Where is Colegate?
The Colegate area is located to the north of Norwich city centre. It is a relatively small area but contains a high concentration of historic buildings and period features dating from the 17th century onwards.
The Colegate area encompasses Magdalen Street, which is the primary northern exit from Norwich and the shopping centre for the old town on the other side of the river Wensum. The area comprises small lanes criss-crossing larger streets running North and South. These essentially continue the medieval street pattern of older city centre streets, but with large old factory buildings and town houses dominating the landscape.
The history and origins of Colegate
The Colegate area was early settled, with evidence of late Saxon activity, and occupation expanded westwards during Norman times. The Dominican friars arrived in 1226 and settled off Colegate, although they moved south of the river after 1307.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the area was occupied due to the natural defense the river Wensum gave against attack from three sides. The river also provided for trade and transport, helping the economy of the settlement to thrive.
Over time Norwich developed into an affluent city and in medieval times of the 15th century several fine merchants houses were built.
16th Century and the arrival of ‘Strangers’
In the 16th century, there was an influx of ‘Strangers’ who established communities in the area. These ‘Strangers’ were in fact refugees from Holland and Belgium, fleeing persecution of Dutch Calvinists by the Catholic Spanish rulers of that region of Europe. These refugees were widely welcomed and helped to revolutionize the cloth trade of Norwich and East Anglia.
With their skills in weaving, the new immigrants were of immense economic value. The refugees had first settled in Sandwich, Kent, in 1565, and the City of Norwich elders invited them to the city because of their renowned skills in textile weaving. Much of the prosperity of Norfolk after this period can be traced to this influx of refugees.
The textile industry continued to be important in the 19th Century, but leatherworking became more successful and resulted in the building of large factories. The Coslany area was a typical industrial scene in the 19th century with factories built from the 1830s onwards. The Norvic company constructed one of the most important in 1876; a purpose-built shoe factory on Colegate by Edward Boardman. In the late nineteenth century, the area was a maze of alleys and courtyards, contrasting sharply with the vast factory buildings, often immediately adjacent. The area was badly hit in World War II and its character was further changed with slum clearances in the twentieth century. In more recent times the road network has undergone the most change attempting to cope with higher usage and traffic, in contrast to efforts to preserve the buildings and character of the area.
Colegate interactive map
Today Colegate is home to businesses, residential housing, academic institutions and everything in between. Explore the area below on our interactive map and discover history you never know existed all around you.
The students of the Jane Austen College surveyed their peers to find out their local knowledge of Colegate and the Octagon Chapel, see the results in the next section.