When the history of the building is as interesting as what’s now housed inside, you know you’re in for a treat – as is the case with the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell.
You’ll find it tucked away down a little alley, just a short walk from other attractions such as the castle.
It started its long life as the home of a wealthy merchant in about 1325 and changed hands (and was updated) several times until the 1580s when it was sold to the city.
Part of it was then converted into a Bridewell – or prison for women and beggars, who were occupied with manual work or, in some cases, taught a trade.
By all accounts, life inside was harsh and, on occasions, barbaric – indeed, the threat of being sent to the Bridewell was supposed to act as a deterrent.
When fire broke out in 1751, destroying much of the building, it apparently had a rather famous (or infamous) inmate, Peter the Wild Boy.
Infamous resident refuses to leave.
He was a child found living wild in the forests of Hanover, in northern Germany, in about 1725 and brought to England by King George I as a “curiosity” for his daughter-in-law Caroline, the Princess of Wales.
The boy could not talk and instead of walking preferred to scamper on all fours – apparently picking the pockets of courtiers and stealing kisses.
While he initially caused quite a stir (Jonathan Swift was among those to write about him), he was eventually sent to live on a farm in Herfordshire, from where he would regularly escape.
You can find out more about him here but his time in Norwich is commemorated by the nearby Wildman pub in Bedford Street and a blue plaque on the side of the building.
After the fire, the Bridewell was rebuilt as a prison and stayed in use for another 77 years before it then served as a tobacco factory, leather warehouse and shoe factory.
Given the stories the walls could tell if they could talk, it seems rather fitting that the building should eventually be turned into a museum, which first opened its doors in 1925, focusing on a city at work and play.
In 2008 the museum was granted £1.5m for a major revamp, which included a new entrance, enhanced displays and better access for visitors.
It reopened in 2012 and, as soon as you enter, you can see the money has been very well spent.
A fantastic history wall – a huge mosaic created with mainly donated photos on a lightbox, is one of the first points of interest – and that high standard is maintained throughout the museum.
The galleries are full of interesting, often quirky, displays with plenty of things to touch and smell, audio to listen and videos to watch – all the while learning about the people who lived and worked in our Fine City.
There’s a guide to the various areas of the museum here.
What we thought.
I have a major soft spot for this museum and, whenever possible, always take visitors to Norwich there – and I still feel like I haven’t seen it all.
There’s so much to look at and get involved in. I always find something different every time. It’s also all so accessible and I genuinely feel more connected to the city and its people – even though I wasn’t born here – when I’m inside.
My favourite area is the pharmacy, full of colourful bottles with lotions and potions for all sorts of ailments. It’s behind floor to ceiling glass (my photos really don’t do it justice) but still provokes a “wow” as most people enter.
While I think Freya is perhaps still a bit young to really appreciate the museum, entry was free last week (thank you to the Freemen of Norwich) and so I knew it wouldn’t matter if she got fed up after 30 minutes (as three-year-olds do) and we had to leave.
As it happened she had a great time trying on wigs and hats, looking at maps, sniffing various things and discovering sparkly red shoes to clomp about in (it was hard to get her to leave the shoe drawer).
Even if you’re not local, I would suggest it’s worth a visit (my visitors have all loved it). I can also see it being a regular haunt for us as Freya grows up.
Child (4-18) £4.55
For full information about prices (there are also family tickets and a twilight ticket) and opening times please click here.