The first mention of a market at its current location in Norwich is in the Domesday Book of 1086, although it is known a market of some sort existed in Norwich, then a major inland port, far back into Anglo-Saxon times, perhaps as early as 950AD. Historians believe the Normans, after their successful conquest of 1066, had the market moved from the Tombland area of Norwich to its present site, nearer the castle they were constructing to help rule over the area. The Normans’ work on Norwich helped the city gradually grow to the status of second city in England, after London. This changed after eastern England's population fell by half as a result of the Black Death, waves of which blighted the country in the latter decades of the fourteenth century. Beforehand, in 1341, King Edward III had awarded the market an Royal Charter, giving it over to the people, rather than the aristocracy.
Norwich Market remained a focal point of the city and surrounding area, as a general
Once the council had left Guildhall, it moved into the rather more modern environs of the City Hall, opened by King George VI in 1938. The City Hall stands upon the western side of the market, and along the eastern side, between the market and the castle, lays Gentleman’s Walk, a fashionable place to parade oneself during Georgian times, when Norwich became a noted center for shopping of a more luxurious sort than provided by the market, with its ramshackle, rough-and-ready approach.
Indeed, one of Norwich Market’s difficulties down the years has come in balancing tradition and the boisterous character of the market with the need to modernize and make sure of its survival into the future. During various stages of its history, the area around the Market has become congested (admittedly, we’re talking the times of the horse-and-carriage rather than automobiles), and the Market itself has often has needed upgrading at various intervals.
With the Market in particularly shabby condition during the late 1990s, the city council took the controversial decision to modernize, with the Market so loved and enjoyed re-opening for business in 2005. The distinctive striped awnings were retained, although the stalls were now ‘pods,’ nearly 200 standing upon the noted honeycomb stonework; planners leveled off the interior floors of the pods to correct the disconcerting slope (from west to east), so much a part of the Norwich Market experience, yet prone to leaving market traders of old with one leg shorter than the other!
As well as the usual British delicacies of pies, mushy peas, bacon rolls and jacket potatoes, you can now enjoy more recent innovations to the Market menu, such as the hog roast, specialty sausages or Chinese food to go. There are also continental snacks on offer at the coffee stalls, along with traders selling tinned and pre-packed food from Italy, the Far East and Eastern Europe.
As for the staple supplies, there are still stalls selling products an Anglo-Saxon would recognize should they re-appear and take a walk around: bread, cheese, eggs, exotic herbs and spices, and so on. Fresh seafood, direct from the North Sea, is also available to eat on site or take back home with you, and this corner of the site, although uncovered, has an aroma all its own! Although the interior of the market doesn’t really allow for sight-seeing as such, the stalls along the exterior edges are a pleasant sight, as this is where the fruit and vegetables stalls are found, along with the famous flower stall at the corner of the market near to Guildhall.
Norwich Market isn’t just about food of course. You can also buy clothing, bags and fashion
Most tourists who visit Norwich take in the Cathedral or the Castle (both themselves over 900 years old); almost every tourist visits the Market, even if just to take a few turns around the passageways, to imbibe the unique atmosphere. In so doing, they follow in the footsteps of a million other people over hundreds of years, where in the bustle and industry of the everyday, a small piece of time has stood still, a whirling eddy in the great flow of city life.
Norwich Market is open Mondays to Saturdays, with some stalls open on Sundays in the run-up to Christmas. Stalls are generally open from 9.00am to 6.00pm, although times vary according to the products sold (fresh food stalls tend to open and close earlier).