Thatched houses in the city of Norwich

Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, August 2019
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.


TG2208 : The Plantation Garden - thatched summerhouse by Evelyn Simak


Considering the large number of old and historic buildings located within the city walls, it may come as a surprise to learn that only six buildings in the whole city have thatched roofs. This is due to a ban on thatch issued in Tudor times because of the high fire risk of thatch.

In 1500, the population of Norwich numbered around 10,000, making it one of the largest towns in England. and in 1505 the city suffered its first severe fire. The London Chronicle reported that, "this yere was grete parte of the cyte of Norwych brent", and the Almoner's account to the Prior of Norwich, submitted in the same year states: "received this year from the rents belonging to the almoner's office, which were formerly 10l a year, and after that 5l a year, only 33s because many tenements are burnt". (Francis Blomefield, The city of Norwich, chapter 23. London, 1806).

Two years later, another fire broke out on 25 April 1507, St Mark's day and Easter Tuesday, which is documented to have burnt with continual violence for four days. It was followed by another fire on 4 June, Ascension day, which burnt for two days and a night, and destroyed more than 18 score houses: "Norwich was byrned with fire at twey times, to the noumbir of xviij score howsholdys and mo and most parte of their goodys." 718 houses "in the parishes of St Peter of Mancroft, St Giles, St Gregory, St Laurence, St Margaret in West-Wymer, Little St Mary, St Cuthbert, St Buttolph, All Saints in Fibrigge, St George of Tombland, St Simon, St Michael at Plea, St Andrew, St Saviour, St George in Colgate, St Martin in the Bail etc" were destroyed. The fire would seem to have started near near the Popinjay pub, which burnt down, and to have continued from the bottom of Tombland through to St Andrew's and up the city. Yet another fire is documented to have started in the house of a French surgeon named Peter Joknson, in the parish of St George in Colgate. A contemporary History of Yarmouth records that "The citye of Norwiche was set on fyer, and a great parte thereof was brente". Fire was indeed a constant hazard because most of the buildings at the time were of wood and had thatched roofs.

The city's six thatched houses:

Britons Arms, 9 Elm Hill

Elm Hill is one of the oldest streets in Norwich. It was largely rebuilt after the great fire of 1507 but still retains its Tudor character to the present day. The narrow cobbled streets are flanked either side by genuine Tudor houses of which more can be found here than in the whole of the City of London.

TG2308 : 27 Elm Hill - Britons Arms by Evelyn Simak
Identified as 'Le Godes Hous' in 1347, this building, which was the only one on Elm Hill to survive the devastating fire of 1507, has had many uses. It was the house of surgeons, a place of weaving, and at some other time of saddle and harness making. Perhaps most unusually, it believed by some to have been used as a béguinag - a home to a lay sisterhood of pious women, ie a female community dedicated to religious worship without taking formal vows. In 1864 it was the 'Kings Arms' public house, with the first recorded licensee having been Timothy Gridley, a woolcomber by profession. It is furthermore said to be the oldest licensed house in Norwich, although there are several other contenders for this title, such as the 'Adam and Eve' > Link public house. The name 'Britons Arms' was first used from 1760 onwards and in 1811 the pub was listed as 'Briton Arms', and by 1864 it was 'The True Briton'. Closed during WW2, it never became a pub again and currently is a restaurant and tea shop. Also of interest is that the building is one of only six thatched houses in Norwich, due to a ban on thatched roofing issued in Tudor times because of the high fire risk of thatch.
by Evelyn Simak



Pykerell's House, 1 Rosemary Lane, St Mary Coslany

The parish of St Mary Coslany is located in the northern part of the city and north of the River Wensum, in the area known colloquially as Norwich-over-the-water. Coslany was one of the founding Saxon areas of the city and is situated slightly higher than the river but close to the ancient fording point marked by the present day Oak Street.

