Norwich for Groups

Norwich – a vibrant city with the perfect mix of past and present – and just right for a group visit, says Angela Youngman

attractions-credit-jacqueline-wyatt_norwich-castle_2The city with a ‘church for every week of the year and a pub for every day’ was Norwich’s longstated claim. Although no longer true, this is still a city with countless churches, two cathedrals and numerous pubs – as well as museums, art galleries and the largest number of medieval buildings in any UK city.

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Bridewell

A WEALTH OF HISTORY Norwich Castle sits at the very centre of the city. Dating back to the Norman Conquest, it has undergone many transformations over the years. Now a museum and art gallery, it hosts a changing mix of major exhibitions. A booked tour of the dungeons provides the opportunity to see areas not normally available to the public. www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk Only a few minutes walk away is The Bridewell Museum (the Bridewell starting life as a merchant’s house in 1325), a lovely museum focusing on the history of Norwich and containing some surprising collections such as Valentine cards, a complete Victorian pharmacy, pub games and beautiful Norwich shawls. Over at Strangers’ Hall, there is an opportunity to see the transformation of room interiors over the centuries, from the Tudor Great Hall to the clutter of a Victorian sitting room. At Christmas time, the rooms are given an extra touch with period style Christmas decorations. www.museumsnorfolk.org.uk Norwich has the most complete Norman cathedral in England, possessing superb Romanesque architecture. Groups can book guided tours exploring different facets of this magnificent building, such as the stained glass windows and the Cathedral Close, which surrounds the cathedral. The spectacular brightly coloured Medieval roof bosses are one of the glories of the cathedral, with more than 1,000 of them set high in the vaults of the cathedral nave, and in the cloisters; they illustrate not only many bible stories but also The Green Man (an intriguing carving of vegetation growing from a man’s face). www.cathedral.org.uk Within a few minutes walk of the Cathedral is The Great Hospital. Founded in 1249, it acted as a home for aged priests and poor scholars. Expanded over the centuries, it still provides sheltered housing for those who need it. Tours of the Great Hospital can be booked, allowing visitors to discover some of the more unusual facets of the complex, such as the 18th century swan pit, the Georgian decorated ceilings within St Helen’s House and a medieval refectory. www.greathospital.org.uk

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Dragon Hall

At the opposite end of the city is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist. This is the second largest Catholic Cathedral in the UK and has been described as the ‘finest example of Victorian Gothic revival’ architecture; designed by George Gilbert Scott, it towers over the surrounding area. The architecture is stunning, with thousands of fossils to be seen on the floors and columns. Group visits can be arranged, and can include a tour of the cathedral tower. Climbing the 230 steps to the top of the tower is hard work but offers breathtaking 360-degree views across Norwich. www.sjbcathedral.org.uk Dragon Hall is one of the most well known medieval buildings in the city. The existing building began life as a merchants’ trading hall, owned by Robert Toppes in the 15th century, although some parts of the site are much older. Hidden from view for centuries, restoration work revealed an intricately carved Medieval dragon on one of the roof timbers within the Great Hall. It is now home to the Writers’ Centre Norwich and the public can visit for special WCN events and special openings including Heritage Open Days in September. www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk Close by is St Julian’s Church which became the home of a Medieval English anchoress (that is, someone who retires from the world to live a life of prayer). Living in permanent contemplation in a walled room, with access to the outer world only through a window, Dame Julian wrote a book entitled Revelations of Divine Love, which became the first book in the English Language known to have been written by a woman. Visitors can now explore the church, see the room in which she lived, and discover more about her life at the adjacent Julian Centre. www.juliancentre.org

THE COMMERCIAL CONNECTION Once a key centre of the footwear industry, Norwich still retains some links. The Van Dal factory is just half a mile from the centre of the city and has a fascinating tour explaining the traditional craft of making shoes. The tour (which must be pre-booked) takes visitors through the working factory, showing each stage of the creation of a pair of shoes, from cutting the leather, to attaching uppers, and fitting soles and trims. Special facilities can be provided for groups and there is car parking on site. There’s also a Factory Shoe shop with an ever-changing collection of the latest styles, end-ofseason lines, special promotions and seconds merchandise. http://www.vandalshoes.com/vandaltour Norwich has long been a centre of the printing industry and this is recalled at the John Jarrold Printing Museum, within a few minutes walk of the city centre. Groups can arrange guided tours of the museum, where different machines are demonstrated to show the development of printing such as hand presses, pen ruling machines, hand type setting, as well as book binding demonstrations. www.johnjarroldprintingmuseum.org.uk

HISTORY AND MYSTERY Blue badge guides can be booked to provide fascinating tours around the city, each tour lasting approximately 90 minutes. Popular tours include Tales of the Riverside exploring the old warehouses and docks passing some of the most picturesque scenery of Norwich, such as Pull’s Ferry and A Pub for Every Day – the numerous pubs for which Norwich is still well known, looking at their names and origins. www.visitnorwich.co.uk For those who dare to discover the hidden secrets of Norwich, The Man in Black undertakes regular ghost tours, walking through the churchyards piled high with those dead from the Plague, witches burned on a bridge and the horrific Lollards Pit. The themed walks at Halloween are definitely not for anyone of a nervous disposition, as anything can happen along the riverbank when listening to tales of ghostly stories from all over Britain. These are always booked up well in advance, with huge numbers of people taking part. Private walks and special events can be arranged for groups. www.ghostwalksnorwich.co.uk History Mystery offers small groups a fun way to discover the history of Norwich. This is a locked room mystery based around the stories of the city, from medieval to modern. Located in the historic Guildhall, groups have to unravel mysteries based on real stories of people and places in Norwich against the everticking clock. Alternatively, try solving a local murder while locked in a Victorian gaol cell… www.historymysterygame.com

ARTS EXHIBITION A world renowned collection of art is displayed at the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia, just three miles from the city centre. This is one of Britain’s leading art galleries and contains works by Henry Moore, Picasso, Epstein and Francis Bacon, plus ethnographic art from the Pacific, Americas, Africa and Asia. From October to February, the Sainsbury Centre will be hosting the largest and most comprehensive exhibition about Fiji ever assembled. More than 270 works of art, including European paintings, sculptures, textiles, ivory and shell regalia will be on show. Highlight of the exhibition will be an eight metre double hulled sailing canoe specially made in Fiji using only wood and coir cord. www.scva.ac.uk EVENTS Norwich hosts several annual major festivals, including: Norfolk & Norwich Festival (May 12-28, 2017) hosts acts from around the world and is in the top four UK international city arts festivals. www.nnfestival.org.uk Norfolk & Norwich Open Studios (May/ June 2017) is one of the largest of its kind in the UK and sees the county’s talented artists show off all sorts of works of art from ceramics to paintings, jewellery and digital art to woodcarving. www.nnopenstudios.org.uk Norwich City of Ale beer festival (May/ June 2017). More than 100 pubs are involved in this new style of beer festival, a ten-day event stocking a total of around 300 types of beer along with meet the brewer evenings, live gigs and much more. It attracts people from all over the country. www.cityofale.org.uk
Theatre Royal Norwich has a busy programme of top shows, including West End quality musicals, ballet, and stand-up comedy. For group discounts call 01603 630 000 secure.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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