If you saw someone wandering around Norwich on 15 September with about 16 people in tow, it was probably me. To be honest, it could have been any number of official City Guides, but they would have known what they were doing. For me it was a one-off Heritage event, and I had been plunged into it almost by accident.
I am a trustee of the Paston Heritage Society – in fact the only such trustee living in Norwich; so it falls to me quite often to introduce visitors to the various Paston-related sites in the city. (If you don’t know who the Pastons were, I refer you to pastonheritage.co.uk; there is also a Facebook page.)
Recently, as the more alert Norwich-dwellers will know, there has been an extensive Castle Museum exhibition on The Paston Treasure – it finishes this weekend (September 23). There has also been a more general, highly informative exhibition in St Peter Hungate, which continues until November. One of the spin-offs from this was my walk, which was inserted when something much more exciting was cancelled. I cannot reveal what it would have been. If I did, I would have to kill you.
I was a little concerned about how many sites I could include in the advertised 45 minutes. I was also slightly worried about whether I would be blamed if someone fell under a bus or was flattened by a cyclist, but I did warn them about it beforehand. They were a cheery bunch, and took full responsibility.
One of the problems with the Pastons was that they did not restrict themselves to a small part of Norwich – an area with a 45-minute radius of the Castle, for example. But we did what we could, taking in the main areas, such as St Andrew’s Hall, St Peter Hungate, Elm Hill and those ruins behind the Cathedral. We also slipped by the Guildhall, and stood for a while on Whitefriars Bridge. We ended up in front of the Cathedral after 90 minutes, having lost a few people on the way (all for very good reasons).
So what did we miss? Mainly the Music House – the oldest house in Norwich, owned by the Pastons in the 16th century and now containing a Paston Room; and Dragon Hall, created originally by their friend, the equally famous Robert Toppes. But other sites of interest to Paston-lovers are scattered not only throughout Norwich but throughout the entire county, from Paston itself across to Appleton and taking in such beautiful buildings as (part of) Oxnead Hall and Barningham Hall.
As relaxation the following day I sat with my wife in St Augustine’s Church, which has nothing to do with the Pastons (as far as we know), but which is the church where I am a member. The building itself is owned by the Churches Conservation Trust, and the church hall is used for worship. But on heritage days the church is open to visitors, and the experience is always interesting. This year I met someone who was born in the same place as I was – Earlham Hall.
Afterwards I wrote the poem that appears below.
Ropes still hang from the tower
but the bells –
too dangerous now –
have been removed
The church is silent:
no hymns have been announced,
old sermons have soaked into the walls
and been plastered over
The star and the king have gone,
taking the money with them
but leaving their souls behind
in memory of the dance
It is heritage day:
an old woman circles the graveyard
and finds the door
to a forgotten room,
full of prayers
The last bus rolls away:
the dust settles
Light blue glass glows
in the east window
He is not here,
He is risen