Saturday, April 4th 2015
We undertook today’s trip to a Norfolk city in order to see the exhibition dedicated to the painter Manet that was being held there. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly), photography was not allowed in the exhibition and so I am unable to show you any of the works that we saw. If you are wondering about the mysterious “Narch” cited in the title, this is how Tigger and I refer to the fine old town of Norwich since our stay there in September 2010. To know why we call it that, just listen to the name as pronounced by some of the locals. The exhibition was entitled Homage to Manet and was held in the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, itself a picturesque setting.
We reached Norwich (or “Narch”, if you prefer) by railway, emerging from the rather fine Victorian station. I understand that Norwich originally had three stations of which one was called Norwich Thorpe. Only the latter now survives and is today called simply “Norwich”. It opened for business in 1886 and is a beautiful example of its kind.
The River Wensum runs through Norwich, adding appeal to the city as well as being navigable and therefore useful. Various small craft are to be seen sailing along it or moored along the banks. The name is said to derive from Old English wandsum or wendsum, meaning “wandering”, in reference to its winding nature. (Compare this with the name of the Wantsum, a tributary of the Stour in Kent.) From the station, we crossed into the main part of town via the Foundry Bridge from which I took the above photo.
We started up the long, sloping Prince of Wales Road, which contains a number of interesting old buildings, not least this pillar box that bears the royal cipher of Queen Victoria. It is situated on the corner of St Faith’s Lane and, for all I know, has sat there patiently since the days when that queen was on the throne. I don’t know when this model was made but it must be at least 114 years old. It is a tribute to the quality of Victorian manufacture that so many of these boxes are still in use.
This striking little building is the Norwich Railway Mission or, rather, the former Railway Mission. “Railway Mission” is the name of both the individual mission halls and of the organization which supports them. The Railway Mission was founded in 1881 to serve the railway industry and still exists today (see here for more information) but the Norwich Mission Hall today belongs to the Norwich Evangelical Free Church. The building itself, happily, is now Grade II listed.
Further up the road is another Grade II listed building with an impressive set of pillars in the front. It is a little hard to photograph because of the continual flow of traffic and pedestrians along the street but it is worth the effort. It is called Hardwick House after the architect who designed it, P.C. Hardwick. It was completed in 1866 as a bank, though I don’t know which one. It later became a Post Office, as declared at the top of the building just below the garlanded crown. At a date unknown to me it came down in the world and is now an estate agent’s office. It remains a handsome building of character.
Further up the road is a substantial structure called Anglia House for no better reason than that it has been for some time the home of Anglia Television. Completed in 1882 and designed by J.B. Pearse, it was the city’s agricultural Hall and has received a Grade II listing.
We took a refreshment break at the Castle Mall shopping centre and then, faithful to our original purpose walked up to the castle. In the above photo you see our first glimpse of it and, on the left, the glass skylights of the Mall which is built into the castle hill so that, even though it is several storeys high, its roof appears here, apparently at ground level. The castle is Norman and was originally built by William the Conqueror between 1066 and 1075 as a base for his campaign to subdue East Anglia.
The castle was a traditional motte and bailey structure and the castle keep – the part that survives today – stood atop a truly massive motte or hill. It too is huge. Today it has been turned very successfully into a museum and an art gallery has been added. This houses Norwich’s own collection of art and also hosts special exhibitions, such as the Homage to Manet that we had come to see.
There was an admission charge for the exhibition (£8.35 for an adult) but we were admitted on production of our National Art Passes. I have mentioned these before but it is worth reiterating that they allow you admission to many galleries and exhibitions either free or at reduced price so that if, like us, you pay a number of visits each year, they save you money.
As mentioned, photography was not allowed in the Manet exhibition but was allowed in the permanent collection. I am not all that keen on photographing paintings unless I find something particularly interesting and, to be honest, there was little here to really excite me. Instead, I concentrated on the sculpture and present a few examples here.
First is everyone’s favourite admiral (OK, not Napoleon’s favourite admiral, perhaps…), Lord Nelson. It is by the Irish-born sculptor Peter Turnrelli (c.1772-1839), a son of Italian refugees who made a successful career in his chosen profession. If you think that “Turnerelli” sounds a bit like a joke name concocted from English, you would be right. The family’s original name was Tognarelli but this was soon corrupted into the semi-anglicized form by which the artist is now known.
