Historical changes of Tombland, Norwich, Norfolk

I joined and passed a local history research course in 2004, my research was on Tombland.  I thought it was time I shared it, with alterations to the layout but the content is the same.

Evolution of Tombland

Tombland was called the land of St Michaels c1300, was later changed to Tombland, and has been spelt differently over the years, Tombelond, Thomelond, Tomlond, Tomland, Le Thomelond, de Tomeland, le Tomlond, Tummelond and Tumlond.  Tombland, which could mean open (empty) space (Danish) or Tombleland, sloping land as St Georges church is on sloping ground.

Tombland included patches of the parishes of St George, St Martin, St Simon and St Jude, St Peter Hungate, St Peter Parmountergate and St Martins at Plea.  The population of Tombland in 1693 was 722 and 779 in 1881.

Before 1066 stood palace of Saxon earls, it was handed over to the prior and survived until 1300.  Rotton (Ratten) row was destroyed by fire in 1507, it is suggested that Spytelond and Ratten row belonged to the city and not to the prior (discussed later)  Ratten row was thought to be between Ethelbertgate and King Street, the SW corner of Tombland, known as Popingay corner.

Tombland fair was named ‘good Friday fair’, stall selling trinkets and refreshments, the beginning of the fair is unclear but possibly from 1526, the fair continued until 1686 when it was moved to Castle Hill.

Fruit and vegetables were sold at the priory gates in 1306 and to the south of Tombland the sale of horses and cattle.  On August 24th 1549, Ketts rebellion resided on Tombland.  In 1816 -17 the water house was demolished and later replaces in 1822.

601368_4286744679735_359065078_nCambridge house (no 26) was built early 17th century and was called Stonehall; parts are retained when Cambridge house was replaced in Georgian times.  In 1945, fire gutted the building but the outside wall was undamaged and the building was re-constructed.  The house that belonged to the Bishop is now the Maids Head.  Number 17 was formally the Waggon and Horses and wad re-named Louis Marchesi.

Augustine Steward House is dated from 1549 and has been restored in 1900, 1944 (due to fire), 404691_4286743919716_577835715_n1962 (1952) and in 1991-94.  15-16 Tombland (the Samon and Hercules house) was built in 1657, some wall of the undercroft are indicated.

The following churches in the Tombland area are thought to be 11th century, St Michaels, St Simon and St Jude’s (but tower is dated at 1446), St Mary’s in the Marsh, St Martins at Palace and Christchurch.  The parish of St Mary’s in the Marsh held three sales of the church of the Holy Trinity to pay land gable and in 1564 the parish was united with St Peter Parmountergate, Ratten Row was united to the parish of St George.  St Peter Parmountergate, Ratten Row was united to the parish of St George.  St Peter Parmountergate was rebuilt in the 15th century and turned into a dwelling house until 1745.

Earl of East Anglia founded St Michael’s church long before the conquest and it was later demolished for the building of the cathedral.  It had 112 acres but not all were in the city.  The church was also known as a chapel and was for use of the palace.  It is thought that St Michaels occupied the sound end of Tombland.  A drinking fountain was erected on the site of St Michaels but was late demolished by Herbert de Losinga and he erected a stone cross, which was later taken down in 1487.

St George’s church tower is dated at mid-15th century and was restored in 1879.  The font is dated at 13th century.  The earliest burials recorded are in 1375, 1380, 1383, 1447, 1461, 1482 and 1491.  During an outbreak of the plague the following burials are logged as 3 people in 1583, 21 people in 1584 and 6 people in 1585 and 16 people fin 1587, this was below average for other parishes.

The bishop held St Simon and St Jude’s privately.  Services were stopped in 1894 and it was united with St Georges, with a population of 948.  Sunday school was held until 1920 and restoration began in 1950-1953, an extra floor was added in 1973.

St Peter Hungate was thought to have been built in the 15th century and after a long disuse, it became an Ecclesiastical museum in 1932.  St Mary the less was redundant at the reformation, united with St George’s church and was later used as a cloth hall (1623-1637).  Later it was leased to French or Walloon congregation (1637).  In 1810, the catholic apostolic body used it between 1869-1953; it was used as a parish hall and for storage.

St Michaels at Plea was known as St Michaels de Motstow, built 1436 (tower) and was rebuilt in 1436 and 1886/87.  It survived air raids in 1942 but was later demolished in 1952.

St Martins at Palace was largely rebuilt in the 15th century; the tower fell in 1783 and was raised in 1874.  There was damage during the world ward but restoration was complete by 1952.  The parish was united with St James by 1973 and it opened as Norfolk probation centre on 16th February 1990.

St Cuthbert’s was united to St Mary’s in the marsh in 1272 and then it became separate again until 1492 when it was united with St Mary the less.  In 1530, the church was pulled down and a dwelling house was built.

