Mr Marten, who chose not to reveal his forename in his Diary of 1825, came to Norwich for the very first time in early September of that year. His, was not so much a visit to the City, but a tour of a sizable part of Norfolk; he came with his wife, daughter and a servant. They were what could be better described today as tourists, and because Mr Marten was something as a diarist, we benefit from a unique and fresh impression of their destinations as they were at the time.
The diary describes how he began his tour from London Docks on the Thames built steam packet ‘Hero’, bound for Norfolk. They reached the port of Great Yarmouth a little over a day later, their mini-cruise probably more comfortable and enjoyable than any stage-coach journey. We are told that they stayed in Yarmouth and visited the more fashionable Gorleston. On Saturday, 10 September, Mr Marten’s party boarded yet another, but smaller, steam vessel to make their way along the river Yare, some 27 miles and a journey time of approximately 5 hours, to Norwich.
The boat arrived in the city near the Ranelagh Gardens entertainment centre, formerly the Quantrell’s Gardens; the area had been renamed after the Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea, London by Samuel Neech when the Norwich site had come into his hands sometime near the end of the 18th century. This area was just one part of Norwich’s Pleasure Gardens. It was a spot on the river which was also associated with a circus and, later, its future association with Pablo Fanque.
(Views of Chelsea’s 18th century Ranelagh Gardens; the inspiration for Norwich’s ‘pleasure’ garden of the same name)
Immediately following disembarcation it was probably likely that Marten and his party would have been picked up by a hotel employed vehicle and conveyed, in this instance, to the Norfolk Hotel at 25 St Giles in the city centre near the Market, and where they had been booked in for a several-day stay. The thought that the party would have been picked up made good business sense to the hotels of Norwich; certainly fourteen years later, when trains operated to and from Norwich at Thorpe (incidentally, at the very site of the once Ranelagh Gardens), the Norfolk and Bell hotels had an arrangement whereby visiting customers were conveyed to and from terminous points.
Mr Marten and his party were to take the opportunity of their stay to explore the City and all its facets, but high on their list was to attend various places of worship. The first opportunity to do this was during their first full day in Norwich, which was a Sunday. They attended morning service at the old St Mary’s Baptist Chapel near Duke Street. It seems that they were a very devout family for during the evening they attended yet another service at the Princes Street Chapel.
Clearly, two visits to a religous establishment in a week was not enough for Mr Marten, for he and his party headed for Norwich Cathedral on the Monday morning to attend the 9.45am Matins. Marten described the service as “the same as in other Cathedrals” – this comment may well suggest that he was an Anglian, but one who enjoyed visiting different places of worship. He went on to say in his diary:
“There were scarcely a dozen persons besides the ecclesiastics who officiated. The building is in fair preservation considering that it has been [in use] since the year 1096. The interior is very clean and from the magnitude and architecture presents to the eye a solemn grandeur. The Courts & inclosure and ancient houses around it are also kept in that order & have that still and quiet aspect & that appearance of retirement & comfort which is usually found around Country Cathedrals.”
Mr Marten also took a a particular interest in Meeting House buildings and attended a sermon by Mr Joseph Kinghorn, although:
“His preaching was not to us so satisfactory…….He appeared to be more the preacher than the minister or pastor. His pronounciation is very broad…….Mr Kinghorn is a thin tall old gentleman, very plain in his attire, simple in appearance, of acknowledged talents and has entered the lists in controversy with Robert Hall of Leicester on the subject of open communion which is advocated by the latter and opposed by the former.”
(The Old Meeting House, Colgate, Norwich. Photos: (c) George Plunkett.)
On Thuesday, 13 September 1825, Marten and his family continued their tour of Norwich but found the stones with which the Norwich streets were paved very annoying; this would seem to be a strange re-action to a material that had long been widely used for laying road and pavements in many other towns and cities. Nevertheless, they prevailed and on the same day, obtained permission to:
“mount the top of the elevated castle in order to have a panoramic view of the City and the hills which surround it, but we were dissuaded on account of the wind blowing so strong that it would be difficult to stand against it”.
However, they did manage to walk round the castle to where it was “loft enough to afford a view over the houses to the distant hills.” From there they counted 23 steeples of the 36 churches which the Map of Norwich stated to be in it. The view “prolonged our stay because of the pleasure we enjoyed”.
