Norwich Bridewell Museum Open For Business Once Again

By Katie Brinkley | 17 April 2008
a photo of a Georgian style front door

Beyond this door lies the recently refurbished Bridewell Museum, which tells the social history of Norwich. © Katie Brinkley / HEART / Culture24

Katie Brinkley takes a look around the recently refurbished and re-opened Bridewell Museum in Norwich.

The Bridewell, Norwich’s much loved and celebrated museum charting the social history and traditions of the city has re-opened, with new attractions for 2008.

Awarded a council grant, and with an application for lottery funding underway it is now looking forward to welcoming back the people of Norwich to its fascinating collections spanning from the eighteenth century up to the present day.

The museum charts the history of trade in Norwich, as well as exploring people’s every day lives across the centuries.

a photo of the side of a Fire Engine

A famous fire engine from a famous Norwich road. © Katie Brinkley / HEART / Culture24

Hannah Maddox, museum curator, told 24hr museum: “this year is an exciting time for The Bridewell. We have new exhibitions and a whole new events programme.”

A visit to the Bridewell is like a step back in time, into old-fashioned Norwich. Built in 1325, the Bridewell has seen 683 years of Norwich life go by. A museum since 1923, the grade 2 listed building was previously used as a merchant’s house, a prison then tobacco and shoe factories.

The museum has an impressive variety of exhibitions aimed at all ages and is alive with sights and sounds that evoke bygone times. You can visit the apothecary where you will find old fashioned cures and potions, join in with traditional pub games or call at the Blacksmith’s to see and smell a working forge.

a photo of a domestic spinning wheel

The museum also deals with Norwich's important history of textiles. © Katie Brinkley / HEART / Culture24

Machinery is exhibited from a wide range of trades including textiles, iron manufacturing, printing press and fire-fighting. Football fans can visit On the Ball City, dedicated to a centenary of Norwich FC, whilst children will be entertained by a toy food-market, dress-up activities and Victorian games.

For over 700 years shoemaking was an important trade in Norwich and the museum’s Shoe City exhibition is new and improved this year. ‘This year we have added a whole new section, a display about functional shoes dating from the C19th and C20th,’ added Hannah.

The city was famous for its high quality fashion shoes, particularly in the nineteenth century, and visitors can view a range spanning centuries of changing fashions. While adults view the collection, children can take charge of the Shoe City shop, making and selling their own shoes.

a photo of a pub table with gallses and pub games on it

Like many cities, pubs are integral to the social history of Norwich - the Bridewell has its very own. © Katie Brinkley / HEART / Culture24

Coinciding with this year’s re-opening, the museum put in a £1 million bid for heritage lottery funding, with additional ‘match’ funding of £224,000 coming from Norfolk County Council to improve accessibility.

“We plan to build a new, more easily accessible entrance to the building and to install lifts to the upper floors,” explained Hannah. Further pledges have been made by the Friends of Norwich Museum, Renaissance in the Regions programme and Norwich City Council towards the project cost, which will total around £1.4 million.

As well as structural improvements, the Bridewell plans to update displays. “We are looking to bring out collections that are currently in storage,” added Hannah. “We especially want to improve our exhibition of costume and textiles. Also, with the help of local people we would like to exhibit more oral history, first hand written accounts, photographs and film.”

a photomontage showing the faces of footballers and fans

Come on city - the Bridewell charts the history of Norwich City FC. © Katie Brinkley / HEART / Culture24

Already in place this year is the Bridewell’s new events programme. ‘Curator’s choice’, lectures are on the first Tuesday each month.

Various themes related to Norwich are covered, including Victorian Crime and Punishment, the Christmas cracker and Norwich at War. ‘Under Wraps’ sessions are held once a month, and reveal costume and textile objects not usually on display.

The new events programme also has a lot to offer this summer holiday. On Tuesdays children can discover the evacuee experience, on Wednesdays go on a marvellous machines trail. They can learn about Shoe city on Thursdays and the Apocothery on Fridays. On Saturdays year-round ‘Artists at large’ invites people to sketch in the museum.

a photo of a high heeled shoe

The shoe industry is an important part of Norwich history and the Bridewll has all the latest and earliest styles. © Katie Brinkley / HEART / Culture24

The Bridewell is situated in Bridewell Alley, Norwich City Centre. Visitors are welcome Tuesday to Friday, 10 – 4:30 and Saturdays, 10- 5.

www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk

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Katie Brinkley is the 24 Hour Museum/Norwich HEART Student Writer in Norwich. Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART) is the groundbreaking initiative to regenerate, manage and promote one of the most remarkable heritage resources in the UK and in Europe.

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