Norwich seems to have been an ancient defensible site, surrounded as it was by the River Wensum on 3 sides with the castle site controlling a spur across the neck.  In this manner it was similar to Durham and Shrewsbury castles.  Occupation of the site is testified by numerous finds of Roman coins and urns in the vicinity, but there is as yet no trace of any buildings.  Saxon habitation also occurred here with 2 more churches being evidenced by excavation in the castle vicinity, while coins were struck at Norwich from the reign of King Aethelstan (925-41).  As this king decreed that every burgh should have a mint, this probably places the early fortifications of the city back to that era or earlier.  The place was important enough to be the first apparent victim of Swein Forkbeard's first attack of 1004.  Despite this, there is little evidence of fortification here prior to the arrival of the Normans, although a possible Viking enclosure has been noted just north of the River Wensum.  In the thirteenth century Norwich was reckoned to have been the capital of East Anglia in 585.

Norwich castle was founded within 2 years of the battle of Hastings in 1066, as William's army moved north to secure control of the bulk of England.  Certainly the site was ideal for the occupation of East Anglia which occurred in 1068.  Consequently a date of 1067 has been suggested for the construction of the castle, strategically placed overlooking the river valley as it loops around to the north and east.  Indeed William of Poitiers, the Conqueror's chaplain, recorded that when King William left England for Normandy in 1067 he placed William Fitz Osbern in the city of Guenta which lay 14 miles from the sea which separated England from the Danes.  In this city he built a fortress/garrison within the walls (hujus quoque urbis intra moenia munitionem construxit) to overawe the district to the north.  Presumably this marked the beginning of the Norman castle.  However, his description of it lying within the burgh defences of Guenta Icenorum might suggest that the first castle lay at Caistor St Edmunds, some 3 miles south of Norwich castle where the Roman town defences still survive.  Alternatively, the possibility has been advanced that Guenta was actually Winchester - Roman Venta Belgarum, equally it might just be Venta Silarium - Caerwent in Gwent, but that is surely too near the coast and too far from the north of the English kingdom.  To support the Norwich identification, there is no evidence that Fitz Osbern held Winchester, but Hugh Grandmesnil (d.1098) was recorded as the first governor of Hampshire by Orderic Vitalis, admittedly writing a generation later.  Further, before 1074, Ralph Gael was earl of East Anglia, which would make it eminently possible that Gael was Fitz Osbern's successor to Norwich.  If this is so it would therefore appear that Poitiers had blundered over the name of Norwich, naming the old Roman centre, rather than the newer burgh which replaced it.  Certainly Norwich seems to fit the description better than Winchester for opposing the Danes and controlling the north of England.  To add to the confusion both Norwich and Winchester could be argued to be some 14 miles from the sea, depending on where the coastline actually was during this period.

To the north-east of Norwich castle lies the cathedral which was founded in the last years of the reign of William Rufus (1087-1100), while to the west lay what was known as the castle fee (an area of about 23 acres).  This became the French borough and was defended by the later city defences.  Excavation has shown that the castle was built upon Saxon deposits which seem to date mostly from the tenth century onwards and show signs that much craft or industry was undertaken in the city as well as grain storage.  Found partially under the later southern bailey rampart was evidence for a timber stave church and a graveyard.  These were in use from the late tenth century until the building of the castle and contained at least 130 burials.  Another church and cemetery lay beneath the north-east bailey, while it has been suggested that another possible bailey lay under the northern part of the site.

The evidence above suggests that Norwich castle was founded for William the Conqueror (1066-87) in what was probably the fourth largest town in England.  The fortress was certainly operational in 1075, when Earl Ralph Gael of the East Angles, rebelled against William the Conqueror.  After he married Emma the sister of Earl Roger of Hereford at Exning in 1075 ‘he then led that woman to Norwich.  That bride-ale there was death to men'.  As earl of East Anglia, Ralph undoubtedly held Norwich castle for his king.  However, his rebellious plot was betrayed by Earl Waltheof (d.1076) and the regent, Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury (1070-89), sent troops against the rebels.  Earl Ralph, the plot having been uncovered before the conspirators were ready, attempted to rally support.  In this he failed and his co-conspirators of the Welsh Marches were defeated and dispersed.  Meanwhile Earl Ralph had been countered by Bishop Odo of Bayeux and Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances marching on Cambridge.  Ralph then retired on ‘his castle' of Norwich which he turned over to the custody of his wife, Emma Crepon, and his knights, while he himself took ship probably for Denmark to raise support, before he fled to his homeland of Brittany.  These actions resulted in a siege of Norwich castle which ended when the king proclaimed peace and allowed the countess and her men to follow her husband abroad.  Ralph ended his days fighting in the Holy Land.

