It is sometimes hard to imagine that Norwich was once England’s second city. Its wealth and importance reached a pinnacle around the mid to end of the eighteenth century, before the industrial revolution changed its fortunes forever.
Reading the research material for this song about Norwich’s prime, I was struck by the number and variety of explanations put forward for the city’s prosperity. There’s no doubt that the county’s agricultural conditions favoured wool production and the textile industry dominated the scene for centuries. Other reasons given include the convenience and position of the river in relation to London and the ports, the influx of skilled migrants, the culture and entertainment, the free circulation of ideas, the printing, brewing and banking industries, the wealth of medieval architecture, the Norwich shawl, and the popularity of shopping and leisure activities.
The truth of course, is that it was a combination of all of these factors: the happy accidents of geography and topography, the graft of the artisan working class, the enterprise of the merchant class as well as favourable social, political and economic conditions, that allowed the city to flourish at that moment in history. And we must not forget the distinctive nature of the Norwichers – non-conformist, often sharp, described by one outsider in the seventeenth century as ‘the most wrangling and mischievous people I have ever come across.’
In this song I chose to personify these tensions, with the north city weavers on one side and representatives from the south city professional class on the other, each claiming credit for Norwich’s success. Charlie Caine wrote a big, bold melody suitably reminiscent of the great chorus numbers of musical theatre. The song is, above all, a joyous celebration of the city in her prime, epitomised by the flush weavers, parading the streets with fivers stuck in the brims of their hats.
By Mags Chalcraft-Islam