Things To Do In Norfolk: The Museum of Norwich.

IMG_1826When 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.

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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.

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Museum life.

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.

Refurbishment.

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.

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Credit: Museum of Norwich.
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Credit: Museum of Norwich.
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Credit: Museum of Norwich.
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Credit: Museum of Norwich.
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.

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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.

Costs.

Adult £5.70
Concession £5.40
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.

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Suitcases and Sandcastles

 

 

Half-term Fun At Christchurch Mansion In Ipswich.

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The first few days of half-term have been spent wandering down memory lane – at least for me.

Freya and I swapped Norfolk for neighbouring Suffolk and returned to my parents’ house in Ipswich.

Not only did they have a load of boxes for me to sort out from their loft, which last saw the light of day 20-odd years ago, but we also took a tour of some of my favourite childhood haunts.

First on the list was Christchurch Mansion, a museum and art gallery, often said to be the “jewel in the crown” of historic Ipswich.
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The red-brick Tudor building, which is in the middle of the town, has been a favourite of mine since I was small, particularly the nursery rooms, which feature ornate dolls’ houses and all sorts of Victorian toys and games. I used to get very cross when we had to visit all the other rooms, as interesting as they are, before eventually working our way upstairs.

History.

The mansion sits in a beautiful park, which was the site of the Holy Trinity Priory in the 12th century. Following Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the land was bought by Paul Withipoll, a London merchant. It was his son, Edmund, who started building the mansion in 1547.

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It has had different owners who have added and changed bits over the years. In 1894 it was bought by a property syndicate and they sold parcels of land for housing. Thankfully in 1895 the mansion was presented to the town and it has been maintained as a museum since 1896.

 

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I’m always impressed by the entrance hall.

What can you see?

Not only are there period rooms to explore and all sorts of artefacts to admire but Christchurch Mansion is also home to works by Suffolk artists including the “biggest collection of Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable paintings outside of London”.

Is it expensive to visit?

Here’s the thing, it’s still free to visit, which we found hard to believe (we made a donation instead). We spent a happy hour following Freya as she explored the rooms, aided by very friendly and informative guides. There is also a shop and a tea room.

See here for opening times and other info.

What was in the loft?

I found some of my own rather random artefacts in the loft. I wonder what is on those films?

Do you enjoy revisiting childhood haunts?

Tales From An East Anglian Childhood – Julian of Norwich

This image was rather helpfully painted on temporary hoarding at a building site in Norwich.
This image is helpfully painted on temporary hoarding at a building site in Norwich. It is a rather glamorous depiction of her, I think.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well…” Julian of Norwich ( c.1342 – 1416).

There is something about these words, said by a woman thought of as one of the great English mystics, that I find reassuring.

Given that she lived during an era of suffering and was herself on her deathbed when she was sent these words in a vision, I find them strangely uplifting – and I don’t think I am alone in that.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Anchoress was not a word I was familiar with until I came to live and work in Norwich.

It usually means “one who has withdrawn from the world” but Julian of Norwich, the subject of my third tale, did the opposite and walled up in a cell anchored to a church where she offered counsel to the people of what was then the country’s second city.

IMG_5749I learned this important difference from a very friendly man at the church of St Julian, despite the fact that I made him jump when I crept went inside early on a Saturday morning.

It is thought Julian, also known as Mother Julian, Lady Julian and Dame Julian, might have taken the name of the church, although Gillian was also said to be popular in the 14th century.

Not very much is known about her early life but what we do know is that when aged about 30 she suffered an illness which apparently left her on her deathbed. Here she had a series of intense visions, which she wrote about immediately after they happened and while she recovered.

The short version of Revelations of Divine Love is cited as the first book written in the English language by a woman. Let’s take a minute to think about that and what an achievement it really was and is. She followed it up many years later with a long text which set about explaining the theology behind her visions, which she wrote from her cell. While it was not popular back then, it is today.

As I mentioned, Julian lived in turbulent times, which included the Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt, but according to the Julian Centre website:

Considering that the citizens of Norwich suffered from the plague, poverty and a famine at Julian’s time, she must have counselled a lot of people in pain. Yet, her writings are suffused with hope and trust in God’s goodness. Julian Centre.

As I don’t have a religious faith, it’s not something I understand fully enough to comment on but I know her story feels important to me. What I can appreciate about this tale is the dedication it must have taken to live in one simple room and to hear and counsel the different people who came to see her.

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The church and her cell were destroyed by a bomb during the second world war but it was rebuilt to house a reconstructed cell, which now serves as a shrine and is visited by an increasing number of people from around the world.

We were the only ones there at that particularly time, probably because it was still early, and I have to say I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and love in that little room; whether it was in my head or not I don’t know and I don’t particularly mind as it was a beautiful feeling.

IMG_5754There is also a centre next to the church, run by The Friends of Julian, which has a library and bookshop.

Further reading:

The Julian Centre.

The Order of Julian.

The Wiki entry is here.