“We then walked about the large city & came by St Giles Church into Heigham, and called on Mr Grout who permitted us to go through his important Silk Manufactory. The works are in several floors and the winding twisting bobbinings are by machinery moved by a beautiful 20-horsepower engine. These operations are watched and conducted by more than seventy females, some so young as 7 to 8 years of age. These are on foot from seven in the morning till eight in the evening watching the threads, repairing the broken & seeing that all go on well – occasionally supplying oil where wanted to prevent evil from friction. Only that they have half an hour to breakfast & an hour for dinner. And these little girls earn some 5 shillings, some 5 shillings/6d a week.”
“We were then shewn the winding into warp – the subsequent Beaming – & the reeds for the weaving & were informed that a yard wide crape has in that breadth 2560 single twisted threads of silk. We then saw one of the female superintendents at her crape loom, and afterwards the turners shop where nine men were employed in preparing Bobbins etc. for the factory here & the much larger [factory] which Mr Grout is now erecting at Yarmouth. The silk used here is principally from Bengal but part was the white silk fron China.”
“Seeing a loom going in a private house as we passed we asked the woman who was weaving Norwich crape & learned that she could, by close application, weave eleven yards each day – but we omitted to ask her earnings by that work.”
Where Mr Marten and family ate and refreshed themselves between forays is not known but they kept going thoughout each day. They walked towards the north of the City until they reach its outskirts and fields beyond and “found the population lively”. They were also amazed by the number of churches:
“so abounding that the eye could scarcely fail to see two or three which ever way it turned. Many of these were flint faced and some of them with squared flints very carefully cut & nicely laid” – They even counted eleven steeples from their hotel windows.
Their stay was also to include walks through both the eastern and southern parts of the city where they saw “many very large & elegant houses.” Marten even picked up on the fact that Norwich was in the process of building a new prison at the top end of St Giles, in an area now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral. One wing of the new prison was expected to open for business later that year and Marten was sufficiently interested in the site to request a visit. He went on to write:
“We were admitted to go over the whole building. The Governor’s House is in the centre and from several windows he can at all times inspect every part of the prision. The Chapel is in the Governor’s House. His pew is opposite & very close to the Pulpit which is entered from the winding stair case. The Felons are in Pews even with this Governor whose eye may be constantly on them – and the Turnkeys guard the two entrances during the whole of divine services – the Debtors are on the floor of the Chapel and thus everyone can see & hear the Preacher. We were shewn the cells for the Felons who are confined at night separately – but they have a Day Room & they have the priviledge of the open air in a yard allotted to them. Condemned Felons left for execution have other & still stronger lonesome cells which they are not permitted to leave until the hour when they are taken to the platform over the entrance gate to surrender their forfeited lives to the violated justice of their Country.”
Marten’s general impression of the City was favourable, apart of course for those streets which were paved with small pebbles and flints, making walking “uneasy to the foot and on which one unused cannot walk either steadily of comfortably.” Other than that:
“We were not accosted in any of our walks even by a single medicant [a beggar] – Everyone seemed busy and we were told by a Gentleman, a resident, that no complaints were heard and that the manufacturers and general business of the place were in thriving condition. Houses of the third and fourth rate & some even beneath these were buildings to a great extension of Norwich, a circumstance which marks many other cities beside this.”
Marten’s final comments, as he prepared his party for their departure from Norwich, was to say that their stay had been pleasant and:
“the Norfolk Hotel intitled to praise for the goodness of its provisions – the neatness of its accommodation….and attention of its conductors & servants. We were also perfectly satisfied with the reasonableness of its charges. We left the Hotel at 20 minutes before 4 o’clock in the stage for Cromer……….”
Twinch, C., Norwich Book of Days, The History Press, 2012
Reeve, Christopher, (pages 169-172) Norwich The Biography, Amberley Publishing, 2014.
Norwich Record Office.
Photo (Feature Heading): View of Norwich from Mousehold Heath. By John Walker after Charles Catton junior, Norwich. Engraving from The Itinerant, published 1 March 1792
British Museum, London © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The George Plunket photographs are by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.