17th March 2017

Prestigious competition celebrates the history of Norwich

A new event, designed to help young people learn more about the history of Norwich, brought together more than 100 sixth-formers from city schools.

The Great Norwich History Competition is part of a programme of events to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Freemen of Norwich.

History students from Norwich School, Hewett Academy, Norwich High School for Girls and Notre Dame High met at the Theatre Royal to tackle the question: Did Norwich cease to be a great city after 1750?

The students will reconvene on 3 May for a gala evening event at the Blake Theatre when they will debate the arguments for and against as well as compete for £500 in cash prizes. Other prizes include guest tickets to the Freemen of Norwich’s Great Feast on 29 September, free presentation training – as well as free Colman’s Merchant Mustard and Bullards Ale made especially for the Freemen’s 7ooth anniversary celebrations.

“It is great event for bringing together students from different schools across the city to research and debate Norwich history – something I believe in passionately, being a Norwich person myself,” said Alexandra Atherton, history of history at The Hewett Academy.

Alex Grant, head of history at Norwich School, said the Great Norwich History Competition was a valuable civic event and a good opportunity for students who are thinking of studying history at university to do something a little different by looking at local history. “It also conveys the sense that history isn’t just something you study for A-level, but is a subject that the city and they themselves are part of,” he said.

Norwich historian Frank Meeres, academic Dr Elizabeth Griffiths and Simon Floyd, from the Common Lot Theatre Company and history teachers from each of the schools presented workshops and mini-lectures at the launch event. These were designed to kickstart pupils research into when Norwich was at its greatest as a city.

Simon Everett, history teacher from Notre Dame, countered the argument by pointing out that although Norwich had been England’s second city it began to be overtaken from around 1750 and by 1800 it had dropped to 10th largest city .  It’s prestige and wealth was based on textile manufacture but other cities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, began to take over and Norwich fell down the pecking order.

“One could perhaps argue that although it may be a ‘fine’ city after 1750, I am not sure it counts as being a ‘great’ city,” said Simon Everett. He asked the students to consider: “In recent centuries, does Norwich stand comparison with other English cities.”

Alexandra Atherton told the students that “1750 does not spell the beginning of the end, but rather the continuation of Norwich’s greatness.’ She pointed out that Norwich had many industries that had become world brands, such as Colman’s Mustard, as well as two universities and a research park that puts the city on the global scientific stage.

Simon Floyd, said students should consider what the word ‘great’ means before coming to their conclusion. If you define ‘great’ as having good health and wellbeing as well as a thriving artistic and intellectual culture, then Norwich fits the bill.

The Great Norwich History Competition is being organised by the Freemen of Norwich as part of their Freemen700 programme of celebrations. These are to mark the 700th anniversary of the signature of the first Freemen in the ‘Old Free Book’ or register of members kept at the Norwich Archive Office. He was a butcher called Walter Fleighe and he signed his name in July 1317.


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