History of medieval Norwich

Sketch-map of Anglo-Saxon Norwich

This is a clickable imagemap.

T.R.E. – in the time of Edward the Confessor
T.R.W. – in the time of William the Conqueror

  1. St. Olave. No. 21 is the same dedication, which is to a Scandinavian king martyred in 1030; this fact, and the extreme positions of the two churches suggest their foundation was part of the borough expansion close to the Conquest. The dedications suggest that Danish influence in the town was still important shortly before the Conquest.
  2. St. Sepulchre. Although it has been claimed that this dedication is post-Conquest, Domesday mentions the church T.R.W. but in a fashion as to imply its existence T.R.E. There is structural evidence for a pre-1100 origin, and finds of Late Saxon pottery are associated with the site. Its position with regard to Berstrete (most churches gathered around Southgate) makes it doubtful whether it existed at the time of the creation of the burh.
  3. St. Edward. The dedication is most probably to the king murdered in 978, who had become considered a martyr by the end of the century. This and the church's position suggest it the product of late expansion.
  4. St. Etheldreda. The dedication, to an East Anglian queen who became a nun ca.679, together with pottery found in the area indicate an early settlement here, perhaps 8th century. The church's round tower may be Norman, however.
  5. St. Clement. Generally accepted as pre-Conquest on the grounds of its dedication (to the pope-martyr ca.100), although this seems a weak argument. However, its position on the principal road through Conesford bolsters the possibility, and late Saxon pottery has been found near the site.
  6. St. Julian. Again, the dedication is usually cited as proof, although it is uncertain whether the 3rd century figure or the 9th century St. Julian Hospitaller is intended. Late Saxon pottery has been found in the vicinity. The round tower could be Saxon, although it might equally be Norman (as is that of St. Benedict's).
  7. St. Vedast. The dedication places a lower limit of 539. The presence of a pre-Conquest carved stone, late Saxon pottery and metalwork finds, point to a pre-1066 origin. The dedication was originally to Vedast and Amand, who were both Fleming saints, suggesting a Flemish community may have been resident. May have bbeen mentioned in Domesday as the (unnamed) church partly owned by Edstan.
  8. St. Mary in the Marsh. The name indicates an origin in a time when the site was still marshy (although this does not necessarily exclude the post-Conquest period). The church may very well be that mentioned in the will of Sifflaed (c.990/1066). Dugdale's Monasticon claims a pre-Conquest origin for the church on the basis of a reference in the cathedral register. An eighteenth-century plan depicts what appears to be a church with a roud tower.
  9. St. Ethelbert. The dedication, to the East Anglian king executed by Offa in 794, suggests an origin prior to the Danish settlement. Late Saxon pottery has been found in the vicinity of St. Ethelbert and St. Mary.
  10. St. Michael. Mentioned in Domesday for T.R.E. An important church, in that it held much land and was sited on Tombland. Its successor's qualifier "de Motestow" (later modernized to "at-Plea") links the dedication with the site of early government of the community, the folkmoot, for which Tombland was a logical meeting-place. There may be significance in the church having being held by Stigand, former bishop of East Anglia. It is not implausible that the original St. Michael may also have been known as de Motestow.
  11. Church of the Holy Trinity. This was demolished at the building of the cathedral, which took over the dedication. Its site was once thought to lie under the east end of the cathedral, but are now associated with remains east of the bishop's palace. It is mentioned in Domesday T.R.E., and may have been the Christ Church mentioned in Sifflaed's will. Its position on Holmstrete suggests antiquity and importance.
  12. St. Martin at Palace. Mentioned in Domesday, T.R.E. Saxon finds in the vicinity from all periods. "At Palace", however, surely refers to the bishop's palace, not that posited for the pre-Conquest earl.
  13. St. Simon and St. Jude. Mentioned in Domesday, T.R.E., when held by the bishop.
  14. St. Andrew. Little is heard of this church. Its position would suggest an early origin, and (not surprisingly) late Saxon pottery has been found in that vicinity. Dedications to this saint were popular in the Anglo-Saxon period (e.g. Rochester cathedral, Hexham abbey).
  15. St. John de Maddermarket. The date of origin of this church is uncertain. Hudson thought it an Anglo-Saxon foundation, but probably on the basis of Francis Blomefield's unlikely identification of it with Domesday's church of the Holy Trinity. However, its position again persuades me to a tentative inclusion on this map. Madder was a source of dye, so the maddermarket was the dyers market.
  16. St. Gregory. There is structural evidence for an Anglo-Saxon origin, and Late Saxon pottery has been found in the area. Archaeologist Alan Carter suspected it to have been the focus of a Middle Saxon settlement.
  17. St. Lawrence. Mentioned in Domesday, T.R.E., but does not appear to have been built by c.1035/1038, when its site is mentioned in the will of Bishop Aelfric.
  18. St. Swithun. The dedication, to a missionary (later bishop) associated with Winchester, but also popular with the Norse, sets a lower limit of 863. Its position, within an area of Middle and Late Saxon finds, and lying just within an early boundary formed by a stream, suggests a possible late ninth or early tenth century foundation.
  19. St. Martin at Oak. An early origin is indicated by its position just inside the burh ditch (as if the ditch's path was dictated by the need to include the church in its protection) and by Late Saxon pottery finds nearby. Carter considered it the likely focus of Coslanye, following the transferral of the settlement southwards from the Eade Road cemetery.
  20. St. Mary Coslany. There is structural evidence for a pre-1100 date, and it has been generally held that the tower is Anglo-Saxon (although not all agree).
  21. St. Olave. See no.1.
  22. St. Botulph. The dedication, a popular one in East Anglia, is to an abbot who introduced the Benedictine Rule into the area, ca.700. He was a native of East Anglia, of noble family, sent to be educated at a Benedictine abbey in France. This dedication was frequently given to churches standing at settlement entrances, because Botulph, or Botolph, had become the patron saint of travellers; several such churches, for example, are found at London and one outside Colchester's south gate. Unlike its neighbour, St. Olave's, it was included within the area encompassed by the burh ditch.
  23. All Saints. The dedication is to a festival which had its origins in 731. A church of this name is mentioned in Domesday in a way that implies pre-Conquest existence. Of the two medieval churches of that name, the position of this one, on Fybriggate/Cowgate and within the burh, suggest it as that of Domesday.
  24. St. Clement. An early origin is suggested by the what was often an Anglo-Saxon dedication and the location of the church next to the Fye Bridge crossing. On the other hand, dedications to St. Clement (the patron saint of sailors) were popular in Scandinavia, and so this foundation could reflect Danish settlement. Churches of this dedication were elsewhere found near crossing points of rivers. St. Clement's may indeed have been the primary church of the north bank settlement, for it was later subdivided into smaller parishes.
  25. St. Edmund. The dedication is to the East Anglian king executed by the Danes in 870. Domesday mentions the church T.R.E. but it may have originated as a private Saxon church, for its living was still in secular hands in the fourteenth century.
  26. (not shown on map) The foundations of a church of unknown dedication were discovered in 1979 on the site that was cleared to make way for the Norman castle; a large Anglo-Saxon cemetery was excavated nearby.

