Elm Hill

Page (still) very much under construction

More from Norwich (A Fine City)

  Let me lead you on a stroll down Elm Hill, formerly Elm Hill Street, and before that, Friars' Walk. It is a fascinating street to look at, with if anything, an even more fascinating history.

  As is the way with most thoroughfares, Elm Hill begins at one end and finishes at the other, unless you are going the other way of course, in which case it begins at the end and finishes at the beginning. There's no reason why you shouldn't go either way, (unless you happen to be driving a vehicle or cycling, for most of it is a one-way-street) but I intend to start at the top with the rarefied flow of traffic and descend to the bottom: a very much easier walk, for, while advanced mountaineering skills are not required there, close to the summit the slope is really quite steep, and best avoided in icy conditions unless you've brought your crampons and an ice-axe. It is usually more convenient as well, for me anyway, since I generally walk there from St. Stephen's Street.
  Kensington High Street starts in the middle and finishes at both ends.

  Will yew come?

  Some of the properties in the street belong to Norwich City Council, and the shops there which do so belong, as well as those which do not do so must, (says said council,) carry on a bona fide retail business. In the not too distant past, people who have just wanted to live in Elm Hill because of its picturesque old-world appearance and its proximity to services (motile, flotile and more regularly, in the cathedral), and its comparative freedom from traffic occasioned by the flint-cobbled surface, had just put on a charade, filling their shop windows with articles for sale, which probably were for sale if you could but find the shopkeeper, but were de facto as close to merchandise as a beverage is to its namesake in a Sirius Cybernetics' vending machine. The City Fathers are not all daft, it is said, (though there are some who have long been in dispute with that, and them), and there has been some attempt at enforcement of the policy.

  I'll meet you at the spot where Princes Street (with no hint anywhere of an apostrophe, so I can't say whether there is one prince or two - or indeed several more of them) meets Redwell Street at a barrier of bollards. Princes Street (with no hint of an apostrophe) used to be called Hungate and before that, Hundegate¼, and it is said to be where the Bishop of Norwich kept his hundes in 13th Century. As smartly the descent begins, we notice the éminence grise on the right: this is St. Peter's Hungate (with an apostrophe) and there beside and below it, stretching a dozen paces if that down Elm Hill lies its churchyard (of which more later). On the left opposite St. Peter's (Hungate), there is Casa Pato, a tapas café and/or restaurant. I can report that the coffee smells good.
  ¼ The 'gate' of Hundegate could refer to it as 'hounds' way' or hounds' lane, the 'gate' being from the Old Norse 'gata'. Maybe it could mean 'hounds' enclosure' - for if my memory serves me right, 'gate' is an Old English word for 'field' or 'enclosure'.

  Just below Casa Peto there is a house (a newer dwelling on the original plot of land, I think I can say without fear of contradiction) with a plaque on the wall which informs the reader that a house on that site was gifted to the Friars de Sacco around 1250 A.D by William de Gissing.

  Then we pass the back of The Halls and descend to the back entrance to The Cloisters. This is usually locked, but when it isn't one may take the garden path down through the ruined and re-covered ruins of the refectory (?) into The Cloisters, which is/are integral with The Halls, and these I shall enlarge upon when I have some accurate information. (With any luck, of some interest too. Ed.)

  At the bottom of the churchyard of (did I mention it?) St Peter's Hungate, is a substantial building, The Britons Arms, and here the scene changes quite a bit: the road hangs a right - at an angle slightly more obtuse than a right one. On the left there is Elm Hill Craft Shop which has a range of wares to keep the whole family, from rugrattery to ripeness, happy, and on the right is the Square. This contravenes the Trades' Descriptions Act by being of a triangular persuasion, or rhomboid at best, but happily, the Square predates the Trades Descriptions Act - and the the EEC, its successor, the EU and all its works) by a big chunk of proper British history.