After this action, Norwich castle reverted to royal control and Lanfranc announced to King William that the fortress had been surrendered according to the terms agreed and that it was now occupied by Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances (d.1093), William Warenne (d.1088) and Robert Malet (d.1105+) with a force of 300 serjeants (loricati) with crossbowmen and many engineers (artifices machinarum).  Accordingly by the Autumn of 1075 when all the Bretons had left, Lanfranc reckoned the country as peaceable as it had ever been.  The arrival of many engineers could well suggest the start of a massive building campaign, perhaps that which led to the building of the keep.  Such an interpretation of building work may also explain the royal notification of 1082 that Abbot Simon of Norwich was to be quit of garrison duty at Norwich which he had conducted and observed.  Possibly the keep could have been built in the years 1075 to 1082 and this marked its completion.  The idea that the keep ‘is undoubtedly a work of the twelfth century' seems only to date from the eighteenth century and is mainly based upon comparison with other undated keeps, namely Castle Rising, Hedingham and Rochester.

By the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086 Norwich was one of some 50 odd castles explicitly mentioned in the survey.  The Domesday entry recorded that the building of the castle in a pre-existing settlement necessitated the destruction of existing properties.  At Norwich, some 113 house sites were occupied by the site of the castle, the actual survey stating:

In this land Harold had a soke, there were 15 burgesses and 17 mansures (measures of land) of waste which are occupied by the castle and in the burgh 190 empty mansures which were in the soke of the king and earl and 81 occupied by the castle. 

Excavation has shown many earlier post holes of buildings destroyed by the castle construction as well as the disturbance and removal of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries.  Quite clearly large scale building works had gone on.

Only 2 years after the survey, in 1088, the castle went to war again.  In that year Bishop Odo of Bayeux (d.1097), Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances (d.1093), Earl Robert of Mortain (d.1090), Earl Roger of Shrewsbury (d.1094) and all the great men of country with the exception of Archbishop Lanfranc plotted to overthrow King William Rufus (d.1100) and hand the kingdom over to Duke Robert of Normandy (d.1134).  To aid this project Roger Bigod (d.1107), who had held Framlingham from Earl Hugh of Chester (d.1101) in 1086, seized Norwich castle and devastated the county in the name of the rebels.  ‘One of them was called Roger, who ran away into the castle at Norwich and still did worst of all over the land.'  However the rebellion failed, but Bigod managed to make his peace with the king who resumed control of his fortress.

Soon after 1094 it is alleged that work began on both the construction of the cathedral and the castle keep.  However no real documentary evidence supports this claim which seems to be based upon a single act of Rufus dated sometime between 1091 and 1096 and the comments in later chronicles that this is when the transference of the bishopric began.  The act of Rufus notified Humphrey the Chamberlain, Ralph Passelewe, Odbert and all the people of Norfolk and Suffolk that the king had granted Bishop Herbert of Norwich (1091-1119) all the lands that had been viewed by Bishop Walchelin of Winchester, Ranulf the Chaplain and Roger Bigod (d.1107) to allow the bishop to ‘make his church and houses for himself and his monks at Norwich castle (Norwyc castrum)'.  This act marked the move of the bishop's see from Thetford to Norwich as is related in the Foundation History of the cathedral that states the church was built beside Norwich castle at a place called Cowholme (locum apud Norwicense castrum vocatum Cowholme) and copies the above notification of Rufus.  Such evidence says nothing of castle keeps and only confirms that the castle was standing at this time and by the language suggests that the fortress included the entire bend of the river.  A later source writing of the year 1133 noted that the move had been partially sanctioned as long ago as 1075 and that Bishop Herbert of Thetford had been instrumental in the upgrading of Norwich to a bishopric.  It was he who had spent much money in purchasing ‘a considerable portion of the city of Norwich and having pulled down the houses and cleared a large space of ground, built a very find church upon a beautiful site overlooking the River Wensum (Gerne)'.

