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The Green Spaces and Culture of Late Medieval Norwich: Municipal, Ecclesiastical and Medical
By Melissa Gaudoin
Master’s Thesis, University of East Anglia, 2007
Introduction: Norwich has long been characterized as a verdant city, abounding with flowers and trees, parks, gardens and meadows, yet the academic community has not yet fully explored this aspect of the city’s heritage. The most illuminating article about its gardens was produced in the early 1970s by Trevor Fawcett for an archaeological journal. He examined the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pleasure gardens, which were documented in detail and pictured on a variety of printed plans and maps, within the context of English polite society. Yet the history of the city’s gardens is, in fact, far older. Many visitors to, and writers on, Norwich from the seventeenth century onwards considered that the green and fertile beauty of Norwich began in the mid-sixteenth century, owing to the influx of settlers from the Low countries. Thomas Fuller remarked in 1662 that:
NORWICH is (as you please) either a City in an Orchard, or an Orchard in a City, so equally are Houses and Trees blendid in it, so that the pleasure of the Country, and populousness of the City meet here together. Yet in this mixture, the inhabitants participate, nothing of the rusticalness of the one, but altogether of the urbanity and civility of the other.
He surmised that Dutch settlers, who were first invited to the city in the 1560s, provided Norwich with the knowledge and skills to create this verdant prospect as they “brought hither with them, not onely their profitable crafts, but pleasurable cur[i]osities. They were the first who advanced the use and reputation of Flowers in this City”. However, it is possible to unearth and interpret the green landscape and culture of Norwich before the arrival of these sixteenth-century Strangers, who may have merely enhanced the veritable rus in urbe (countryside within the city) that was the walled townscape of Norwich in the late medieval period. Continuities with earlier times abound. Many of the open spaces of Norwich today, such as the cathedral precinct and Chapelfield, have their roots in the swathes of greenery found in the medieval period. Moreover, the possession or leasing of a small patch of ground for one’s own use has been almost ubiquitous throughout the centuries.
Recently historians and archaeologists have begun to discover the reality of medieval Norwich as a green city, the most notable texts are by Claire Noble and Roberta Gilchrist, on the gardens and lands belonging to Norwich Cathedral Priory; Carole Rawcliffe, on the precincts of the Norwich hospitals; and, a forthcoming book, on the friary of the Greyfriars by Peter Emery, Elizabeth Rutledge and others. However, there has been no significant examination of the other open spaces of Norwich, which include the lands of the other friaries and the gardens of the secular community. The aim of this thesis is, therefore, to determine, by using interdisciplinary methods, how extensive the open green spaces of late medieval and early modern Norwich were. We shall also seek to discover the ways in which gardens and meadows were utilized and viewed by the different sections of the population of Norwich: the religious and the lay, the lower classes and the gentry, the men and the women, and to compare the reality of the gardens of Norwich, as revealed through archaeological excavation, contemporary pictorial representations and written records from the city, with the descriptions and depictions of the ideal garden produced by writers, illustrators and artists.