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Gentleman's Walk.

The Walk runs along the east side of the Market from the bottom of Gaol Hill. It was once known as the Cordwainery, and was so renamed because of its popularity with Georgian dandies and men-about-town; it remains a place where pedestrians go to see and be seen. There are a couple of popular busking pitches under the windows of the old bank, by the entrance to Old Post Office Court. Communist graffiti. A homeless man sleeps in a doorway with no blanket or pillow, his ankles sticking out onto the pavement to trip up people on their phones.


Red post-boxes bear flyers, offering money for any information leading to the whereabouts of a local 21-year-old. He has been missing for months now. A circular bench carries a circle of mute strangers waiting to meet somebody or watching the parade of citizens down the Walk. In winter there are fairy-lights up in the plane trees.

By the lowermost row of permanent market-stalls, a fishmonger, a florist and a greengrocer are packing up their wares and their portable tables. The Walk feels bare without them. There are rusting stands for displaying produce, and the blank shuttered grid of the market itself.

Set among the paving-slabs is a plaque commemorating the old Market Cross. The way-marker was erected on the site of the Market in the reign of Edward III, during the 14th century, and its final incarnation, raised in 1503, stood 21 metres tall and 9 metres wide. It was less of a sculpture than a building, with a shaded walkway running around it and a miniature chapel inside. Kett's Rebels were hanged here, and during Elizabeth I's reign the city law required all unemployed men to assemble at the Cross at 5AM each day to advertise their labour. These days it's Big Issue sellers.

Elections took place at the site too, often nakedly corrupt ones. Candidates would bribe the masses with free booze and bring in voters from outside the city. Voters often had to sleep under the Cross to keep their spot in the queue. Fights broke out amid the revelry, especially after a winner was announced—he (and it was a he) would be carried thrice around the market on the shoulders of his supporters, with a procession of trumpets and torches.

The Cross was eventually pulled down in 1732 because the city couldn't be bothered to pay for its maintenance. However, the Market's street-sweeper retained the title 'Keeper of the Cross' for decades afterward, which hopefully made up for the fact that his job involved shovelling literal tons of horseshit after the fair each weekend.


Leading off Gentleman's Walk is the Royal Arcade, a Parisian-style shopping precinct designed for English flâneurs by George Skipper in 1899. In the words of Sir John Betjeman, 'Skipper was to Norwich what Gaudí was to Barcelona'. His other designs include Marble Hall off St Stephen's Street and the Commercial Chambers on Red Lion Street.

The Arcade itself is exquisite, but the beautiful shopfronts are fairly empty these days. The whole thing was recently bought by a 'large national property firm' whose identity remains secret. It emerges at the other end on Castle Meadow.

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