Friday, 18 February 2011

Urban Explorations - Mediaeval Walls and Towers


Today, in a tweedy Antiquarian version of the Urban Exploration movement, Ragged Ramblers decided to explore a space hitherto off-limits. As we made our way up the precipitous Butter hills, to the Black tower, by pure chance we found that the iron gates which normally prevent access were open. What timid, depleted, drab spirits we would have to be to defy the urge to explore - so in we went...  


"Huzzah!" we cried, and with wide-eyed wonder made our way through a lunar landscape of tangled branches, pigeon crap, buckled cans and a jumble of jagged junk. The towers in this out-of-the-way section of the city wall have long been places for the illicit and the proscribed. Even so far back as the 1600s they were being used as Pest Houses, for the confinement of the infected poor during periods of plague. They have survived complete dereliction precisely because they are located on what was once the outer margins of the city, on a slope so precipitous that it has no development value. 




Unvalued in a commercial sense, perhaps, but not unloved by us; this is by far the most impressive section of mediaeval city wall in Norwich. On the one hand an ancient monument, composed of beautiful black-grey flint and straw-layed brick. On the other, a contemporary note; of lives of quiet desperation; of desperate fixes, and abandonment. A poignant place. 




Carefully ascending the stairs, we were able to look out along the surprisingly wide intra-mural walkway on the top of the wall - a ribbon of green. And, wafting up from the city in the valley below, disembodied snatches of far-away traffic - and birdsong, sweet and bright. This may ostensibly be an out of the way place, but it is also a site where, incongruously, things meet... 




How are we to understand and value it then? For some, it is beyond the panopticon; a place to escape prying eyes and authority. For others, it is an unsurveilled and potentially menacing place. Clearly some folk value it is a useful site for fly-tipping. It is a natural-social formation, rich in species diversity. In its time, the city wall functioned as a defencible enclosure, and also as a symbol of civic ambition - well worth the huge investment it took to build it. Now, with it's untidied edges, perhaps there are a few diminished figures who see no sense in investing public money in its preservation. It is, however, one of the unsung heritage assets of the city - and we Ragged Ramblers are happy to sing its praises. 


For us, it is a place of wonder and beauty and ugliness and desperation; of beating hearts and cold stones. It is somewhere to stop, slow down and take notice. Ascending the steep steps, it makes hearts race and challenges us to be active. In all of its many meanings, here we keep learning. The butter hills are a place where we can give time to ourselves and connect with our history and heritage. If this piece really speaks to you, then you can join with us in connecting through our common interest in this remarkable site, and go visit it. Go see for yourself! 



Find location on Google Map

~ Thadeus Basil-Snapper & Esotericus ~

25 comments:

  1. Dear The Silence of Mandy,

    Yours is a silence which speaks to us louder than a thousand cliches! Pray, do continue to be silent...

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  2. I must agree that Mandy has it spot on - I couldn't have said it better.

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  4. Guerilla Rambling Esotericus - I like it!

    And I think that our reader like might to know the name of one of those kept there some 400 years ago when it was a pest house... Phineous Gibson - Already known for a 'distracted' person who had been locked in a closed room at Norwich bridewell. A room with little light in the hope it would cure him of his madness. But later during an outbreak of the plague he escaped a nailed up house and so was manacled in the Black tower. He was however compensated with 3 shillings weekly whilst kept there and this money would have been used to pay for his food and drink.

    +Many Coats+

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  5. My dear Esotericus
    Whilst I cannot condone trespass, I do admire your zest for the adventure and Mr Coats your research interests me. I think that this clearly indicates a strong sense of responsibility, ney even a duty of care amongst the Early Modern City Elite. I don't think it's going to far to say that it represents a shared recognition of responsibility that formed the very cornerstone of their power base and legitimised their position at the very top of the ruling class.

    Am I right in thinking that the reference to Gibson comes from the Mayor's Court Books, which are not to be confused with Ghastley Dave's Mayor's Diary, which does of course not exist.

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  6. Dear Mr. Many Coats,

    I am quite sure that Our Reader will be fascinated to learn about Phineous Gibson. Perhaps we should write a 'People without Plaques' series where we showcase folk who are hidden from history.

    Huzzah!

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  7. A hidden gem. Where else can you see such intact sections of Norwich City wall?

    Well done you Ragged Ramblers

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  8. An excellent idea my friend and I shall be delving deep into my Norwich papers this very weekend.

    +Many Coats+

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  9. Dear The Yarnsmith,

    Your appreciation is appreciated by all RSAR members.

    Huzzah to you Sir!

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  10. Dear Mr. Many Coats,

    A deep pile of papers you say. Your challenge sounds of almost Humpian proportions!

    Chuzzah!

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  11. Sir, I am deeply disturbed to see you using a new form of address on this forum. As you are no doubt aware, The Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers handbook states - and I quote! :

    "An full RSAR member has the honour of use of the society's antient form of exclamation, as it has been used by RSAR member and their antecedants, time out of mind; namely, a good loud 'Huzzah!' [...] There are to be no adaptations whatsoever to this on pain of disapproval by the Contributions Secretary, RSAR."

    I think this is quite clear Sir...

    Huzzah!

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  12. Dear The Contributions Secretary, RSAR,

    Sir or Madam, surely we do not wish to be fossilised under accretions of petty rules and regulations. Please let me explain...

    'Chuzzah!' is a neologism which certain members use to add a slightly less formal note to their exclamation. The root of this lies in an amalgam of the traditional 'Huzzah!' and a word my nephew Tristam often uses; namely, 'Cheers'.

    I do hope that this explains the matter to your satisfaction, and that you will modify the rules to allow for a degree of latitude.

    Chuzzah!

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  13. mr ooooooonstid

    Nurpit! mayors diaria does exist. Ghostly say it do!

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  14. If we are having an open day on exclamations, I have always favoured SHAZZAM!

    +Many Coats+

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  15. I am also aware the Ms Gnarus has always favoured BOOSHKA.

    +Many Coats+

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  16. May I suggest 'UP YOURS'. I'm not certain if it counts as an exclamation, but Mrs R J is always saying it to me.

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  17. Hello boys.
    I thought you might like to read this extract from my journal of travels through England. It's on your very tollerable and spacious Citty:

    ..the citty which is walled round full of towers, except on the river side which serves for the wall; they seeme the best repaire of any walled citty I know, tho' in some places there are little breaches, but the carving and battlements and towers looks well..

    Celia Fiennes 1698

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  18. Hello Celia

    Great to see you on the Ragged Rambler's Blog. How are you getting on with that side saddle?

    Yours,

    +Many Coats+

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