A criminally good time in Norwich
One of the greatest pleasure of my life as a crime-writer has been my membership of the Crimer Writers’ Association. I have made some wonderful friends whose support over the years has meant a great deal and I have visited some lovely places for the CWA annual conference, which is always held outside London. Last week-end it was Norwich, a beautiful medieval city. I’ve written about the conference for the CWA newletter. Here’s an extract:
‘According to Charles Dickens, Norwich was a good place to see a hanging. Executions were big business in the nineteenth century with crowds of 20,000 or 30,000 converging on the city to enjoy the spectacle of notorious criminals being hanged. But when fifty or so crime writers, spouses, and friends converged on the city on 8th April for the CWA conference, they had more civilised pursuits in mind.
Nevertheless a macabre strand did run through the week-end. We stayed in Tombland at the Maids Head Hotel close to the Cathedral. The Maids Head was a lovely welcoming place, with claims to be the oldest hotel in Britain. There was a choice of activities on the Friday evening with options including a walking tour of Norwich and ‘A Walk on the Dark Side.’ I chose the walking tour and if the other walk was darker than ours, it must have been grim indeed. Our very capable city guide told us stories of cannibalism among plague victims, bodies being buried in iron coffins to foil grave-robbers, and horrible murders, one of which in 1851 resulted in body parts being scattered through Norwich. Various ghosts are reputed to roam the city, including one of a landlord who obligingly does the washing-up in the pub where he was murdered.
Sadly, the next day it was pouring with rain, so a tour of the castle was a more attractive prospect than a tour in an open top bus (though six intrepid souls opted for that). Our guide at the castle took us through the history of crime and punishment in Norwich. We learned that in medieval times the prison was used only to hold people awaiting trial, but about one in four succumbed to prison-fever or some other disease before they made it that far. By the nineteenth century the prison included everything for the administration of justice including a condemned cell. It’s now a gent’s loo and our guide admitted that he doesn’t feel altogether easy there when the museum is closed for the night. On a lighter note the Castle Museum contains the world’s largest collection of teapots, including some wonderful eighteenth century cream ware and I slipped away to look at some of it. Later I wandered around an almost empty cathedral and heard the choir practising.
Saturday evening saw the Gala dinner with wine – and lots of it – generously supplied by our accountants. This may be why I am a little hazy about the details of ex-coroner William Armstrong’s excellent after-dinner speech. However I do recall that it contained some splendid jokes, including one about the membership of the CWA being broken down by age and sex.
All too soon it was Sunday morning and the conference was drawing to a close. As always, old friendships had been renewed and new friends had been made.
Next year it’ll be Edinburgh.’