Victorian Valentine’s Card – The Bridewell Museum. Image: Norfolk County Council
The Bridewell Museum, now newly vibrant, light, airy and inviting with its beautifully restored courtyard and stunning galleries, will be open for the first time in three years for Valentine’s in 2013, making it and the city of Norwich a great romantic destination for all literary lovers.
As it happens, St Valentine’s Eve was an exciting thrilling Victorian tradition particular to Norwich ( England’s first UNESCO City of Literature). Visitors to the city were often surprised to find local shop windows crammed with gifts in early February. Norwich had its own special celebrations, its ‘one brilliant institution’ on 13th February, St. Valentine’s Eve. For weeks beforehand newspapers were full of advertisements for ‘Useful and Ornamental Articles Suitable for the Season’ available from local retailers.
Shops took on extra staff and London Street bustled with people making secret purchases. Clocks, umbrellas and workboxes, vases, tea caddies and albums, shawls, jigsaw puzzles and writing desks were all bought as Valentine gifts. Just as at Christmas time, young and old were included in the festivities.
As soon as it got dark, people began knocking on doors and leaving presents on doorsteps. Gifts were presented anonymously, labelled only ‘Good Morrow Valentine’. Practical jokers rang doorbells and ran off, or left mock parcels which were whisked away by invisible strings when someone tried to pick them up. Indoors there were excited shrieks, flushed faces and much laughter as parcels were examined for clues to the giver’s identity. Valentine’s Eve really was ‘a glorious time in Norwich.’
As Hannah Henderson, Curator of Community History at The Bridewell puts it “We are delighted to offer the unique story of St Valentine’s Eve here at the museum, both for new visitors to Norwich and its residents. The beautiful displayed cards are works of art and it is rare to get a glimpse into the celebration of Valentine’s at a time when it was a little more sincere and tasteful.
To help spread the love, The Bridewell will be offer St Valentine’s Eve themed children’s activities during February half term, shops in the Norwich Lanes and The Norwich Cathedral Quarter will decorate their windows and the ever popular 2nd Air Division Memorial Library located at The Forum will offer an exhibition of photographs, letters and other documents from their archive relating to the war time romantic relationships between Norfolk residents and American Air Force personnel during WW2.” The library also wants to hear from visitors about their wartime romantic memories of the American GIs in Norfolk.
Speaking of The Bridwell, Nick Bond, Head of Tourism at VisitNorwich encouraged visitors to the region to check out it’s treasure trove of collections and stories about Norwich and to learn about the city’s fascinating people and past. “We always recommend a trip to The Bridewell to really get to know what we are all about!”
Watch for details on upcoming St. Valentine’s Eve special accommodation offers, themed menus, events and activities scheduled for 1 – 24 February 2013 here www.visitnorwich.co.uk