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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Norwich‘s heritage

For most of the medieval period and into the late eighteenth century Norwich was England's second city and its mercantile wealth have allowed it to become one of the great heritage cities of Europe.

Its physical assets at the time were remarkable, even on a European scale - almost 60 churches, half a dozen other religious complexes all attracting works by some of the finest craftspeople and artists of their era, remarkable collections of art and books, fine merchant houses and other institutions. But its role as a social, economic and cultural engine in Europe at the time was far more dramatic.

The religious institutions were not only great European Christian centres but also functioned as important centres of learning and as the universities of their time - the friaries in Norwich attracted scholars from all over Europe, including a future Pope.

The city's governors were also the nation's power brokers and families such as the Howards, Boleyns, Cokes, Hobarts, Erpinghams and Pastons made Norwich a great city, not just in the English context but in Europe. This greatness stemmed from its trading links and the high level of European immigration. From its earliest times, Norwich had integrated Danes, Fresians, Normans, Bretons, Jews and Flemings and by the mid 16th century almost 40% of the population was Dutch, Walloon, Flemish or Huguenot French. This immense cultural influx had a significant impact on the culture, look and feel of the city, making it a real European city not a remote provincial English town and this was later reinforced by further Jewish and Italian immigration.

While the Reformation, the Civil War, neglect, greed, the Second World War and institutional vandalism all contributed to diminishing this great resource, a vast amount remains.  Nonetheless the passage of centuries has meant that the city's heritage has become fragmented and forgotten rather than completely destroyed. What is now often seen as a random scatter of old buildings, church art, museum collections and some largely overlooked records still represents, collectively, one of the most significant heritage resources in the UK and indeed Europe.

Click here to view a timeline of some key events from Norwich, England and the world from the last 1,000 years.

To find out more about the history of Norwich browse our Research Centre for articles covering a wide range of topics related to Norwich's fascinating history.