TG2209 : 7 Rosemary Lane - Pykerell's House by Evelyn Simak
This Grade 2 listed former hall-house dates from the 15th century and later and is named after its first owner, Thomas Pykerell, who died in 1545 and was three times mayor of Norwich. In the late 19th century the building was a public house known as 'Rosemary Tavern', with Henry William Cartwright, a shopkeeper, as the first licensee in 1858. This is one of only six thatched dwellings in Norwich, due to a ban on thatched roofing issued in Tudor times because of the high fire risk of thatch. The building adjacent to it at right is the Zoar Strict Baptist Chapel
by Evelyn Simak



Barking Dickie, 20 Westlegate

TG2308 : 20 Westlegate - Warings Lifestore by Evelyn Simak
This Grade 2 listed, late 16th/early 17th century building used to be a public house known at various times as the 'Barking Dickie' (named after the pub sign which signboard, which is said to have looked like a braying donkey -a barking dickey or dickie in the Norfolk dialect - than a dragoon's horse), the 'Light Dragoon' and the 'Light Horseman', with the first documented licensee having been James Moneyment in 1830. By 1912 it had become greengrocer Arthur Kemp's shop and during the 1960s it housed a bank branch and later Casaccio’s Coffee Shop. After having been damaged by fire in 2013 it is currently a café known as Warings Lifestore.

The building is one of only six thatched houses in Norwich, due to a ban on thatched roofing issued in Tudor times because of the high fire risk of thatch.
by Evelyn Simak



2/4 Lion and Castle Yard, Timberhill

Timberhill is one of the oldest recorded city streets, predating Elm Hill. Called Swinemarket Hill in the Middle Ages, and later Timbermarket Hill, today the street is known as Timberhill. Via Orford Hill it links Red Lion and All Saints streets, and there is also a pedestrian shortcut to Westlegate leading through the Lion and Castle Yard.

TG2308 : 2/4 Lion and Castle Yard by Evelyn Simak
The cottage depicted here is Grade 2 listed and one of two adjacent cottages dating from the 17th century which in 1996 were converted into one dwelling by the Norwich Preservation Trust > Link. The thatched building is one of only six thatched houses in Norwich, due to a ban on thatched roofing issued in Tudor times because of the high fire risk of thatch.
by Evelyn Simak



The Thatched Cottage, St Swithin's Alley

TG2208 : The Thatched Cottage by Evelyn Simak
This Grade 2 listed cottage which dates from the 17th century is situated in St Swithin's Alley, just down from St Swithin's church, and it narrowly escaped the 1930s slum clearances in the area. In the 19th century, it was a pub called the 'Hampshire Hog'. Its landlord was the boxer John "Licker" Pratt, who, in 1850, beat fellow publican Jem Mace, the future middleweight champion of England in a bare-knuckle fight that lasted over two hours. A fragment of the adjacent Hampshire Hog Yard also remains. The old gate > Link leading into said yard is still in place, as is the yard's original name sign > Link.

The Norwich photographer and historian George Plunkett has the following information and as well as a photograph of the cottage, taken in 1938 > LinkExternal link . "Adjacent to St Swithin's church in St Benedict's Street is St Swithin's Alley where, straddling the lane, is an old house reconditioned in the 1930s by the Norwich Amenities Preservation Society. This is notable as one of the few ancient buildings within the city walls still retaining a covering of thatch. A yard at the rear bears the name of the Hampshire Hog, the sign of an adjacent tavern, being possibly the last house in England where the game of logats was played. The logats, resembling policemen's truncheons, were to be tossed as near as possible to a wheel-shaped jack which had previously been thrown towards the opposite end of the ground; there was some similarity to the game of bowls."

The cottage is one of only six thatched dwellings in Norwich, due to a ban on thatched roofing issued in Tudor times because of the high fire risk of thatch.
by Evelyn Simak



The Hermitage, 52/54 Bishopgate

Bishopgate (formerly Bishopgate Road) links Norwich's oldest river crossing > Link with Palace Street, closely following the old boundary wall of the Cathedral Precinct.

TG2308 : 52/54 Bishopgate - The Hermitage by Evelyn Simak
Dating from the 15th, 17th and early 19th centuries, the house is Grade II* listed. It is built from rendered brick, with the cathedral precinct wall incorporated into the main facade. The first floor is jettied. Interestingly, this house is one of only six thatched dwellings in Norwich, due to a ban on thatched roofing issued in Tudor times because of the high fire risk of thatch.
by Evelyn Simak







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