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North Walsham, an Anglo-Saxon settlement, and the neighbouring village of Worstead became very prosperous from the 12th century through the arrival of weavers fromFlanders. The two settlements gave their names to the textiles they produced: “Walsham” became the name of a light-weight cloth for summer wear, and “Worsted” a heavier cloth. The 14th century “wool churches” are a testament to the prosperity of the local mill owners. North Walsham’s church of St. Nicholas was originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and is one of the UK’s largest parish churches. It was also the site of a wayside shrine to St. Thomas of Canterbury. This church had the second-tallest steeple in Norfolk until its collapse in 1724. Plans for its rebuilding were abandoned at the outbreak of the Second World War. The ruined tower dominates the town centre and is a famous landmark of the area, visible from many miles away. In the parish church of St. Nicholas can be found the ornate tomb of Sir William Paston; the remains of medieval painted screens; a telescopic Gothic font canopy; a unique Royal Arms Board; an ancient iron bound chest; and many other ancient artifacts.
North Walsham was involved in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The peasants’ leaders were defeated at the Battle of North Walsham and the site is marked by a wayside stone near the town’s water towers.
The English naval hero, Horatio Nelson and his brother William were educated at Paston Grammar School in North Walsham, founded by Sir William Paston (of Paston Lettersfame) in 1606. Nelson left the school to start his naval career at the age of eleven. The school became Paston College in 1984.
As part of the millennium celebrations, ten mosaics were commissioned, showing scenes from local history, including the Peasants’ Revolt and the Great Fire of North Walsham and a picture of a Norfolk wherry – an allusion to the canal.
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