Spiritual History

Norwich is an ancient city, first settled in the 8th century. Many of the first known churches were built in the Saxon period, pre Norman conquest, following the final conversion of East Anglia around 630 AD by St Felix and St Fursey.

Spiritual Time line for Norwich

This details some of the important Christian dates that have been influential in the development of the city spiritually. At one time Norwich was known as the most Christian city in Europe. During the Middle Ages, there was a leper hospital outside each of the city gates; more money was left in legacies to the poor than anywhere else in England (a far higher percentage of people than in London were giving in this way). Mother Julian, an anchoress, writes the first book in English by a woman. “Revelations of Divine Love” is the account of her meditations on the cross and since its rediscovery, having an influence on modern spirituality. Importantly, Thomas Bilney, one of the foremost fathers of the Reformation and who converted Hugh Latimer, came from Norfolk, probably the village of Bilney near Dereham. He was burnt at the stake in Lollards Pit, near the banks of the Wensum, in 1531.
As you will see, the first mental hospital was built in 1714, again the first in England. Norwich is the birth place of Elizabeth Fry (nee Gurney) who brought about prison reform. The wealth of the city was compromised when the weaving industry declined because of competition from the newly established mills in the North of England. Poverty increased as whole families who previously earned their living from weaving became unemployed and Norwich lost its status as an important trading centre.
However, even in the 19th century, philanthropists made their mark through charitable giving and foundations: men such as Jeremiah Colman. Owner of Colman's Mustard at Carrow, he improved the lot of his workers through, among many other innovations, the provision of the first industrial nurse in 1878. After his death, it was recorded that “his deeds of private benevolence far outnumbered those acts of public liberality”.
During the first World War, nurse Edith Cavell daughter, of the vicar of Swardeston, was shot by the Germans in 1915 for assisting British and allied troops escape from Belgium into Holland and then to safety.
Sadly, by the 2001 census, Norwich is named as the most “ungodly” place in the United Kingdom! We have a great heritage of godly men and women who have prayed and lived in our city down the ages. Undoubtedly, there is link between the spiritual health of the city and the well-being of its inhabitants. This influences the life in the county as well as Norwich is a central hub for Norfolk.
In the 17th century, the doctor, philosopher, Thomas Browne, author of one of the foremost books of the Early Modern period of English literature, Religio Medici , used to prayer walk around Norwich. Among his private papers after his death was found this comment, “to pray more and pray always, to pray in all places where quietness invites me to pray, in the house, on the highway, and on the street. And I have resolved to know no street or passage in this city that may not witness that I have not forgotten God.” We believe that by once again following his example and covering our city with prayer, we can have a powerful spiritual impact on it, bringing new life and health. There is evidence that hermits lived above some of the gates that guarded the city, their prayerful presence affecting the “comings in and goings out”. It is with this in mind that we would once more want to guard our city with prayer and thus influence it spiritually for the good.

If you would like to find out more about prayer walking the city of Norwich, do join us at the next Re-digging the Wells meeting:

7.30 p.m. Wednesday 1st February at The House of Prayer, St Edmunds, Fishergate


630 Final conversion to Christianity of East Anglia (St Felix)
1075 Bishopric moved to Thetford – Herbert de Losinga appointed Bishop
1094 Bishopric moved to Norwich
1096 Bishop Herbert de Losinga began to build Cathedral and Benedictine Priory founded
1121 – 1145 The Cathedral is finished by Eborard
1144 Settled community of Jews
Leper Hospital founded
1194 Charter of Richard 1 granting Norwich the status of a city
Norwich the only English city to have supported 3 Beguinages top of Elm Hill
1226 Dominican Friars arrive
1235 Sheriff protects Norwich Jews
1249 Great Hospital is founded by Walter Suffield, Bishop of Norwich
The first Friary established in the city
1278 Norwich Cathedral consecrated
1294 – 1340 City Wall and Gates constructed
1307 Dominican Friary started at St Andrews
1395 Julian writes the first book in English by a woman
1428 William White and Hugo Pye burnt at the stake (Lollards)
1430 – 1455 St Peter Mancroft built
1433 Trials of Lollards by the Bishop of Norwich
16th CENTURY – Norwich is second only to London in size and wealth
1504 Matthew Parker born in city, later Archbishop of Canterbury (author of the 39 articles of faith)
1520 Population 8,500
1531 Thomas Bilney burnt at the stake at Lollards Pit
1536 – 1539 Dissolution of the monasteries
1540 Robert Browne born. Founded the first sessionist church on Congregational principles
1549 Kett's Rebellion – 20,000 rebels occupy the City
1565 Strangers make up 40% of the City population – Dutch, Flemish and French
1660 Norwich noted still as England's second City
1693 Old Meeting House built by nonconformists
1700 The population reaches 30,000
1714 Bethel Hospital built for “poor lunatics” – England's first mental hospital
1756 The Octagon Chapel built
1759 Methodism comes to Norwich
1769 Methodists have their own chapel to which Wesley contributed
1769 – 1853 Dates of Amelia Opie, author. She becomes a Quaker in 1825, a dramatic change of life
1771 Norfolk and Norwich Hospital founded
1780 Elizabeth Fry born at Gurney Court, Magdalen Street. Prison reformer
1792 Norwich General Assurance Office founded by Thomas Bignold (Christian)
1867 Last public execution in Norwich at the Castle
1875 Medical Officer of Health appointed. Slum clearance begun and sewerage system started
1880 City Prison sold as site to build Roman Catholic Cathedral
1915 Edith Cavell buried on East side of Cathedral – memorial outside the Ethelbert Gate
1930 Unemployment high in the city so a public works programme was initiated including Eaton and
Wensum Parks as well as the City Hall Redigging the Wells - Prayer Walking