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Visiting Bishop Bridge, Norwich, Norfolk, England: sedate structure, dating from 1345, with sober memories
Remembering Elizabeth Cooper, Cecily Ormes and others
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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