Despite growing up in Norfolk, I was one of the many who had no idea about Norwich’s underground tunnel networks. So many times I have walked around the city, completely oblivious to the hidden history beneath my feet.
I first heard about the Norwich tunnels when I stumbled upon an article written by a local newspaper. They had gained access to one of the secret streets of subterranean Norwich and had dubbed it ‘Diagon Alley’ because it is completely hidden from the world outside.
I did a bit more investigation, wanting to get in and explore the undercrofts and tunnels for myself. It was then that I found about the Hidden Street Tours, run by The Shoebox Community Hub (formerly KindaKafe).
This post documents my experience exploring an undercroft on a Norwich Hidden Street tour and also provides additional information if you are interested in exploring the city underground on your own.
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The Discovery of the Norwich Tunnels
It may surprise readers to know that the Norwich tunnels were never officially discovered. Although not common knowledge amongst everyone in Norfolk, the undercrofts of Norwich have actually been used by businesses for years. Ponds shoe shop which was formerly located where The Shoebox is used to use their undercroft for additional shoe storage.
Norwich has the largest number of medieval undercrofts in the country and they are not that difficult to find (once you begin looking for them)! The oldest of these undercrofts is in Wensum Lodge located in Kings Street. The interesting thing about this undercroft is that it is now open to the public in the form of Jurnet’s Bar. That’s right, you can even sink a beer there!
Despite the sheer number of undercrofts dotted under the city, few of these are open regularly to the public. Heritage Open Days sometimes run tours to these otherwise off-limits areas but sadly, they don’t appear to be regular.
Hidden History Tours of Norwich Underground
The Origins of the Norwich Underground Tour
As I’ve already mentioned, it is now possible to explore one of the undercrofts via guided tour. This tour, also known as the Hidden Street tour is run by The Shoebox, formerly known as KindaKafe.
About The Shoebox
When KindaKafe first opened on Castle Meadow in Norwich it was runny the Missing Kind charity. The social enterprise aimed to tackle exclusion and loneliness within the local community. KindaKafe was best known for operating a ‘pay it forward’ scheme that allowed visitors to donate a meal or a drink to somebody in need.
Since I embarked on a Hidden History tour with KindaKafe, they have rebranded as the Shoebox Community Hub and are now run by Pop Up Enterprises. They have a community support group and run regular events to encourage inclusion, connection and friendship within the local area. These are run largely by volunteers.
Before becoming the home of this social enterprise, the building which houses The Shoebox was home to the shoe shop, Ponds. When they took on the building, the undercroft below the street also came with it.
It was in 2018 when KindaKafe decided to open its undercroft to the public. Despite a change of management, Pop Up Enterprises has decided to continue with the Hidden History tours and they now run regularly a few times a week to keep up with demand.
What Should I Expect from an Underground Norwich Tour?
After meeting your group in The Shoebox, local historian Sarah Walker will take you down to visit Castle Meadow’s hidden street. Part of the old Ponds undercroft is believed to have been a family home and workshop. This was once at street level before the ditches surrounding Norwich Castle were filled in.
The tour is full of interesting facts about Norwich as well as medieval life. Sarah explains all about the executions that used to take place nearby and how this particular undercroft was used during the war.
Not just a historian, Sarah is also a professional storyteller so expect to be wowed by her tales of missing musicians in the tunnels! If you are interested in Sarah’s storytelling, check out her Facebook Page.
As well as featuring lots of interesting history about the area, Sarah also tackles the rumours. There have long been whispers that some of the underground tunnels in Norwich are secret pathways that lead to the castle but you’ll need to come on the tour to find out if this is true!
Even as a local, I learned so much about Norwich on the underground tour and would recommend it to anyone looking to do something a bit quirky or discover more about the city’s history.
Visiting Norwich’s Underground Tunnels Without a Tour
Although the Hidden Street tours on Castle Meadow come highly recommended, some people prefer to do their own thing when it comes to exploring. And, for those who love Urbex, the Norwich tunnels have long been a favourite haunt.
If you are interested in going deeper into Norwich’s tunnels, I’d advise checking out the Norwich Underground Facebook group. While they don’t reveal locations for health and safety reasons, they do share photos and allow you to connect with other like-minded people.
There are a number of underground sites all over the city and its outskirts, including undercrofts, tunnels, bunkers and chalk mines. Always be aware that sites that are not maintained can be dangerous. Although many of these are still accessible, some sites are off-limits due to the conservation of special species such as bats.
If you are interested in exploring more of subterranean Norwich but don’t want to take a tour or veer too far from the beaten track, there is also the option to explore the Castle Meadow undercroft as part of an escape game. Check game availability and book here.
Underground Norwich FAQ
Will I get claustrophobic exploring Norwich underground?
This depends on where you visit. On the Hidden Street tour, there is plenty of room to move around in the undercroft so most people will be able to attend the tour without any issues.
Is it safe to enter the tunnels/undercrofts?
The Hidden Street tour is perfectly safe. However, visitors are advised to bring a flashlight (or fully charged mobile with a torch) as it can be dark down in the undercroft. Watch out for trip hazards as some of the floors are quite uneven.
It goes without saying that if you’re sneaking into abandoned tunnels and buildings independently, you are taking risks. These areas have been left abandoned which means they could be dangerous, due to unstable structures and falling debris. You should always bear this in mind before deciding to visit abandoned places.
How long does the Hidden Street tour last?
The tour will take roughly one hour to complete. There is also a small exhibition upstairs in The Shoebox about the Ponds shoe shop which is also worth looking at.
Is this tour suitable for children?
Although there is the odd ghost story, this tour should be fine for children. However, it is important to remember that the floor is uneven and there are some sharp surfaces. If you are bringing kids, you will need to supervise them at all times.
Is this tour accessible to all?
Unfortunately, this tour is not suitable for wheelchair users. It also isn’t possible to take prams into the undercroft. These will be secured on-site and then collected after the tour.
How do I book?
If you are interested in embarking on a subterranean tour in Norwich, head to The Shoebox website.
How much are the tickets?
- £13 – Adults*
- £7 – Children (age 4-12)*
- FREE – Children under 4*
*correct at the time of writing.
Tours usually run five days a week during the summer season but there are reduced opening hours throughout winter.
Where can I find out more about Heritage Open Days?
Recommended Accommodation in Norwich
Central Hotel (£)
The Central Hotel is located along Riverside Road which is close to some great restaurants and other entertainment venues, including the Odeon cinema and Gravity trampoline park. Central Hotel is just a five-minute walk from the train station.
The hotel is budget-friendly so it is ideal for backpackers (sadly, Norwich is lacking on the hostel scene) and those seeing the city on part of an extended trip. All of the private rooms come with toiletries and tea and coffee making facilities.
Dunston Hall (££)
For a splendidly English stay, head to Dunston Hall, situated around 4 miles outside of Norwich. The accommodation is set amongst wooded parkland which means you are close to the city without feeling like it.
There is a golf course, driving range, spa and indoor pool. The double and twin rooms are priced surprisingly reasonable considering the facilities which come inclusive of a stay.
The Assembly House (£££)
Perhaps the best place to stay in Norwich is the fabulous Assembly House. Located smack bang in the middle of the city and just around the corner from Chantry Place shopping centre, this hotel just oozes a sophisticated ambience that really allows you to relax.
You can opt for a double room or upgrade to a suite. If you do stay here (or even if you don’t) do not miss the fantastic afternoon tea and keep an eye on their promotions for the themed options which crop up every few months!