The name Colman immediately evokes that favourite hot, yellow condiment called mustard. Colman’s mustard began to be made in Norwich and its progenitor was Jeremiah Colman (1830-98) whose bust, by Thomas Brock, is shown above. As well as producing his tongue-tingling sauce, Jeremiah was a philanthropist, pioneer in social welfare and a generally good egg, fully deserving of a permanent remembrance in bronze.
This rather sentimental piece illustrates the end of the story of the Babes in the Wood who, far from living happily ever after, died and were buried in leaves by a compassionate robin. It is by the Norfolk sculptor John Bell who was very popular in the Victorian era. Indeed, Queen Victoria herself bought a copy of this sculpture.
This sculpture by John Gibson represents an adventure of the mythical Greek hero, Meleager the Hunter. He chased and killed a wild boar that had been damaging crops and being a general nuisance, but only after it had been wounded by Atalanta the Huntress. There’s a lot more to the story than that, of course, and if you really want to know the details you can look here. John Gibson (1790-1866) specialized in classical subjects and studied under Canova in Rome. An inscription incised into the base of Meleager the Hunter tells us (in Latin) that he sculpted it in Rome.
William Pitt the Younger is well known (at least to historians) but Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823) is today a less familiar name though he was greatly admired as a sculptor during his life. With regard to his bust of William Pitt the Younger, I think I can do no better than quote from the gallery’s label:
Pitt refused to sit for Nollekens when alive: as soon as Pitt died, Nollekens took a death mask from the Prime Minister’s face. Over the next decade his studio produced some eighty marble busts of Pitt.
Revenge is not only sweet but sometimes also lucrative…
The roof of the castle keep is accessible to visitors and from there you have splendid views over the town. I was tempted to make a complete panorama but that would probably have been overkill. I will include just two of the views I photographed, the photo above and the one below.
We had previously visited the castle museum which explains the castle’s history and gives insights into the Norman occupation so we skipped that this time. (See pictures and text in Norwich 2010.)
The quick way down to ground level is by taking the lift. The top of the lift is the glass cylinder you see on the right in the above photo. This piece of modern styling makes a delicious contrast with that of the 900-odd year old castle building. From here it glowers down at you, giving some hint of the menacing feeling that the Normans intended the castle to convey.
We walked to the centre and of course took a few photos along the way, including this view of Gaol Hill with the 15th-century guildhall in the centre, veiled by trees.
What we had in mind at this point was lunch. Happily, we knew a good place to go. It is a pure vegetarian restaurant called Wild Thyme. It has a good selection of dishes on the menu, with daily ‘specials’, and courteous table service. It is very popular and was crowded but we managed to find a table.
Wild Thyme occupies the first floor of a building above the Rainbow wholefood retail outlet on the ground floor. It is situated in the picturesquely named Labour in Vain Yard. This yard has existed since at least the 16th century and possibly before. At one time a pub resided here which, after trying several names, adopted that of the Labour in Vain. The pub was leased to a succession of tenants by the Council but the latter came to regard the establishment as a nuisance. Accordingly, it ceased operating as a pub sometime in the later 19th century. The origin of the name of the yard seems not to be known.
This wide-angle view shows the market nestling in Market Place under the wing, so to speak, of the parish church. The market comprises about 200 permanent stalls (more like lightweight shops than stalls) and is open for business every day except Sunday. Like many ancient markets, this one grew up in the shadow of the Norman castle, part of the community that sprang up around it.
The church above the market is known as St Peter Mancroft. It is a large and elaborate church that has attracted a Grade I listing for its architectural and historical importance. Compared with the market which dates from the 11th century, St Peter Mancroft is an upstart dating “only” from the 15th.
Facing the church with an intriguing contrast of styles is the Forum, opened in 2001 as a multipurpose centre which includes the public library among other facilities.
Before leaving the area, I wanted to visit my two favourite inhabitants.
The City Hall, with its impressive clock tower, was opened in 1938. Then as now, the steps leading to the entrance are flanked by a pair of bronze heraldic lions sculpted by Alfred Hardiman. I give a range of dates for their making because one is known to have been exhibited in 1936 though the pair appeared in their present position in 1938. It is said that the lions reflect the lion in the city’s coat of arms (see, for example, Heraldry of the World) but whereas that is boringly conventional, these are startlingly modern. Though stylized, they are elegant, proud and vigorous. The left forefoot posed upon a rock reminds me of the traditional pair of Chinese guardian lions which, male and female, each hold an object under a forefoot (see, for example, here).
It was time for us to return to the station and take the train back to London. My final photo was from the Foundry Bridge, this time looking north-east along the Wensum. The day had revealed some of Norwich’s treasures, though not all of them. More remain to be found on subsequent visits.