prison until 1883, when it moved to its current location in Mousehold Heath.
The Castle ditches were also the location of various hangings over the years; these became public spectacles and were seen as a form of entertainment. They’d attract thousands of spectators, and during 1849 there were even trains to Norwich put on especially to see the hanging of James Bloomfield Rush, for the murder of Isaac Jeremy. Robert Kett – who led Kett’s Rebellion against Edward VI – was hung here among many others. Hubbard Lingley was the last person to be publicly hanged for murder in Norwich in 1867, and in 1887 the Norwich Corporation bought the castle and converted it into a museum. Find out more about Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery here, and about the Dungeon Tours on our website.
AND IF YOU FANCY SEEING A BIT MORE - HEAD TO THE LOLLARD'S PIT
Walk down to Lollard’s Pit, on Riverside Road - a pub steeped in grisly history. Norwich’s Lollards were a rebellious group of people who, put simply, believed the church was corrupt and that religion should be centred around scriptures instead. In the 15th & 16th centuries the Lollards prosecuted many people for their religious beliefs. We’re not talking putting them in the stocks, though – they were actually burnt at the stake. Lollard’s Pit is built on the execution site and is open for business, so head over there and soak up the history.
COMING TO VISIT?
Greater Anglia have Advance fares from £9 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Greater Anglia also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.
To plan a trip to Norwich check out our website www.visitnorwich.co.uk