Norwich At Easter: A tale of Chocolate and Fun Fayres!

by | Mar 31, 2023

Around Easter time, many things come to mind. For those who are religious, this can be an important holiday, but it also carries old symbolism of new beginnings and life as it is also the beginning of spring! Many of us, however, will think of chocolate eggs around Easter time, and did you know that Norwich used to play a big part in the chocolate industry? Another familiar sight in Norwich around this time is the Norwich Fair which has been happening almost every Easter since the 17th century! Read on to find out about the links with Easter Norwich has had over the years…

Norwich and the Chocolate Factory

In 1863, a local chemist named Alfred Jarman Caley started producing bottles of mineral water from the back room of his establishment as a side enterprise. This included many delicious sodas and ginger beer and they became very popular. A year later, he had expanded and they had to move a few times over the course of the next couple of years in order to keep up with demand! However, the drinks were popular in Summer, and in Winter, the trade dropped dramatically. To come up with a solution so he didn’t have to lay off workers, Mr Caley decided to start producing cocoa and chocolate products using local milk from a herd of cows in Whitlingham. By 1904, Caley’s was so successful that it was employing 700 people!

The former Caley’s factory as seen in 2003 – image courtesy of George Plunkett

The chocolate industry survived both world wars, including losing the old Caley’s factory to a direct hit from a German bomb in World War 2 and carried on even when the business was bought by Makintosh and Son’s of Halifax (from Yorkshire) in 1932 and later, Rowntrees in 1969 to become Rowntree Mackintosh. The factory started encountering problems in the 1970s and 80s and was eventually bought out again by Nestle. By 1988, the factory had closed its doors, moving up to York and sadly putting 900 local people out of work!

As sad as the loss of this industry was to the city, what most locals around the area said they missed most about the factory was the smell of chocolate drifting on the breeze over the city!

The Norwich Easter Fair

Around this time of year, many of you in the Norwich area might have come across the large fun fair which is held in Chapelfield Gardens, chock full of lights, rides and the smell of candy floss and doughnuts. It may surprise you to learn, however, that Norwich has been hosting this same Easter Fair since at least the 17th Century!

Norwich Easter Fair in 1997. The fair was held on Castle Meadow due to a lack of attendance in its previous home Hall Road Car Park. The move from the Cattle Market was caused by the construction of Castle Mall – Photograph courtesy of George Plunkett

Prior to the 17th Century, a horse and cart fair was held at the old Norwich Cattle Market every Spring and attracted families who would be there, not only to purchase any new farming equipment they needed for spring but also to give the children a chance to ride the horses and ride around in the carts. By the 1600s, however, many people were suffering under new, puritan laws which heavily restricted any festivities, even banning Christmas! After the puritan reign was over, however, people felt a need for a sense of pageantry to make up for what they had been missing and the old fair held every winter became the brand new Norwich Easter Fair!

The Big Wheel at Norwich Easter Fair 1965 – Photograph courtesy of George Plunkett

This was all predating the rollercoasters, dodgems and candy floss machines, however, so these fairs, instead, tended to be made up of “freak shows” and novelty acts. An example of this from 1955 was 18 year old performer Annie Black of Hoxton who would spend the duration of the fair reading, but inside a 10ft high glass bottle that she managed to squeeze herself into!

In the late 80s and early 90s, the Fair was moved from the Cattle Market due to the construction of the Castle Mall to the Hall Road Livestock Market and Bethel Street Car Park. In 1997 it was moved to Castle Meadow due to a lack of attendance and then in 1999 the Fair was moved to the Chapelfield Gardens (although under much local protest) and has operated there almost every year since!


Eastern Daily Press

George Plunkett’s Site

Evening News 24

Norwich Evening News Fair