The study weekend was held in the Maids Head Hotel in the heart of the medieval quarter of Norwich and directly opposite the cathedral. The event covered a number of themes including Kett’s Rebellion, Norwich in the Civil War, Protestantism and the medieval architecture of the city.
On the Friday evening we had a talk by Professor Andy Wood of Durham University on Kett’s Rebellion. Andy is an expert on early modern social history and has studied extensively the causes, course and consequences of the Rebellion in the reign of Edward VI. His talk emphasised the political, social and religious tensions that underpinned the Rebellion. Andy returned to the study weekend on Saturday afternoon and gave a guided tour of the main sites in Kett’s Rebellion, starting with the centre of Royalist resistance in the Castle. We then returned to the hotel by way of the medieval quarter and Tombland, scene of bitter fighting during the uprising.
On Saturday morning we visited the Old Meeting House Congregational Church that was built in 1643 in the middle of the Civil War. The pastor, Dr John Clements (in the full costume of a seventeenth century preacher), gave a talk on the origins of the church and the early history of the independent movement in the city. The Separatist Free Church opposed the rule of bishops and naturally sided with the Parliamentarians during the course of the Civil War. William Bridge, from Norwich, took part in the 1643 Westminster Assembly that advised on the Puritan reform of the Church. We then had a tour of the chapel which was one of the first such purpose-built independent churches still functioning as a place of worship today.
In the afternoon we had a talk by Dr Joel Halcomb from the University of East Anglia on St George Tombland, a radical parish in the English Revolution. He explored how the church prospered during the Civil War despite being without a parish priest for much of the period. This was followed by a talk in the evening by our own Professor Andy Hopper on ‘The Great Blow’, when, following riots, a store of gunpowder exploded in the city causing extensive damage and loss of life. This event was used as background for exploring the shifting politics of the city during the Revolution and the conflicting tensions within this important Parliamentarian centre.
Finally, on Sunday morning Professor Sandy Heslop of Cambridge University give a talk on the medieval architecture of Norwich. Sandy is an expert on the art and architecture of the medieval period and has studied in detail the surviving churches of the city. He highlighted the changing architectural styles reflecting the different periods and the masons involved in their design and construction. This was followed by a tour of the churches in the medieval quarter surrounding the Maids Head Hotel, contrasting smaller churches such as St James the Less (now the home of the Norwich Puppet Theatre) and St Edmund’s on Fishergate with grander churches such as St George Tombland.
It was a full weekend that guided the attendees through a particularly interesting period in the evolution of Norwich. The hundred years from the mid-16th century to the mid-17th century was a period of great political, social, economic and religious change, reflected in the history and fabric of the city.