The Earl's Palace
The earliest reference to this that I have come across is a city document relating to the foundation of the cathedral, but itself dating no later than 1297. Even this refers to it as the palace of Roger Bigot, earl at the time of the cathedral foundation, and gives only an approximate location on Tombland. The cathedral register itself makes no reference to a palace in its account of its foundation. However, there was evidently a local tradition to this effect, accepted by Norwich historians such as Blomefield and Hudson. It is not implausible that the ealdorman/earl of Anglo-Saxon times had a residence in the chief town of East Anglia;

Tombland would be the logical spot for such.

St. Benedict's Gates
An area on either side of which was the later site of St. Benedict's Gates, perhaps extending north to the later Heigham Gate (a lesser gate, near the south bank of the river), appears to have been one of the earliest foci of settlement, preceding Westwyk; archaeology has found here locally-made Ipswich ware and imported pottery dating from the 9th century. Perhaps this was the precursor from which Westwyk developed after an influx of Danish settlers on the eastern side (i.e. in the gap between the St. Benedict's Gates settlement and Conesford).

The name means "boundary wood" or possibly "wood by the marsh". Hudson thought this referred to the point to which marshland extended in early Saxon times, but it may possibly relate to the extent of the settlement north of the river, as later defined by the burh fortification. Alternatively it might be a reference to the extent of the hundred of Taverham.

