One of the five largest cities in Norman England, NORWICH once served a vast hinterland of East Anglian cloth producers and by 1700 was the second richest city in the country after London. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, however, Norwich lost ground to the northern manufacturing towns and this, together with its continuing geographical isolation, has helped preserve much of the ancient street plan and many of the city's older buildings, notably the beautiful cathedral and the sterling castle. Yet Norwich is no provincial backwater. The University of East Anglia attracts a cosmopolitan crowd and bolsters the arts scene, while various high-tech companies have once again made the city one of England's wealthiest.
Norwich's relative isolation has also meant that the population has never swelled to any great extent and today, with just 130,000 inhabitants, it remains an easy and enjoyable city to negotiate. As East Anglia's unofficial capital, Norwich also lies at the hub of the region's transport network, serving as a useful base for visiting the Broads and as a springboard for the north Norfolk coast.
In addition to the fine cathedral, the city's hallmark is its medieval churches, thirty or so squat flintstone structures with sturdy towers and sinuous stone tracery round the windows. Many are no longer in regular use and are now in the care of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust (Web: www.norwichchurches.co.uk ).