Strangers and Canaries

Do you know why Norwich City FC are known as ‘The Canaries’?

The name comes from The Strangers, who were European refugees who came to live in Norwich in the 16th Century. They were famous for breeding canaries, and the football club’s name is one of their most famous legacies.

Many people who live in Norwich now are descendants of these Strangers, whose influence can still be seen in buildings around the region, as well as in the way Norfolk people talk.

Norwich was the centre of a large textile industry, but in the 16th Century this industry was struggling. The City needed more workers and they came over from a region now covered by Belgium, France and the Netherlands. These refugees were known as ‘Strangers’ – the local dialect word in those days.

The Strangers taught local workers to produce new types of cloth in different ways, which helped the textile industry. They also helped to rebuild the whole area north of the River Wensum after it was devastated by a freak fire in 1507. They supported English parishes by donating money to them and Dutch and French schools were established in the area.

In Norfolk we hear people say ‘he go’, ‘she do’, ‘he like her’. Why? Some people think that as the Strangers tried to get to grips with the English language they formed their own version of English, which remains part of the region’s dialect.

Over time the refugees became a part of the local community and were no longer ‘Strangers’. Norwich continues to welcome people into its community today.


Writers’ Centre Norwich supports creative writing and reading and runs a number of projects and events throughout the year. We have found that creative writing and storytelling can be a way to help you to understand both yourself and other people better.

“In an oppressive situation, silence is death.”
Chenjerai Hove, Zimbabwean Writer in Exile

Writers in various countries around the world are sometimes forced to flee their homeland because they are being persecuted, and then they become refugees or asylum seekers. Writers’ Centre Norwich is part of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) which exists to support these writers, and offer them a place of safety and support and hopefully, time to write.

As a City of Refuge, we have been working in the community since 2006 on a range of projects like this one. This project links you up with people all across the world not only through our International City of Refuge community, but also through Shahrazad -a European storytelling scheme involving Barcelona, Brussels, Frankfurt, Norwich, Stockholm and Stavanger.