On Tombland there was an electric tramway, the work started on the 22nd June 1898 and opened on the 30th July 1900.  The trams were abandoned between 1933-1935.

There are suggestions that Tombland mean the land of Tombs but indications do not suggest this.  Tillet comments on this and acknowledge that some bones have been found near the site of St Michaels church but also say, there is no proof as in Saxon-pre-Norman times, there are few or no tombs found in the graveyards across England.  There is also speculation that many plague victims are buried below Tombland but the plague death registered at St George would suggest otherwise as they were buried in the churchyard.

Evolution of Cathedral grounds

The first register of Norwich cathedral priory was in the 13th century.  During the time of 1096-1272, Herbert de Losinga bought the site from the king, exchanged with Roger Bigod to Thetford and the building of the cathedral began and took 50 years.  Two churches were demolished, St Michaels and it is thought that Christchurch was the other (other suggestions are the church of the Holy Trinity and maybe it is thought they were the same church) to make way for the building of the cathedral.

People who lived at Tombland lived under the priory’s jurisdiction and were distinct from the rest of the city.  In late Anglo-Saxon times, there was a market and meeting place on Tombland.  In 1524, an agreement was made that the priory lost claim of the jurisdiction in Tombland and other liberties of Norwich except within the precinct of the monastery, the un-rest eased until the dissolution for the priory in 1538.

262889_4286735799513_1138740959_nLegislation of abolition of Bishops and cathedrals were brought in autumn 1641 but it did not reach Norwich until 12th May 1643 (other dates suggest 1538) and finally abolished on 9th October 1646 and the cathedral was looted.  The priory s authority was translated into Dean and Chapter (in 1538?), the prior’s hall (built 1284) became part of the Deanery, in 1660-70, the room above was divided into two, and stepped gables were added.  The restoration of the cathedral was started in 1660 and in spring of 1662, a great storm caused damage to the cathedral.  By October 1662 the cathedral and the cloisters were re-built, the deanery by 1664 and the bishop’s chapel by 1672.

The cathedral lose has had many changes and evolved over many years, in 1693, 650 people lived in the close, 700 people in 1752, 616 people in 1810, 498 people in 1841, 451 in 1901 and 358 in 1931.  In 1752 there were 129 dwelling, in 1801 118 dwellings and 1881 88 dwellings.  The letting police of the close have changed over time in 1896, 3 properties were offices, 1937 there were 20 and 1995 there were 31 commercial tenancies.  Thirty residential properties were let on condition that tenants put their houses into good repair, before the chapter incurred the repairs between 1945-1970.

Cathedral area.

On 19th June 1272, the citizens of Norwich had a tussle with the tenants of the priory and on 11th August, the citizens attacked the cathedral and the priory, setting fire to the main gate in the monastery, St Ethelbert’s gate and church, the Almonry, the gate of the cathedral church and the great bell tower.  The citizens were launching missiles from the tower of St Georges church.  The fire burnt the entire cathedral including the dormitory, the refectory, the guest hall and the infirmary with its chapel except the chapel if blessed Mary.  It was estimated that 32,000 people were involved and many members of sub deacons and clerics and lay people were killed.  Some of the people were dragged off and put to death in the city, other people were imprisoned and everything from the cathedral was looted.  This happened for 3 days and 13 people died.  It is thought that 30 citizens were hanged in the city for punishment and the city had to pay £2000 towards the repair of the city.

Another clash of citizens of Norwich and the cathedral was in 1443 and was known as Galdman’s Insurrection.  It was suggested that 3,000 people were involved in this riot.  The fire damage was less and no one was killed or punished.

Ethelbert’s gate was rebuilt in 1310-17 after the riots of 1272 and a new gate on palace plain was added (1446-72).  The new chapel house was built after 1272.  Ironworks were purchased in 1288-89 and was roofed in 1291-92 and glazed in 1292-93.  The cloister was rebuilt in 1297-1430.  The Canary chapel (Losinga’s palace) was built after 1316 by Bishop Salmon and added a great hall structure in 1320, later demolished in 1662.  The Bishops hall was added mid-12th century and Losinga’s chapel (palace) was extended.  In the 15th Century a covered walkway was added from north transept to the palace, the walkway was later removed.

Bishop Reynolds reused the dais as a base restoration chapel in 1661-76.   The Presbytery chapels were added in 1325-30 and the Presbytery Clerestory roof was destroyed in 1361-62 after a storm caused the cathedral spire to collapse and was rebuilt in 1364-86.  The Alnwick works was built during 1426-36, the central modern section of the west front and the original design survived until 1875.  Erpingham gate was built mid-15th century.

