A drink on them: Pubs and Breweries of Norwich past

It was with sadness that I noted another pub – The Marquee in Norwich – closing its doors a week or so ago. Once the Shirehall and then the One & Only, the Marquee provided a haunt for me throughout university and since.

Unfortunately it’s not such an unusual occurrence these days to hear about a pub closure. However, although greater numbers seem to have been suffering in recent years, hundreds of others have disappeared since the Victorian era, not least due to the Licensing Act of 1904 and damage during WWII.

Norwich was once known as a city with a pub for every day and a church for every Sunday of the year – indeed, at one time there were almost enough for two pubs for every day of the year (and even then not including beer houses!). This is no longer the case today, but it has been great to uncover my own family connections to pubs not just here in the city but across the land.

It wasn’t at all a shock to find ‘pub people’ in the family. My grandmother lived in a pub in Aldeburgh while growing up, starring as the town’s carnival queen one year – driven to the Moot Hall on that occasion by none other than Benjamin Britten himself.

My ancestors’ occupations span brewing, ‘landlording’ and barrel making (coopering) and I know several others enjoyed a drink or two even if they weren’t employed in the industry – I recently heard a distant cousin described as “a drunk who left to make his fortune in Australia”  – so I imagine some may have liked three or four! Let’s hope he wasn’t slurring his words on census night.

Starting with brewing I introduce you to Thomas Massey, my 5x Great Grandfather, who was born in Norwich in 1772. Thomas went on to own the ‘St Stephen’s Gate’ brewery which operated from the Champion on Chapelfield Road (still open today) and which was tied in 1845 to both the Champion itself and the London Steam Packet on St Catherine’s Plain. According to www.norfolkpubs.co.uk, The Champion was named after boxer Daniel Mendosa who visited Norwich in 1790. I would recommend this website for anybody with Norfolk pub connections – they have been incredibly helpful to me and ever so friendly with queries when I’ve been in touch.

Incidentally, in Thomas’ time, St Stephen’s Gate was still in place, being taken down in 1793 (for more see http://www.norwich.gov.uk/webapps/citywall/25/report.asp). The gates once stood close to the engraving that will be familiar to commuters heading into the city from the A11. In my own humble opinion, the roundabout and multi storey is hardly such an impressive entrance to the city proper as the gates which once stood there must have been.

Over the decades, smaller breweries were consolidated and larger breweries, like the famous Steward and Patteson, went on to dominate by the end of the 1800s. The Pockthorpe area employed scores of coopers, many of whom lived in the local yards and housing such as that at Weeds Square which once stood at the bottom of Gas Hill near the old gas works.

Licensees litter my tree. Perhaps one of the most intriguing was John Miller – one of three successive John Millers through my maternal Great Grandmother. Most likely born in Carleton, near Poulton le Fylde, Lancashire, John settled in Norwich on retirement from the 9th Regiment of Foot. In 1851, he can be found at the Yarn Factory Tavern at 152 Cowgate. Again thanks to Norfolk Pubs it seems the pub was compulsorily purchased for road widening and served it’s last pint in 1950, almost 100 years after John left, probably around 1856.

Just like the Marquee (at the time The Shirehall) the pub was damaged in air raids in 1942. As many as 100 city pubs were lost in the raids over the city. The Yarn Factory name is unsurprisingly connected to the textile industry which was once one of the dominant trades of the city – large yarn manufacturies are visible on maps of Cowgate as late as the 1880s.

While John had retired as a Chelsea Pensioner by 1861, his wife Hannah was still living in a public house. Whether she lived away from her husband for a long time or just on the night of the census is as yet unknown to me. The Old Globe on Botolph Street close by was nonetheless her boarding house on the night of the census. Supposedly, the Inn was haunted by the murdered wife of a weaver who was hung nearby in 1701. I wonder whether Hannah had the pleasure of meeting the mysterious Mrs Watts?

The pub, now somewhere under the architectural wonder that is Anglia Square, was a victim of the Licensing Act passed in 1904. The 1908 sessions determined that there were 17 other licensed houses within just 200 yards. Although it was ‘fairly well conducted’ it was ‘small and inconvenient and not wanted in the neighbourhood’ and referred to compensation, closing for good on 1st September 1908. (Again I must thank www.norfolkpubs.co.uk).

It was not unusal for so many pubs to exist in a small area. Some quote that King Street had over 50 (see heritagecity link below) – hardly the same as today where even the Ferry Boat has now changed use (although a very good use it is too!). The market was also a hub of activity for the consumption of alcohol having been a bustling meeting place for centuries. The claim of oldest Norwich pub seems to go the quirky Adam and Eve, first recorded as an alehouse in 1249 (http://www.adamandevenorwich.co.uk/history.htm) when it was favoured by labourers building the cathedral. 

However, I digress…

The Old Globe was one of 9801 pubs closed by the Act between 1905 and 1914. I would recommend visiting http://www.heritagecity.org/research-centre/at-leisure-in-norwich/norwich-pubs.htm for more information on the rise and fall of city pubs. You may also be interested to know that Norwich Heritage Projects, previously responsible for a fantastic site on the Norwich Yards, are currently working on a Norwich Pubs and Breweries project for 2011 which promises to be a fantastic resource. The website, under construction and looking for input, is situated here: http://www.norwich-pubs-breweries.co.uk/

While my publican ancestors tend to be focussed in Norwich, I also have connections across East Anglia and further afield – from the old Crown in Kenton, Suffolk to another Crown in Old Dalby, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. The one thing most of the pubs in my tree have in common however is that they are no longer serving local ale, something that this area is very good at producing!

Landlords often leave a very good paper trail and hence the inclusion of a licensee in your family tree can be quite a bonus. I would love to hear from anyone that can tell more about any of the pubs and taverns mentioned in this blog, and especially anyone that can tell me about my Great Grandfather, Louis (known as John) Outerbridge during his time at The Mill in Aldeburgh – there are, I’m sure, many people that remember him.    

With that, I will raise a glass to ancestors past.


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