Above. Excavations in progress on the site of the former City Library in the heart of the
This photo is taken from the roof of the tower of the Church of
St Peter Mancroft
- see opposite.
On the first of April 1994, fire broke out and destroyed the Norwich City Library, destroying more than 100,000 books and the local studies archive. Fortunately the Norwich Record Office though water and smoke damaged, was saved, being in a fire proof room. The building was relatively new, only dating from 1963 and had been a model for modern libraries, its architect - David
Percival - winning the RIBA Bronze medal.
Local opinion on the 'neo-brutalist' structure was not always so complimentary.
But to the archaeologist, every disaster is an opportunity, and the destruction of the library gave a marvellous opportunity for a major excavation. Currently the library is being rebuilt as the Millennium Library and Learning Centre, a £60m project, half funded by the Millennium Lottery Fund, a proportion of the money was allocated to carry out a major excavation.
This 'Millennium' site lay at the heart of the French Borough. Following the Norman Conquest, the English were not favoured by the aristocracy as traders, so not only did the
Normans erect a massive castle, but they also brought in a mass immigration of French to form a new French borough on the western side of the existing city. Domesday declares that when the new city was constructed around 1075 there were 36 Burgesses and 6 Englishmen. By 1086 the number of Burgesses had grown to 125, but the ethnic breakdown was not mentioned.
French boroughs or colonies of French traders were commonly established alongside English settlements. Sometimes these were located in already existing urban centres such as Bristol, Hereford, Nottingham, Stamford and here at Norwich. French Boroughs are also known from a number of other towns,
including Pontefract, Ludlow and Richmond in Yorkshire. At Nottingham, William the
Conqueror established a castle and a borough alongside the existing Anglo-Scandinavian town, a situation that parallels that of Norwich.
The French Borough, as it continued to be called in both cities, was an appendage to the English boroughs. In Nottingham and