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In 1797 Thomas Bignold, a 36-year-old wine merchant and banker, founded the first Norwich Union Society. Some years earlier, when he moved from Kent to Norwich, Bignold had been unable to find anyone willing to insure him against the threat from highwaymen. With the entrepreneurial thought that nothing was impossible, and aware that in a city built largely of wood the threat of fire was uppermost in people's minds, Bignold formed the "Norwich Union Society for the Insurance of Houses, Stock and Merchandise from Fire". The new business, which became known as the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Office, was a "mutual" enterprise. Norwich Union was later to become the country's largest insurance giant.
Until the industrial revolution, as the capital of England's most populous and prosperous county, Norwich vied with Bristol as England's second city.
Norwich's geographical isolation was such that until 1845 when a railway connection was established, it was often quicker to travel to Amsterdam by boat than to London. The railway was introduced to Norwich by Morton Peto, who also built the line to Great Yarmouth.
From 1808 to 1814 Norwich hosted a station in the shutter telegraph chain which connected the Admiralty in London to its naval ships in the port of Great Yarmouth.
In the early part of the 20th century Norwich still had several major manufacturing industries. Among these were the manufacture of shoes (for example the Start-rite brand), clothing, joinery, and structural engineering as well as aircraft design and manufacture. Important employers included Boulton & Paul, Barnards (inventors of machine produced wire netting), and electrical engineers Laurence Scott and Electromotors.
Norwich also has a long association with chocolate manufacture, primarily through the local firm of Caley's, which began as a manufacturer and bottler of mineral water and later diversified into making chocolate and Christmas crackers. Caley's was acquired by Mackintosh in the 1930s. It merged with Rowntree's in 1969 to become Rowntree-Mackintosh; it finally was bought by Nestlé and closed down in 1996 with all operations moved to York, ending a 120-year association with Norwich. The factory existed on the site of what is now the Chapelfield development. Caley's chocolate has since made a reappearance as a brand, and is still produced in Norwich.
HMSO, once the official publishing and stationery arm of the British government and one of the largest print buyers, printers and suppliers of office equipment in the UK, moved most of its operations from London to Norwich in the 1970s.
Jarrolds, established in 1810, was a well-known printer and publisher.
Norwich suffered extensive bomb damage during World War II, affecting large parts of the old city centre and Victorian terrace housing around the centre. Industry and the rail infrastructure also suffered. The heaviest raids occurred on the nights of 27/28th and 29/30 April 1942; as part of the Baedeker raids (so called because Baedeker's series of tourist guides to the British Isles were used to select propaganda rich targets of cultural and historic significance rather than strategic importance). Lord Haw-Haw made reference to the imminent destruction of Norwich's new City Hall (completed in 1938), although in the event it survived unscathed. Significant targets hit included the Morgan's Brewery building, Coleman's Wincarnis works, City Station, the Mackintosh chocolate factory, and shopping areas including St. Stephen's Street, St. Benedict's Street, the site of Bonds department store and Curls department store (now Debenhams).
Norwich's night-time economy of bars and nightclubs is mainly located in Tombland, Prince of Wales Road and the Riverside area adjacent to Norwich railway station.
Norwich was the eighth most prosperous shopping destination in the UK in 2006. Norwich has an ancient market place, established by the Normans between 1071 and 1074, which is today the largest six-days-a-week open-air market in England.