The Bridewell Museum, Norwich

Earlier this month the Bridewell Museum reopened in Norwich, after a £1.5m revamp. The new galleries are very impressive, telling the story of the city from the medieval period onwards.

The museum focuses on the cultural and industrial history of Norwich, as well as the daily lives of its inhabitants. One of the first new galleries is a recreation of an eighteenth-century coffee house – Norwich was well-known in the period as a cultural and social centre. In the coffee house you can try on wigs and tricorn hats, as well as leafing through copies of the eighteenth-century newspapers produced in the city.

Other galleries tell the story of the businesses and industries which made Norwich famous in the post-medieval period, particularly weaving and textile production which was a huge industry in the city during the eighteenth century. When Daniel Defoe visited Norwich in the 1720s he wrote that

If a stranger was only to ride through or view the City of Norwich for a day, he would have much more reason to think there was a town without inhabitants… if he was to view the city, either on a Sabbath-day, or on any public occasion, he would wonder where all the people could dwell, the multitude is so great. But the case is this; the inhabitants being all busy at their manufactures, dwell in their garrets at their looms, and in their combing-shops, so they call them, twisting-mills, and their other work-houses, almost all the works they are employed in being done within doors.

The museum has many examples of the cloth produced in Norwich – dresses, shawls, pattern books and more, as well as a jacquard loom – one of the last examples which was still working in the early 20th century.

Colman’s, of course, get a look in, as do Caley’s, Boulton and Paul, Start-Rite and other local companies.

There are more than 5,000 objects on display, as well as many more in drawers which you can explore for yourself.

In the entrance is a giant photo mosaic, the History Wall, made up of photographs of the city and its people contributed by members of the public. You can see some of the individual photos in the project Flickr pool, but it is worth a visit to see them all together on the History Wall.

We thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in Norwich – opening times and other details are on the museum website.


Author: UEA Landscape History

Landscape historians based in the School of History at the University of East Anglia.

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