The Best Guide to Olde Norfolk’s Bygone Pubs
It has been said that ‘good things come in pairs, and if we look around, the evidence is clear: cheese and wine, tea and biscuits, gin and tonic… the list goes on. However, after digging deeper into our rich local history, one more perfect pairing deserves a spot on that list – Norwich and pubs!
In old Norwich, it used to be said that ‘there was a pub for every day of the year, and a church for every week, but alas, like all good things, they must come to an end. With a city as old as we are it’s not surprising that many establishments have not been able to stand the test of time, but that does not mean they didn’t make a lasting impression. After doing some digging, we at ABC want to raise a toast to all the bygone pubs that have made this city the pub-loving capital of Norfolk – this rounds on us!
Bridging the gap between ancient and modern, the Orford Arms is a pub old enough to be seen as a certified classic, and yet still young enough to find an older person or two who happened to be a part of the incredible scene that took place there throughout the ‘60s and early ‘70s!
Every city has its favourite music haunt – London had the U.F.O Club, home of Pink Floyd, Liverpool had the Cavern Club, home of the Fab Four, but how does Norwich fit into this musical heritage of swinging sixties? The answer: the Orford Arms.
Beginning its life in 1865, it wasn’t until the Potter family took over the lease in 1962 that the Orford Arms really started making a name for itself. Deciding to effectively give local booking agents free reign over the acts in the Cellar below the pub, Douro Potter may not have had any idea of the scene he was creating. With only the space to hold 300 patrons in the Cellar, surprisingly some of the hottest acts of the ‘60s played there, we’re talking the likes of Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart!
Throughout the rest of that decade, the Orford Arms would host a variety of acts making it one of the best spots to drink as a young person, however, by the late ‘60s it began to lose steam, and after relinquishing the lease in 1970, the Orford Arms was laid to rest in ‘74.
When the closing of a pub is described as “one of the greatest single losses to the Norwich drinker” you can be sure that there’s a worthy story behind it! This particular drinking establishment takes us all the way back to the 1840s, though it was housed in a 15th-century building in Haymarket. Making a name for themselves as wine merchants, the cellars beneath the house became famous in and around Norwich for their vastness and also as the home of their own bottling facility, a practice that was quite rare for a rural business during the period.
Taken from a quote in 1925 by one Walter Wicks,
‘upon entering, one feels suddenly transported from the bustle and din of a sternly commercial age to the rollicking days of Falstaff and the merrie England of Good Queen Bess’ – which to us certainly does sound like an enjoyable night out!
Before its closure in 1971, Backs was known primarily for its charm as one of the last vestiges of the old English drinking tradition that, by the 1960s, was becoming somewhat of a ghost of its former self. A quote from Bram Lowe from the early 60s remarked,
‘the only time you saw ladies was in the Elizabethan Bar, which was presided over by a lovely old gent called Alfred Parsons who was your class-aged retainer. He’d prepare hot toddies in a brightly burnished kettle on the bar which he’d religiously boil and bring over to your table to serve.’ – a truly magical experience we’re sure.
Sometimes, public houses can become iconic for reasons beyond simply bricks and mortar – the same is said for many pubs around the world: it’s about the people inside! This adage couldn’t be more pertinent when it comes to one of old Norwich’s favourite drinking spots… the Jolly Butchers!
Our story concerns one Black Anna – and however mysterious her nickname might sound, she was one of the most beloved Norwichians in our city’s folklore. Her moniker arising from her unyielding subscription to wearing only black, she was loved and lauded over the city for her hospitality and her particular talent as a jazz singer, whose witty talent for double entendre ingratiated her with the American airmen of WWII stationed nearby.
She and the Jolly Butchers would remain popular until long after the war as news broke out across the town and brought interested patrons from all over the county to listen to her and the local musicians play.
There you have it
While we only have enough time to mention three of Ye Olde Norwich’s pubs you can be sure to find much more information collected by the Norwich Heritage Project, along with descriptions and the history of many of our favourite haunts in our Fine City today!
As much as we do love a good time, and even though the pubs we’ve toured today don’t exist anymore, it’s always good to remember to stay responsible while out on the town. Here at ABC we’re not only dedicated to getting you from one place to another, but we’re also here to help keep you safe when you’re ‘doing some historical research’!
And as always,