THE BRITONS ARMS
Britons Arms from the North-West
Britons Arms from the South-West
Elm Hill is a cobbled lane in Norwich, a stone’s throw from the River Wensum. It is one of the most complete Tudor streets in England, which came about as a consequence of rebuilding, after some three hundred houses and shops were destroyed in the great fire that swept through that city quarter in 1507.
Near the west end of the lane stands a single, three-storey, thatched building that escaped the fire which, today, is known as Britons Arms (apparently no apostrophe for Britons), and functions as a coffee house and restaurant. This Grade II* listed building was thought, until recently, to date back to 1420 and the reign of Henry V, but recent work under the sponsorship of English Heritage
The stone-arched doorway at the rear of the building through which the devout women would both leave and enter the house after praying in the church of St. Peter Hungate.
suggests a much earlier date of 1347, in the reign of Edward III and before the Black Death swept through the country. Known as ‘Ye Goddes House’, it served a religious function, aligned to the church of St. Peter Hungate, upon which it abutts to the south. It’s earliest records state that it was a beguinage (a home for single, devout women from poor backgrounds). Whilst beguinages are known in Europe, this is believed to be a unique survivor in this country. By the late 15th century the building was occupied by ‘barbour surgeons’ and, later still, it was associated with the wool trade before becoming an ale house in 1760. I simply had to visit and, while I was there, have a cream tea!
The roof beams of the upper room of the tea house
An upper room where I had tea
The plan and layout of the building are not typical of the period however, and the style is more reminiscent of the Netherlands and Low Countries with whom Norwich had close trading links. The original highly-pitched roof, timber frame, stairs, fireplaces are originally sited. The top floor jetties out on three sides, and there is an attic, which is not only a rarity for a medieval building, but it is lived in too. It has been demonstrated that the chimney stack was integral to the whole building, revealing that such an arrangement is earlier than previously thought.
I enjoyed my visit and the owners were very friendly and didn’t object to me wandering about, quirkily, taking photographs, despite it being quite busy. The building certainly has an Old-World charm about it.
Upon leaving, I walked the short distance to Norwich Cathedral Close and was given the opportunity to watch, through a telescope, a pair of peregrine falcons about the cathedral’s steeple. With my mind still deep in the medieval, I thought about the sport of falconry and murmured to myself: “Now there is, truly, the bird of kings.”