Charing Cross & Strangers' Hall.
No, not that Charing Cross. More than most, this street is a sort of anonymous connector, a place you pass through. Like its London cousin, the name comes from Old English cierring, meaning a bend in the river (in this case, the Wensum over on the other side of Westwick Street) and the fact it is a crossroads within the labyrinth, connecting five streets (see the Explore menu to the right).
On the north side, a row of unassuming offices—solicitors, lettings agents and chiropractors. Quite dull and characterless. On the south side, however, is a row of Tudor buildings, the main one being Strangers' Hall.
The entrance to Stranger's Hall in 1938. Photo by the late, great
Stranger's Hall was originally built in the early 1300s, and added onto by each generation of owners. Today, it is a warren of crooked rooms, wonky levels and steep, narrow staircases. The only surviving medieval portion is the undercroft (that's Norwich-speak for 'cellar'). The rest is mainly Tudor and Stuart. Over five centuries, hundreds of lives were lived out within that maze of rooms.
The Hall was home to several Mayors of Norwich, whose portraits adorn the walls, as well as humble merchants and the people Norvicians called 'Strangers'. The Strangers who gave the house its name were cloth weavers from the Low Countries who were invited over by mayor Thomas Sotherton, from the 1560s onwards. Sotherton lived at the Hall himself, and some of the Stranger families lodged there. The influx of immigrants made Norwich prosperous and nationally renowned in the 16th and 17th centuries, and their ghosts remain an enduring part of the city's identity (they gave their name to some hipster coffee shops and the Stranger's Tavern, next door to the Hall).
Although it spent 500 years as a working home, hosting those hundreds of lives, by the 1890s Stranger's Hall lay derelict. It was saved from demolition by one Leonard Bolingbroke, an antiques collector, who turned it into a folk museum and later gifted it to the city in 1922. Since then it has been open to the public. Our special correspondent went to have a look for phantoms.
Just as it would have been in the 17th century.
Out the back is a 'knot garden' in the 17th-century style. The garden backs onto the peeling paintwork of the Maddermarket Theatre and St Gregory's Church where it extends over the Back Alley. There are flowerbeds, humble-looking plants with exotic names like Maiden's Blush, Tuscany Superb and Comte de Chambord.
W.G. Sebald, visiting Stranger's Hall in the 1990s, writes about his experience in The Rings of Saturn. He opens a catalogue of silk samples made by the foreign weavers in the 17th century: 'The pages ... seem to me to be leaves from the only true book which none of our textual and pictorial works can even begin to rival ...'