One of the five largest cities in Norman England, NORWICH once served a vast hinterland of East Anglian cloth producers, whose work was brought here by river and then exported elsewhere. Its isolated position beyond the Fens meant that it enjoyed closer links with the Low Countries than with the rest of England and, by 1700, Norwich was the second richest city in the country after London. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, however, Norwich lost ground to the northern manufacturing towns – the city’s famous mustard company, Colman’s, is one of its few industrial success stories – and this has helped preserve much of the ancient street plan and many of the city’s older buildings. Pride of place goes to the beautiful cathedral and the sterling castle, but the city’s hallmark is its medieval churches, thirty or so squat flintstone structures with sturdy towers and sinuous stone tracery round the windows. Many are no longer in regular use and are now in the care of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, whose website describes each church in precise detail.
Norwich’s relative isolation has also meant that the population has never swelled to any great extent and today, with just 140,000 inhabitants, it remains an easy and enjoyable city. Yet Norwich is no provincial backwater. In the 1960s, the foundation of the University of East Anglia (UEA) made it more cosmopolitan and bolstered its arts scene, while in the 1980s it attracted new high-tech companies, who created something of a mini-boom, making the city one of England’s wealthiest. As East Anglia’s unofficial capital, Norwich also lies at the hub of the region’s transport network, serving as a useful base for visiting the Broads and as a springboard for the north Norfolk coast.