Record Details

NHER Number:632
Type of record:Monument
Name:Cow Tower

Summary

Cow Tower is situated on a vulnerable point in a bend on the River Wensum, at the northeast corner of a low-lying meadow called Cowholme. In the mid 13th century this part of the water-meadow became the property of the Great Hospital (NHER 624), from which its alternative name of 'Hospital Tower' is derived, and at the end of the 14th century this was sold to the City.

The tower itself is a free-standing brick-faced stone building of three storeys with a roof and integrated stair turret. In its current form it is a product of work recorded in 1398-1399, forming an active part of the city defences for at least two hundred years after this. Internally it was handsomely furnished, with fireplaces on all three floors and garderobes on the first and second floors. After this time the tower appears to have fallen slowly into disrepair.

Images

  • The Cow Tower, Norwich.  © Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service
  • The interior of the Cow Tower, Norwich.  © Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service
  • The interior of the Cow Tower, Norwich.  © Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service

Location

Grid Reference:TG 23957 09191
Map Sheet:TG20NW
Parish:NORWICH, NORWICH, NORFOLK

Full description

Rebuilt around 1399 by City in brick - lowest courses are of faced flint (?part of earlier tower).
Owned by Norwich Corporation, consolidated by Ministry of Works 1954.
'The Cow or Hospital Tower stands on the south bank of the River Wensum in the northeast corner of the medieval city. It is a freestanding brick structure built to three storeys with a roof and integrated stair turret. It is reasonable to suppose that the existing building is that for which building accounts survive from the late 1390s' (S1).
Compiled by R. R. Clarke (NCM) and O. Beazley (NAU).

2007.
Full survey by NAU 1985-6, published as (S1) replaces all above information and is definitive work on origin of building, and from which the following information is derived:

Cow Tower is situated on a vulnerable point in a bend on the River Wensum, at the northeast corner of a low-lying meadow called Cowholme (from which its current name is derived). In the mid 13th century his part of the water-meadow became the property of the Great Hospital (NHER 624), from which its alternative name of 'Hospital Tower' is derived.

At the beginning of 1378 the bailiffs of Norwich received a commission from the king to clear the river and repair the walls and towers of the defences, and it is at this point that they leased or purchased the tower from the Great Hospital. During the last twenty years of the 14th century numerous references refer to building work carried out on the Tower, which sometimes refer to the structure as 'The Dungeon'.

From 1400 the tower formed part of the City defences, and was repeatedly repaired into the 16th century. It is likely that the tower was leased out when not in 'times of war' as occurred with other sites in Norwich. Unfortunately, the tower became largely defunct as a defence once the enemy were inside the walls. After the 16th century the tower appears to have fallen slowly into disrepair.

The tower itself is a free-standing brick-faced stone building of three storeys with a roof and integrated stair turret. In its current form it is therefore a product of work recorded in 1398-1399. Internally it was handsomely furnished, with fireplaces on all three floors and garderobes on the first and second floors. It also seems likely that the tower would have been an effective building in which to house guns.
Ruth Fillery-Travis (NLA), 12th March 2007.

See schedule in file.

Historic building report.
The tower is one of the earliest artillery blockhouse in the country faced with brick. The building is circular in plan with a projecting semi-circle housing the newel stair. The tower is four storeys with a garderobe to each upper floor and stone loops for firing early guns and crossbows. The tower also has a distinct batter and rises 50ft almost to its original height. The ground floor has a triangular recess that may have accommodated timber vaulting supported on a central column.
See (S6).
S. Howard (NLA), 14 June 2010.

Monument Types

  • BLOCKHOUSE (Medieval to Modern - 1398 AD? to 2050 AD)
  • TOWER (Medieval to Modern - 1398 AD? to 2050 AD)
  • TOWN DEFENCES (Medieval to Modern - 1398 AD? to 2050 AD)

Associated Finds - none

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument

Sources and further reading

---Aerial Photograph: TG2309 ACM.
---Archive: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Norwich - Post Roman.
---Slide: Various. Slide.
---Fiche: Exists.
---Photograph: CTL-CTZ, CWA, FPH.
<S1>Article in serial: Ayers, B.. 1988. The Cow Tower, Norwich: a detailed survey and partial reinterpretation. Medieval Archaeology. Vol XXXII pp 184-207.
<S2>Article in serial: Saunders, A. D. 1985. The Cow Tower, Norwich: an East Anglian bastille?. Medieval Archaeology. Vol XXIX pp 109-119.
<S3>Publication: Collins, I.H,. 1910. Report on the Walls of Norwich. pp 56-59.
<S4>Publication: Hannah, I. C. 1914. The Heart of East Anglia : the story of Norwich from earliest to latest times. p 83.
<S5>Publication: Knights, M. 1887. The Highways and Byeways of Old Norwich. p 119.
<S6>Unpublished document: Heywood, S.. Historic building report for Cow Tower, Norwich..

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