A Tour of Norwich, Norfolk, with George Borrow

A tour of Norwich, taking in various places associated with George Borrow.

A party of Borrovians (those interested in George Borrow) made this tour as part of the 2013 Norwich George Borrow Conference: if you’re in Norwich you might like to try it yourself.  It’s not comprehensive, takes about two hours at a leisurely pace, and stays within the city centre.

The tour was designed and researched by two great Borrovians: Ann Ridler and Phyllis Stanley.

The Assembly House, Theatre Street, Norwich

Start outside the Assembly House, Theatre Street, Norwich, near The Forum and the market place.  The Assembly House was built in 1674 as Hobart’s House (he played an important part in the Battle of the Boyne).  It later became a “Georgian Leisure Centre” with dancing, entertainments and lecturers.  We know, from Lucy Brightwell’s diary, that on 31st March 1851 George Borrow went to see the “bushmen” at the Assembly House — although Borrow probably didn’t join in the dancing!

With your back to the Assembly House turn left and look down Theatre Street.  At the end of the road, past where the Norwich Theatre Royal now stands, was the Bowling Green Inn.  This is mentioned in Lavengro Chapter 26:

“they are met in the precincts of the old town, near the Field of the Chapel ... where a retired coachman, with one leg, keeps an hotel and a bowling-green.  I think I now see them upon the bowling-green.”

The above was in July 1820.

Cross over the road and stand in The Forum entrance.  You are standing close to the site of Lady Lane (swept away long ago).  When Borrow revisited Norwich he would lodge here at Mrs. Church’s.  The church opposite The Forum is St. Peter Mancroft, which Borrow would have known well as it’s the largest parish church in Norwich.

Walk down past St. Peter Mancroft on the right hand side: you come to a square (with Macdonalds) known as the Haymarket.  Here was the White Hart (about where Macdonalds now stands) where Ned Painter, the pugilist of the Lavengro fight, was landlord.  Near where Primark now stands S. Wilkins the publisher had his business — he printed Borrow’s Romantic Ballads in 1826.  Primark stands where the Star Coaching Inn was — where Borrow would have caught the stage coach to London.

Walk back up the hill and then take the road on the right: between The Forum and the City Offices — Bethel Street.   The fine old building on the right was Bethel Lunatic Asylum (which Borrow would have known).  Cut through behind the police station and the old fire station (being turned into an academy).

To your left is Gladstone house, which is currently being converted to a literature centre: Norwich being one of six Unesco world cities of literature.

On the car park which faces you (in St. Giles’) formerly stood the Norfolk Hotel.  Late in his life Borrow would go there on Norwich visits, and is believed to have always sat in the same chair.  It was demolished in 1898.

Tuck’s Court once stood near the police car park — where Borrow was apprentice to the law firm Simpson and Rackham.  During the apprenticeship years Borrow lived at Simpson’s in the Cathedral Close, but would have gone home to Willow Lane for Sundays.

Tuck’s Court, Norwich

Turn left and walk down St. Giles’ (towards the church).  Just before St. Giles’ church, on the left-hand side, is the house of Dr. Edward Rigby (with plaque).  His daughter, Elizabeth, became Lady Elizabeth Eastlake and was a friend of John Murray, Borrow’s publisher.  She met Borrow at Murray’s but was rather alarmed at him.

Next to St. Giles’ church (Borrow’s father was buried in the graveyard, which has long gone), the first road leading down is Willow Lane, walk down it and the large, smart, church-looking building which is now R. N. Solicitors was built in 1820 as a Roman Catholic chapel.  Borrow would not have been keen on that!

Continuing down Willow Lane (you pass the house of Francis Blomefield, Norfolk historian) you come to Cow hill (another road).  On the modern wall you’ll see a plaque to Borrow, and if you walk under the modern entrance you’ll see Borrow house in front of you (it’s in private hands).  Borrow’s mother Ann lived here from 1816 to 1849, it’s the house where George lived and where his father died.

Borrow House, Willow Lane, Norwich

Walk back out into Cow Hill and just down the road you come to Pottergate.  We haven’t worked out if the pub. on the corner was Borrow’s local, but feel free to pop-in, take refreshment, and consider it.  Continuing down Pottergate, away from Cow Hill, there’s a grass garden on the right hand side which is where the Jenny Lind hospital for children stood.

Turning up Upper Goat Lane (on the right) you see the Quaker Meeting House, built with Gurney money and attended by them.  Apparently the younger Gurney girls didn’t like going to the chapel — calling it “Goats”.

Continue up Upper Goat Lane and you’ll come out just by the Guildhall (beautiful old building standing just before the market square).  Borrow would have known the Guildhall — it was the centre of the city administration, yet it was being extended in his time, to take the police etc.

Walk down between the Guildhall and the shops and on your left you’ll see the restaurant/bar called The Library.  This was the old “Public Library”, opened in 1835, and where the books from the former City Library were taken.  Borrow vandalised some of these by writing in them!

Rossi’s old shop, Norwich

Further down, where TSB is, was the Rossi’s jewellers shop - he was a friend of George Borrow.  There’s a plaque.  At the bottom of the hill (Jerrolds) you might want to have a look at Norwich’s excellent market.  It was there in Borrow’s day (somewhat different) and we know Borrow purchased a penknife in the market from an Italian immigrant.

Walk along the bottom of the market and you come to The Royal Arcade.  This was originally the Angel Coaching Inn, where the coaches would have driven down what is now the arcade.  The Angel was the Whig inn, and political fights would often ensue in the market place (the stalls in those days would have been cleared away at night.)

Passing through the  Royal Arcade (you might like to look in Coleman’s Mustard Shop, which is on the right) you come out by the Castle: major Norwich Horse Fairs were held where the Castle Mall (underground) is now.  This is where Borrow saw Marshland Shales.

Norwich Castle

Walk left round Castle Meadow (the road) under the Castle (try and ignore the numerous bus stops) and you come to Opie Street, Amelia Opie, who lived in a house that used to be at the top of the street (see plaque).  Amelia’s biography was written by Lucy Brightwell, Borrow’s friend.  Borrow himself went to see Opie in her old age: she thought Borrow a very impressive man, and so does everyone in the George Borrow Society.

Statue of Amelia Opie Walk down Opie street (there’s a statue of Amelia on top of a shop on the left), and you come out into London Street, which was the first street in England to be pedestrianised (in 1967).  It used to be quite narrow, and people had to dive into doorways to escape the coaches that thundered down it in both directions.

The tour of the Norwich 2013 George Borrow celebration ended here, having run out of time.  However, if you wish for a bit more, continue down London street, cross down road and continue down the road in front and you’ll come to Tombland and the cathedral area.  There are two entrances to the cathedral from Tombland: the Erpingham Gateway (mentioned in Lavengro) is very old and ornate, and near Tombland Bookshop (recommended for old Norwich and Borrow books); the Ethelbert Gateway is further up Tombland hill, both lead into the upper close of the Cathedral.

Just inside the Erpingham Gateway are the Norwich Grammar school buildings where Borrow went to school.  At the other end of the green is where William Simpson (the lawyer) lived, and Borrow too when he was apprentice to Simpson and Rackman - the house has now gone.

Norwich Grammar School