During the years of 1744 -1756, the close had its own workhouse, which was the former monastic infirmary and then moved to the northeast corner of the precinct in 1795. During 1858-59, the poor house was amalgamated.  A female penitentiary was founded in 1827, housed mostly teenage girls and moved to Chapelfield road in 1862 and the house was demolished for a new canonry.

During World War II, air raid shelters were dug under the school playground and bombs destroyed three houses, numbers 63, 66 and 67.  Number 57 was converted into  Abbeyfield house for the elderly in 1973.  The path along the right bank of the river Wensum from Bishop Bridge to Ferry opened in 1972.  In 1958-59, the palace was remodelled (NW corner) and the Bishops chapel was restored and was used for the parish of St Mary’s in the marsh.  In 1959-60, the old palace was transferred to Norwich School and a new smaller place was built for the bishop adjacent to the gate at palace plain.  The Chapel was also transferred to the school and was used as a library.  In 1951, work began on the presbytery and cloister roof and strengthening of the tower.  In 1963 repair of the spire started and took two years, next was the tower (1964-68 and later in 1993-96) and in 1970 the nave rood was re-leaded.

Excavation finds in the Tombland and Cathedral area of Norwich.

Suggestions of the fabric of St Mary’s in the Marsh church are in number 10 The Close.

Traces of burial of the north wall of Bishops places were found in 1960.  Further finds also suggest a church and graveyard might have been located to the north of cathedral church.

There is evidence that there was a north-south route (road/path) from St Martins at palace, Christchurch, and suggestions it went south to St Mary’s in the Marsh and St Vedast.

Excavations in 1993 at the site of Franciscan Friary, south of Cathedral close, shows structures of Saxon-Norman north-south road or lane, overlaid by early wall of the Friary precinct indicates post-conquest period.

Nearly all of the sites have produced pottery material of Thetford ware.  A Walrus Ivory pectoral cross from 10th century was found during an excavation at Tombland public lavatories in 1878.

In September 2000, a vault was found under number 4 Tombland, dates to c19 and it contains a heating machine dated at 1880.  It shows three bay ribbings and three side chambers have survived, this supports the stairs going up a level and increases the floor space.  The Vault was under the north porch and a section was beneath the former yard.  Restoration footing of medieval porch.

At 25 Tombland, Norwich City Council encounter ground surface dating from late medieval period indicating a late Saxon market area.

Franciscan Friary was uncovered to the south of the close in 1993 and it predated the 13th century.

Excavation at St Martins at palace, unearthed a grave and pottery dated at middle Saxon period.

Palace Street.

Number 23 was a timber-framed building, but in 1949 it was demolished along with number 21 the Horseshoes public house.  The magistrate’s court was known as Beehive yard (no 17) and Beehive public house (no 18 & 18a) was demolished in 1962.  Excavations of the properties showed footings of Calthorpe house dated at 1140-70.

Queen Street.

At the corner of Queen Street once stood two 19th century buildings, which were an antique dealer and a tearoom, which were demolished in 1956 and rebuilt, and was the Haarts estate agency.  Number 3 was Ferrier house, when the house had alterations in 1922 the house was dated to 1475.  During the 16th century, the Ferror family occupied it and in 1802, James Nosworthy occupied it.  Old bank of England was open in 1926 and later closed in 1852 in Ferrier house.

Princes Street.

Number was demolished.  Garsett house was previously known as Armada house, records go back to 1373 with eight owners.  In 1898, the south wall was taken away for the new road that took the tramway.  At the same time, the City Arms public house (adjoining) was demolished.  Sunderland House was a school in 1864 and later a solicitor occupied the property.  The solicitor left it to the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological society, which they used for their headquarters and a library on the first floor.  The ground floor was let in 1880.  On the corner of Elm Hill and Princes Street is a timber framed mansion and it is over 400 years old.  In 1719, it was a drapery establishment and later in the 20th century, it was a bakers and a confectioners.  Number 24 Tudor building was restored in 1932 and number 26 was restored in 1956.  There are suggestions that both of these buildings might have been the Horse and Groom tavern.  Facing number 24 and 26 Sussex house, this was built around 1500 but demolished in 1939.  These and other properties were demolished to make way for a shoe factory, which was later demolished in 1974 and was replaced by shops and offices.  On number 16 are two boundary plates, 1834 for St Peter Hungate and 1777 for St George Tombland, but there is one missing, 1828 St George.

Elm Street

156239_4286751599908_269439777_nNumber  9 Elm Hill in 1760 was the Kings Arms and 9 Elm Street the west side (Briton Arms) is a 15th century building once a nunnery and was home to surgeons from 1498 and later become known for weaving, cardwaining and saddler.  Number 29 in the mid-18th century was the Crown public house.  Number 41-43 was part of the house owned by Pettus from 1550-1683 and the Wrights Court might have been part of the Pettus house.  Number 34-36 is dated at 1540 and suggests it was one large house.  In 1864, number 14-16, Rev. J.L. Lyne revive a monastery but it closed in 1866.  Number 22-26 was known as the Paston house, a new house was built after a fire in 1507.  Number 40 was previously known as Turkey Cock public house.

