Discover Norwich of the past, present and future through newly commissioned poems from five brilliant writers with ties to the city. Wandering Words is a literary walk, created to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Norwich becoming England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.
St Julian’s Church
Location five: St Julian’s Alley, Rouen Rd, Norwich NR1 1QT
Finally, take a left onto King St — one of the longest and oldest thoroughfares in the city. Cut through the churchyard at St Peter Parmentergate and take the longer route downhill on Rouen Road until you reach your destination, St Julian’s Church.
This Grade I listed parish church is famous for being the site of seclusion for Lady Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416), the first woman to write a book in the English language.
‘Fine City’ is written and performed by Jessica Streeting, a writer and Nurse Consultant in Public Health.
Listen to the poem with the soundscape
Listen to the poem
Listen to the soundscape
Sound design and production by Access Creative College (Harry Love).
Read ‘Fine City’
And then our good Lord…showed me my soul in the midst of my heart. I saw the soul as wide as if it were an endless citadel, and also as if it were a blessed kingdom and from the state which I saw it in, I understood that it is a fine city. *
Long ago in Norwich
One lady had the daring grace to
Of a loving, gentle Lord.
He is our mother, she wrote,
A fine city
Now her words
Welcome us in from the ring-road,
With a white, tin sign
I call to mind our
Julian Shrine, where
Set below a quiet carpark,
God might wait, as a bird might soar.
One day, when the air was full of the ordinary
A new teacher marched into Music.
Russet smock threaded with gold,
Quick dimpled smile,
Lively eyes behind John Lennon specs,
Early Music curls and a scent of patchouli
Hippies weren’t fashionable,
We rolled doubting eyes.
We had heard a student was coming to teach us.
Primed for Miss Brown, we were yawning, incurious
Chatty and lumpen,
Absorbed in comparison of
Whose legs were skinniest, whose leg-warmers woolliest.
She pulled us up short.
Greeting us swiftly she pulled from her hippy bag
A single, in a sombre brown sleeve.
We’re all over this song, girls.
I pictured smoky students.
As I’m sure you all know.
The turntable span,
The music began,
We looked up a little.
Miss Brown beat a fleet three, then four time, with
Twelve eight to thirteen eight,
Listen out for that time change,
Asymmetric compound rhythm, so unusual!
Tiny hand, gathered sleeve,
And harpsichord is rare in rock.
As shafts of thin sun caught the resin dust,
Dark and gold moved together
In that musty room.
A man sang of a temptress
In a warm, mournful minor.
Take my hands
Strange shadow music, take me far.
Is it about drugs Miss Brown? My brother says…
Maybe, but sit back, close your eyes for a moment.
Is it about sex, Miss Brown?
Never a frown from Miss Golden Brown
Listen girls, just listen now, let your minds run.
Where did the others’ minds’ run?
Needing no second bidding
Mine was off and away,
My everyday route to the station, but changed,
Bewitched by this song.
Was this what drugs do,
Boot us out of our ordinary time?
Might a song, just a song do these things?
Down the school gravel,
Up Albemarle, left onto Newmarket Road.
Past gracious grey houses, solid grand gardens,
And the great old red hospital.
All suddenly lovely, as another world.
Round St Stephen’s, no need for
Underpass in this altered state,
Round and down.
Tripping past Marks’ and cool Mr Shoes, on the offbeat,
Left past Just Johns cellar café, where
Miss Brown’s sophisticates hunch over roll-ups,
Black coffee, baked cheesecake.
Carried on, by The Stranglers
Down Gentleman’s Walk and our Saturday haunts
Top Shop, Miss Selfridge’s, Thornton’s for treacle brown toffee,
Shaders and Toners for changing our hair
Ash blonde or Rich Mahogany. All tame transmutations now.
Summoned from what used to be cool, to take stranger
Lanes and alleyways,
Uppergoat, Lowergoat, Pottergate,
Purple Jarrolds’ banners, crimson Thorns’ corner,
My head in the clouds,
Miss Brown far away
The LP is called La Folie, which means what in French?
Basket-weave Bedford Street,
Hovells, The Granary, Humbleyard in mustard haze, then
Uphill to a curious slice of London Street,
Where a longed-for bookshop
for finding and losing ourselves,
Is not yet a glint in a florist’s window
And because in a dream you are light and have time,
Even with a cello on your shoulder,
Even in customary rush for the Sheringham train, piped
On through this endless, glittering citadel,
Boundless enlarging, for even the most teenage soul.
All needs met, then
Queen spire, watch over your kingdom of churches and secular lives, as
Trees sweep the crescent of Prince of Wales Road.
I cut into King Street, ancient thoroughfare
In the shadow of Castle and Keep,
Slowing, as our song fades, to stop at this quiet, gentle shrine,
With a knowing that Julian would have understood
This moment, this soft revelation.
Life may be more than a sensible essay
Or dutiful notes on a stave.
There is more, there is strong golden rhythm,
You can run, you can fly,
Miss Brown our heroine showed us that day,
When we were still stolid, with feet of clay.
Music can do this; you may not need drugs.
You may though, need sex
She could add in those less correct days, with that dimple,
In our twentieth century classroom.
Norwich is yours in her dark and her lighter portals,
Treasure her deep in your souls,
Love her winding ways
And know, as the Wensum flows to the sea
There is more,
There is unborrowed lightness of being
In the ordinary space of our days.
*Julian of Norwich, Showings, ed.E.Colledge and J. Walsh, Classics of Western Spirituality Series (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1978) 312f., 164,285,337. Cited Dahil Lisa. E, 40-Day Journey with Julian of Norwich 2008, p.68)
‘And then oure good Lorde opynnyd my gostely eye and shewde me my soule in the myddys of my harte. I saw the soule so large as it were an endlesse warde and also as it were a blessed kingdom. And by the condicions that I saw there on, I understode that it is a wurschypfulle cytte.’
(The Showings of Julian of Norwich Edited by Denise N Baker. Norton Critical Editions 2005 Chapter 68, p. 104)
Nb: wurschypfulle can mean honoured, or ‘fine’.
Golden Brown, by The Stranglers, inspiration for this poem, was released as a single 10th January 1982, forty years from the date the poem began.
Jessica Streeting grew up in Norfolk and went to school in Norwich. After school, she trained as a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital, following a career in school and public health nursing, alongside singing, and playing the cello. Her writing includes a novel about school nursing; ‘Last Summer in Soho’.
Jessica’s love of poetry was instilled by her inspirational primary school headmaster, John Kett, since when Norfolk space and place have been integral to her writing. In 2021 Propolis published her epic poem memoir, Sea-Change, which charts an idyllic Norfolk childhood, love and sudden loss.
Jessica lives with her husband and family in Cromer and London.
A Norfolk & Norwich Festival and National Centre for Writing presentation, programmed by the National Centre for Writing.
A special thank you to our sound production partners Access Creative College: Harry Love, Jamie Lovett, William Plane, Mia Rodwell and Bill Skipp, supported by Matt Munford, Jonny Cole and Dylan Barber.