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The River Wensum.

The city's raison d'être. It winds its way in from the north-west, does a little loop around the city centre, and joins the Yare to the south-east at Whitlingham Broad. From there the water (and the city's riverborne rubbish) travels onwards to the sea and the perilous realms of Yarmouth. The river's name comes from the Old English wendsum, meaning 'winding' (the same origin as the phrase 'wend one's weary way'). The river certainly seems a bit weary after all these years of use by the ungrateful residents of the city. The waterway is clogged with river mills and spanned by bridges.

The river deity, if there is one, remains silent, although it has been known to accept offerings of beer from late-night drinkers wandering along the bank.

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The river path at Bishopsgate. Photo by Roy Hughes.

The riverline has swollen with rain many times, most notably during the 1912 floods, which claimed several lives. You can still see plaques under bridges marking the high point of various floods, notably under Coslany Street, where the body of one George Brodie was found. Brodie was a fish porter who had been helping with rescue operations.

The river was used to transport cream-coloured blocks of stone from Caen, which arrived at Pull's Ferry and were used to build the Cathedral and the Castle. The waterway formed the northern and eastern boundary of the old city; in the middle ages, you would stand by the bank and look out to the towering wilderness at Mousehold Heath.

The Wensum has long been a popular spot for fishing, although outside the city centre most of its banks are enclosed by private landowners, a situation Robert Kett would have been familiar with.


The New Mills on the River Wensum. Attributed to John Crome (1768–1821), date unknown.

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