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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Cowgate Street to Whitefriars

Cowgate Street to Whitefriars

The road north of the Cathedral leads us to Whitefriars Bridge which was rebuilt in 1924 to provide a stronger and wider bridge for the traffic needs of the twentieth century. The street beyond this, now known as Whitefriars, was formerly called Cowgate Street, a very narrow cobbled throughfare which bent slightly north-eastwards before reaching St James church on the right. The street was a varied collection of houses and industrial buildings. On the left were many early nineteenth century red brick three storey houses.

St James Mill

Alongside the river Wensum stands St James mill which was built in 1836 in an attempt to regenerate the local yarn industry by The Norwich Yarn Company. They sold shares to the value of £100.00 to help pay for this grand industrial building. Originally there were six buildings in the complex, two weaving sheds, two engine rooms, a boiler house and the mill. As the building was being built the textile industry in England was suffering a downturn so parts of this new building were hired out to other industries including Caleys. In buying the mill the Jarrold family made their first major investment in 1902, although John Jarrold ll had purchased one of the original shares for which he had paid for in ten pound instalments. They were able to move some of their large printing equipment and extend their current business based in London Street. At the end of the First World War Jarrolds took advantage of a Government advertisement looking for a Government Instructional Factory where appropriate trades could be taught to injured servicemen returning from the War. Jarrold persuaded Caleys to leave and sold the mill for this purpose. Included in the list of trades were carpentry, bricklaying, plastering, tailoring and watch repair. Jarrold were able to repurchase the mill in 1927 and by the end of the Second World War they employed 800 people and were major printers for the Home Office and many of the major publishers. In the 1990s the top three floors were turned into office space taken up by several firms.

Fastolfs House

One house that stood out was on the left hand side of Cowgate Street, opposite St James Church graveyard. This timber framed, cement rendered house was called Fastolfs House. The address of this house was 104-108 Cowgate Street. It was the tallest in this row with two prominent gables and an overhang supported by two posts and a northern gable creating another story with two  dormer windows. At one time the house had up to fourteen bedrooms and three smaller buildings in the yard to the rear of the property. In 1830 Fastolfs House became a Public House under the name of the Ship Inn. There were a further eight similar licensed properties on this small street. It remained as The Ship Inn until 1904, when it was occupied by many families until the City Corporation purchased the building on the 30th July 1938 for the grand sum of £470. The house stood empty until 1948 when it was demolished as well as many others in this street.

The house has been identified as belonging to Sir John Fastolf who used the house when in Norwich. The house is believed to be of 15th century origin.

Sir John Fastolf

Sir John owned many properties in England and France including Blickling Hall at one time. Sir John lived a full and varied life. He was born at Caistor Manor House in 1378 and made a name for himself in the French wars including participation in the battle of Agincourt in 1418, He was also a close friend of Henry lV, brother the Duke of Bedford. He moved back to Norfolk and had Caistor Castle built for himself and spent his last years in Norfolk before his death in 1459. Sir John was buried at St Benet's Abbey in Norfolk in what was described as a magnificent funeral attended by many of the nobility in their hundreds. All his property and goods were left to the Paston family which is why he gets several mentions in the Paston letters. 100 years later Shakespeare based one of his characters on Sir John, using the name Falstaff and made him a cowardly character which history has shown him not to be.


On Cowgate Street there were many yards including Ship yard, Bennetts yard, Priory yard and Bradfields yard. At one count there were five on each side of the street. These yards developed in the open spaces between and behind ageing properties. Many of these buildings would have started out as fine houses but once the wealthy moved to better areas outside of the city the developers moved in and filled any space possible with accommodation for the large numbers of low paid workers. One such yard was Factory yard located at 141 Cowgate Street which took its name from the St James Yarn Factory and the Yarn Factory Tavern. The pub and yard were damaged in an air raid on 5th September 1942 which destroyed several properties in Cowgate  and nearby Fisher gate .

St Jame's Church

St James Church was saved from any damage, unlike St Pauls which stood fifty yards away in a diagonal direction which received a direct hit and was badly damaged. Due to this damage and the arrival of St Crispins new road the remains of the church was demolished. A children's playground now stands on the piece of land where St Pauls once stood.

St James church was founded in the time of William the Conqueror and has been called by many names including St James the less and St James with Pockthorpe. The Church was closed in 1972 and was converted in 1980 into a Puppet Theatre, and has recently celebrated 30 years of shows. It is a listed building and it will be standing for many years to come.

Between 1937 and 1949 this whole area became part of a massive redevelopment as a direct impact of the new inner ring road of St Crispins. Most of the housing stock was purchased by the City Corporation and cleared to make a straight road which was renamed Whitefriars.

Sources/Further Reading:

  • St James Mill.. A short History printed by Jarrolds  in 2008.
  • George Plunkett, Pictures of Norwich at georgeplunkett
  • NOAH, Norfolk County Council.


Dale Wiseman

January 2010