After the death of Rufus in August 1100, King Henry I (1100-35) was recorded in the castle during 1103, 1106, 9 May 1108 and 1122.  On the latter occasion he spent his Christmas in Norwich which included a ceremonial crown wearing.  The king also sent prisoners to the castle, as was standard practise at the administrative centres during the middle ages.  During 1101 it is said to have been recorded that stone masons working on Norwich cathedral were also fabricating windows for the keep basement.  At September 1130 it was recorded that the bishop of Ely owed the massive sum of £1,000 for the right to perform his castleguard in the isle of Ely rather than at Norwich castle as he formerly did.  Of this sum he paid £364 and owed £736.  As Ely was some 50 miles from Norwich the bishop obviously thought the large fine was worth paying.  Similarly St Benet's Holme had been exempted from castleguard at Norwich castle by Henry I, although his charter was later apparently repudiated by Henry II.  During this same early period the knights of Bury St Edmund's abbey were recorded as being accustomed to pay their service at Norwich castle.  Quite obviously the number of knights who owed service at the fortress shows that this was a major fortress in the kingdom with a knight force possibly similar to that owed at Dover where the Dering Roll suggests that 324 knights owed service to Constable Stephen Penchester of Dover (d.1299).  Fees owing at Norwich were probably well over a hundred.

In April 1136, allegedly on hearing a rumour of King Stephen's death, Hugh Bigod (d.1176) seized Norwich castle and refused to relinquish it until Stephen appeared in person to disprove the rumour.  King Stephen (1135-54) was apparently back in Norwich in May 1140 and soon after gave the castle to Hugh Bigod when he made him earl of Norfolk before 2 February 1141.  Hugh proved a disloyal earl, so in or soon after 1148 the king passed Castle Acre, Castle Rising, Lewes and particularly Norwich castle to his son, Count William of Mortain (d.1159).  This act was partially recorded in King Stephen's and Henry Fitz Empress' agreement of 1153.  Possibly this was done when the king came to Norwich, probably in the period 1146-48 when the Jews complained to him according to Thomas Monmouth, concerning the killing of one of their number by a local knight.  King Stephen and his heir, Eustace, were certainly in Norwich during the period 1147-53 and the king alone was there in the year November 1153 to October 1154.

Despite Count William of Blois (d.1159) being confirmed in his lands during 1153 he was subsequently stripped of Norwich castle by King Henry II (1154-89), when he returned from France in the spring of 1157.  However, although William surrendered both Norwich and Pevensey castles to the king, he was allowed to keep all the land his father had granted him.  Some time earlier King Stephen (d.1154) had remitted the castle guard of 40 knights due at Norwich from the monastery of Bury St Edmunds.  In 1158 it was recorded that the sheriff of Norfolk had knights in Norwich castle who had cost £51 12s to maintain.  Presumably these had been stationed there from the time when King Henry had resumed the castle in 1157 and spent £20 on munitioning the fortress.  Similarly in 1158, knights in the Bigod castle of Framlingham had cost the king £16 18s, while the burgesses of Norwich were recorded as owing 300m (£200) of which they paid £19.

As no accounts appear in the pipe rolls for royal building works at Norwich it is readily apparent that the keep was built before the reign of Henry II (1154-89).  Early in his reign the king also issued a charter in favour of Norwich which restored the status of the city to that which it held in the time of Henry I (1100-35) whereby he urged those who withdrew ‘from their customs and scots' to ‘return to their society and custom and follow their scot because I quitclaim not one of them...'.  Quite clearly King Stephen's actions had quite dramatically changed the equilibrium of the city and this was not to the new king's perceived benefit.

In 1161 the burgesses of Norwich paid 10m (£6 13s 4d) which was spent on works to the castle.  In 1166 the sum of 78s 8d was spent on Norwich jail which may have been within the castle precincts, if not within the keep itself.  For some reason the castle was munitioned in 1168 at a cost of £10.  Presumably this was due to unease in the kingdom over the Becket dispute.  In 1171 catastrophe struck Norwich when the city and cathedral were burned, but no mention was made of the castle which presumably survived the disaster.  Certainly nothing seems to have been spent on its repair.

In 1173, garrisons were put in Eye, Orford and Thetford castles, which were obviously all in the king's hands.  At Norwich castle the garrison was supplied by 100 loads of wheat at £8 11s 1d, 100 bacons at £9 5s 11d, 26s 8d worth of salt, 74s 4d worth of iron, 3 handmills at 3s, rope at a cost of 3s 4d and finally cheese for 27s 6d.  At the same time £20 4s 8d was accounted for the repairs made to the wood and palisading of the bridge as well as 3 brattices.  A force of 5 knights was also placed in Norwich for 20 days at a cost of £6 15s as well as an unnumbered force of knights and serjeants for an unspecified time, but at a cost of £33 6s 8d.  Possibly this was the same 5 knights and probably their 10 accompanying serjeants for there was also a payment for 5 knights from Norwich receiving 113s 4d for 34 days service.  This garrisoning was obviously necessary due to the Young King Henry's actions.  He had been crowned king of England in 1170, but King Henry II (1154-89) had refused to let any power fall into his son's hands.  Consequently, at the urging of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) and other disgruntled aristocrats, the Young King Henry III (d.1183) was exhorted to rebel and seize power from his father, Henry II.  The result was the young king's war (1173-74).  At the commencement of this the young king granted away many royal estates to buy the allegiance of other aristocrats.  To Hugh Bigod he granted all the honour of Eye and custodianship of Norwich castle.  This explains the elder king's actions repairing and garrisoning castles in East Anglia this year.  The repairs carried out to Norwich castle bridge has recently been claimed to show that the surviving stone bridge existed at this time.  However, as there must have been several bridges to cross the numerous ditches such an assumption, especially that this was a stone bridge referred to, is ill-justified.

