The Dragons of Norwich

Norwich. A place full of surprises. To some it’s a surprise that it’s only two hours north-east of London by train; a surprise that it’s also a city, but at a human scale; in fact the second city in the country historically. And it’s not just historic. Here you’ll see one of England’s most magnificent churches reflected in the glass facade of the stunnning modern library, and a unique medieval merchant’s hall at the centre of a large exciting regeneration development. Famous at different times for textiles, papermaking, printing, shoemaking, aeroplanes, electromotors, Norwich is now looking to consolidate its reputation for design, commercial and artistic innovation, and there are various ambitions it wishes to fulfil and maintain: • encourage learning • capitalise on its past • attract business • expand tourism • build social capital • embody its sense of creativity, radical thinking and enterprise...

A surprise even to some of Norwich’s citizens, dormant in the Norfolk Museums are at least three extraordinary constructions.

These Snap Dragons are the remnants of a medieval pageant play banned at the reformation (saints being denegrated as icons of papism) “but that for pastime the Dragon to come and show himself as in other years”. Snap meant something, for though its official role ceased in 1835 it persisted in a community based life in both city and outskirts. Since the mid 1980s a new Snap occasionally accompanies the Lord Mayor, and at least three have materialised from the community, so the dragons clearly do still have significance for Norwich.

Dragons are no longer seen exclusively as evil symbols of anti-Christianity. They are acknowledged as symbolic of not only longevity, prosperity and good luck, but also as bringers of all kinds of enlightenment. Daring, confident, questioning, spectacular dazzlers, punching above their weight, they embody ambition and bravado. Just the kind of qualities which Norwich has always had and now wishes to promote about itself.

The above is substantially as written in 2004 but remains largely relevant. It formed part of a Lottery Grant application for exploring the feasibility of an annual Dragon event for Norwich, abortive for reasons beyond my control, but communicated to a number of individuals and organisations whose support and enthusiasm have kept me going. It's impossible to know where broadcast seeds take root, but among other things, I’m very pleased that it fed into Pat Howe’s magnificent and hugely popular Dragon Parade on the eve of the Norwich Lord Mayor’s procession in 2008.

© copyright Molly Barrett 2004 and 2013

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