Forncett History Group

Norwich Walk - Weavers and Shoemakers

Written by Jan Rutter on .

Colegate, Cloth Merchan'ts HouseOn Thursday 13th October a group of about a dozen Forncett HIistory Group members and friends met at the Erpingham Gate of Norwich Cathedral for a guided tour around the area, where weavers and textile workers of the past had plied their trade.

Our excellent guide for the event was Rod Spokes, who delivered a very interesting and informative talk and commentary, skilfully guiding us around many ‘nooks and crannies’ in the streets and courtyards around the Colegate area. One particularly surprising place was ‘Whip and Nag Court’, a quaint, council restored courtyard such as would have been seen in many areas around central Norwich.

The tour also took in Blackfriars Hall, where we were shown portraits, some dating back to the 16th century, of the Lord Mayors of Norwich. Many of them had were the cloth merchants for whom the weavers worked.

The main manufactured article produced by the weavers was worsted (named after the village in Norfolk) cloth, which was that worn by the wealthy, and, at a later date, shawls worn by Victorian ladies over their shoulders and bustles. The weaving had originally been carried out as a cottage industry and Rod pointed out the large top floor windows of the houses that had been necessary to provide the light required for this intricate work. Unfortunately due to the stubborn refusal of the weavers to accept progress and mechanisation, in order to compete with the factories in the North, the trade was doomed to die out in the 19th century.

Rod was also a fount of knowledge about the architecture of the shoe factories of the district. We were all impressed by the quality of the buildings and the evident pride the owners had taken in them. What a contrast with modern day units! Unfortunately too, this industry has declined and none now remains in use as to their original purpose.

This was a wonderful morning and gave us all a chance to explore an area of historical Norwich, which hitherto many of us had not realised had existed. I, for one, can’t wait for another opportunity to repeat the event with a different theme!

Photographs by Richard Ball