Sir Thomas Browne is an overlooked character in Norwich heritage. Most people don’t know who he is and yet they pass him most days in the city centre. He was a Norwich man 1605 – 1682, there is a statue of him on Hay Hill just outside Next, he lived where Pret a Manger is now and he is buried in St Peter Mancroft Church. The brain and the eye sculptures are part of a Homage to Sir Thomas Browne.
The Thomas Browne Project is a campaign to make him better known and to stimulate Brownean type activities – he was a doctor, a writer, a scientist, a myth-buster and much more – and his approach to life was to question everything – including whales washed up on the beach at north Norfolk!
We are establishing an annual Sir Thomas Browne Day on and around Thursday 19 October – Browne died on his birthday – to celebrate his life and to inspire people to think about the world, their environment and to be curious about what happens around them.
This year highlights include: a concert by Sistema in Norwich at St Peter Mancroft Church, a talk by a Browne expert Professor Claire Preston from Queen Mary University of London, costumed performances by Kevin Faulkner, experiments in The Forum by Hugh Aldersey Williams and an opportunity to tell us your Old Wives’ Tales on Hay Hill. Browne pioneered scientific investigation by experiment and he de-bunked many myths – such as that badgers have two legs shorter on one side for running along ploughed fields. So with a team from the Norwich Research Park, we are gathering current day myths or Old Wives’ Tales so that our team can choose some to demonstrate as experiments next year.
Members of the public are invited to meet us on Hay Hill on Thursday 19 October between 11am and 2pm to tell us their Old Wives’ Tales – such as ‘ children and cats behave badly when it is windy’ or ‘cows lay down when it is about to rain’ or ‘dock leaves cure nettle stings’ What are our 21st century ‘common misbeliefs’ or Vulgar Errors as Browne would have called them? We would like to know! And we’s like to get everyone behind the campaign to find out Norfolk Old Wives’ Tales
If you can’t get to Hay Hill, then you can submit your Tales online or pick up a form in the Book Hive Bookshop on London Street or The Forum during the Science Festival from 16 October till Monday 30 October. After that, the panel will choose the best to design experiments to demonstrate whether they are right or wrong. There’s a prize of a book about Browne ‘The Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century’ written by Norfolk-based author Hugh Aldersey Williams for the one we like most.
Some facts about Browne
- Sir Thomas Browne was a 17th century physician and polymath who lived in Norwich for most of his adult life, in the Hay Hill area of the city. He died aged 77 on his birthday in 1682, on 19 October which is now Sir Thomas Browne Day.
- There is a statue of him on Hay Hill and also a set of sculptures that relate to his life and work.
- He lived where Pret a Manger is now and he is buried in St Peter Mancroft Church alongside his wife and other members of his family, where there is a collection of artefacts, including a replica of his skull.
- He wrote books and essays, conducted experiments, invented words and was generally curious about everything he found around him.
- In spite of being well-known and respected in his day and also across the world, he is relatively unknown in Norfolk today.
- Sir Thomas Browne Day is an opportunity to learn about this brilliant and fascinating man who was so influential throughout England and Europe in his own day and remains relevant and inspirational in the 21st century.
Full list of events
From Wednesday 4 October
City of Stories blog : All about Thomas Browne and his place in the city. www.cityofstories.co.uk
Cley 18 Call to artists: Curator Dr Caroline Fisher’s call to artists is based on a quote from Max Sebald’s writings referring to Thomas Browne’s The Garden of Cyrus – ‘The greater the distance, the clearer the view’. Application & full brief on www.cleycontemporaryart.org.
Wednesday 18 October
The Curious Words of Sir Thomas Browne – a talk by Professor Claire Preston 19:00 – 20:30,
Norwich and Norwich Millennium Library in The Forum, Millennium Plain. Free entry
Book your free seat at www.sirthomasbrownedaytalk.eventbrite.co.uk
New sign on Hay Hill to mark the brain and the eye public installation by Anne and Patrick Poirier
Thursday 19 October
Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day – see www.oed.com
Thomas Browne Podcast: Jonathan Tooke has made a podcast revealing some of his thoughts about Browne’s work, which you can listen to and download from the website www.sirthomasbrowne.org.uk
11:00 – 14:00 Tell us your Old Wives’ Tales: Hay Hill (St Peter Mancroft if wet)
Sir Thomas was a well-known de-bunker of urban myths or old wives’ tales of his day. We are collecting your 21st century Old Wives’ Tales in person and you can also submit them online
11:30 Tour of St Peter Mancroft Church by local expert Barbara Miller
A tour around the artefacts kept in the church where Browne and his family are buried.
Thursday 19 October
Performance 13:00 on Hay Hill, 15:30pm in the Forum
Norwich-born Browne expert Kevin Faulkner performs Browne in costume.
14:00 – 16:00: Norfolk Record Office Tour
Archivist Victoria Draper will lead a tour of the Norfolk Record Office at the Archive Centre, County Hall, Martineau Lane, including Sir Thomas Browne archive material. Please go the the Archive Centre reception by 14:00.
Saturday 21 October
10:00 and 14:00-15:30: Sir Thomas Browne at Norwich Castle
The Garden of Cyrus, the Quincunx and general info about the man and his works, with John Underwood, antique bookseller
1pm Mancroft Music Recital with Sistema Norwich in St Peter Mancroft church
With Sistema musical directors Juan Gabriel Rojas and Firdevs Eke, tutors and children from the Sistema project.
Wednesday 25 October
10:00 and 15:30pm: Browne’s experiments in The Forum
Science writer and journalist Hugh Aldersey Williams demonstrates some of Browne’s experiments as part of Norwich Science Festival.
Displays throughout the Science Festival 16-30 October
Bookhive Bookshop in London Street will have a window display plus books in stock
Library Ground floor & 2nd floor – display of publications and artefacts held by the Library
The Forum : Look in the Atrium for the kingfisher experiment
Norwich Castle : In the Rotunda : information about the ‘quincunx’ and The Garden of Cyrus.
Sir Thomas Browne Day is an annual celebration of the life and work of this 17th century physician and polymath, who lived in Norwich for most of his adult life.
The free events on and around his birthday, Thursday 19 October, are a chance to find out more about this interesting and ‘curious’ man, partnering with the Norwich Science Festival, Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library, St Peter Mancroft, Norfolk Record Office, Norwich Castle, Visit Norwich, The Book Hive and Norwich Research Park. Full details and directions can be found on the Sir Thomas Browne website.