Seven things:

As mar­ket towns go, North Walsham has been through a lot in the past 700 years – but its proud, rich his­tory con­tin­ues to shape life there to­day

Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rachel Buller

...you might not know about North Walsham

NORFOLK’S ONLY CANAL

Opened in 1826, the North Walsham and Dil­ham canal was Norfolk’s only ar­ti­fi­cial locked sail­ing canal, run­ning from Ant­ing­ham Bone Mills to Way­ford Bridge where it joined the River Ant. Al­most nine miles long, it used six large locks to al­low the wher­ries through, car­ry­ing cargo to and from mills and com­mu­ni­ties along its route

The canal re­mained in op­er­a­tion through­out the 19th cen­tury, but as trade fell, it went into steep de­cline, grad­u­ally fall­ing into dis­re­pair. The last wherry to nav­i­gate it was the mo­tor wherry Ella in 1934.

But in re­cent years the North Walsham and Dil­ham Canal Trust has given the canal a new lease of life, clear­ing and restor­ing the water­ways, trans­form­ing it into a tran­quil wildlife haven for all.

THE GREAT FIRE

At 6am, on June 25, 1600, a fire broke out in a house lived in by the ‘poor and lewde’ Mr Dowle. With the town built of tim­ber, thatch and lump clay and the build­ings hud­dled to­gether, it quickly spread, and within just a few hours The Great Fire of North Walsham proved dev­as­tat­ing, de­stroy­ing 118 homes, 70 shops, the mar­ket cross and many mar­ket stalls. Mr Dowle was caught flee­ing the fire and was sent to jail. Only the church sur­vived, de­spite catch­ing light in five places, and it pro­vided tem­po­rary shel­ter to the towns­peo­ple for many months.

MO­TOR­BIKE MAD­NESS

The Norfolk Mo­tor­cy­cle Mu­seum, hid­den away next to the town’s rail­way sta­tion, is a haven for all those who love old ma­chines. Row upon row of mo­tor­bikes of all con­di­tions and ages, some dat­ing back to the 1900s, fill the mu­seum, along with a dis­play of early Dinky and other makes of die cast toys dat­ing from the 1940s.

HOR­TI­CUL­TURAL PI­O­NEERS

North Walsham is a lit­tle bit of a hor­ti­cul­tural haven. The Norfolk Royal Ap­ple, a sweet, old-fash­ioned fruit with a del­i­cate melon flavour, was found by chance at Wright’s Nurs­eries in the town more than a cen­tury ago grow­ing as a spo­radic seedling. Soon a good stock of saplings were prop­a­gated and be­fore long it be­come one of the na­tion’s favourite va­ri­eties and is still read­ily avail­able to­day.

And it wasn’t just fruit which was mak­ing a name for it­self – North Walsham was also fa­mous for its roses. Ed­ward LeGrice founded his busi­ness in Yar­mouth Road in 1919 breed­ing ex­cit­ing new va­ri­eties of roses. He won count­less awards over the years for his un­usual roses, renowned for their pi­o­neer­ing colours, such as lilac and brown.

THE COL­LAPSED CHURCH TOWER

North Walsham’s St Ni­cholas Church stands proud for a rea­son. It should be very pleased with it­self in­deed. In its long and colour­ful his­tory it has sur­vived the town’s great fire, cat­a­strophic col­lapses, the Black Death, a siege and bat­tle.

It is a sym­bol of the pros­per­ity of its once thriv­ing weav­ing in­dus­try and in the early 18th cen­tury the church’s soar­ing tower and spire, stand­ing 180ft high, was crowned the tallest build­ing in the county, sec­ond only to Nor­wich Cathe­dral.

In 1724, the town’s an­nual As­cen­sion­tide Fayre saw the heavy bells rung for many hours, caus­ing a cat­a­strophic vi­bra­tion in the tower. The next morn­ing, the town watched in hor­ror as the south and west sides of the steeple col­lapsed.

Fur­ther col­lapses fol­lowed, then in 1836 heavy gales blew the north side of the steeple into the chasm be­low, send­ing an earth­quake-like tremor through the town. Over the years, sta­bil­i­sa­tion and some re­build­ing work has been car­ried out and the ru­ined tower still stands.

REVOLTING TIMES

The fa­mous Peas­ants’ Re­volt of 1381 af­fected large parts of Eng­land and saw ma­jor up­ris­ings and un­rest across the land. The Bat­tle of North Walsham was a hugely sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in the Peas­ants’ Re­volt as it was the last oc­cur­rence of any ma­jor re­sis­tance, with the peas­ants’ lead­ers de­feated. Thou­sands of rebels were forced from Nor­wich by Bishop Henry De Spenser’s men and they re­treated to a camp at Bryant’s Heath near North Walsham. When the peas­ants were con­fronted by his forces, thou­sands fled to St Ni­cholas Church and bar­ri­caded them­selves in, caus­ing huge dam­age to the build­ing. It was the scene of a mas­sacre, with most of the peas­ants killed and their leader, lo­cal dyer John Litester, cap­tured and ex­e­cuted.

FIT FOR A LORD

Pas­ton Sixth Form Col­lege was for­merly a pres­ti­gious gram­mar school where Lord Nel­son and his brother Wil­liam were ed­u­cated. It was founded 400 years ago by Sir Wil­liam Pas­ton as a gram­mar school for boys, most of who boarded. Among its fa­mous alumni were Thomas Teni­son, the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury who crowned Queen Anne and Ge­orge I, and in more re­cent years, the broad­caster, writer and ac­tor Stephen Fry. When Sir Wil­liam died in 1610, trustees were es­tab­lished to en­sure his legacy would con­tinue to sup­port ed­u­ca­tion in Norfolk through the gen­er­a­tions. To­day, in the Nel­son Room, stu­dents can see where the sea­far­ing hero once sat at his desk to study. Sir Wil­liam’s in­cred­i­bly or­nate tomb can be found in the church.

Pic­ture: Mark Bul­limore

ABOVE:North Walsham Church tower

Pic­ture: Mark Bul­limore

BE­LOW:Sir Wil­liam Pas­ton’s tomb in­side North Walsham church

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