About the Thomas Browne Project
A few years ago, when I worked as cultural development officer for Norwich City Council I was asked to help out with a public art project, a commission for Norwich Market which was being refurbished at the time. Artists Anne & Patrick Poirier were engaged after a commissioning process run by Commissions East and they designed a piece of work for the market. However, all didn't go smoothly as the market traders didn't like any of the designs for the market stalls and so architect Michael Innes was engaged to redesign them, and there was no space for the artwork.
The artists were offered Hay Hill as an alternative location and they quickly realised that this was the place that the physician, philosopher, scientist, botanist and ertswhile alchemist Sir Thomas Browne lived and worked in the area, with his home roughly where Pret a Manger and Primark are now and his burial place in St Peter Mancroft church.
Their next proposal was a memorial to Sir Thomas, sited on this square - a kind of living room for the city. The proposal was approved and the work made in Italy, transported to England by lorry, installed, praised, complained about, reported on, photographed and then it disappeared into the landscape and common usage of the city, with few people remembering or understanding how it got there and why, although it is well-used by the public as the artists intended.
The final straw was in 2014 when a local historian recommended that it be removed because there was 'no local relevance' and the area would be 'better used for outdoor performance'. There is no doubt that he was wrong, and that he should have done his research before making such a statement (there is plenty to find on the internet and other sources) but I couldn't help but admit that there really was no information to tell people what the work is. This moved me to complete what I started in 2007 when Homage to Thomas Browne was installed, even though I no longer work for Norwich City Council - proper interpretation, available in one place and easily accessible.
With a few enquiries I found that there are a number of other people in Norwich that feel the same way - that is that the man should be better known and celebrated as an important figure in both Norwich and England, so we formed an informal Thomas Browne Advocacy Group and I applied for some funding to make this website. It is a place to gather together all of the myriad sources of fact and fable about the man and his work. I hope that people will bring me content, and also that it will stimulate schools projects, artists, writers performers and more to respond to Sir Thomas and use him as a source of inspiration. At least, if there is lack of interest, it won't be for the want of trying!
In reality, I hope that it will be the beginning of a lot of creativity and a proper home for Sir Thomas Browne in Norwich once more. So over the next year and beyond, this website will fill with newly-generated content plus links to information that has been around for years, but scattered covering his life, his work, publications and public art so that we can start to properly appreciate Sir Thomas Browne.
A project to celebrate and disseminate all things Sir Thomas Browne both existing knowledge and also to stimulate new activities and study.
It is not intended to satisfy academics but to make the man and his work more familiar, more accessible and more interesting to a wider range of people.
It is also a place where people can submit what they know about or create - whether it is snippets or dissertations, light-hearted or serious, detailed or sketchy. Please explore and come back often as there will be content added all the time.
Follow the blog here
Location of Hay Hill
Hay Hill is the site of two public artworks dedicated to Sir Thomas. It is also the site of his former house in Norwich, demolished in 1847 and now replaced with Primark and Prêt à Manger.