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A Royal Castle and centre of Norman administration, now a museum of international importance


Castle Keep
Egyptian Gallery
Anglo-Saxon & Viking Gallery
Boudica Gallery
Natural History Gallery
Art Galleries
Norwich Castle was the centre of Norman administration and the only royal castle in Norfolk and Suffolk until 1165. The style of the building matches those constructed in western France, particularly in the Loire valley, where the Keeps were mostly two storeys, with a hall above a basement. According to the Domesday Book, 98 houses were demolished to make way for the castle earthworks, within which the Normans built a wooden fort, surrounded by deep defensive dry ditches.

The Castle ditch today, containing a performing theatre
The more permanent structure that you see today, replaced the wooden fort. This masonry keep was made out of three different types of stone; some brought in from Caen in Normandy, others from Northamptonshire, while parts were sourced locally. At the beginning of the 13th century a stone gatehouse and bridge were built around the castle, together with a large drawbridge pit. It also boasted a deep well, numerous battlements and a moat.

The Castle overlooking the City

Did You Know?

Despite its impressive structure, Norwich Castle has been besieged several times. One such occasion was early in the reign of Henry III, when the Castle was captured by Louis the Dauphin, the heir to the King of France. He had been incited by a group of treacherous English barons to take the English throne. Louis captured several other castles along with Norwich, but was eventually bought off with a large sum of money, which persuaded him to give up and return home!

Inside Norwich Castle
Internally, Norwich Castle was equally impressive. To the north was the Great Hall – the largest internal room of the keep. With a floor area of around two thousand square feet, the hall housed four magnificent windows along its north wall, and was where the day’s business, feasts and entertaining took place. The royal quarters, on the south side, comprised a large parlour, bedrooms and a private chapel.
Today, as a museum and art gallery, Norwich Castle holds vast and impressive collections of fine art, archaeology, and natural history.

The World's Largest Teapot

8 Things to See at the Castle

1. The Keep

Within the Keep is one of the best exhibits in the Castle Museum; with displays coming together to recreate the colourful history of this Castle. On your left as you enter you will see old implements of torture and hanging. These are artefacts from the prison life of the Keep, which was used as a gaol for over 500 years. At the rear there are magnificent displays of armour, and State silver. In the Keep you will also find a display of archaeological discoveries found nearby, when the site for the adjacent Castle Shopping Mall was excavated.

2. The Battlements

The Castle was built on a man-made mound, raising the top of the Keep up to 124 feet. In the days of its defence, this height provided a vantage point over the city and the river below. Nowadays, if you take the guided tour and are brave enough to climb the 900-year-old spiral staircase, the views across the city in all directions from the battlements are breathtaking.

3. The Dungeons

On your way down to the dungeons, you will be shown the site of the prisoners’ treadmill, which captives of the time were forced to walk on everyday as part of their forced punishment. Once down the steps into the dungeons below, chains, shackles, stocks, scold’s bridles, gibbet irons and whipping posts are all things you will find as reminders of the harsh sentencing of the time. A scold’s bridle resembled an iron muzzle, and was used on women as a punishment for riotous speech. Gibbets were used to display the dead bodies of prisoners who had been hanged, but the practice was stopped in the 18th century when it was considered to be distasteful. In the 19th century, additional rail services were laid on for the areas surrounding Norwich, so that day-trippers could come and watch the public executions. The death masks on display in the dungeons are plaster or wax casts of a person’s face, and were made following the death of some of the most notorious people executed in Norwich.

4. Anglo Saxon Viking Gallery

Norwich Castle has one of the best collections of Anglo Saxon material in the country, so much so that it has been designated by the government as being of outstanding quality. The variety of objects encompasses items of local through to international significance. On display are loans from the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Museum of Denmark. Walking around this gallery you will find interactive fun for all ages. Children can dress up as an Anglo-Saxon or a Viking, whilst older members can play games such as Trade and Raid, or learn more about the history and use of objects on display by taking the Star Objects trail on the gallery computer.

5. Boudica Gallery

Boudica was the great warrior queen of the lceni, a Celtic tribe of Britain who lived in wider Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. She is one of Britain’s most famous historical figures, and her people dominated during the late Iron Age, at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43. Among the life-size models of the Boudica’s battle scenes that you will find in the gallery, the most dominant is the wooden war chariot the warrior queen would have used herself. You will also see some rare objects including a sword from the Iron Age, a rare bronze ceremonial helmet worn by the Romans, and Europe’s largest collection of gold and silver torcs from the Iron Age. These were neck rings that were worn as symbols of power. All of these items were discovered locally. In fact there are more archaeological finds every year in Norfolk, than anywhere else in Britain.

6. Egyptian Gallery

In the centre of the middle floor of the museum is the Egyptian Gallery. The artefacts on display here range from 2,500 to 4,500 years old. They were donated to the castle from the collections of wealthy Norfolk travellers who visited Egypt in the 19th century – Jeremiah Colman, of Colman’s mustard, being one of the most well known donators. Among the displays are elaborate jewellery pieces that would have adorned the Egyptians, and amulets, which are objects thought to have the power to protect their carrier from trouble, and bring good luck. Probably the most striking artefact is the mummy of Ankh Hor, who was a priest in the temple of Amun in Karnak, about 3,000 years ago. He would have been one of the most important and affluent people in Egypt, and his mummy was presented to the castle in 1928, by King George V. Other mummy cases in the gallery show the intricate artistic skills of the Egyptians, in artwork and hieroglyphics.

7. Natural History Gallery

On the ground floor of the museum you will find the Ted Ellis Norfolk Room, and the Natural History Galleries. Among the magnificent displays of natural history is the Bird Gallery, where there are examples of nearly every species of bird found in Britain. This display dates back to the 19th century, when collecting birds was an acceptable form of study. The variety of other animals on show range from the tiniest shrew to the great polar bear. This bear was shot near Spitzbergen, by Lord Sommerleyton in 1897. The exhibits, which date back to 1825, were donated to the Castle by King George V and others who had ventured on expeditions to then unexplored lands.

8. Art Gallery

Among the art galleries of the Castle there are modern and classical works ranging from the 17th to 20th centuries. They include paintings from the famous Norwich School, whose artists capture beautifully the history of Norwich and its rural surroundings. The majority of these paintings were given to the museum by the Colman family, founders of Colman’s mustard. There are also paintings from the 17th century Dutch School, a display of the long-standing links between East Anglia and the Dutch. The English Country House and Victorian Galleries reflect beautifully the wealth and elegance of that time, and at the far end of the Chrome Gallery you will find a William Beechey portrait of Horatio Nelson himself. Under the portrait, perched on top of an old cabin chair, is Nelson’s own hat. The chair also carries a commemorative plaque from Nelson’s cabin on the HMS Victory.
Visitor Information
Norwich Castle is open daily (pay).
Norwich Tourist Information Centre, The Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich, NR2 1TF. Tel: 01603 213 999

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