  Between the top of Elm Hill and where it bends to the right traffic can go both ways. If one were to continue in a straight line rather than follow the road there is on the left, Monastery Court which is (in the absence of the monks) a car park, and on the right, a building containing 'Media Lab', on which I might enlarge at a later date. Turn left at the bottom and follow the short path amongst the ruins which Henry VIII (or his minions) knocked about, and you pass under an arch into St. Georges Street below the Cloisters' entrance from the street. However, this is a digression for as I said, Elm Hill sweeps away to the right. However, one may keep on-topic by following the River Wensum along the back of Elm Hill, revealing a gallimaufry

  Since you asked - you didn't? Well, I'm sure you were going to - Elm Hill Craft Shop stocks the sort of thing which kids can make a mess with - wax crayons etc., and stuff which kids with more fastidious parents can busy themselves being creative with, small and simple plastic telescopes et al, and to quote the late Prof. Stanley Unwin, "Deep joy!", I found the medium I'd been looking for, and in the sort of quantity I wanted - called Newplast, it's a substance very like Plasticine, and, made in England.

  A good range of dolls' house accessories is carried.

  Now, let's look the other way and there, across the Square is that aforementioned substantial building, The Britons Arms. It looms over the Square in an imposing way: and as thatched houses go, it towers.

   Click.   Due to the angle at which this pic was taken I've had to rectify the perspective, or you wouldn't want to go near the building in case it fell on you.

  The Britons Arms was believed to have been a beguinage, though some doubt has been cast on this recently. It is probably the oldest house in the City, and as its present name implies, it has been a public house. It is now a restaurant and a café. In 2012? the Council announced that it was going to sell the building, but there was an outraged outcry (and a big petition), and the Council sensibly took heed, and spent a fortune restoring it instead.

  (It is one of the most significant/imposing/Representative architecturally #### interest ######## only remaining thatched building within the compass of the city walls? Most of the thatched buildings were destroyed during the German Baedeker Raids during the Second World War.)

  The restoration and improvements are ongoing (2014) as can be seen from the structure on the front of the building. I hope it is temporary. Toilets are being added to the back in the churchyard. Going down the hill on the end of The Britons Arms there is a square: not your regular square square, but a rather more triangular one, permitting Wagon and Horses Lane, formerly Elm Hill Lane to diverge at an angle from Elm Hill, formerly Elm Hill Road. The rather narrow Wagon and Horses Lane used to be called Elm hill Lane and debouches into Tombland beside 'Take 5' (which was, I believe, the Wagon and Horses public house) and opposite the Maid's Head Hotel. In the middle of the square there is a large plane tree where once there stood, surprise-surprise, an elm. Elm Hill bends to the right here, with the square to the right. This is where businesses begin to be in evidence.

  The Bear Shop.

  Says it all really, you'd think: so long as you are thinking 'teddies', howsomedever, there are a few other cuddly creatures such as hedgehogs, squirrels, and especially, a snoozing pig. For those of an historical bent, Steiff bears are stocked.


  The Jade Tree is at the top of the Square and stands next to the Britons Arms. Inside, one will find a wide range of art and craft works, including a gift for the person who already has everything.

  Well, nearly everything... (more later)

  Mandell's Gallery, an art gallery, which is shared by Elm Hill and Wagon and Horses Lane. Pictures (and sculptures?) by (mainly?) local artists.

  The Stamps Corner is a handy shop if you are into collecting stamps. But what's in a name? There are also coins, metal-detector finds and other antiquey things, generally of a small nature, but not exclusively. It is situated at the lowest corner of our triangular square, and the door cowers beneath the projecting corner of the building. You should be careful how you fall into the shop as the floor is a lot lower than the pavement. Once inside, be careful how you close the door too, as one may get one's finger, hand, etc painfully compromised by the narrow gap between the edge of the door and the support for the corner of the building.


We continue down the road from the square

  The Dormouse Bookshop


  I can't remember when I discovered the bookshop½, but it was somewhere lurking amongst the swirling hists of mystory, and was probably about the time I made the acquaintance of Mr. Milne the taxidermist and antique-shop proprietor. That's the late lamented pater of the present Mr. Milne the taxidermist and antique-shop proprietor, mentioned later in this document along with the Dark Lady and some stuffed mice (to name but a few).
  ½ I use the word 'discovered' loosely: for when first I saw it, the Dormouse Bookshop was already firmly established in the Halls of Bibliophilia.

  (I reserve the use of the word 'father' for another person who has been steeped much longer in the marinade of Elm Hill history, lest confusion set in¹.)

