NORWICH CASTLE, NR1 3JU
Postcode: NR1 3JU
Lat/Long: 52.628397N 1.296075E
Notes: Castle is the central Norwich. Extensive parking facilities with the city centre (most pay and display) .
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
A large Norman Keep albeit one extensively modified and remodelled in subsequent years. The elaborate Norman entrance arch is a particular highlight. Both the ramparts and dungeons are accessible but only via tours that can be booked on arrival.
1. The stone Keep was constructed with white Limestone imported from Caen in Normandy. Dark coloured flint originally faced the lower levels of the Keep clearly distinguishing the store rooms, workshops and kitchens on the ground floor from the Royal lodgings above.
2. The scale of the Keep was copied - apparently for little reason - by nearby Castle Rising.
3. Norwich Castle saw no action during the Civil War but the city, along with much of East Anglia, was key in providing manpower for the Parliamentary cause. The counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, the Isle of Ely and Norwich city grouped together to forge the Eastern Association – an armed force that would fight Royalist forces throughout the Civil War.
Balcony. The balcony was the same height as the Upper floor of the Keep - originally this was divided in two and comprised of the Great Hall and the Royal lodgings.
A major Norman fortification built to control the largest population centre in England, Norwich Castle was soon upgraded with the building of a huge stone Keep. It saw action during two rebellions against Royal control but its most significant role throughout the centuries was as the County prison.
HISTORY OF NORWICH CASTLE
At the time of the Norman Invasion in 1066, Norfolk and Suffolk were the most densely populated counties in England. Norwich itself was the site of a large Anglo-Saxon community and within two years of the invasion, William I built a castle there to support his suppression of East Anglia. Configured in the standard earth and timber motte-and-bailey layout, the structure had the largest motte in England whilst the baileys enclosed 23 acres. Perhaps as many as one hundred existing homes were demolished to make space for the castle on the most suitable defensive site.
Norwich Castle saw action in 1075 when Ralph de Gael rebelled against William. Ralph had fought at the Battle of Hastings and had become a trusted servant of the King; in 1069 he was raised to Earl of Norfolk in recognition for his efforts in repelling a Norse attack on Norfolk. However in 1075 he married Emma FitzOsbern (daughter of William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford) against the wishes of the King. He rebelled but his forces were out manoeuvred by a Royal army under Bishop Odo of Bayeux. Ralph fled abroad to seek support in Denmark but his campaign was a failure. He had left his wife in control of Norwich Castle but, when besieged by Odo, she was compelled to surrender.
Around 1094, after the motte had settled, constructed started on the vast stone Keep. Although not as tall as some contemporary structures - such as the White Tower (at the Tower of London) - it enclosed a larger area. It took almost 30 years to build - it wasn't completed until 1121 – but the end result was an elaborate Royal Palace. The lower levels consisted of kitchens, workshops and storerooms whilst the upper floor was divided into two sections; the Great Hall and the Royal lodgings complete with Royal Chapel.
Until the mid-twelfth century Norwich Castle was the sole Royal fortification in East Anglia. At this time England was emerging from a bitter civil war (known as the Anarchy) fought between the rival factions of Matilda and Stephen. The war was eventually settled with an agreement that Matilda’s son, Henry, would succeed Stephen. Following the latter’s death in 1154, Henry II was determined to restore Royal power which had been much weakened during the war. One of his key supporters was Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk whose power was centred on Framlingham Castle in Suffolk but this didn't stop Henry from confiscating that castle in an attempt to re-balance his relationship with his key magnate. This prompted Hugh to join a rebellion against the King led by Prince Henry, Henry II’s eldest son, in 1173. With a force of Flemish mercenaries, which landed near Walton Castle in Suffolk, Hugh advanced his forces towards Norwich. The castle was besieged and ultimately taken but the uprising collapsed when the rebels were routed by Royal forces. The following year Hugh Bigod submitted to Henry II with his castles confiscated and destroyed. Norwich Castle was returned to Royal control at this time.
Like other Royal castles, Norwich acted as an administrative and legal centre with prison facilities existing there from the start. Dedicated buildings were constructed for this purpose in the mid twelfth century and, as the military requirement for the castle diminished in the fourteenth century, the Keep itself was converted into the county prison. This became the main role for the castle for the next five centuries but, prompted by scathing reports from Prison reformers including John Howard in 1777, major upgrades were made in the eighteenth century. A new prison block was built in 1792 which consisted of both new buildings and the Keep itself but this quickly proved too small. The outer buildings were demolished and replaced in the 1820s by new structures designed by William Wilkins. In 1883 the county gaol moved to Mousehold Heath and Edward Boardman was commissioned to convert the castle into a museum. The central arches within the Keep and the balcony are both his work. The exterior of the Keep was also completely refaced at this time with the work carefully preserving the original lines.