Great Cities of the Norman World


Aerial view of NorwichNorwich cathedralNorwich, the largest city in East Anglia in medieval times, developed out of a number of small Anglo-Saxon settlements clustered around the lowest fordable point on the River Wensum before the sea c. 32 km (20 miles) away. By the time of the Norman Conquest (1066) Norwich had 1320 burgesses and was the third largest town in England. The conquest appears, however, to have had a drastic impact on Norwich. For example, the Domesday Book (1086) suggests a fall of about a half in the number of burgesses. In addition, the construction of the castle by Ralph, Earl of East Anglia, involved destruction of 98 houses and at least two churches. By 1100 the castle extended over 5.6 ha (14 acres) in the heart of the city. Earl Ralph also created a new urban zone west of the castle, known as the French borough. This was focused on what is now the market place, and it accommodated a number of immigrant merchants.

In 1075 Earl Ralph joined an unsuccessful rebellion and the crown took control of the castle. The great stone keep had probably been completed by c. 1110. Detail of 12th century houseNorwich was not only a centre of political power, but also of ecclesiastical power after 1094 when it became the seat of the Bishop of East Anglia. Two years later the construction of the great cathedral and its priory began. A number of other religious 12th vault in the Music Househouses were founded in the 12th century, along with new parish churches to add to between 25 and 40 already in existence before the Conquest. They were needed to serve a growing population settling in new areas such as King Street, which ran along the river bank on the south-east side of the city. Anglo-Norman Norwich was a city of rising prosperity based on a building boom, river trade and cloth finishing. Sharing in the wealth was a Jewish community and prominent in it was Isaac, who occupied one of a number of the 12th century stone houses known in the city.

Recognition of Norwich's status as a great provincial city came with a charter of 1194 in which Richard I gave the burgesses the right to elect their own reeve to govern them and collect their taxes.

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