In 1174 further moneys had been put against Norwich and its castle during the war.  Philip Hastings had advanced £20 to 20 knights resident in Norwich castle and £6 4s 4d for the serjeants there.  On top of this Hugh Cressy, the custodian of the fortress, received £21 13s 4d for wheat from the measurement (mensuram) of Norwich as well as 200 cheeses for 100s, 100 loads of salt for £20 as well as 38s worth of iron.  Some repairs were also carried out at the castle costing £11 18s.  Philip Hastings also received a further £20 for leading his knights from Norwich castle against the Flemings who were at Bungay and Framlingham as well as for sending 500 carpenters to the king at Seleham at a cost of 66s 8d.  These were obviously needed for the king's coming assault on Framlingham castle, which was cancelled on 25 July when Earl Hugh came to Seleham and surrendered to his king.  In 1175 Geoffrey Fitz William rendered account from the honour of Giffard for garrisoning Norwich castle with 71 loads of barley and 10 loads of iron and 15 loads of fish and 38 loads of oats at a cost of £6 14s and also 5 loads of wheat at 21s 8d.  The same year one Roger repaired Norwich castle at a cost of £13 8s 4d.  He and the 2 engineers, Henry Bello [Fago] and Reginald Benedict, also accounted for unspecified works there costing £7 6s 8d.  These undefined repair works are what would normally be expected at a castle being brought into the forefront of its military defensibility.

The precautions taken at Norwich were obviously necessary for this year the long awaited attack finally arrived.  Late in May 1174, Hugh Bigod, with a force of 318 Flemish knights who had just landed at Orwell (Arewellam) together with his own men advanced into Norfolk to attack Norwich.  During their assault he burned the town on 18 June before returning to his own castle [presumably Framlingham] with many captives.  Despite modern claims to the contrary, no original source states that he took Norwich castle.  This proved the high point of Bigod's war and soon afterwards he was forced from Framlingham to surrender by Henry II in person that July.  After this fighting was over, further unspecified repairs were carried out to the castle in 1176 under the supervision of Henry Bigod (Bigart) and Henry Bellofago.  These cost £20 2s, while a further £20 was spent under the view of Nicholas Fitz Randolf, John Curry (Cureie) and Ralph Sergeant.  This was probably to repair the castle from the attack of Hugh Bigod in 1174, as this same year the burgesses of Norwich were reported as owing £16 on account of them having allowed the destruction of their city in time of war.

After this action maintenance of the fortress seems to have been ignored until 1184 when 45s 6d was spent on the jail and £4 on mending the houses and bridge within (infra) Norwich castle.  Another 43s 4d was spent on the jail houses the next year, 1185.  The final act of King Henry II in relation to Norwich castle was in allowing for the castle constable, Harvey Fitz Peter, to spend 42s on repairing the castle hall.  Presumably this was the hall within the keep.

By the mid twelfth century Jews were well settled in Norwich, close to the protection of the castle and its constable, Sheriff John Chesney (d.1146).  To many, especially Bishop William Turbeville (1146-74), they were not welcome.  One consequence of this was a cult founded in Norwich in the wake of the murder of a young boy, William of Norwich, around 22 March 1144.  The bishop was largely responsible for the blaming of the Jews for this crime, despite opposition from his own clergy.  In Lent 1190, the Jews throughout England were attacked and their loan documents destroyed.  On 6 February (Shrove Tuesday) these riots spread to Norwich and many who did not reach the safety of the castle were put to death by the crowds.