Great Cockey
The word "cockey" is of Saxon derivation, meaning simply a watercourse. Some were later called "fleets". The Great Cockey was the largest of these various streams (only a few of which are shown on my map), penetrating farther into the city than the others, and is freqently mentioned as a boundary in property deeds. For much of the Saxon period it was probably fairly wide and marshy, perhaps acting as a separator between Westwyk and Conesford, although most settlement seems to have lain to the west of the Cockey valley. This stream may have served as an official boundary of Saxon Norwich, its southern end probably connecting to a man-made ditch running east-west (of which a portion has been discovered by archaeologists between Berstrete and Southgate) which likely represents the southern boundary, although not precluding some further roadside settlement further south, which could be considered, in essence, suburban.

As the meeting-point of two major roads, the possible meeting-place (folkmoot) of the community, with at least one important church (St. Michael de Motestow) and the (hypothetical) "Earl's palace" on its outskirts, Tombland is generally assumed to have been the centre of the Anglo-Saxon town and – given that the land remained largely unbuilt on – perhaps the marketplace. Possibly part of the land may have had an association with St. Michael, although "tomb" does not refer to a burial-ground but means "vacant". However, Tombland was not the property of the community but of one of the town's lords; and it was the earl who gave it to the Bishop to expand the developing cathedral-priory precint. The Bishop pulled down church and palace; and the monks thereafter claimed rights on Tombland which became a source of dispute between them and the citizens.

The "street" termination suggests an early and possibly Roman origin, by contrast with the "gate" termination which was Danish. The name refers to the Cowholm – the riverside meadow used as pasturage – through which the road ran to reach a ford across the river (later the site of Bishop's Bridge). The last section of the road before the ford must have been a causeway raised above the marshy terrain, and there is some slight archaeological evidence for this. The section immediately east of Tombland was later supplanted by the cathedral precinct, and the road diverted north of that; the section further east, however, retained the name Holmstrete during part of the Middle Ages. Despite the diversion, Holmstrete continued to serve as the main route out of the city towards more easterly regions.

The "street" termination suggests an early and possibly Roman origin, by contrast with the "gate" termination which was Danish. That this road was atop a ridge equally suggests its origin at a time when lower ground, to the east, was marshy and impassable. It is possible that in Roman times, before settlement, marketplace or ford drew travellers north-eastwards towards Tombland, that the road may have continued in a north-westerly direction, and (after fording the river) headed out of the area by a western path skirting the river. The northern end was subsequently covered by the Norman castle fee; in the late 18th century, workmen sinking a well in the castle grounds were said to have come across the site of this part of the road. This was primarily a road into the city; the lack of early churches along its route suggests it was not heavily settled in Saxon times. The name has led to speculation of burh defences surrounding Conesford, and an east-west ditch crossing Berstrete – at about the same distance from the river as the east-west stretch of the northern burh defences – was found in 2000, but it does not appear to have had a defensive function.

The southern stretch of what was known as Conesford Street, or Upper Conesford Street, for much of the post-Conquest period was also called Southgate (while the northern stretch had the alias of Parmentergate). Settlement in the late Saxon period lay along Conesford Street and between Southgate and Berstrete. Southgate probably represents an area of riverfront settlement providing quayage for boats without them having to travel further upriver to Fybridge. It has been debated how heavily this southern part of the city was occupied before the Conquest. However, the fact that the new Norman settlement was located west of the castle, rather than south of it along the riverside, may itself indicate there was insufficient unoccupied land along Southgate.

These secondary roads evidence a spread of population between Southgate and Berstrete. Bearing in mind that this was a steep slope, down which rainwater would have rushed, the antiquarian Kirkpatrick interpreted "Holgate" as meaning a hollow route created by erosion from rainwater. This is supported by the fact that Skeythgate was on occasion referred to as a cava via ("hollowed-out route"); its name may derive from a Saxon term referring to a steep descent.

St. Faith's Lane
The road leading to St. Vedast's (gradually corrupted into St. Faith's) was also known as Lower Conesford Street.

