Heart is described on its web site as "A private, charitable company that strategically plans, regenerates, manages and promotes Norwich and Norfolk's heritage" and that's exactly what it does.
So yesterday we tried to cram in as many visits in as possible. You have to be on the ball to get tickets to many of the openings and events as they are often over-subscribed. Heritage weekend allows you to understand more about Norwich's past as the second most important city behind London.
We started the day at Bowhill and Elliot, shoemakers of distinction, in London Street. It was a demonstration of how their hand made slippers come together - a painstaking and very personal service. The thing that intrigued me is the fact that Bowhill and Elliot's products sell all over the world but very rarely under their own name. Similarly the expensive shoes sold in their shop are not made by B and E. So the inference is that when you buy goods they may not necessarily be manufactured or be sold by who you thought. In addition Bowhill and Elliot slippers could be sold in one part of London for £150 under one brand name and be sold in another part of London under another brand name for £300. Whatever the price it seemed a massive amount to spend on a pair of slippers, but apparently they do last for over a decade and the company has been in existence for 135 years.
Next stop was Norwich Playhouse for a tour of the building. First thing I learned here was the theatre is a sister house to Norwich Theatre Royal. I have always liked the playhouse with its slightly rustic charm (the inside of the auditorium maintains the original brickwork which gives it an unfinished feel). Over the years the building has served a number of purposes including a munitions store (hence the fact it is located on Gun Quay). Now it is an established theatre for touring groups, music and plays and very good at putting them on it is too.
Grabbed a light lunch before wife Anne went off to another event and I spent the afternoon at a Trustees' meeting of the Norfolk Family History Society (something else I am involved with and which I will tell you about at a later date).
Next stop for me on the heritage trail at 4.30 p.m was St James' Mill on the banks of the River Wensum. A large and surprisingly picturesque building it has history oozing from every pore and is today the headquarters for the Jarrold group of companies. Jarrold's is mainly known in Norwich for its family department store in the middle of town. It also has a highly successful print business and computer training arm. We were shown around by Caroline Jarrold, a leading figure in City life and (I believe) the seventh generation of the family to be involved in the business. The Mill itself is now a suite of offices and so it was quite difficult to imagine exactly what it was like in decades now long gone.
We ate at the Whig and Pen public house at the back of Norwich Cathedral. The food was very average but it brought back many happy memories of my schooldays when we would drink in the pub at weekends and evenings (yes most of us were 18). In those days it was called either the White or Red Lion (I can't remember which). I remember the landlord whose name was Arthur. We are talking about the late 1960s, early 1970s here.
The final event on a very busy day was, for me, the best. A concert by the City of Norwich Brass Band at the Great Hospital, a building of great historical note in Norwich and also at the back of the cathedral. It was a lovely evening in lovely surroundings. One of the trustee boards contained the name of Sir William Arthur Steward who may or may not be an ancestor of mine. He was a fascinating man and I will tell you more about him in a later blog.
We had two hours of the best brass band music. To me three of the quintissential English sounds are church bells, brass bands and seagulls. Maybe we should discout the latter now since seagulls have received a bad press for swooping down on unsuspecting holiday makers to steal chips and ice creams.
Brass Bands are usually associated with the north of England but we have a number in Norfolk. Up to last night I had never heard of the Norwich outfit which is not surprising as they have been in existence for under a year. They rehearse twice a week at Cringleford which is about two miles from where we live. Their standard was exceptional and they have recently won a major area tournament which means they will be competing next weekend for national honours. It is difficult to comprehend that they have been in existence for such a short period of time.
Their evening featured the film music of John Williams, some Christian music and tried and trusted favourites such as "The Dambusters March". There were some surprises in the shape of Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long", Stevie Wonders "Sir Duke" and songs by the likes of Chicago and the Monkees. I was very interested in their version of "Daydream Believer" - a song I have written about quite a lot.
I wanted to know more about the band but sadly their web site is poor and gives little information. I was intrigued by what the conductor said about having to pay for a licence for each song they perform - this can cost up to £80. Apparently one of the audience purchased them Elgar's "Nimrod" that evening. I wonder how they would feel about having MacArthur Park bought for them? And before you laugh the Jimmy Webb classic has been recorded by a number of brass bands and is a very effective piece.
Today it's a backstage look at the Theatre Royal.