With the disturbances of King Richard's reign (1189-99) a garrison was placed in Norwich castle after it, Eye and Orford castles were repaired in 1192 at a cost of £25 8s 8d.  The 1193 pipe roll listed a garrison of 25 knights who remained at the castle for 40 days at a cost of £50.  They were supported by 25 horse serjeants at £16 13s 4d and 25 foot serjeants at £8 6s 8d.  These forces were undoubtedly raised against Prince John and his allies who attempted to subvert the kingdom that year.  After Richard's death in 1199 King John took over the castle and repaired it at unknown cost, but spending 40s on stone for his works there in 1205.  Works may have continued the next year, 1206, when William Gisnei owed 2 palfreys to be used for the repair of the castle of Norwiz, although he was pardoned one horse and still owed the other.  The same year £35 were spent on the castle works under Elias Diss and William Malcuilvert.  In 1209 it was recorded that William Blund and his heirs paid ward at Norwich castle.

In May 1216 the Legate Guala (d.1227) arrived in England and soon afterwards Prince Louis Capet (d.1226) and his army set off from London into East Anglia, laying waste the towns of Essex, Suffolk and finally Norfolk.  In the centre of that province they found Norwich castle ungarrisoned and seized the castellan, Thomas Burgh (d.1235), the brother of Hubert the justiciar (d.1243), despite this castle and Orford having been granted to the rebels by Hubert Burgh in order to gain a short truce.  The rebels then retired on London by way of King's Lynn.  The fortress was returned to Henry III (1216-72) in 1217 and in 1221 the regency council appointed a baron of the exchequer to account with Philip Marmion for repairing and victualling the castle.  With this the castle settled back into being a seat for administrative business in the county.  On 2 January 1234 the king ordered William Bardulf not to be distrained as he was absent from the garrison of Norwich in the king's service in the Marches of Wales.

By 1242 it was noted that the sheriff of Norfolk was in charge of garrisoning both Norwich and Orford castles.  While in 1248 a Welsh monk who had murdered Prior Thomas of Thetford was imprisoned in Norwich castle keep (turri Norwicensis oppidi).  The civil wars of 1264-67 seem largely to have passed Norwich by, but Sheriff Nicholas, coming from the castle with his brother Thomas Despenser, suffered a broken leg from a misplaced kick at a family enemy in June 1264.  This led to his death and a court judgement of death by misadventure.  On 31 May 1267 there was a scare that the disinherited barons at Ely were coming to sack the city, but this attack never materialised.  The keep however remained as a prison and on 8 May 1308, the sheriff of Norfolk to pay their dues to Rhys the brother of Maelgwn and Gruffydd his brother and the son of Rhys ap Maredudd in who were held captive in Norwich castle.  By this time the fortress was apparently obsolete.  Before 1221 the city had begun to encroach onto the south and east baileys.  These were used by the townsfolk for grazing and occasional commerce, as well as for dumping rubbish and quarrying for building materials.  However, the main entrance into the castle, in the form of the main bridge, was repaired in 1267 and 1328.  With the building of the town walls from 1253 the castle baileys seem to have become increasingly irrelevant.  The southern bailey appears to have been early encroached upon and both baileys were granted to the city by Edward III on 9 August 1345, with the Crown maintaining control of the castle with its moat (presumably the main mound with the keep within the inner ward and the bridge and south gate) and the shire house within the south bailey.  The rest of the outworks in the castle fee were handed over to the city.  Despite this, by 1390 the castle was in a bad state of decay.  It never saw action again, but remained as an administrative centre and prison.  In 1825 a new jail was built against the north and east sides of the keep which was converted into the prison hospital.

The castle was once a large complex, as would befit the caput of a shire.  Around the castle and its two baileys and extending beyond them, was the castle fee, an area thought to cover 23 acres.  It has been guessed in many modern accounts that alterations were made to the defences ‘between 1094 and 1122' and that these included the insertion of a new south bailey ditch and the recutting of the outer ditch to the north-east bailey, a defended meadow, as well as raising the main mound in height before building the keep.  Despite these claims, excavation within the south bailey produced no evidence of wooden structures or defences although it is widely stated that Norwich castle began life as ‘a timber motte and bailey castle'.  It is consequently possible that bratticing surrounded the early site while a relatively low wall was built around the mound top.  Such a defence would be quite sufficient for the early days of conquest.

Before the castle was built, it would appear that Anglo-Saxon Norwich was made up of 5 villages which had, before 1066 and probably before 1004 when it was sacked by Swein Forkbeard, merged to form the borough of Norwich.  With the coming of the Conqueror's troops, probably early in 1067, various buildings were cleared from the site and a new castle laid out.  Domesday Book appears to list some 1,358 households in the city and refers to some 113 properties being wasted and enclosed by the new? defensives.  This set the castle in one of the largest settlements in the country.  Other castles of various designs were placed in several Saxon towns, viz, Caerwent, Chester, Hereford, Lincoln, London, Pevensey, Portchester, Rochester, Shrewsbury, Winchester, Worcester
and York.  The site selected at Norwich was a natural ridge overlooking the River Wensum to the east, while a small stream, the Great Cockey, lay to the west.  Norwich remained the only royal castle in the 2 co-joined counties of Norfolk and Suffolk until the construction of Orford in 1165.  The fact they were cojoined probably meant that Norwich was the only royal administrative centre deemed necessary for the district until 1165.  Further inland lay the great royal administrative centres at Cambridge/Huntington and Colchester.

