The year is 1648. Parliament control the country. Norwich is a Parliamentarian town—the Roundhead troops have liberty to use the Cathedral for target practise—but the Lord Mayor is a famous Royalist. Parliament orders him to be removed. The Messenger of the House of Commons arrives in the city to arrest the Mayor, but on 24th April, while staying at a hotel (ironically named the King's Head, although Charles I won't be executed for another year) he is accosted by an armed group of the Mayor's friends, who threaten him and force him to leave the city empty-handed.
The rebels grow in number, joined by Norwich's Royalists. They go about smashing up shops and stealing firearms & gunpowder. In the early evening Charles Fleetwood, a veteran of Cromwell's New Model Army, arrives in the city. Most of the rebels are disorganised rioters without any clear political aims, and Fleetwood's army crushes them easily. But a number of the Mayor's Royalist associates have sequestered the Committee House in Bethlehem Yard, on what is now Bethel Street. They have ninety-eight barrels of gunpowder with them. Inside the Committee House, it is chaos; with everyone rushing about, trying to barricade themselves in, the gunpowder has spilled everywhere. One man afterwards will swear it was lying around so thick on the floor that he was able to scoop some up with his hat.
Fleetwood's army converge on Bethel Street, and as soon as shots are fired, the ninety-eight barrels of gunpowder ignite.
This is known afterwards in Norwich as the Great Blow. The explosion is audible all over the city; it completely destroys the Committee House, and even damages the churches of St Peter Mancroft (five hundred feet away) and St Stephen's (seven hundred feet away). The Royalist forces, those who survive the Great Blow, are mopped up, imprisoned and executed by the Roundheads.
The year is 2022. The Committee House's ruins on Bethel Street, as it has been renamed, were buried beneath a redbrick asylum in the 18th century ('This house was built for benefit of distrest Lunaticks An Dom: 1713.....Foundress was Mary Chapman, who lived there until her death in 1724.') The building is now posh flats, and it is unknown if Mary Chapman or indeed any of the inmates had any say in the matter.
Bethel Street is also the site of a Victorian ice-skating rink, which opened in 1876, failed within a few years, spent much of the last century as a warehouse, and then became the home of a private collection of textiles, furniture, and other objects, mainly from Pakistan and India. The collection is free to view and the colonial undertones are tempered by the fact that the owners use the museum as a base for research projects, including a recent collaboration with the University of Gujarat.