The name has nothing to do with the burial of bodies; it’s an old English word meaning open, or unenclosed land, and the area was a pre-Norman market place. After the conquest, the new rulers moved the market to a site at the foot of the castle, where they could no doubt keep a watchful eye on the comings and goings there. Tombland was still used as meeting place and fairground, but for years there were simmering tensions between the townspeople and the monks at the cathedral. In 1272, the townspeople claimed that one of their number had been murdered by one of the monks. The monks denied this, and the townspeople, sensing an injustice, rioted against the clergy, firing burning arrows from the tower of St. George’s church over the Cathedral compound walls, burning down the belltower, and a chapel dedicated to St. Ethlered, and causing vast amounts of damage. The prior fled to Great Yarmouth, where he mustered a band of hired and armed men, and on returning to Norwich, they roamed the streets, meting out summary justice, and setting about anyone they thought had connection to the riots.
The fighting became so intense that the king, Edward III, was forced to step in. Not surprisingly, he came down on the side of the clergy, and the ringleaders of the riot were soon rounded up. Thirty citizens were executed, and the townsfolk were force to pay for a replacement for the chapel which had burnt down during the uprising.