Monday, September 12, 2011


Living in a city which has more medieval churches anywhere north of the Alps and rich in other cultural treasures, it's easy to overlook some art-work in Norwich's churches. It's not all entirely medieval here in Norwich, at the church of Saint Margaret for example, there's an east window commissioned in the 1960's and utterly 60's in style, depicting the Ascension of Christ. A refreshing change from the garish colours of Victorian stained-glass in many churches.

The Norwich organisation HEART (Heritage Economic Regeneration Trust) a charitable body, promoted four 'Open Days' from September 8 -11 to celebrate the City's extraordinary rich cultural heritage. Held every September the 'Open Days' make accessible some historic buildings not always open to the general public.  HEART's annual event grows in popularity each year, as I and a small army of volunteers will testify, after a hectic four days of meeting and greeting literally hundreds of visitors.

It's time to take stock of Norwich's cultural heritage. The public support and interest in the city's cultural heritage is strong and enthusiastic. However this support can never be matched economically in full by public donation alone. The future of many historical buildings in Norwich cannot be guaranteed until government or local council designates a greater value and percentage of tax or rates towards regional heritage. Although the whole world cannot thrive upon the growing tourist industry, Norfolk and Norwich in particular could gain enormously if highlighted as a tourist destination, including the creation of new jobs. The shortage of hotel space for visitors which Norwich once suffered from has now been remedied by several new large hotels, while HEART's recent 'twinning' with the city of Ghent could well provide further insights into how to effectively develop a tourist economy. 

The problem in reality is one which not only haunts Norwich but England as a whole, as the recent riots demonstrated. It's one of identity and self-confidence, who we are, how we address the world and how we wish the world to  view us. Norwich is a city rich in tourist attractions and mellow in atmosphere, but which cannot at present either decide or is lacking funding between the following - a faster and more efficient travel connection to London, which is feared will somehow erode the city's character - the construction of a new Northern bypass causing some serious local ecological  damage - or the  development  and expansion of routes from its airport, enhancing  its  continental connections. Its not seen as possible to have both a Northern by-pass and extended runways for a larger airport. Each of these projects, delayed or otherwise, impact considerably upon the city's future. Norwich's geographical location, as much of its cultural past indicates, lays very much towards the North-sea board of Europe, its historic past is intimately connected with the Baltic ports, the Benelux coast-line and even remoter parts of Europe. These geographic locations may ultimately be the source of Norwich's future economic well-being. Governments however, especially the present-day Euro-sceptic's, may influence the future otherwise. Norwich's true, radical identity is revealed by it's motto, which is Do Different. Whether the city will live up to its motto in the future is another matter.

For myself the Heritage week-end gave me the chance to create a few of my own modest events including the opportunity to talk on the Layer Monument and a demonstration of the marvellous acoustical properties of the church of Saint John Maddermarket. Connecting my ipod to an amplifier which in turn was connected to two 75 watt PA horn speakers placed high up in the organ gallery, when playing recordings of organ music by Pachelbel, Jehan Alain and Arvo Part, some visitors believed they were hearing a newly restored church organ!

I met many interesting people throughout the four open days and was amazed at the knowledge displayed by many on Norwich's cultural history. I also slowly began to realise as the four days progressed, that in many ways the greater part of Norwich's cultural heritage is to be found not so much in  its stone and art-work but in its people, both living and deceased.

P.S. Extensively restored at great cost in 2007, the 17th century Berney Monument remains as elusive as ever to view. I've lived in Norwich my entire life and have yet to see it. Although advertised as viewable from 10-4 p.m. on Saturday the church of Saint Peter Parmentergate was locked up by 1 p.m. !

The Berney monument is of particular interest having like the Layer Monument, a quaternity of statuettes in this case allegorical figures of Faith,  Hope, Charity and a winged Father Time. 

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-E- said...

it's true, i hadn't really heard of norwich before i moved to the uk, so you could afford to raise your tourism profile (though you might also want to be a little-known gem).

-E- said...

oh yeah and re your comment: was that a thomas browne quote?

teegee said...

Indeed, I only knew of Norwich as the terminus for one of the Rail lines out of London--and from Mother Goose! And that as recently as 1970. Everything I know is thanks to this blog.