The lion, the castle and the wardrobe?

By Dayna Woolbright

Fortunately crate 20 didn’t contain any witches but it did contain something equally as mysterious.

Crate 20 contained a lot of textile objects, mainly a selection of rugs and carpets but it also revealed another somewhat larger textile item which was folded into a large square. In its folded state we had no clues about what the item could be but from its size we suspected that once unfurled what ever it was would be huge! Due to the limited processing space in the superstore it was a few weeks before we had a chance to fully look at the object and fortunately this opportunity coincided with a visit from staff working in Norfolk Museums and Archaeology’s textile department, Social History curator Cathy Terry and head of conservation Man-Yee Liu.

Man-Yee assessed the textile and concluded it was in a good condition and stable enough to work with. We lined the floor with jiffy foam, an inert material which would protect the textile from any dust and debris.

Following Man-Yee’s direction the Shine a Light team assisted with unfolding each layer of the item, which was interleaved with newspaper dating from the 1960’s. It was quickly apparent that we were opening up a flag of some kind but it wasn’t until it was completely unwrapped that we could see the design.

Image 2

Beginning to unfold the flag

Side 1a

Newspaper dating from the 1960’s used as packing material

Everyone was very excited, measuring 470cm X 670cm and made up of 11 horizontal strips of a coarse, red, woollen material was a flag depicting the castle and the lion, the coat of arms of Norwich city. The castle, with three turrets surmounted by three white/red flags representing St. George, sits above the charming lion. Small neat hand stitching has been used to insert both images into the red background, with rows of machine stitching added at a later date to enforce. Details of the Castle’s portcullis and the lion’s face have been painted on and cross-hatching has been used to above graduating colours to give a 3-dimensional effect.

Side 2f

The flag

Side 2c


Side 2d


The flag is thought to date from the early 19th century and judging from its condition it was obviously used. Along one edge is a channel containing the rope, by which it would have been attached to a flag pole. The other end which would have been free flying has been noticeably repaired with patches of red material which appear obviously brighter. This may be because the dye stuff or the material has not degraded in the same way. The location of these repairs suggests that the flag was subject to the elements and may have been damaged as a result.

Side 1b

Repairs are evident from the varying shades of red material

The city’s arms are thought to have been established during a heraldic visitation in 1562 by William Harvey, Clarenceux King of Arms having appeared on a 15th-century seal. The Royal lion of England is said to have been granted by Edward III.

By the 19th century the arms had be altered and an angel had been added either side of the original shield which had then been surmounted by a fur cap, however there is no official authority for their use. After the abolition of the borough of Norwich in 1974 and the institution of the new Norwich City Council a council order reinstated the use of the ancient arms depicting the shield alone.


Norwich coat of arms with additional angels and fur cap

Curator, Cathy Terry believes that a flag of this colossal size, bearing the Norwich arms was likely to have been flown from Norwich castle or the Norwich guildhall, which acted as the city’s court.

Norwich castle has a long and interesting history which begins in the year 1067 when the Normans destroyed a considerable amount of Saxon homes in order to create a site for the castle earthworks within which they would build a wooden fort surrounded by defensive ditches. By 1094 work began on a building a stone keep at the direction of William II. The Castle’s intended purpose was to be a royal palace rather than a fortification and the keep was created from a fine limestone shipped to England from Caen, France. The stone was shipped to England at great expense, having to be brought up the River Yare on barges and hoisted up onto the mound using pulleys and treadmills. Work was completed in 1121, unfortunately after William II’s death. His brother Henry I had taken over direction but no Norman king is ever known to have lived in the structure.

From the 14th century onward the keep was used as the county gaol. In 1792-93 Sir John Soane designed a new structure built inside and around the keep which would hold more prisoners but this too quickly became outdated and too small to hold all the prisoners. The outside block was demolished and re-designed by William Wilkins who incorporated the most up-to-date system of prison management.

By 1883 an ever increasing population saw Norwich goal move to Mousehold Heath, just under 2 miles away from the Castle.

norwich castle 1800

Norwich Castle during the 1800’s

Norwich Castle was then to undergo another transformation, as work began to convert the gaol into a museum. Edward Boardman was commissioned to undertake these changes which involved ripping out the cell blocks and building a balcony in the castle keep, which can still be seen today. Norwich Castle museum opened in 1894 displaying an eclectic mix of items from the earlier established Norfolk and Norwich Museum and donations from benefactors. In 2000-1 the Castle went through another stage of re-development with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to become the institution it is known as today.

As a local government building the Castle still flies a flag from the top of the keep usually St. Georges flag or the Union Flag. However as part of Norwich’s 5th Annual Norwich pride festival Norwich Castle was just one of the institutions to fly the rainbow flag to celebrate diversity!

iphone flag 094

Norwich Castle flying the rainbow flag

Norwich Guildhall was built in the early 15th century, when Norwich was one of the wealthiest provincial cities in England. The Guildhall was built on the site of the old Toll-house, a 13th century thatched structure used to collect market tolls. Funds for the build came from a number of sources; bequests, taxation and voluntary contributions. The flint covered exterior is very striking and at the time of its construction it was the largest medieval city hall outside of London. In medieval times a Guildhall referred to both civic halls (town and city halls) and to the trading halls used by individual trade guilds. Norwich’s Guildhall was used for hundreds of years to house various assemblies and courts. It was not until 1938 when the new City Hall was built and 1985 when the new court buildings opened, that most of the civic functions of the building finally ceased.

Today the offices of Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART) occupy the Guildhall as well as the fantastic Caley’s Cocoa Café.

norwich 002

Norwich Guildhall

We are currently researching more into the flag’s history and will post any developments on our social media sites so keep checking back for updates.

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