Norwich castle consisted of a great mound which supported the keep, which itself was surrounded by an inner bailey.  As such this mound was much larger and flatter than a traditional inverted pudding bowl motte and should therefore be referred to as a mound rather than a true motte.  The mound ditch survives only to the south, where it would appear to have been originally much wider.  Excavations in 1906 found that the ditch bottom around the mound at its greatest depth seems to have been about 74' beneath the berm and that it was cut into solid chalk.  The mound was also found to be 'totally artificial' and between 35' and 40' high, while the slope varied from 20 degrees to the east to a more normal 40 degrees for most of the structure.  Its large size gave it a summit diameter of between 300' and 360' with a basal diameter of between 440' and 480'.  As such it is clearly a raised inner ward mound, rather than a typical conical motte.  Reassessment of the data shows a turfline covered with 11' of loam, then thin layers of chalk, loam and chalk again.  Below the turfline was 5' of sand overlying 9½' of sand which was probably all natural and lying on the chalk bedrock.  Various pits were found Saxo-Norman pottery were found at depths of between 13' and 27'.  On the motte top similar pottery was found at depths of 5' and 15'.

To the south of the mound was a small quarter moon shaped barbican, joined to the mound by an early bridge who's remnants are incased in nineteenth century masonry.  Beyond this was a semi-circular bailey which was probably a primary build with the mound.  By the late medieval period this no longer marked the main entrance to the castle as the church of St John to the south of the castle was known as St John at the postern gate (januam) in 1453.  To the north and east of the mound was another quarter moon bailey which might be primary, although current opinion seems to be that it was a slightly later addition.  All of these earthworks were defended by ditches, some of which have been excavated, especially to the south.

The main defence of the masonry castle stood on the summit of the Castle Mound.  It was polygonal in plan and included the keep within its defences.  All that remains of these defences are the foundations of 2 D shaped towers that flanked the entrance over the bridge to the south. 
These towers formed a standard twin towered gatehouse which contained a rectangular room in each tower, entered from the north end of the gate passageway.  In plan it seems more a rectangular gatetower with two ¾ round turrets at the exposed corners, rather than a true thirteenth century gatehouse.  As such it could well be earlier rather than later in its construction date.  The nearly square keep is set towards the south-west corner of the mound and is bounded to north and east by the nineteenth century prison which has alternating short and long sides, like a square with chamfered off corners.  This almost certainly does not overlie the original masonry defences which almost certainly lay at the edge of the berm and not well back as the prison wall does now.  This plan is confirmed by the position of the south twin towered gatehouse in relation to the south bridge.  The walls on either side of this tower clearly show that the wall was on the downward slope of the current berm and not 15' to 20' behind it, like the current prison wall.

The Keep
The great stone tower keep is one of the largest in England, even though it is only 2 floors high.  It is almost square being some 95' long by 90' wide and rising some 70' high.  Traditionally the castle is dated to the reign of King Henry I (1100-35) on the spurious grounds that it looks somewhat like Falaise castle keep in Normandy and the 'fact' that this reign is when other vaguely similar English keeps ‘must' have been built.  To be safe it is best to date the keep as extant when it came into the hands of King Henry II (1154-89).  When exactly it was built before that date is currently uncertain, although there are architectural features in both castle and cathedral that are similar.  However, similarity does not equate to simultaneous construction.  Peckforton castle in Cheshire vaguely mimics nearby Beeston castle, yet one is Victorian and the other thirteenth century and no one has yet drawn the erroneous conclusion that because of their similarity both must date to the same era.

The keep was apparently a free-standing building, so it could have been built from the first with a palisade surrounding the mound top forming the main defence while this was constructed.  The tower exterior is decorated with Romanesque blind arcading, which is only found in military structures in such quality and quantity elsewhere at Castle Rising, although St Leonard's Tower, West Malling, Kent (which probably began life as a church tower), also displays some blind arcading, as does the interior of Chepstow keep.  Internally, Norwich keep has been gutted so that nothing certain remains of its medieval layout, although it is generally agreed that it contained a kitchen, the chapel of St Nicholas, an entrance hall, a 2 storey hall and a grand total of 16 early garderobes.

