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Published: January 24th 2007
I have had a very busy and exciting time over the last week seeing Norwich and starting uni again. I have gained an even further appreciation of the place and its history; I think the love I already have for the place will be difficult to get out of my system, this could be dangerous.
My uni classes are very exciting, it’s so great to be learning history in the context that it was formed and from the people who it belongs to. There are a lot of young people here that are involved in their history which is very refreshing and so exciting. All of the friends I have made are very intelligent and interesting people so we have very interesting conversations at times (when we aren't trying to mimic each others accents).
It is a bit frightening how Australian we have all become as a consequence of being amongst different nationalities, it’s as though we are creating a little Australia to buffer the very formal English nature of this country.
I had a very exciting occurrence whilst in Cambridge and felt that I had been given an entry into English society. Whilst walking along the road a
young woman on a bicycle rode past me and looked down her nose at me. I was so excited I turned around to my friends and asked whether they had seen it and they surely had. It was a defining moment.
We ventured into the city on Friday last week to look at the Castle, built after the Norman conquest of the city in the 1090s along with the Cathedral. It strikes a very imposing mark on the Norwich landscape, perched up on top of the hill silently observing the city as it has done for nearly a millennia. It is a curious castle, a very featureless, square, monolithic structure of smooth sandstone. It is not difficult to imagine the awe and fear the Anglo-Saxons inhabitants in their basic wood and thatch huts would have felt as the mound and the castle grew from what was originally farming land (A lot of the construction was reliant on enforced labour of the indigenous peoples). The castle was originally constructed as a residence for the royal family but after a few hundred years was turned into a gaol, a function that it maintained until the 1800s when it became a museum.
Our local fish and chippery, Grosvenors.
Me, George and Addie being happy eating chips.
We firstly went on a tour of the battlements which exposed us to the full force of the Norwich winter but allowed us to view Norwich in a very unique way. Every direction was visible, and the sun was setting which cast a magnificent golden glow over the sandstone and flint churches scattered throughout the city. It was interesting to see the variance of building styles across the city, particularly a whole district of mid Century high-rises constructed as the city was hit heavily during World War II. Hitler allegedly got a tourist guidebook to England and bombed the most popular historic towns as a way of destroying national cultural moral. This is a very effective wartime strategy in the context of the time but a shame for the cultural heritage of the world as a whole, not just England.
We had an insight into the grim history of the Middle Ages as the locations of the hangings were visible. Norwich castle was one of the first gaols to pioneer the technique which broke the neck of the hanging victim, previous to this they were left to slowly strangle on the end of a rope which would take
on average about half an hour. The barbarity of this place would really affect us later on in the dungeon but it is interesting to consider the contradiction this country offers as the land of the Gentleman and manners during the Nineteenth Century but also the land of depravity and torture up until the Modern age, all of which were relative to the times they existed. The assumed cultural superiority of the English people through their Imperialism is made to seem all the more hypocritical when one considers the history that created this society.
The tour of the dungeon was a sobering experience as we were shown the full extent of the cruelty that mankind can inflict on itself. Leg irons that the inmates were forced to pay for, wooden stocks and cages used to display the dead bodies on criminals as a deterrent to potential law-breakers. One of the most upsetting displays was the tools used to submit women to the control of society, a dunking chair and a sort of Nags Bridle. In retrospect I understand that we can’t just the past by the standards of the present and it would be naïve of me to assume
that women received fair treatment throughout history yet these displays effected me significantly. I could feel a quietly burning rage and sadness building up and the tour guide demonstrated how the bridle was applied, placed over the head with a studded or spiked mouth plate placed onto the tongue and the frame locked at the back with a thick bolt. The ‘offending’ woman was led around the streets by a rope to humiliate her and warn other women of the penalty for gossiping or speaking freely.
As we went deeper into the dungeon one could feel the cold and damp become stronger and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. The next display was a series of plaster casts of deceased murderers heads, taken after the victim was hanged for the study of the criminal mind during a time when psychology was a bourgeoning study and phrenology the cutting edge of criminal classification. It was eerie to sit in front of these men whose faces had been disfigured due to the pressure the noose had created on their heads. Their eyes bulged, the faces were puffy and a deep line was visible on most of the
necks were the rope had created an indent into their skin.
