Castles Uncovered Logo

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle sits in a commanding position at the top of hill in the heart of the old city of Norwich. Its massive square stone keep is one of the largest in the country and was originally built from expensive Caen stone blocks.

The exact date of the first castle at Norwich is unknown. However, Norwich was one of the largest medieval towns in England and William the Conqueror would have needed to ensure its subjugation.

William's castle was a wooden motte-and-bailey castle, but still royal and it was probably built within a year of the Conquest.

Early Turmoil and Siege

Norwich Castle's first official mention comes in 1075 during the Revolt of the Earls. Ralph de Gael rebelled against William I and took the castle. The rebellion failed and the Earl sailed to Denmark for reinforcements, leaving his wife to hold the castle against William I's men. She held out for three months in the timber castle until she obtained favourable terms.

After the (now former) Earl and his wife retreated to their estates in Brittany Norwich came back under royal control.

Henry I probably erected the impressive stone keep sometime around 1125-1135, although some scholars think it was done later. However, it does bear a striking resemblance to Chateau de Falaise in Normandy which Henry definitely did construct.

The keep is one of the most ornate in the country. It is a hall keep faced with Caen stone over a flint core. Blank arcading adorns the outer walls in between pilaster buttresses. King Henry I also raised the height of the motte and deepened the surrounding ditch.

Norwich Castle last saw military action during the First Barons' War in 1216. Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk with a force of over 800 men, took the castle and ransomed off a number of prisoners. When peace was restored Norwich was returned to royal control.

A Jail and Museum

Norwich Castle's importance as a defensive structure was declining throughout the 13th Century. Norwich was expanding and the construction of the city wall in 1294 left the castle sitting in the centre of the city.

The castle became a prison in 1220 and some outbuildings were added to the top of the motte. The keep's outer shell has been repaired a number of times. The exterior was entirely refaced in Bath stone in the 1830s by Anthony Salvin, but thankfully he remained true to the original design.

Inside the keep there were originally three levels. There was a ground storey which would have been used for storage and a double height storey above divided by a cross-wall into a hall and solar. The cross-wall has since been replaced with a Victorian arcade.

In 1887 the city of Norwich bought the castle to use it as a museum. Today it is still the county's principal museum housing an impressive range of local collections.

Exhibits on display include work by the Norwich School of Artists, Lowestoft porcelain and Norwich silver.

Norwich Castle is also part of the Norman Connections Project. The main Keep floor will have an arms and armour exhibition and other parts of the castle will have displays on Norman objects and interior design.

The museum is home to a number of art and natural history galleries. The Boudica Gallery tells the story of Queen Boudica of the Iceni who let the revolt against the Romans in AD 60. The Anglo-Saxon and Viking displays cover from 410AD to the Norman Conquest with a range of objects and interactive displays.

Almost the entire museum is accessible to wheelchair users, except the battlements and dungeons. Other facilities available at the castle include a cafe, gift shop, cloakroom, baby-changing facilities and accessible toilets. The castle is also happy to accommodate group visits and can arrange a selection of tours and talks. There is also a full programme for schools groups and under-5s groups.

Status: Museum / Heritage Centre / Visitor Attraction
Owner: Norfolk County Council
Tel: +44 (0)1603 493 625
Opening Times: July to September Daily Mon-Sat 10am to 5pm Sun 1pm to 5pm / October to June Mon-Sat 10am to 4.30pm Sun 1pm to 4.30pm

Looking up at Norwich Castle
Looking up at Norwich Castle

19th Century engraving showing Norwich Castle as a prison
19th Century engraving showing Norwich Castle as a prison

Copyright © 2011-2015 Castles Uncovered. All rights reserved.
Privacy Policy | Useful Addresses