Norwich Tales

The Norwich Tales

Three new stories inspired by the City’s medieval past

We all know that Norwich is the City of Stories – which is why the team behind Norwich Castle’s £13.5m Royal Palace Reborn project were keen to add to the City’s rich literary culture. They commissioned local writers to work with three different age groups to create stories through words, pictures and performance which bring the City’s medieval heritage to life. The resulting tales are by turns fascinating, fun and thought-provoking.

But what’s it like to bring such a long-ago world to life? We speak to the three writers who tell us more about what inspired them and how they went about creating their stories…

Rose Feather, picture book maker: I See A Family, Children’s tale – picture book and adventure kit

“When looking at existing medieval stories for children, I found lots of dragons, damsels, knights and great battles… but not many depictions of family life. For a long time it was believed by historians that the concept of childhood was not around in the middle ages, but more recently this idea has been disputed. Historians in the last few decades argue that life in a family back then was just as full of noise, laughter, mischief and love as today. They point to things like literature made especially for children, beautifully carved cots and walkers, and intricate toys made to prompt play – just like the little metal dog and tiny cooking set in the collection at the Castle.

I researched five of the city’s top craft trades in the Middle Ages (stained glass window making, carpentry, wool working, metal working and apothecary), and imagined a different family for each one – thinking about grandmas, dads, big brothers, uncles, baby sisters and expectant mums. When I found out that Queen Elizabeth Woodville visited Norwich in 1469 with her three little daughters while pregnant with her first son, I hoped that families were part of her welcome. I See A Family is the story of that welcome, as played out by 10 real Norwich families in August 2021.”

I See A Family is part of a new Medieval Family Adventure Kit, available to pick up in person at Norwich Castle (subject to availability) and free with Castle admission. Click here for details.

Little one enjoying I See a Family. Credit Norfolk Museums Service.

Daisy Henwood, poet: The Norwich Bestiary, Young people’s tale – poetry trail

“I knew there were lots of connections between animals and Norwich places (Dragon Hall, Cow Tower) so I started this project by looking at bestiaries and learning about medieval understandings of animals. Learning about the city, I uncovered loads of hidden animal connections – a (maybe) dolphin on the castle’s Bigod Arch, birds on coats of arms, animals hidden in names. I wanted to capture the mix of the everyday and the fantastical in bestiaries by mixing up animal facts, history, and some imagined stories. This helped capture some of the wonderful absurdity of Norwich while also honouring its complex history.

One of my favourite Norwich tales is the story of Emma de Gauder, who at just 16 years old held the castle against a siege. There aren’t any animals in that one, but I couldn’t leave it out, so with the help of a group of young writers I managed to shoehorn some in! I also spent time looking at the animal images in the Cathedral cloisters – one of my favourite things about them is how much we don’t know. As a writer that’s really exciting, lots of gaps to have fun filling in. I hope the poems work like that for the people reading and listening to them too – fun ways of imagining and learning about the medieval city.”

Download The Norwich Bestiary poetry trail via the Norwich Castle website. Follow the trail to sites around Norwich and listen to the poems in each location.

Young people creating artwork for The Norwich Bestiary, credit: Norfolk Museums Service

Shey Hargreaves: Bed-making, Adults’ tale – filmed drama

“I have both worked in and written about healthcare frequently over the past ten years.  It is a subject that I return to time and again. For this project, I was keenly interested in delving into the parallels between modern-day health workers coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the people who nursed throughout the leprosy epidemics of the medieval period. I began to contemplate the reasons why people choose to work in healthcare, then and now, and how healthcare professionals have responded to their roles in times when infectious disease has run rife in the community.

I learned a lot about medieval nursing from Professor Carole Rawcliffe; in fact it was her idea to focus on the experience of medieval nurses in particular, as they feature so rarely in preserved historical texts from the period. I also learned a great deal from a workshop I ran with NHS professionals from various backgrounds, about the complex challenges and tremendous emotional strain they have faced in the last two years. It was both fascinating and moving to read of the conditions in which nurses were expected to work back in the 1400s, and then to hear about the, often impossible, demands placed on modern-day healthcare professionals during the pandemic.

I loved hearing more about the history of Lazar House in Norwich, and its connection with caring and community work which stretches back 1,000 years. Lazar House was a leprosarium, or hospital for leper patients, and today is the home of the Assist Trust. This organisation supports adults with learning disabilities to hone their life skills, meet friends and engage in a wide range of activities. It was great to learn more about the Trust, and to meet the members whom it serves, all within the same four walls that had housed my fictional nurses and their unmade bed, hundreds of years in the past.”

Watch Bedmaking via the Norwich Castle YouTube channel.

Still image from Bedmaking by Shey Hargreaves with Shey performing credit: Norfolk Museums Service

So there you have it – Canterbury may have Geoffrey Chaucer, but now Norwich Castle has its very own set of tales! The perfect way to engage all ages with the city’s medieval past.

Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn is the £13.5m project to return the Keep to its original Norman layout, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players. To find out more visit: www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/royalpalacereborn