Moving on from the heads we descended into the deepest part of the dungeon which was used to house the criminals who had incurred a debt or committed some misdemeanour whilst in gaol. As the guide explained to us, the concept of gaol as a place for restitution and punishment is a very modern idea as the previous function of a gaol was to house criminals awaiting trial as the only two verdicts given by the courts was life or death. If we can imagine the darkest, coldest and dampest place then I think that is close to what this lower dungeon was like. The room was in perpetual darkness, no natural light could penetrate the stone walls, no candles were available as they cost money and no drainage, ventilation or toilet facilities were present. Prisoners were sometimes restrained to the walls standing up with their hands behind their heads for days or weeks at a time.
How better to break a man then to plunge him into hell.
I have never felt as uneasy and peculiar as when I was standing in that room hearing of
the torture that was inflicted onto these people and I felt as if my heart would break if I didn’t leave. Thankfully we left quickly and it became apparent that I was not the only one to have this reaction to the wretched place, everyone walked out of the castle as quickly as possible, ashen faced and determined to get as far away as possible.
The first thing we did once we reached the market place was buy a pretty scarf each and we spent the rest of the night in each others safe company in the warmth eating a steaming pot of vegetable soup.
I once looked up at the castle with a sort of reverence, now I look up at it in repulsion and a twinge of fear.
Cambridge is an interesting city and at first impressions I wasn’t sure whether I really liked it due to my increasing love for Norwich. The history of the place is staggering and it certainly is very beautiful but I think I’ll have to spend more time in the place before making a judgement. Whilst in Cambridge we looked through the markets, had lunch in a very old pub, went
punting on the river Cam and attempted to stay out of the cutting wind. It was a very cold day and we constantly ducked into shops to escape the cold, meaning we bought many things we didn’t need. I was very excited to buy two books from the Cambridge University Press bookshop, telling myself that I needed them for my course (which I do) but also knowing full well that they were good quality souvenirs.
We watched fudge being made in one shop and I felt compelled to buy a slice which didn’t see out the day, it was very special and in my defence I did share it. The markets in Cambridge were full of fresh beautiful flowers, vegetables, gourmet produce and second hand goods and as a result they seemed much more genuine then the Norwich markets which are a permanent fixture housing discount leather goods and odds and ends Pound shops. The tour guide informed us that the Cambridge locals hate tourists and that was made fairly evident during our time there.
More exciting things have happened in the last two days as we have had our first snow fall. Yesterday before class I looked
out of the window in disgust at the thought of having to trudge across the park in the rain and it was only when I looked closer that I saw the rain was dancing in the wind, and it was actually a softly falling shower of white snow. Since then the snow has been coming down intermittently between rain and the landscape is taking turns between green and white. It seems however that only the International students have any enthusiasm for the snowfall as when I began talking about it to one of my teachers he replied in a very aristocratic British accent, “Oh I wouldn’t really call this snow.”
Just another one of those English experiences I suppose.
Yesterday we wandered around the city, eating chips and mushy peas (I can see that they would become addictive), Caley’s hot chocolate and doing the last things in the mall before heading to do our grocery shopping. On our way up to the mall the snow started drifting down onto our heads and we stopped to try to catch snowflakes on our tongues. It was a wonderful moment. Today I had my class in Kingship in Early Medieval Britain and
See, we are having fun!
Being cold on the punt on the river Cam
Europe which is helping me gain a greater understanding of the place, putting the decline of the Roman Empire and the Battle of Hastings into context and giving the Kings of the period character and meaning.
For the rest of the week we plan to celebrate Meagan’s birthday tomorrow, have a great party for Australian/Invasion Day, rest Saturday and head to a seaside village called Cromer on Sunday to eat fish and chips out on the pier. Will be sure to post the photos of that.
At this moment the sun is setting and making the sky turn purple, bedroom windows are making small golden boxes in the sides of the houses and everyone is hurrying to get inside before the cold begins to turn the ground moisture into ice. Australia is a visually stunning land but this country has a unique magnificence in its vegetation, weather and landscape.
The snow over everything transforms the place with some sort of magic as the air turns crisp and the white flakes coat tree boughs and pathways. The snow crunches crisply underfoot on my way to class and I can’t help but smile and consider my luck at being here.
Kings College church
Described by our punt driver as resembling an upside down cow.
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