  ¹ I'm sure I can manage that small task: it's easy when you know how.

  Should you be looking for newly published works or books currently in print, this is not (usually) the place to look: search on 'The Book Hive', or 'Waterstone's' if you need such in Norwich, or remaindered books and some pre-read, pre-loved ones may be found in The City Bookshop. However, if your joy is rare books; interesting books; esoteric instruction manuals; local history and not-so-local history; humour; old children's books (that's deliberately left ambiguous) or foxed and dusty tomes of some antiquity (or iniquity), in print or out, the Dormouse is for you. (This is where a lot of my information on The Monastery and Father Ignatius was purchased, in 'The Enthusiast' by ########. If you can't get a copy, you can get more gen in http://www.#######/)

  Do not expect to find the Book of Kells, Pilot Officer Prune, or an original copy of the Magna Carta there for the time being: I'm first in the queueueue for those as I have them on special order.

  Outside again and taking things in step by step, easy, so it is, to come a cropper as lightly you trip upon the cobbles, and you could feel that you should feel more secure as lightly you trip upon the pavement, but here you could be on insecure ground too.

  Don't get the impression that I'm carping about the maintenance of the pavement, or lack of maintenance: oh no! Study the paving slabs closely and the wear, the patina and the essential quarried-rockness of them is evident. Slabs such as these are usually difficult to match, and unusually difficult to replace. The mosses, algae and lichens which skulk in untrodden crevices and surfaces may well have been endemic there since prehistoric scree congealed into the present cobbled street.

  On the left opposite the Dormouse Bookshop is The Monstery, sorry, the Monastery. To really appreciate the 'Monastery' one should have some idea about the character of its founder, the self-styled Father Ignatius. 'Founder' is a not inappropriate term, as the whole caboodle foundered in around three years from its inception, and Fr. Ignatius was shown the way out of the City with due lack of ceremony.

  Click        Click

  [History - early, school, later]

  As a boy, bless his little cotton socks, 'Ignatius' was somewhere between Little Lord Fauntleroy and Goodie-Two-Shoes, and as the Scots would have it, he wis unco' guid.

  Dare I include the limerick 'From the depths of the crypt at St.Giles''?


  Strangers Club - whither the apostrophe?

  Games etc


  Paintings and mouse sculptures

  Elm Hill Antiques

  Pettus House, 41 - 43 Elm Hill harbours Elm Hill Collectables - Militaria; items of uniform; badges and insignia; swords and bayonets; archaeological finds; cigarette cards; knick-knacks; coins; boxes and tins; jewellery and ornaments, walking sticks and much, much more.

  Open Tuesday to Friday 10am - 5pm, Saturday 10am - 3pm. (Sunday and Monday by appointment.)

  Way through to the River Wensum, the Park where miraculous appearances of lager cans are seen, and the water-bus stop

  As you near the bottom of Elm Hill, and John Oliver's hairdresser's shop (rather, hairdressers' shop) is on your left, there is to your right, and more or less opposite the Garden of the Font of the Miraculous Appearances, a covered entry to a yard. This is not the arch of an old coaching inn however much one might wish it: any coach would have needed tracks, or square wheels and drastically lowered suspension to get up the steps and in without a severe scalping, and a turntable within to permit an exit, but venture into this yard during opening hours, and you may see, (well, you may well see what you can see in these pictures), but the 'may' is dependent upon the weather (weather it is raining?) or whether it is the right time of day. The time of day is important too, for while The Tea House is pretty prompt on breakfast-times, the dawn, the grey dawn the rosy-fingered does not trouble the mechanicals of James' timetable very often.

  So, here we are outside the Tea House.

                 Group:         Page:         Twitter:  

  Since it's the first door which demands our attention, let's consider what's behind it first. (That is, if one is not immediately waylaid by the Dark Lady with the top hat and the iron fist: and if one is not so waylaid, mayhap she isn't up yet: she seems to keep the same sort of hours as the aforementioned James. I think you can dismiss those suspicious thoughts though). Oh yes: to your left is what looks like a small café. This is probably because it is a small café: it is not so small as first impressions suggest though, as there is an inner room, and when the weather is clement, customers may spill out into the yard (where there are two tables and some chairs and sometimes a sunshade (or a numb brella, depending on the weather), oh, and an ash-tray), or you could venture into the small paved area behind the two rooms and known as 'The Garden'. There, there are tables and chairs, and probably, an ashtray.