All the apertures in the keep have Romanesque arches which again points to the tower's early construction date.  The ground floor was apparently flint faced, while the upper storeys were originally thought to have been of Caen stone.  More recently it has been considered that the bulk of the ashlar consists of Bath stone laid over a flint core, although some elements are still thought to be of Caen stone. The lower flintwork presents a stark contrast to the pale limestone of the upper portion of the keep.  Possibly the lower sections would not have been viewable from the city as the defensive curtain around the mound perimeter would have shielded it from view.  It was therefore simply plastered to cover the crudity of the walls while the upper storey was well decorated to impress the locals viewing it from afar.

The keep basement contained the great hall and above this were private rooms and the upper floor.  The basement was bisected into 2 by a crosswall.  The northern room had a row of square piers in the centre supporting a stone vault, while the southern room had two vaulted compartments at its east end.  Norwich castle, like many other administrative centres, had been used as a jail since the twelfth century at the latest.  The new attached jail was built by Sir John Soane during 1789-93.

The exterior faces of the keep are divided into 4 bays by wide pilaster buttresses with decorative nicked buttresses at the corners - and for some reason the north front has an extra buttress added to divide the second bay from the east.  The ground floor is decorated by 3 or 4 tiers of blind arcading differing in height and width.  These irregularly contain windows, while the 4 latrines, servicing both upper floor chambers, exit via chutes set in polychrome (brown and white) Romanesque arches in the west wall.  The summit is topped by battlements supported by a modillion course and has nine pierced and capped merlons on each side.  These are modern and eighteenth century sketches show that the loops are modern fanciful additions.  There are subtle differences in the decoration on each face but only the south and west faces are now completely visible.  Attached to the east side of the keep is the modern gatehouse as part of the modern enceinte of the bailey which surmounts the ‘motte' behind a substantial modern berm.

The keep was entered on the upper floor from a 2 storey forebuilding called the Bigod tower which lay on the east side.  This was reached by an external stone staircase running along the face of the wall.  Sir John Soane, during his renovations of the keep in 1789-93, oversaw the rebuilding of the Bigod tower even though he would have preferred it to be demolished.  Despite his attentions the vault of the tower still survives under the current structure, although the Romanesque arches on which the staircase rose has been destroyed together with the carved lions on the imposts.  The vault has a quadripartite rib-vault, with roll moulded ribs.  It is probable that the whole of the eastern side of the keep was also refaced when the Bigod tower was rebuilt.  In appearance this forebuilding seems to have something in common with that at Castle Rising.

The Norwich keep upper floor consisted of a great chamber to the south and a great hall to the north, with a external entrance into the east end of the hall.  This Romanesque entrance is the most ornate piece of Norman carving in the keep, having three orders of shafts some with a beakhead motif.  The arches have a roll moulding with panels in between carrying interlace, foliage and little animals.  On the capitals are carved figures and animals from hunting scenes.  The whole portal is surrounded by a wider arch decorated with large four-petal flowers, while beside it is a much smaller blind arch.  Possibly this was intended to mimic the large and small gateways often found in Roman cities.  This style lived on longer in France where most gatehouses contained a foot and a horse passage into the castle.  This style can still be seen at the early gatehouse at Ludlow in Shropshire and in the fifteenth century keep at Raglan, but the latter quite obviously copies the common late medieval form in France, viz. Bricquebec, Fougeres, Langeias, Loches city walls and Tonquedec to name a few.

The upper floor great chamber had a number of subsidiary rooms, including a chapel in the south-east corner of the keep and a private chamber to the south-west.  The room had a fireplace in the south wall and a well near the crosswall which is not quite the same design as Rochester which had the well set within the crosswall.  Despite its early date, both halls were served by two sets of garderobe chutes in the west wall.  It also had wall passages along each side.  It has been suggested that there was an ‘appearance doorway' on the west side of the keep where the constable or king could make himself known to the city lying in that direction.

From the Norwich great hall, which contained a fireplace, stairs led downwards in both the north-west and north-east corners.  Only the ground floor of the west wall of the keep has no apertures, but at the north end evidence of vaulting can be seen in the wall.  This supported the stone-flagged floor of the kitchen immediately above in the Great Hall.  Within the kitchen is a fireplace in the north-west corner.

By the end of the eighteenth century the keep was showing signs of collapse and so was entirely refaced in 1835-8 by Anthony Salvin, who had already worked on Rockingham, the Tower of London, Warwick and Windsor castles.  At Norwich he continued the work begun by Francis Stone around 1829 and who had died in 1835.  Stone's work consisted of the east face and Salvin was employed to refashion the remaining sides in a similar manner.  This is thought to have been very close to the original.