408791_4286755760012_1978023774_nRedwell Street.

In 1957 Clement court was demolished to make way for extensions to Norfolk News, in the courtyard stood a one-storey building, it was used as a dancing and ballroom academy in 1743.  In the latter half of the 19th century, it became a chapel and laboratory.


Signs of a bridge from 1153 and the first records are dated at 1273, the shops and stalls to the south of the bridge maintained the bridge until Henry IV re-built the bridge with stone.  In 1570 the bridge was washed away because of flood, in 1573 a new bridge was built.  The bridge was repaired in 1756; it was taken down in 1829 and replaced with a cast iron bridge.  The present bridge was built in 1932 with the first opening in 1933 and the remaining bridge opened in 1934.

Changes of Tombland by map comparison.

First, to be compared is Cleer’s map of 1696 and the Hochstetter map of 1789.  The Cleer’s map show a water pump to the north of Tombland and the Hochstetter may shows a cross near the same area.  White Horse street is re-named St Martin’s street.

To the north of St George’s, church more buildings are shown.  Cleer’s show Fye Bridge but Hochstetter shows the road as Cook Street.  Elm Lane changed to Elm Hill Street.  Elm Hill lane, St Simon and St Jude’s church is only named on Hochstetter.  Cleer’s map only shows a water pump near Red Well.  A water house, St Michael’s church, a cross and St Cuthbert’s church are only shown on Hochestetter’s map.

The Hochstetter map does show development around the area of the cathedral, to the north, St John’s Chapel, a preaching yard, a Brew House, a Hall, Bishop Alnwick’s gate, St Mary’s Chapel and a Granary and Christ Church.

To the west, a bell tower, to the east, a gate, St Helens church and a Benedictine priory.

To the south a Chapter house, a Deanery, a Granary, a gate, a Bake house, a Brew house, a Barge house, some stables, Almonry, Almonry granary, St Mary’s in the march Church, St Ethelbert’s Church, a gate and a chapel has been added.

The second comparison will be between Hochstetter 1989 and a 1914 map.  The following street names have been changed from St Martin’s to Palace, Cook to Wensum, Hungate to Princes, and Red well to Queen, Elm Hill lane to Waggon and Horses and Elm Hill Street to Elm Hill.

Both of the crosses have gone and a Urinal is shown.  St Michaels church (site of chapel) and the water house are no longer shown.  Two public houses, a school and a hotel are shown on the 1914 map in the surrounding area.

The cathedral church is now re-named Holy Trinity Cathedral.  To the north, the preaching yard and Bishop Alnwick’s gate have all been re-named (Greenyard, Bishop’s great gate).  The chapel of St Mary’s is shown as, site of.

The Brew house, Granary, the hall and Christ Church are not shown but a porch and site of St Martin’s church are shown.

To the west shows the site of St Helen’s church.  The bell tower and the gate are not shown.  To the east, shows Nelson’s statue and the college of the Carnary is re-named Grammar school.

To the sound of the cathedral the 1914 map shows the refectory in ruins, remains of St Edmunds chapel (not mentioned on Hochstetter), sites of St Ethelbert’s chapel (church), St Mary’s church (in the marsh) and St Cuthbert’s church.

The cloisters now indicate a burial ground.  The places that are not mentioned on the 1914 map are the Infirmary, Granary, Bake house, Brew house, Barge house, a gate, stables, Almonry, Almonry granary and the Benedictine priory.

The 1914 map, also shows a set of tramlines running through Tombland.

One final comment, the written documentation does not always match the old maps, the written documentation differs depending on the source and/or the author, and this is why some of the dates have question marks beside them, as the dates cannot be classed as accurate only as an estimate.


Ayres, B., 1944, English Hertiage, BT Batesford Ltd.

Cleers map 1696.

Coiley, D.E.M., The church of St George Tombland Norwich 1974.

Hochstetter map 1789 & 1914.

Jay, G.B., 1891, The first parish register of St George of Tombland 1538-1707, revisited by W Hudson Norwich.

Norfolk Archaeology, 2001, a journal of Archaeology and local history, Vol XI III, part 1, Whitley Press Limited.

Norwich Cathedral, church, city and Diocese, 1096-1996, Hambledon Press.

Tillet, E.A., St George Tombland past and present, a contribution to the history of a Norwich Parish 1891.


Copyrighted Tracy Monger 2013.

Ghosts of Norwich

2 responses to “Historical changes of Tombland, Norwich, Norfolk

  1. Pingback: The Corsbies — A Family of Clerks! – Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!·

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