The oldest pub in Norwich

13 September 2019

The Oldest Pub in Norwich

Originally published 2018

Nestled comfortably between the river and the Cathedral, in the shadow of trees and an old flint wall, sits Norwich’s oldest pub.

The beautiful Adam and Eve is at least 750 years old: a Saxon Well still exists below the lower bar floor, and the remains of a medieval monk were discovered during cellar excavations in the 70s! Today, it is in the city centre but just out the way of traffic, and is a peaceful place for cosy drinks in the winter months, and enjoying their blossoming terrace in the summer (more on that later!).

Title image: Isabel Johnson


Adam & Eve

Photo: The Adam & Eve

Records of the the pub begin in 1249

Imagine a time when Norwich was the second largest medieval city in Britain, and Norwich Castle was still used as a Royal Residence. You would barely recognise the city from the modern Day – Norwich Castle had just been rebuilt in stone, and adjacent to that was an enormous Friary in the centre of the city. In 1272, tensions between the Cathedral Priory and the citizens of Norwich culminated in riots in which thirteen members of the priory were murdered and the precinct gates and St. Ethelbert’s Church were destroyed. As punishment, the main anarchists were put to death and the city lost its liberties and was forced to pay for the building of a new gate for the priory.

Witness to all this was the Adam and Eve. Back then, it was a brewhouse run by monks, and used by workmen building the cathedral (who were paid for their efforts in bread and ale!). The monks also gave ale from the brew house to patients at The Great Hospital (a building with a story all of its own, and just a stone’s throw away from the pub if you’re on foot) – for medicinal purposes of course!

The 14th and 15th Centuries

It was during this time that the living quarters and the Flemish gable roof was added to the Adam and Eve, giving it the distinctive shape you see today. After The Black Death ravaged the city throughout the 1400’s, in 1549 the pub was to play a part in the bitter battles of Kett’s rebellion – a revolt against King Edward VI in response to the enclosure of land. An army of insurgents led by Kett briefly took over the city, and in order to defend the city the king’s troops were summoned, one of whom was Lord Sheffield. During the bloody battle, Lord Sheffield was knocked from his horse and fell into a ditch in Bishopsgate (by the Cathedral). As was etiquette for a cavalryman who had been knocked off his horse, Sheffield removed his helmet in surrender expecting to be captured and then ransomed. However the peasants who had revolted were not used to traditional customs of battle, and so – sensing an opportunity – one of the rebels struck Sheffield around the head with a cleaver. Wounded, Sheffield was taken to the Adam and Eve pub, but later died from his injuries. His ghost is still reported to haunt the building!

In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I passed in procession outside, to attend a firelight pageant on the river during her only visit to the city.

 The 19th Century and beyond

The bloody legacy continues into the 19th Century – there was a brutal murder in the grounds of The Great Hospital, and the infamous James Rush is rumoured to have plotted his violent crime as he drank in the Adam and Eve.

But since then, the Adam and Eve has changed somewhat. Now, its low oak beams see customers of all sorts wander through the door – regulars and visitors – for a pint of Woodforde’s and an enormous beer battered cod and chips. Chairs and benches are dotted everywhere inside, and are the perfect place to warm up after a walk by the river or doing your own battling with the crowds in the city centre. The food is everything you want from a cosy pub too: warming plates such as homemade lasagne, sausage and mash or a ploughman’s. But it is in the summer that the Adam and Eve really blooms, as their patio bursts into life and perfume with a rich display of flowers and blossoms. And don’t just take my word for it either; last year the pub won first place in Anglia in Bloom’s Public House Category! Put a date in your diary now to spend a Saturday afternoon down there this year, suncream on and Pimms in hand (because the summer WILL come back soon!).

As for it being haunted – well what does the landlady think? In her 17 years at the helm of the pub, Rita hasn’t seen anything herself, but tells me about a time that one of the staff working on the lower bar heard the bell ring upstairs, and went to see who it was. Nothing. Returning back downstairs the bell rang again, and so going back up, she again saw that nothing was there. Rita also tells me a story about a young boy running around the pub – his mother couldn’t calm him down, and the boy only stopped in order to talk to a man at the bar. The only thing was, only the boy could see this mysterious man…

This post was written with thanks to Rita at the Adam and Eve Pub, and if you fancy hearing more ghoulish tales (and having a drink too), have a look at Norwich Man in Black’s fabulous ghost walks around the city!

 And if you’ve got a taste for ale, don’t miss the Great British Beer Festival Winter, happening this week in The Halls! See more here.