Search Form
font size: Increase | Decrease | Reset
Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

The Wilderness Pleasure Gardens

The Wilderness Pleasure Gardens

There are remarkably few historic documents for this section of Norwich. In part this is because this area of the city was sparsely built up and most medieval documents that survive are related to purchases of land or property. In the thirteenth century the land inside the Wall was held by a priest called Nicholas de Berstrete. About 1216 he granted the land to Sibrand Prat for the sum of thirty shillings which included part of the land which was John de Botelers. It extended from the Gates of Berestrete to Conesford in breadth, and in length from the Ditch of the City to the Pathway which extends to the King's way and the Church yard of St. Peter of Southgate. This was a very large area covering all the steep hillside from Ber Street to King Street and every thing south of that. It is interesting that although Boteler owned the property in the twelfth century his name survived, for Carrow Hill is referred to as Butlers Hill until the late nineteenth century. The outer ditch running down Carrow Hill was dry and was open land with a pathway winding down from Bracondale to King Street.

In 1748 Samuel Bruister acquired the land inside the walls on a hundred year lease and appears to have opened a pleasure garden here, as described by Trevor Fawcett's article on Norwich Pleasure Gardens in Norwich Archaeology. In 1768 public breakfasts were held in the gardens, in the evenings the walls were illuminated and there were illuminated walks through the gardens. By 1771 the walls and the gardens were privately owned and the Black Tower was called Mackarel's Tower.

By 1873, when Morant's map was published, the road down Carrow Hill was called Butlers Hill. By 1885 the year that the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map was issued, the hillside below Carrow Hill House, running down to St.Peter's Church and King Street was called the Wilderness.

The 'aerostatic' globe

The decade from 1780 was the golden age of the "aerostatic globe" as balloons were called and the people of Norwich were enthusiastic about them. There were many demonstration flights, both manned and unmanned, from the various gardens and it is known that the Wilderness Pleasure gardens had 'Displays'. In 1829 a Balloon Display took place in the Wilderness Gardens by permission of the Rt. Worshipful Mayor J. Harvey when it was noted that Parson Woodforde stood on Bracondale to watch the ascent. The Aeronaught was Mr Graham. The cost of attending - to see the inflation and ascent -was two shillings. To stand on the Upper ground was three shillings, with tickets obtainable from shops and respectable Inns. Seats on the upper walk provided exclusive accommodation for the nobility and gentry.

There was a Wilderness Walk along the top of the Ber Street Hills leading to the Pleasure Gardens. Today a similar walk exists to fit around modem buildings; it can be entered via a gate at the top of Thorn Lane. Following this path today as it winds through a modern housing complex, it is hard to imagine the crowds, excitement and activity a hundred and fifty years ago.

James Hook and the Lass of Richmond Hill

He was born in 1746 near St. John Maddermarket and taught at the Cathedral by the organist where he was seen as a child prodigy. After an early career in Norwich he moved to London, becoming well known as an organist and composer at the Marylebone Gardens before returning and becoming the director of the Vauxhall Gardens, a post he held for fifty years. He wrote hundreds of popular songs many appearing on concert programmes in Norwich. The only one of his songs to be remembered today is The Lass of Richmond Hill. This raises a very interesting question: - did the sweet Lass have a Norfolk accent?

It is generally assumed the title refers to London's Richmond Hill but those of us who know Norwich will have noticed that we too had a Richmond Hill and a Richmond Hill Tavern .

Ellen Clarke

August 2010