In 1887 the castle was converted into a museum.  This resulted in the gutting of the castle's interior and the creation of top-lit galleries in the former cell blocks.  The new keep roof was supported by an arcade in the position of the former crosswall and a gallery was installed at the level of the original floor of the upper halls.

The Baileys
From documentary sources, it is known that the castle had a southern bailey with an inner barbican, a kidney shaped bailey on the north-east side, while the whole area was bounded by a probably ditch and bank which made up the area called Castle Fees.

Since the fourteenth century encroachment and infilling have levelled the ditch to the north and west of the main castle mound.  The ditch is now occupied by the modern road, Castle Meadow to the north and west.  East of the mound Market Avenue appears to follow the edge of the outer bank of the infilled moat in which has been built the Victorian shire hall.  The built up area to the east of this, where the land falls away gradually, formed a part of the defended meadow that was the north-east bailey.  The baileys to the south of the castle mound ditch were substantially removed by excavation and then built upon by the Castle Mall shopping centre, totally destroying their original form.

The excavations last century proved that the original medieval bridge survives substantially intact beneath its later stone cladding.  This work included the remnants of 2 D shaped towers of the inner ward gatehouse set astride the bridge on the summit of the motte.  The bridge consists of a southern and northern abutment with a central horseshoe shaped arch.  Excavation of the bulk of the barbican ditch suggested that the construction of a stone bridge between the bailey and mound may have been contemporary with the erection of the masonry keep, although pottery found within the backfill in the structure was thought to be twelfth century, which might suggest that it was later.  The footings of the bridge were discovered some 15' beneath the current bottom of the ditch surface.  This showed that the original arch was a massive 50' high, one of the largest in the country.  It was thought that the 9 chamfered plinths uncovered, like the rest of the original bridge, were faced in ‘Caen' stone.  The metalled road surface over the bridge also returned pottery dated from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries.  Early eighteenth century etchings, particularly that by Buck, show that the bridge was at some point further defended by a central gatetower which also had internal blind arcading.  This might have been comparable with the surviving gatetower at Tickhill castle in Yorkshire which was also decorated, but without blind arcades.

Just south-west of the ‘motte' bridge was a substantial early medieval well some 100' deep, the bottom 2 thirds of which was cut through the natural chalk.  Excavation has shown that there were only a small number of buildings in the southern bailey and that some of these may have continued in use from the Saxon era.  South of the ‘motte' bridge was what appeared to be a rectangular gatetower which had later collapsed into the later barbican ditch to the south.  The gatetower's walls were about 6' thick and it was thought the tower was brought down by sand quarrying in the post medieval period. 

South of the probable gatetower lay the deep barbican ditch.  Some 60% of this has been archaeologically investigated before its destruction.  This created a quarter moon barbican which is somewhat similar to other examples that are generally reckoned to be early thirteenth century, viz. Dunamase in Ireland as well as that at Castle Rising.  Beyond the barbican ditch a series of 2 semi-circular ditches were dug to further protect the entrance to the purported gatehouse.  These have been interpreted as part of a hornwork.  It is noticeable that nowhere in records of the surviving remains, which includes the keep entrance, 2 gates in the forebuilding, the 2 gates at the bridge or the south gatetower, could any trace of a portcullis be found.

The bailey to the north-east has largely been unexamined archaeologically, although small investigations have suggested that the ward was largely devoid of buildings, before it was encroached upon by the city.  Recorded as the Castle Meadow from 1351-52, it may well have been a bailey from the first building of the castle.

The Medieval City
Construction of the city walls seems to have taken place between 1253 and 1344 and covered an area measuring one and a half miles from north to south and one mile from east to west.  No trace of any burgh defence remains and it is possible that the burgh was always at Caistor St Edmunds, 3 miles to the south.  Surprisingly the thirteenth century defensive area of Norwich city was greater than that covered by the contemporary London walls, while the buildings within the walls included the Benedictine monastery and cathedral, 4 large friary precincts, nearly 70 churches, several hospitals, a thriving commercial waterfront and numerous markets.

The castle lies roughly centrally within the surviving circuit, while large sections of masonry remain visible along the A147 including several D shaped mural towers.  This section of wall cut off the city from riverside to riverside along the south and west fronts.  The east side was covered solely by the river Wensum, although to the north there was a large suburb known as Norwich over the water.  This ran from the fine fourteenth century brick artillery Cow Tower on the south side of the river to some distance north of the main walls on the River Wensum.


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry