& Rampant Horse Street.
NEW THEATRE ROYAL, Will Open on EASTER MONDAY, March 27th on which occasion the RECEIPTS will be given in AID the SUBSCRIPTION for the RELIEF the UNEMPLOYED POOR. Previous the Plan, GOD SAVE THE KING BY THE WHOLE COMPANY. After which Sheridan's Comedy THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL. To conclude with the Musical Farce of YOUTH, LOVE, & FOLLY Or, The FEMALE JOCKEY.
- Norfolk Chronicle, 1826
Theatre Street's name is fairly straightforward. Norwich's Theatre Royal is situated on the right hand side as you follow the street downhill into the city centre. The theatre was originally established in 1758. The original premises burned down (perhaps in an insurance scam, or perhaps during a production of the Scottish Play) after the turn of the 19th century, and in 1826 a new theatre was built. The latest iteration of the theatre was built in the 1930s, Art-Deco style like the rest of the St Stephen's Street area, and encased in a state-of-the-art chrome and glass prophylactic in the 2000s.
Beyond the Theatre, also on the right hand side, you pass an intricate mural of the city of Norwich, greeting visitors as they plunge into the labyrinth. The mural was painted by Beverley Coaraldean.
Next a Georgian manor house converted into a restaurant for modern-day gentry, and then St Stephen's church. This pretty, diminutive building was the home, shortly after it was built, to a 15th-century mystic called Margery Kempe. She was not a nun—just an ordinary middle-class commoner. She visited Julian of Norwich, the first woman to write a book in English, in her cell and told her about her visions. Julian encouraged her and, although Kempe probably could not read or write, she dictated the first autobiography in the English language, a spiritual work detailing her epiphanies and ordeals as a woman in medieval England.
On the far side of the church is a pleasingly wild churchyard, gravestones cleared back so a sleek modern path can run through the middle. The path leads the modern worshipper to the Mammonite altar of Chantry Place, formerly Chapelfield mall. This American-style monstrosity dominates the surrounding area with high facades of glass and wood, and the garish sigils of fashion outlets and designer burger bars.
If you look a little closer, just beyond the churchyard, on the left, you will see a silver plaque on Chantry Place's brick cliff-face.
The plaque commemorates the spot (roughly) where workmen, laying foundations for the mall in 2004, discovered a medieval well shaft containing 17 skeletons, 11 of them children. DNA tests revealed that the skeletons had belonged to medieval Jewish citizens, and it is likely that they were murdered en masse in a pogrom and thrown into the dried-up well. An investigation by the BBC's Cold Cases team uncovered the skeletons' mitochondrial DNA, as well as a 1233 tax roll documenting payments made by the Jewish community in Norwich, containing savage anti-Semitic caricatures of Isaac fil Jurnet and Mosse & Abigail Mokke, three Jewish financiers from Norwich. It's worth noting that at this time Christians were forbidden from charging interest on loans, and so the task of moneylending for the Crown fell to Jews like Isaac and the Mokkes.
Unfortunately anti-Semitism in Norwich didn't end with the Middle Ages. In the 1930s, Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (AKA 'the Blackshirts', which makes them sound far too intimidating) had a headquarters on Rampant Horse Street, at the bottom of Theatre Street, and round the corner on Red Lion Street they would meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Bell Hotel (now a W*th*r*sp**ns).
In 2013, the skeletons were interred on consecrated ground in Earlham Cemetery's Jewish section. This moment in Norwich's Jewish history represented an important acknowledgement of the past. Today there is a thriving synagogue on Earlham Road.
Rampant Horse Street itself is named after the Ramping Horse Inn, which first served ale on the site in the 13th century. During the Civil War, Irish troops were billeted at the inn by King Charles I's royal militia, and made such a disgrace of themselves that their rowdiness is said to have converted Norwich to the Parliamentary cause. (See the page on Bethel Street for information on where this would lead). The inn, later known as the Rampant Horse and the Crystal Lounge, maintained its bad reputation into the Victorian age: the licence was refused for renewal in 1892 'on account of the bad character of the house'. Its last incarnation was demolished by 1900.