The houses in between

Sorry about that. I was suddenly too exhausted to do anything more. It didn’t help that my phone and computer didn’t want to talk to each other and I had to restart both before I was able to upload the photos. Here’s one of the city, followed by the ‘key’ identifying some of the main buildings.

Only a few buildings are named, in fact. Of course, the spire of the cathedral is the outstanding one. The Castle is just left of St Peter Mancroft church, which is right by the market (too low down to see). It’s nowhere near as close as it looks on the map.

The premise of the book was a fictional murder, which the protagonist Matthew, a hunchback lawyer, was sent to investigate. The events took place in the summer of 1549, two years after the death of Henry VIII and accession of Edward VI. The main reason for the rebellion was the enclosure of common land, which left those without land unable to graze their animals or fish in the rivers. Tombland is the area and street immediately outside the Cathedral Close walls and the Maid’s Head inn is still a hotel, as it was when Matthew stayed there. Every place mentioned in the book is a real Norwich scene, though of course not all the events are true, if they were part of the detective story. As part of the events of 1549, they were.

Norwich city wall was, apparently, the longest in the country at the time – Norwich itself was a very important city, largely because of the wool trade – although the east side of the city relied on the river, rather than a wall, for its safety. Land enclosure by the wealthy, for the grazing of their sheep, was a source of much resentment. This isn’t a history lesson and, if you’re interested, it’s easy to look up. I’m just writing about our day. Paul is a really good guide, informative without being preachy or boring. As he spoke to us outside the cathedral, we could hear singing: this was a final warming-up by the choir before the service to install the new Bishop of Lynn (King’s Lynn, that is). A bit later, while he was talking to us under a lovely cedar tree, he noticed and pointed out to us a procession of clergy on their way in to the service.

We were lucky with the weather. Warm and sunny, it was unlike any other dismal day of that week. We all risked summer clothes and were glad we had. I knew, from the book, that Kett’s headquarters were on Mousehold Heath (this is said Mouse Hold, not Mowzle like the Cornish village Mousehole) and I thought that it was a mile or two from the city centre, well up the hill. But I hadn’t realised that houses had been built over some of the heath and that, actually, the encampment was very near the city centre and cathedral,

That Kett’s Heights is preserved as it is, is down to the Gas Board. There were gasworks in Norwich (a very steep road, next to Kett’s Hill, is still called Gas Hill) and the company owned a piece of land that had once been part of Mousehold Heath. The boss decided, many years ago, to lay the area out as a garden – probably it was mainly done for his own benefit, but he justified it by having it open to all the workers as a semi-public space. During the last war, an area was given over to a piggery for local people to keep their pigs. Some of the walls and troughs are still there, as well as a pool to collect rainwater. Now, it’s a peaceful and lovely garden, mostly left unmown until midsummer for the wild flowers and grasses to bloom and seed, with the wonderful views over Norwich which you see in the picture. It’s owned by the city itself, so will never be disturbed, and it’s managed by a group of volunteers. If you live close enough to visit, there’s a little, unassuming path half way up the road called Kett’s Hill. A lot of steps up, but it’s not a steep climb.

Afterwards, seven of us stayed for lunch at the Red Lion at Bishopsgate, by the bridge that Kett’s men entered the city by. It’s the Blue Boar in the book. A lovely day, a welcome reminder of normal life. My thanks to Annie who told us about the tour and to Adèle who organised it, as well as to Paul our guide – and the companions who joined us on the day.

3 comments on “The houses in between

  1. dinahmow

    Ooh…I love it when someone has done the historic research. When the dust settles here ( metaphorical dust-it’s been raining) I shall check my library.

  2. Z Post author

    Worth starting with one of the earlier ones. Though each stands alone as a story, the real life characters and their relationship with Matthew Shardlake build up. They’re good books.


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