  Inside the Tea House there is (you've guessed!) tea to be had. Tea is served in a teapot, which is accompanied by a cup and saucer, and, if required, milk in a small jug. There are 30 types of loose-leaf tea (which includes 7 tisanes), and for the fanciers of more than just a hint of filter-paper, teabags for the infusion of builders' tea. Do not be fooled though: there is also rapid, but not instant coffee, chocolate, and a range of fruit juices and soft drinks.

  As is the usual way with cafés, the premises are not licensed, so one is unable to have one's usual glass of Haut Brion with your sausage sarnie innit.

  However, there is soup of the day, so on another occasion you can't rely on having one you particularly enjoyed before, but I expect you will enjoy the new offering. Should you wish a sausage sandwich or a sausage and bacon one, the sausages are proper butcher's bangers and rather too good to disguise with sauce. Sauce is provided though: both brown and tomato, but I feel that while it may complement the cooking, its use isn't exactly calculated to compliment it. One may have a 'toastie' too: i.e., a sandwich, browned-off in the steak grill. (Sorry, luv, steak's off.)

  One may have a baked potato with or without butter. It may be served with grated cheese; baked beans; cheese and baked beans; tuna; coleslaw and be adorned with a side-salad. Standalone salads are a feature too, and comprise the usual rabbit-food and ditto the less usual, f'rinstance, rocket and avocado pear, and you can have it with tuna, hummus, coleslaw, etc.. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of having cheese, sausage, and/or bacon with it.

  All the cakes are home-made, and if you are early enough one may have a choice of scones; teacakes; apple cake; lemon drizzle cake; a big fairy-cake¹ with raspberries, all topped with what I suspect is cream made from butter and sugar² and if I remember correctly, carrot cake. Late-comers may find their choice curtailed.
  ¹ These are sometimes called 'muffins', but only by those who do not know what muffins really are.
  ² Now confirmed.

  Click      Click      Click

  Ah yes, having satisfied the inner man - or woman, if you are of that disposition - and you bear to the left as you leave the café, you will approach James' door. James' shop is not for the faint-hearted, lily-livered or pusillanimous: through the door there are curios of a bygone age, such as the skeleton; some fossils; old bottles; the counter is all but hidden by a platoon of of 'counter³ attention' bells like so many panjandrums (with little buttons on top); a wind-up gramophone on long legses; a lifesized artist's articulated wooden manikin, said to be by Forsyth (presumably the artist is lifesized as well); various stuffed animals and birds, for James' business is also as a taxidriver - oh, as you were - as a taxidermist. You want a stuffed white mouse? James has a regiment of them.
³ counter, not counter, in that these are placed on counters, and not for inattention.

  Here we cross the road and encounter Lulu (vintage Clothing and stuff like that): hats; 'stage' jewellery; shoes and that sort of thing - if you want a feather boa this shop would be a good place to start looking. Please note, though, the shop only opens from Wednesday to Saturday.

  Picture framer

  Truman's, the hairdresser

  Olive's - A long time formerly, the Turkey Cock public house, which had a brewery upstairs. Good range of cooked meals, cakes tea, coffee &c., and licensed.
  At the bottom of the hill on the right is the Church of SS. Simon and Jude which has had a variety of functions (however you might understand the word 'function') since being a regularly functioning church. One of these (a while ago) includes being a Scout Shop.

  It is now the home of Anglia Performing Arts, who are not responsible for the wrongly-positioned notice,nor the speeling mistook thereon.

  Anglia Performing Arts manage classes in, er, performing arts such as dance etc. Next time I catch anyone there (and it isn't raining like today4), I'll get some more gen on it.
4 When you read this, today might be yesterday or even further back in time, but today it's today.

  The descriptive historical notice outside has, I am reliably informed, been affixed beside the wrong gate5 and I note that the writer of the notes on that prominent board doesn't know how to spell 'Domesday'.
  5 It should have been by the gate in Elm Hill, not where it is, in Wensum Street.