History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
A simple plaque outside the main entrance to the keep tells the story of one of the most dramatic and tragic tales in the history of the castle. In 1549 Robert Kett was executed for his role in a popular rebellion against land enclosure. The memorial reads:
In 1549 AD Robert Kett, yeoman farmer of Wymondham was executed by hanging in this castle after the defeat of the Norfolk Rebellion of which he was the leader. In 1949 AD - four hundred years later - this memorial was placed here by the citizens of Norwich in reparation and honour to a notable and courageous leader in the long struggle of the common people of England to escape from a servile life into the freedom of just conditions.
From Gaol to Museum
Like many urban castles Norwich gradually fell into disuse and as early as the 14th century the keep was used as the county gaol, a function it fulfilled until the late 18th century when a new set of prison buildings was designed by Sir John Soanes incorporating part of the keep. These 18th century prison buildings were rebuilt and enlarged in the 19th century, then in 1883 the gaol moved to a new location at Mousehold Heath and the castle was transformed into a museum. Part of that transformation included a new roof and a balcony inserted at the level of the old Norman hall. Now Norwich Castle operates as the principle county museum, with displays of Lowestoft Porcelain, ceramic teapots, Norwich silver, and work by the Norwich School of Artists.
There are really two separate parts of the castle; the Keep, and the Museum, and each has separate admission, though a joint ticket is available. WOur family opted for a joint ticket, over the objections of our daughter, who isn't keen on museums at the best of times. Our first stop was the Keep. The ground floor is filled with displays of local history, many aimed at getting children interested in the history of the castle. There are hands-on displays were children can build a castle, try on period costumes, and get an idea of what life was like in the medieval castle. We joined a fun event by a costumed 'rat-catcher' who gotthe children to find stuffed 'rats' that were hiding around the castle.
Our daughter had a wonderful time racing the clock to find as many rats as possible in a set time limit. When the game was over we explored the keep at leisure. It doesn't actually take that long; you can descend to the cellars for a look at the foundations, and up to the first floor to see minimal remains of chambners built into the walls where the royal apartments would have stood. Of these the best historic feature was the king's chapel, with vestiges of carved capitals.
Then it was off to the museums. We quite enjoyed the Saxon museum; there were some very interesting exhibits, but our budding Egyptologist daughter spent much more time looking at the Egyptian displays - an odd choice of displays for a Norman castle I thought, but still worth a look.
We spent a couple of hours in the castle before the younger generation finally rebelled and we called it quits. My impression is that there really is a bit of something for everyone at the castle. The museum galleries are excellent, and the Keep interior should really help give visitors an idea of the history of the castle and the city.
About Norwich Castle
Address: Castle Meadow, Norwich, East Anglia, Norfolk, England, NR1 3JU
Attraction Type: Castle
Website: Norwich Castle
Phone: 01603 493625
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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14th century (Time Period) - 18th century (Time Period) - 19th century (Time Period) - castle (Architecture) - Edward I (Person) - Henry I (Person) - Medieval (Time Period) - motte and bailey (Historical Reference) - Norman (Architecture) - Saxon (Time Period) - William the Conqueror (Person) -
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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