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Visiting the Medieval city walls of Norwich, Norfolk, England: enduring monumentality

Updated on January 19, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Old and New towers, Norwich
Old and New towers, Norwich | Source
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk | Source

Reliable, 15th century solidity

In the Middle Ages, the City of Norwich was very prosperous and its city walls were larger than those which enclosed the City of London.

Some history and features

By the 14th century, when the walls were complete, they extended a total of 4 kilometres around the city.

Locations where substantial portions of the walls have survived intact include near the junction of Chapelfield with St. Stephen's Road, a central location in the city. Here (pictures), a surviving portion includes a massive, stone tower.

Other parts of the city with notable portions of the walls include those at Carrow Hill and at Ber Street Gate.

Local, Medieval bylaws made it difficult for people to build beyond the walls (1). This had the effect of concentrating residences and businesses within the walls, making the City of Norwich one of the most densely populated cities in England.

Thus, with its rich, agricultural hinterland, and its concentration of traders, Norwich's prosperity outshone that of many other cities. I suppose that, beyond their originally defensive purpose, Norwich's city walls would thus also have taken on the role of psychological barrier between citizens and non-citizens, and as a sign that its inhabitants wished to conserve their wealth.

Up to the 20th century, there were portions of the Medieval walls which were still inhabited: some houses within the circumference of the walls were built right onto the walls, with some residential rooms being located within the stone structure. Although it had been centuries since the walls had played any defensive role, I imagine that having one's bedroom within such a monumental structure must have given such residents the feeling of being able to sleep securely!

Dubbed 'a fine city'

Visitors to Norwich, in the County of Norfolk, are greeted by signs at the principal roads entering the city which say: 'Welcome to Norwich, a fine city'. Thus, in addition to the various other historic structures in the city (see below), its city walls without doubt contribute substantially to its fine architectural and historical heritage.


(1) This, in fact, would seem to have worked in quite the opposite direction from modern urban bylaws, which, among others, would sometimes have as their professed aim the prevention of insanitary conditions provoked by overcrowding. So has the intervention of the state always been a benevolent force for good? I leave the question open; history has a way of throwing up examples of contradictory and self-defeating thinking.

Also worth seeing

In Norwich itself, other Medieval buildings include Norwich Castle, Norwich Cathedral and the Guildhall. The striking Norwich City Hall was opened in 1938. Pull's Ferry attracts many visitors.


How to get there: Continental 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. Please note that 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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