Visiting Bishop Bridge, Norwich, Norfolk, England: sedate structure, dating from 1345, with sober memories

Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Bishop Bridge, Norwich
Bishop Bridge, Norwich | Source
Bishop Bridge, Norwich
Bishop Bridge, Norwich | Source
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk | Source

Remembering Elizabeth Cooper, Cecily Ormes and others

This Medieval bridge, in fine condition, spans the Wensum River, Norwich, Norfolk. While the bridge dates from 1345, it is actually on the site of a Roman crossing point.

When built, the structure formed part of city fortifications, which protected the Medieval city of Norwich. A former gatehouse once stood on the Cathedral side of the bridge (Norwich Cathedral Close is nearby), but this part of the structure did not survive the 18th century.

There were various Medieval bridges in Norwich. These structures were sometimes the scene of poignant events. One of Norwich's Medieval bridges had a ducking stool, an instrument whereby women, deemed anti-social, were unceremoniously ducked in the river, in the hope that this would chasten and improve them.

In centuries past, Bishop Bridge was regularly the scene of grim processions. To the nearby Lollard's Pit were led, it is calculated, up to 50 prisoners executed for religious reasons. These included women.

In 1557, Elizabeth Cooper was led to her death. In 1558, Cecily Ormes was taken and executed near Bishop Bridge, the clergy of the day thus showing her who was boss, supposedly. And why did the clergy of the day do so (handing her over first to the civil power to do their 'dirty work')? Historical records show that it was because Cecily Ormes wanted to take communion in a way which seemed to her to accord with the New Testament.

Across Bishop Bridge was the path which led to the Lollards Pit, the place of execution. I have included a picture of the surface of the bridge, seen by pedestrians, almost the last sight beheld by the wretched prisoners.

Other prisoners executed at Lollard's Pit, over Bishop Bridge, included Thomas White (a local road is named Thomas White Way) and Thomas Bilney (1).

But surely these were just ignorant people who happened to have been dealt with in a clumsy way?

Actually, no; Thomas Bilney was a Cambridge academic, although academic freedom meant little to his clerical detractors. All credit to Cecily Ormes, in an era of limited educational opportunities for women, for being willing to pursue her own reasoned path to conscientious fortitude.

But surely, don't memories of quaint Medieval and early modern England make visitors nostalgic for those times?

Well, if you value your freedom of conscience, you are unlikely to be nostalgic. Visit Bishop Bridge, read the nearby historical plaques on the wall of Bridge House, opposite the bridge, and on the nearby riverbank. And think.


(1) Interestingly, prisoners executed here prior to about 1530 were known as Lollards, while after 1531, Bilney is generally referred to as a Protestant. Executions of Lollards gathered pace in the 15th century. In earlier Medieval times in Norwich, though not at the Lollard's Pit, Jews faced the wrath of clergy apparently seeking to raise money for the expansion of Norwich Cathedral: a whole myth of a supposed Jewish atrocity, the killing of 'Saint William' (the story has no historical basis whatsoever) led to the murder of local Jews in the city.

Also worth seeing

In Norwich itself, other visitor attractions include: the Medieval structures Pull's Ferry and Cow Tower, both situated not far from Bishop Bridge; the Medieval Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Castle and Norwich Guildhall also attract many visitors.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Norwich is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. Norwich is 233 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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Comments 9 comments

Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 4 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Amazing in this innocuous corner of England. No wonder I'm not religious! Very interesting hub thank you for pointing it out!

MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 4 years ago Author

Gypsy Willow:

Thank-you for your comment; I would not myself blame religion itself, however, for these sad events, but its abuse. Otherwise, it might be deduced that it was not worthwhile for these distinguished women and others to have suffered for their beliefs; throughout history, religious conscience has so often been the motivation for people to endure suffering, and this speaks volumes even today to those who might not otherwise enter into the mindset of people who have been prepared for its sake to endure such extreme hardships.

Your many comments to my various hubpages are appreciated.

Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 4 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

My pleasure MJ, I always learn so much from your well thought out articles!

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ryankett 4 years ago

My hometown :)

In fact, both my birthplace and current residence. It would take me 20 minutes to walk to Elm Hill if I left my house now.

MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 4 years ago Author

Ryan Kett:

Even your surname is a good Norfolk one! The plaque on the river bank near Bishop Bridge is also worth stopping to see. Thank-you for your comment.

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ryankett 4 years ago

It is highly likely that the surname 'Fenn' also came from Eastern England, specifically Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire,and West Norfolk where they have the 'fens'. There are quite a few Fenn's in Norwich too.

MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 4 years ago Author

ryankett: Oh, I know! (smile) And I'm sure you know all about Robert Kett and his 1549 rebellion! What interests me as well as family background is the sense of heritage and challenge that the story of the brave women from Norwich, described above, acting in good faith and a firm conscience, provide for us even today. Strangers' Hall, Norwich, and the former, Walloon church in the city, also remind us of the importance of respecting matters of faith, with their associations with those who fled from the Continent of Europe, where at the time there was little freedom of worship. Thank-you for your comments.

Polly C profile image

Polly C 4 years ago from UK

Hi MJFenn, I live in Norwich too and have spent several afternoons having lunch in the Adam and Eve public house before walking alongside the river and enjoying a drink in the Red Lion pub which is right by the Bishop Bridge. I enjoyed reading the history detailed in your hub, very interesting. I have also taken one of my children on the dungeon tour at Norwich Castle a couple of times where you are told horrendous stories of execution for rather minor crimes...

Thanks for an interesting read, I love it when I see something I know so well on a faraway site like hubpages :)

MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 4 years ago Author

Polly C: Yes, the Medieval and early modern period in Norwich is fascinating, although I must confess not to being wholeheartedly nostalgic about it. Thank-you for your comment.

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