Christmas at the Castle

2 December 2021

Christmas at the Castle: The Story of the King 2021

Christmas is just around the corner, and it could not feel more like a right royal one here in Norwich! In this special City of Stories post Anna McCarthy, Children and Family Programmes Manager at Norwich Museums tells us why you shouldn’t miss a visit to Norwich Castle this festive season.

As part of our major National Lottery Heritage Fund Royal Place Reborn project, which will see Norwich Castle restored to its former glory as a royal palace, we are also celebrating 900 years (yes, we know, it doesn’t look a day over 899) since the completion of the original Norwich Castle and the Christmas visit of King Henry I with a special festive programme!

But first, where did it all begin and what is the royal heritage of our city’s castle, I hear you ask?

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle’s history is an interesting one…

Well – there has actually been a castle in Norwich since 1067. Its first design was that of a wooden structured, motte-and-bailey type. This was a popular design, brought to England by the Normans following William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was William the Conqueror himself who ordered a castle to be built in Norwich, thought to be of particular interest to him as it was already a thriving and important Anglo-Saxon City.

The Domesday Book, written in 1086, records that 98 houses were torn down to make space for Norwich Castle – building a Norman castle in the middle of an existing settlement would have shown the Normans’ power and control over the area.

It was in the 1090s that work was started on the stone keep, under the orders of William II – son of William the Conqueror. Stone keeps required a lot of money and manpower and this would have been particularly true for Norwich Castle. Whilst the lower part of the castle was faced with flint, William II chose to face the upper part with Caen stone – a type of limestone from Normandy. The transporting of this stone would have cost around 3 times its value! A status symbol indeed! In the same decade, work also started on Norwich Cathedral – commissioned by Herbert de Losinga, and it was decided that this, too, would be faced in Caen stone.

Norwich Cathedral City View

The Norwich Cathedral was built using the same stone as Norwich Castle

A significant part of the building work on the Castle was finished by 1121, during the reign of Henry I and it is this structure that we see today. It did, however, have a Victorian makeover between 1834-1839; at this point, it was refaced with Bath stone, and carved with the original Norman designs. That’s why it looks in such good shape!

Our Christmas programme Christmas at the Castle: The Story of the King has been designed to commemorate this history and is perfect for families- come and be part of it with us!

Join us for an affectionate and playful performance as King Henry I and Queen Adeliza reminisce about their Christmas-time in Norwich Castle…but will they agree about what really happened? Book tickets for these performances here.

You can find out how Christmas has changed (and stayed the same) since Medieval times in our Fit for a King trail; our Right Royal Dinner play table gives younger visitors a chance to sit up and explore majestic mealtimes, whilst our regal selfie station provides the opportunity to commemorate your own visit. Book your admission tickets here.

Plus, (and don’t miss this) every evening from 6pm you can see the amazing Castle 900 illuminations of King Henry’s visit on the west wall of the castle-the side that faces the market. Grab yourself a hot chocolate from Norwich Market or a nearby coffee shop (or a mulled wine for the adults) and settle in to watch the show.

We’ve partnered with Norwich Business Improvement District and VisitNorwich to celebrate this special anniversary of King Henry I’s visit, which is where the Christmas Crown Trail comes in! Take a journey of discovery across Norwich, visiting historic and new spots alike. Over 90 shops, restaurants, hotels and more have all hidden crowns in their windows and stores for you to find. Can you count all the crowns? Pick up a free trail map from the City Hosts, or visit the Journey Through Christmastime pop-up stall at Norwich Market to get your copy (stalls 138 & 139, Monday – Saturday until 17 December).