Likely represents a line of later expansion of settlement upslope from the main road (to its north) running through Westwyk, perhaps not occurring until the end of the Saxon period. Westwyk Street's early origin is itself indicated by the clustering of churches; the western end of the street later split (see map for ca.1260), as land was reclaimed from the marsh, with a fork (Lower Westwyk) running close to the river's edge. The name Pottergate reflects the early industry of pottery-making that archaeology has evidenced in Westwyk. However, the earliest pottery remains found there are from the late Saxon period. The road probably stretched west only as far as a cockey (a source of water being important to potters); when the city wall was built, no gate was created for Pottergate, so it may still not have extended as far as the wall then.

This road represents an even later phase of expansion, as settlement continued to spread south. It likely pre-dated the introduction of the castle (the later line of the road being clearly diverted around the fee) and Mancroft, where archaeology has recently shown that Norman settlement was preceded by Late Saxon – and just possibly Norse – settlement; after the foundation of Mancroft, the western part of the road was known as Lower Newport, while the section between Mancroft and the castle was called Hosyergate. Based on the line of Lower Newport, it seems that Hosyergate would not have extended as far as the line of the later city walls, but only as far as one of the cockeys, which perhaps represented an earlier boundary line. After that cockey, Lower Newport diverts south to meet Upper Newport, the road on the southern boundary of Mancroft, which is unlikely to have existed until after Mancroft was created. The introduction of Mancroft and the castle having significantly disrupted the topography of the Anglo-Saxon town, the application of Hosyergate to the entire stretch of this east-west route is only hypothesis, based on the "gate" termination suggesting some antiquity (in contrast to other names assigned to portions of the street in the later Middle Ages, which are all clearly post-Conquest).

The fact that this road alone incorporates "bridge" (other than the later connecting road of Neubriggate, running over what was evidently an additional, or "new", bridge), indicates that the Fye Bridge was the first to be built across the Norwich stretch of the Wensum. The earliest documentary reference to it is in 1141. Whether a bridge existed pre-Conquest or was simply preceded by a ford or wooden causeway, is less certain. Fye Bridge remained wooden until the early fifteenth century.

The line of the burh defences, suggested by archaeological evidence, along with the "gate" termination, argues for the existence of these roads in the late Saxon period. However archaeology has suggested the north-south stretch was a post-Conquest continuation, leading to speculation that the eastern circuit of the burh may instead have paralleled the east side of the watercourse just west of Cowgate. Nonetheless, the line of Cowgate is strongly suggestive of it following a perimeter, and we would expect this route to post-date the bank/ditch. It was common for there to be access routes around the inner edge of the defensive perimeter of the burh, beginning as pathways and developing into a more formal route in a later period when settlement expanded. Archaeological evidence for a cluster of habitation around the southern end of Cowgate and St. Edmund's and around St. Martin's in north-east Conesford argue for a linkage via a second river crossing on the future site of Whitefriars Bridge (and again, the line of the burh defences encourages the notion of protecting two river crossings).

The "gate" termination betokens a pre-Conquest date (although we cannot rule out the possibility of the Danish naming protocol having survived the Conquest for a period). The two roads represent riverside settlement. However, they did not quite meet up, St. Clement's and its surrounding land interposing between them. They cannot be seen as a single development, but two areas of separate development, each joining up with Fybriggate. It would be reasonable to associate the name Fishergate with the quayside where fishing-boats would have docked; a logical place for the fishermen to live. This was probably one of the more built-up residential streets north of the river. One possible derivation of the name Colgate is from an Anglo-Saxon term for lake (see below re. Muspolgate).

Named after the Muspol, a small lake fed by a cockey. Hudson suspected that at an early time the north-south route at the western edge of Coslanye (itself named Coslanye Street) may have met up with Colgate only via Muspolgate, because of the extreme marshiness of the ground in the bend of the river, of which Muspol represented a shrunken survival. I do not myself subscribe to this theory; it would have been more logical for the line of Muspolgate to have continued east or south-east to Snailgate rather than swing directly south again. Muspolgate has more the appearance, from later topography, of a secondary route from the rear of St. Mary's; its junction with Colegate was later diverted when St. George's church was built there.

Origins of settlement |  The pre-Conquest borough |  Effects of the Conquest
Evolution of a self-governing community |  Power struggles with rivals
A division of interests |  Summary/Recap
MAP OF ANGLO-SAXON NORWICH |  Map of Norwich ca.1260
Appendix 1: Calendar of customs of Norwich


Created: December 3, 1998. Last update: May 2, 2016 © Stephen Alsford, 1998-2016