The great city of Norwich was still enclosed, in large part, by its old city walls. These had such a large circuit that moving beyond them had not yet become necessary enough to change the city’s shape. Here in the northern quadrant, across the River Wensum, a district had grown up between the water and the walls. A distinctive neighbourhood, in many ways, and one devoted to weaving, spinning and the textile trade.
Starting in the days of Queen Elizabeth, a flood of Protestant refugees had left the Low Countries. For almost a hundred years, religious persecution drove them out. France, Spain and Austria fought over the lands they held. Who won mattered little. To these Catholic monarchs, so many Protestants would always be unacceptable.
The refugees scattered to the few Protestant countries open to them. Many settled in England, where most found London to their liking. Of those who moved on again, a majority favoured Norwich, England’s second city.
Relations with these immigrants, known as Strangers, were not always easy. Yet Norfolk already had long ties with the other shores of the German Ocean. A few generations saw the vast majority of Strangers mix into the local population and lose their distinct culture.
One of their remaining legacies to Norwich was this district just to the north of the river. Many of the Strangers had worked in the great cloth trades of Flanders. Their skills and industry had helped to lift Norwich to its present position as the premier place in England for the production and finishing of fine worsteds.
Foxe did not hurry. It was a fine day and he enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city along the way. To a visitor, buildings and streets would seem little different to those of any other great city, save in one thing: the scarcity of people abroad.
There was plenty of activity along the river though. Gangs of men loading or unloading barges and wherries. Carters moving between the warehouses which lined the quays. Shouts from within the boats’ holds and from those lined up to fetch and carry.
Foxe wandered along the quay amongst all the hustle and bustle. At first sight, you would have thought him indifferent to his surroundings. Yet he always seemed able to anticipate an obstruction and step aside in good time. In reality, he was drinking it all in. The cacophony of noises. The boats’ hulls banging against the quays. The heavy steps of the dockers. The creaking of wood and rope. The constant murmur of voices – now punctuated by a shout or a curse – mixed with the shrill yelping of the gulls. And the smells! Tar, hemp, wood, the stained water of the river, the sweat of those heaving on ropes or lifting sacks and bales. Even the cargoes added scents as you passed. Here was grain or malt going to Yarmouth to be shipped to London or overseas. There was coal for the city’s fires. Here teas, or spices, or bricks, or the roof tiles the Dutch boats used for ballast.
After he crossed the bridge, he turned to the right, towards the Cow Tower. That was where he recalled that Brock had said Daniel Bonneviot’s house lay. The street now angled away from the water, leaving a space filled by warehouses. All had one side open to the boats and the quays and the other to the street to provide entry to carts.
The sounds and scents changed also. Here was the clue to why Norwich’s streets often seemed oddly empty of people. This was a working city. From windows high in many of the houses came the constant slap and clatter of the weavers’ looms. As you passed by others, you could hear the low, rhythmic humming of spinning wheels. Along the quays, people worked and talked in the open air. Here the workers stayed hidden within. For long days – even for some nights too – they attended to the production of what were known as ‘Norwich stuffs’. The fine, glossy fabrics that were the city’s pride and its main source of income.
Foxe looked for an urchin. There would always be some about. Such children would be too young to work yet – which meant very young indeed. Instead they spent their time running errands, picking pockets, or playing in the streets and gutters. Their mothers and elder sisters worked at their spinning wheels. Their older brothers sat at the drawlooms in the garrets, pulling up the warp threads while their fathers threw the weft shuttle.
Finding such an urchin, Foxe enquired which was Bonneviot’s house.
‘You be too late, mister. T’others be there afore you, already beatin’ on the door. An that won’t do ‘em no good. That’s a hard man, that Bonneviot is. No wonder that’s got ‘is throat cut, as I ‘eard. A wonder ‘e wasn’t killed long afore this.’
‘What others? There’s a penny for a smart lad with the right answer.’
‘Don’t know who. But they be plenty riled up. A big group on ‘em. Summat about bein’ cheated out of what’s rightfully theirs. Look! ‘Ere they comes now. I told ‘e they’d get nothin’ from that place.’
A group of perhaps six or eight men was approaching.
‘Be that good enough for my penny, mister?’
Foxe paid up. He would go to look at Bonneviot’s house another time. Now he waited until the group passed him, all exchanging angry remarks and yelling curses over their shoulders towards the place they had just left. Then he wandered along behind them, not too close, but good enough to see where they went.
As Foxe expected, the group went no further than a tavern some fifty yards or so from the bridge he had just crossed. For a while, he waited outside, lounging against a wall, until he judged they would be well enough settled with jugs of ale. Then he went within, ducking his head under the lintel and finding the level of noise even greater than he had expected. Indeed, he had almost to shout to the landlord in his stained and greasy apron, just now returning behind his bar, for his own pot of ale.
‘What’s all the fuss about?’ he asked.
‘No bloody idea,’ the landlord said. ‘They ain’t none of our regulars. If they thinks they can drown their sorrows in my ale, then wreck the place to work off their anger, they thinks wrong.’
He slid one hand under the counter and brought it up again, now wrapped around a fearsome wooden truncheon.
‘I should keep away from ’em, mister. Sit you over there in the corner. They’ll neither see nor bother you there. I can see at once you ain’t the disputatious type.’
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