The Viking Norwich Trail

It is not known when Danish Vikings settled in Norwich but it is likely to have been in the late 880s. They rapidly settled down with the local Anglo-Saxons to live in an Anglo-Scandinavian town. This town was badly damaged by a raid of King Swein of Denmark in 1004.

Place-names, church dedications, archaeological finds, even the street pattern - all these give clues to where the Danes lived and worked. A thousand years ago, Norwich was a truely Anglo-Scandinavian town.

This trail will help you to find Viking Norwich for yourself. It is a circular walk, starting and ending at Fye Bridge. Look out for Viking Norwich plaques on the trail route.

1. Fye Bridge - NHER 62

A wooden causeway formed the first river crossing here. Remains were seen in 1896 and again in 1999 - the causeway linked the main Danish settlement on the north bank of the River Wensum to a growing settlement on the south bank.

2. Mischief Tavern - NHER 26106

Walk past the Mischief Tavern (NHER 26106) to the Viking Norwich display board at the corner of Fye Bridge Street and Colegate. The church of St Clement Colegate (NHER 557) stands at this corner. St Clement is the patron saint of sailors and was particularly popular in Scandinavia. Churches dedicated to him can be found in places such as Arhus, Schleswig and Trondheim. In England, St Clement churches in towns are often on main streets, either where the street goes through defences or, as here, crosses a river.

Walk along Colegate.

This street may be named after someone with a Scandinavian name such as Coli. The second part of the street name - gate - is from the old Norse word gata meaning street or way.

3. Calvert Street

This street was called Snaylgate until two hundred years ago and is another personal name - although here from the 13th century - plus gata. The street was a road along the inside of Danish defences which ran north from the river between Calvert Street and St George's Street.

4. St George's Street

The Danish defences consisted of an earth bank topped with a wooden fence. Outside was a ditch, now roughly followed by St George's Street. The defences were built around 900 and demolished in the 1100s. St George's Church (NHER 559) itself was probably first established after the Norman Conquest of 1066.

Continue along Colegate, cross Duke Street and walk past St Michael's Church (NHER 593) which perhaps existed as a small wooden structure at the time of the Vikings.

5. Coslany Bridge - NHER 614

This bridge may well have been a crossing point in Viking times. It lies on the line of an earlier Roman road and was originally two bridges which ran onto an island in the middle of the river. Infilling has joined the island to the north bank but the memory of it (and the marshy area around it) is perhaps preserved in the name Coslany which may mean 'island with reeds'.

6. St Laurence's Church - NHER 583

The west doorway of St Laurence's Church has a carving showing the martyrdom of St Edmund by the Danes. He was King of the East Angles and was killed after a battle won by the Danes. The saint is pictured tied to a tree, being shot full of arrows. His head was cut off afterwards and when found by his followers, it was protected by a wolf. The wolf's head is shown in the bottom right hand corner.

7. St Mary's Church - NHER 553

St Mary's Church (NHER 553) has a round western tower, one of over a hundred surviving in Norfolk. Such towers are a legacy of links between eastern England and northern Europe where a number of similar towers survive in Germany and southern Sweden.

Walk to the far end of the churchyard where St Mary's Plain meets Duke Street.

8. Muspole Street

Opposite is Muspole Street which curved around a low-lying boggy area that provided additional protection to the Danish defences. Both it and the area of St Mary's Plain where you are standing were once called Soutergate meaning 'shoemaker street'.

Cross Duke Street, turn left and walk up to the roundabout at the Inner Ring Road. Cross the road by the underpass, taking the left turn out of the tunnel.

9. Site of St Olave or Olaf's Church - NHER 452

North of the Inner Ring Road here stood a church dedicated to St Olave or Olaf (NHER 452) which was demolished in 1546. St Olaf was king of Norway and was martyred in 1030. He rapidly became a popular saint in those parts of England settled by Scandinavians (another St Olave Church stood south of the river on King Street until the 1300s).

10. Anglia Square - NHER 587

Anglia Square stands on the site of the church of St Botolph (NHER 587) which was destroyed in 1548. St Botolph was an East Anglian Saint from Icanhoe (probably Iken in Suffolk). The monastery at Icanhoe was destroyed by the Vikings.

11. Magdalen Street

Magdalen Street was the main street of the Anglo-Scandinavian town. It was originally called Fybriggate meaning the street leading to Fye Bridge. Coins minted in the 10th century with the name Norvic were probably made here. This area is probably that burnt by King Swein in 1004.

Walk under the flyover and cross the street to St Savior's Lane.

12. St Saviour's Church - NHER 597

This church may have been an Anglo-Scandinavian foundation although, like all surviving churches, it was largely rebuilt in the later medieval period. Walk along St Savior's Lane and turn right into Blackfriar's Street.

Blackfriar's Street (a misnomer as the medieval Blackfriars was not located here) was formerly Peacock Street and is on the line of the Danish defensive ditch, just like St George's Street. Until 1500 it was called Tolthorp Lane from the Old Scandinavian personal name Toki and the Viking word torp meaning settlement.

13. St Edmund's Church - NHER 577

St Edmund's Church (NHER 577) on Fishergate is dedicated to the royal martyr, king Edmund of the East Angles. He was killed by the Danes in 869 but a cult grew up very quickly with even the Danes issuing an 'Edmund Memorial' coinage.

Fishergate means 'street of the fishermen' and excavations on the south (river) side of the street (NHER 26515) have uncovered 11th century fish-hooks and net weights.

Turn left and walk along Fishergate back to Fye Bridge where the tour ends. However you can cross the river and also visit the following:

14. Tombland

Tombland was the Anglo-Scandinavian market-place in the 11th century. The name tom is Scandinavian in origin meaning 'empty' or 'open', the 'openland' being used as a market.

15. Site of an Anglo-Scandinavian church - NHER 358

The studios of Anglia Television (NHER 358) partly occupy the site of an Anglo-Scandinavian church and graveyard. The foundations of the nave and chancel (built around 1000) were excavated in 1979. The church was an early version of the famous stave churches which survive in Norway. The church of St Vedast stood some 150m to the east down Rose Lane. A stone Mammen-style cross shaft was recovered from its site in 1896.

16. Castle Mall

Castle Mall occupies part of the Anglo-Scandinavian town. Remains of timber buildings with cellars, similar to those found at Coppergate at York, were uncovered by excavation between 1989 and 1991.

17. The Forum - NHER 26437

The Forum (NHER 26437) occupies a site from which a rare Viking gold ingot was discovered during excavation in 1998. Part of a crucible with gold residues implies that gold-working was taking place.

B. Ayers (NLA), 2001.

 

Further Reading

Ayers, B., 1994. Norwich (BT Batsford, London).

Margeson, S., 1996. 'Viking Settlement in Norfolk: a Study of New Evidence' in Margeson, S., Ayers, B. and Heywood, S. (eds.), 1996. A Festival of Norfolk Archaeology (Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, Norwich).

Margeson, S., 1997. The Vikings in Norfolk (Norfolk Museums Service, Norwich).

 

Viking artefacts can be viewed at the Shirehall Study Centre of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Shirehall, Market Avenue, Norwich, NR1 3JQ - telephone 01603 493 625).

 

 

 

 

 

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