Before the Norman Conquest, Castle Meadow was the site of a mound and defensive ditches, created by some Anglo-Saxon chieftain to prevent marauders approaching down the ancient trackway that is now Ber Street, and entering the settlement at Tombland. This didn't stop the Norman forces from colonising the whole area in 1066; the Normans put their Cathedral on top of Tombland and shifted the Tombland Fair to the Mancroft, a nearby area of land where the city's market remains to this day. They bolstered the Anglo-Saxon mound with more defensive earthworks, and built a castle on top of it.
The line of ditches at the bottom of the mound became a street—until the 20th century, the street was simply known as Castle Ditches. Today the mound is a little less imposing than it once was, because of the Castle Mall engineering project in the 1990s. The entire area was undermined with tunnels, with the resulting space becoming the subterranean Mall and car-park. The mound shrank in size, the street at its base was raised over the level of the excavations, and the lanes of traffic narrowed. The Mall's glass ceiling peeks out amid the Castle gardens, above the level of the street.
The remains of an Anglo-Saxon settlement (probably destroyed by the Normans) were uncovered during the Castle Mall project, with archaeologist Brian Ayres discovering skeletal remains belonging to a Romani teenager. This places Romani contact with Britain no later than the 11th century, about 400 years earlier than previously thought. The discovery is commemorated with a plaque at the rear of the Mall on Golden Ball Street.
The excavations at Castle Meadow, June 1990, viewed from the old cattlemarket. Photo by George Plunkett.
The whole area is tiered and bustling. The Normans seem to have succeeded in their project: they've made the Castle the centre of the city. Many of the bus routes use Castle Meadow as their central terminus. In fact, looking at a map of the city's layout, the loop of the Meadow seems to be the focal point around which the rest of the city is arranged, like Charing Cross in London.
This is actually the reverse of the truth. Castle Meadow is there because the line of ditches were dug there, and they were dug there to defend the Castle, which was built there because there were already man-made earthworks on the spot when the Normans arrived. The earthworks were raised there because that gave their architects a prime position to survey the Wensum valley and block the ancient trackways, like Ber Street and the track that now spans Dereham Road ⭢ St Benedicts ⭢ Charing Cross ⭢ St Andrews ⭢ Princes Street ⭢ Tombland Alley ⭢ Cathedral ⭢ Bishops's Bridge.
The trackways were so placed because the line of the river provided easy access for trade, and the footsteps of people over centuries naturally converge and wear desire lines into the earth.
The layout of the city's streets is like a diagram of cause and effect, a cipher or sigil, mapping repeated human activity over a thousand years or more. It is governed by complex, almost Newtonian laws of gravity and reaction. Historians, archaeologists, geographers and psychogeographers are learning to decode the cipher. City planners are forced to use its contours as a template for new designs: no matter how much they might like to create a perfect grid, they must work with the existing map, and in this way they, too, are bound by the invisible laws that govern the growth of the living city.
The Castle at the centre of various maps of Norwich, 1541–1893. Again from George Plunkett's website. Every dot on the bottom right map is a public house!
The buses and taxis flow in from Red Lion Street at one end, and out onto Prince of Wales Road at the other, and vice versa. Each time they follow the curve of the Anglo-Saxon mound and each time they wear the line deeper into the ground. Pedestrians flow through from Gentleman's Walk, via the 1899 art nouveau Royal Arcade, from the various openings into the underground Mall, from London Street via Opie Street. Nick Stone at Invisible Works has a nice article on the latter, formerly known as Gropecunt Lane, and anything I might write about the street will just be regurgitating Nick's research, so go and read that.
Modern art installation.
I suppose the NUA students are trying to make a point about pollution or something.
Joey La Meche's 'City of Stories' mural, depicting an Iceni marketplace, at the entrance to White Lion Street and the Royal Arcade.
The Royal Arcade's eastern entrance.