Norwich Castle, also known as the Square Box on the Hill, sits on the largest man-made mound in the country. Ever since the 12th century, it has had a significant spot in the city’s skyline which cannot be missed. However, it isn’t just a building standing atop a large hill, instead, it is an iconic building with a significant amount of history to back it up. So, what is the story of the Square Box on the Hill and why is it so important?
Norwich Castles History
The beloved Square Box on the Hill outlines the distinct and rich history in Norwich and the surrounds through models, paintings, prints, architectural plans, and significant memorabilia. Many of these have been on display throughout the castle before. Norwich Castle looks very different to many other castles which is how it got its odd name ‘Square Box on the Hill’. Let’s take a look at the interesting history of Norwich Castle.
When Was Norwich Castle Built?
It was in 1066 that the Normans invaded England successfully under the demand of William the Conqueror. To solidify their newfound power/dominance, they started to erect castles across the country, with Norwich Castle eventually becoming one of them. In only a small amount of time, the Normans, who built Norwich Castle, completely changed Norwich itself. It was as early as 1067 that construction started for Norwich Castle and to prepare for the massive structure, 98 houses had to be demolished.
It was at the end of the 11th century that work began on the second phase of Norwich Castle to replace the timber Keep with a royal palace fit for a king. The castle seemed to just keep growing and now its boundaries are said to have stretched to around 9.3 hectares (23 acres).
A History of Rebellion
It was in 1075 that disaster hit when Ralph de Gael began to rebel against William and in turn took the castle. This came as a surprise to many because Ralph had fought in the Battle of Hastings and had proven himself a loyal and trusted servant of the King. However, he went against the Kings wishes and married Emma FitzOsbern (daughter of William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford). It has since been referred to as the Revolt of the Earls.
A siege was undertaken but soon after ended when there were promises that they would not be harmed. Ralph fled Norwich and left his wife in charge of the castle, but soon after she as forced to surrender.
However, the rebellion didn’t stop there. Henry II’s son rebelled against him back in 1173-1174 during the revolt and started a war. This meant that Norwich Castle was put into a state of readiness to prepare. Henry was joined by many others during the revolt including Hugh Bigod, the 1st Earl of Norfolk.
He was one of the most powerful earls around that joined the revolt against Henry. In May 1174, Bigod advanced on Norwich Castle after 318 Flemish soldiers landed in England to accompany him. They then proceeded to take and hold fourteen prisoners ransom. It wasn’t until later that year that Norwich was returned to a peaceful dwelling. Until 1549, that is.
In 1549, another rebellion had commenced when a number of peasants banded together to protests against the wealthy landowners who were stealing the land they used for farming and grazing animals. It was from that day forward known as Kett’s rebellion because he was one of the landowners that erected the fences around the land. When the peasants confronted Kett, instead of inflicting harm or opting for violence, he instead helped them rip down the fences he had put in.
Then, the peasants, led by Robert Kett, marched over 10 miles into Norwich with numbers growing along the way. It is said that Kett used St Michaels Chappell as his headquarters during the rebellion, nowadays named Kett’s Castle. It wasn’t long before reinforcements had arrived and with Kett and his army deprived of food and supplies, it wasn’t long before they were overruled.
On the 27th of August 1549, Kett fought one last battle but was easily defeated by an army. That battle took the lives of thousands of rebels and many were even taken captive, including Kett.
The Royal Palace
When Norwich Castle was first built, it was created with royalty in mind. This means that it was built as a palace as opposed to a fortification. Though in saying that, no Norman kings ever resided there. Christmas 1121 was the only recorded time that Henry I is known to have stayed at the castle.
The interior of Norwich castle is insane and very much fit for a king. Though it didn’t stay as a royal palace for long, because in the 14th century, it was transformed into a county gaol.
It was in the 14th century that the royal palace quickly became a county gaol while another one was being designed by Sir John Soane between 1792 and 1793. Many people thought that the gaol was very outdated and extremely difficult to patrol, which ended in the block being demolished between the years of 1822 and 1827. Though when a new prison was constructed in the 19th century, the beautiful castles fate became uncertain which started to worry people.
Norwich Castles Museum
Norwich Castles Museum was the saving grace for this royal palace turned gaol. When its fate was becoming uncertain in the 19th century, it was converted into a museum and to this day, it is still a museum. Edward Boardman was commissioned to convert the prison and the Keep. His work also involved ripping things out and removing rubble from the lower areas of the Keep.
