It’s Queen Vic­to­ria’s 200th birth­day this month – join Rowan Man­tell on a tour of a few of Nor­folk’s Vic­to­rian highlights


On May 24, 1819, baby Alexan­d­rina Vic­to­ria was born in Kens­ing­ton Palace – the only child of the fourth son of King Ge­orge III.

At 18 she in­her­ited the throne from an un­cle after all four of the king’s el­dest sons had died. As Queen Vic­to­ria she reigned from 1837 un­til her death in Jan­uary 1901. The Vic­to­rian age left its mark around the world, with Vic­to­ria not only a queen but also an em­press. Here in Nor­folk, from re­sorts to rail­ways and in­dus­try to ar­chi­tec­ture, our Vic­to­rian her­itage is still very vis­i­ble.


Some of Nor­folk’s most beau­ti­ful Vic­to­rian build­ings were de­signed by Ge­orge Skip­per. He gave Nor­wich the Royal Ar­cade, Jar­rold and the Nor­wich Union head­quar­ters in­clud­ing the Mar­ble Hall (fin­ished just after the end of Vic­to­ria’s reign). The Dere­ham-born ar­chi­tect also de­signed sev­eral of Nor­folk’s most flam­boy­ant coastal ho­tels in­clud­ing the Ho­tel de Paris and Cliftonvil­le Ho­tel in Cromer.


A hebe in the beau­ti­ful Bishop’s Gar­dens in Nor­wich Cathe­dral Close grew from a sprig taken from Queen Vic­to­ria’s wed­ding bou­quet. An­other cathe­dral connection with Queen Vic­to­ria is her bi­ble, kept in the li­brary.


For more than 130 years, the coast be­tween Sheringham and Mun­des­ley has been known as Poppyland. The name was in­vented by writer Cle­ment Scott, who vis­ited from Lon­don in the 1880s and fell in love with the area. He first used the word in a poem writ­ten in Sidestrand church­yard. The woman he fell in love with is buried here and the poem in­cludes the lines: “On the grass of the cliff, at the edge of the steep,

God planted a gar­den - a gar­den of sleep!

‘Neath the blue of sky, in the green of the corn,

It is there that the re­gal red pop­pies are born!

O! heart of my heart! where the pop­pies are born,

I am wait­ing for thee, in the hush of the corn.

Sleep! Sleep! From the Cliff to the Deep!

Sleep, my Poppy-Land, Sleep!”

Nearby Over­strand be­came known as the ‘vil­lage of mil­lion­aires.’ Ed­win Lu­tyens (ar­chi­tect of the Ceno­taph) de­signed Over­stand Hall and gar­den de­signer Gertrude Jekyll is said to have helped him cre­ate the grounds at The Pleasaunce.


Nor­folk’s first rail­way line, be­tween Nor­wich and Yar­mouth, opened in 1844. The sec­ond con­nected to Nor­wich and Lon­don, via Cam­bridge. For the rest of Vic­to­ria’s reign, rail­way lines tracked across the county, link­ing up all the ma­jor towns and many of the tini­est vil­lages too. They brought a dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture to the county, from or­nate sta­tions to huge brick bridges, and pros­per­ity too as farm­ers and fish­er­men were able to send pro­duce to huge new mar­kets - and hol­i­day­mak­ers dis­cov­ered the joys of the Nor­folk coast.


Hun­stan­ton was cre­ated as a Vic­to­rian sea­side re­sort by the Le Strange fam­ily who brought a rail­way to the town, moved the an­cient vil­lage cross from Old Hun­stan­ton com­mu­nity and had ho­tels, shops, hous­ing and a church built.


This was the coun­try re­treat Queen Vic­to­ria bought as a 21st birth­day present for her tear­away el­dest son, Prince Al­bert Ed­ward, later Ed­ward VII. The old hall was de­mol­ished and a new house built for the prince and his wife.


Vic­to­ria was still a princess when she vis­ited Holkham, aged 16, in 1835. This year Holkham has opened rooms where she and her en­tourage would have stayed – and those used in the film­ing of a re­cent BBC pro­gramme about Vic­to­ria’s mar­riage to Prince Al­bert.


The iconic Vic­to­rian cast iron clock tower has stood in the mar­ket square since 1878, funded by lo­cal shop­keeper James Scott.


At the Mu­seum of the Broads, near Stal­ham, vis­i­tors can en­joy a trip on the River Ant, Vic­to­rian style, on the steam launch Fal­con.

“Rail­way lines brought a dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture to the county, from or­nate sta­tions to huge brick bridges”


Thou­sands of 21st cen­tury Nor­folk chil­dren have trav­elled back in time over the past 25 years, their des­ti­na­tion the Vic­to­rian School at Great Cress­ing­ham, near Wat­ton. Here, girls in white pin­nies, shawls and mob caps and boys in waist­coats and flat caps, sit at rows of slop­ing wooden desks, writ­ing on slates, be­fore run­ning out to play with hoops in the meadow and spin tops in the yard. Head­mistress and curator Sally North pre­sides over this chance for mod­ern chil­dren to learn his­tory by liv­ing it for a few hours. The school will be open to the pub­lic, for free, from mid­day on May 11-12 to cel­e­brate its 25th an­niver­sary.


Nor­wich shawls were world­fa­mous. Queen Vic­to­rian wore one and they were the height of 19th cen­tury fash­ion for ladies of any so­cial stand­ing. Nor­folk Mu­se­ums Ser­vice has a com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion in the Nor­wich Cas­tle Study Cen­tre – along with cloth­ing owned by Queen Vic­to­ria.

Nor­wich was also fa­mous for its black cloth. When Prince Al­bert died, aged 42, in 1861, Vic­to­ria was over­whelmed by grief and wore black for the rest of her life. Ex­trav­a­gant mourn­ing was in – and there was huge de­mand for bom­bazine and crepe, wo­ven from silk and worsted in Nor­wich.

Col­man’s moved its mus­tard pro­duc­tion to Nor­wich in 1856. The com­pany was renowned, not just for what it made, but for the way it looked after its work­ers, pro­vid­ing food, med­i­cal care and even hous­ing. Thou­sands more peo­ple worked in the city’s shoe fac­to­ries by the end of Vic­to­ria’s reign - with the do­mes­tic and in­dus­trial ar­chi­tec­ture still vis­i­ble in Nor­wich streets.


Yar­mouth’s town hall was built in 1880, a fine ex­am­ple of Vic­to­rian Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture, but an­other of the town’s Vic­to­rian build­ings is not in such great shape. The Win­ter Gar­dens, built in Torquay in 1878 and trans­ported by sea to Yar­mouth, with­out a sin­gle pane of glass break­ing, is cur­rently in the top 10 of en­dan­gered Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian build­ings compiled by the Vic­to­rian So­ci­ety.

“The Win­ter Gar­dens, built in Torquay in 1870, is cur­rently in the top 10 of en­dan­gered build­ings com­plied by the Vic­to­rian So­ci­ety”

RIGHT: Sidestrand Church, one of the seven in the Poppyland benefice Photo: Mark Bul­limore

OP­PO­SITE: Royal Ar­cade, Nor­wich, de­signed by Ge­orge Skip­per in 1899 Photo: Antony Kelly

ABOVE: A beau­ti­ful day on the beach in Hun­stan­ton Ian Burt

BE­LOW: The Fal­con Steam boat Mu­seum of the Broads

RIGHT: The beau­ti­ful Win­ter Gar­dens in Great Yar­mouth

ABOVE: Great Yar­mouth Town Hall’s Vic­to­rian clock

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