The roof also needed fixing, so Boardman got straight to work and built two new fine open arches down the middle of the Keep and also added a balcony nearby. It was in 1894 that the museum officially opened to the public. Some exhibitions include:
- Ancient Egypt
- Boudica and the Romans
- The Anglo-Saxon and Viking Gallery
- The Natural History Galleries
- The Colman Art Galleries
- The Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum Collections
- The Timothy Gurney Gallery
- The Fitch Room
The Present Day
These days, Norwich Castles Museum is full of a rich, unique, and varied selection of interesting exhibits and art collections. It is the perfect place to explore on a solo trip, however, it is also good for families who want to learn and explore the dashing history of Norwich Castle. The castle is also part of the Norfolk Museums Service which is responsible for several museums all around Norfolk.
Castle Gardens in Norwich
Castle Gardens is a beautiful and delicate hidden park in the lovely centre of Norwich. Sitting above the Castle Quarter, the quaint and stunning little garden full of life has great views of the city’s skyline and of course, the beautiful Norwich Castle. It is the perfect place for a picnic or a quick nap in the sun.
Throughout the Castle Gardens in Norwich, there are plenty of benches and lots of green open spaces to bask in. If you have kids, there is also a safe little playground for them to play and burn off their excess energy.
Norwich Castle Dungeons
It is when you visit the dungeons of Norwich Castle that you are completely transported back to medieval England. It is here that you can feel the horrid history that Norwich Castle played part in. Crime, punishment, and prisoner stories fill the dungeons to the very brim and for an additional entrance fee, you can hear it all. Something of particular interest in the dungeons is the creepy line up of death masks that are sitting ever so eerily in one of the dungeon cells. Though they may have a sense of calm surrounding them, these heads are far from calm.
However, the interesting thing about these heads is that they are said to be a huge key in identifying the faces of psychopaths. Under Norwich Castle, there were a plethora of people that were kept in the darkness for months. They were chained, tortured, and relentlessly beaten.
Many people have said that when they stared at the masks, it is as if they could feel the dead surrounding them. Within hours after death, the masks had to be made so that the people didn’t bloat, otherwise, the masks wouldn’t have been as accurate. It was in the 19th and early 20th century that the death masks became more morbid than ever before when they opted to start preserving actual faces.
Norwich Castle Facts
- Some of the walls in Norwich Castle are up to three metres thick.
- Norwich Castle was the third Norman fortress to be built in England after the Tower of London and Colchester.
- To make room for Norwich Castle 98 houses as well as some streets and churches had to be completely demolished.
- Back in 1066, Norwich was the fourth most populated town in England and played home to over 5000 people.
- Every year, the Norwich Castle museum sees around 75 000 visitors.
- The largest collection of British ceramic teapots in the world is at Norwich Castle and is made up of 3000 teapots.
- Norwich Castle was the only one built by William I in East Anglia
If you want a fun and informative day out packed with rich and insightful history, Norwich Castle is the place for you! You will be able to completely immerse yourself in decorative art, paintings, memorabilia, collections, and even spooky dungeons. Not only that, but you are also very close to the city centre, so at any time, you can head off and explore more of the local attractions.
The museum is still around in the present day along with many of its original exhibits. Even the fine art galleries feature some amazing things dating from the 17th to the 20th century and the rich history can be heavily felt due to how prevalent these things were back then. The castle is still much like it was before, however, not it is full of educational properties and the amazing history can be felt with every step you take.
When you check out the museum, you will also be able to gain access to some never-before-seen artifacts and archives that are over a massive 900 years old. They have all recently been uncovered due to the Gateway to Medieval England project in which a plethora of new information has been uncovered. The museum has been an amazing thing that has put the castle in perfect light for all to see.
It was a great decision to turn the castle into an eternal living memory. Now we have incredible and exclusive access to events and architecture that existed far before our time. Filled with tales and events along with all the many changes the castle has witnessed and survived, it doesn’t get more in-depth than this. Some visitors even hold a personal connection to this castle due to their past family members having something to do with the bewildering structure.
For anyone, it is an amazing way to step back into older times and experience what others experienced in a time before we could ever imagine. It is almost like being in a real-life flashback and being able to experience things that existed in the medieval ages is phenomenal. If you have the chance, Norwich Castle is definitely one to add to your list. What are you waiting for?
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