Friday, 27 April 2012

Oak Street: follow that wall


THIS picture is all about why the grass isn’t growing down that middle strip. It’s because the flints are actually the remains of the once substantial City Wall, built around Norwich in the middle ages. The wall once continued across the road and ran down to the river beyond Oak Street. The house directly opposite used to be The Dun Cow pub which directly abutted the wall. Its owner was kind enough to show me a great chunk of it in his basement today.


And this second photo is the best I can do of the remains of the round tower behind the old pub along an alley which still leads down to the river. From what remains, it seems that this was where the wall ended – although if it did, it would have left a good 50 yards undefended. Someone will have written a full history of Norwich City Walls. I need to track that down. It’s early days on the research, but Oak Street feels like a real victim of the inner ring road to me. Clearly it used to be a busy thoroughfare into the city. But it’s been cut in half and lost a bit of its soul as a result.

Incidentally what am I going to call this chapter? We’re talking about the east side of the river Wensum, so it includes Mile Cross, St Martins and Oak Street, but I can’t think of a handy all-encompassing title.

There’s no shortage of material. I’ve done the Mile Cross estate and Wensum Park and now it’s time to get my head round the little-known Great Hall and the old shoe factory once run by Sexton, Son and Everard. But first, I need to follow that wall.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

WW2 Norwich: every tag tells a story

LET me introduce you to the Norwich Bomb Map, an amazing piece of Second World War history with a big story to tell. It’s fully six-foot square, a yellowing chart set within a wooden frame showing the greater Norwich area in quite some detail. But it’s not the map itself which is important, it’s what’s on it. Because during the war it hung in the city council’s planning department in Ber Street. And every time a bomb went off, the location was recorded on a tiny tag which gave the weight of the explosive in kilogrammes and then the date. To my knowledge, even 70 years after the Baedeker raids, it remains the best geographical representation of the impact the war had on Norwich. At a glance you can see which parts were most affected, at a glance it pretty much confirmed my theory that the Heigham area of the city was particularly badly-hit.
NRO 0412 002
For years this gem lay all but forgotten in the basement of City Hall. But these days it’s being much more carefully looked after by specialist staff at the Norfolk Record Office. You can get to see it, but only if you make an appointment a few days in advance. I did that last Friday and was guided through the building’s state of the art facilities to a conservation studio where the map had been wheeled out specially for me. There, senior conservator Nick Sellwood explained the problems  his team face when it comes to ensuring the map’s survival:
“The pins are ferrous, so they’re rusting,” he told me. “The cardboard tags are likely to be of pretty poor quality because most stuff was during the war and if you look closely you can see how dirty the map itself is – we’ve experimented a bit by just cleaning up the odd field on the outskirts. You can see they’re a lot lighter.
“Now we could change the pins, we could change the map, we could replace just about everything, but then it would no longer be what it is, so we’ve got this massive ethical dilemma about what to do with it.”
NRO 0412 008
The other irony is that the more people want to look at the map, the more fragile it will become – even with much TLC from the NRO. Among the possible answers, detailed photos which could be accessed via the web. My mind immediately raced ahead to an online digital map where you could click onto a tag which could be cross-referenced to other surviving documents together with contemporary and modern photos. (Nick Stone and his Blitz Ghosts would love that wouldn’t he?) But in the current financial climate I suspect such an idea would be way too ambitious. So for now let’s appreciate what we’ve got. A complete overview of the Norwich as targeted by the Luftwaffe.
* A big thank you to Nick Sellwood for a great insight into the world of the conservator …and 1940s Norwich. Thanks also to the County Archivist of Norfolk for permission to reproduce the photos of the map. And for the record, the map is from the Norfolk Record Office, ACC 2007/195. Click on the individual maps to bring them up full-frame.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Where was the Waterworks Tavern?

Heigham 0211 070THE SUBURB of Heigham is dominated by something we see hardly anything of – the waterworks along the road of the same name. Ok, there are these lovely old buildings at the city end, but the rest of this huge site is surrounded by high walls and fences. A manager from Anglian Water was kind enough to give me a guided tour earlier this week and I’m now getting my head around a mass of info. The tallest of these buildings for example, is the Chamberlain constructed in 1906 to house a huge beam engine. The rest of the site shows evidence of the water industry at every stage from 1850 to the present day. Why 1850? Because that was when the City of Norwich Waterworks Company was set up in a response to a deadly cholera epidemic. Drinking water in Norwich before that date appears to have been only slightly better than playing Russian roulette.

But the reason for my post is an appeal for info on the pub which all of the waterworks’ staff would have regarded as their local. It was called The Waterworks Tavern and it was apparently right next to the works on Heigham Street. But where exactly? And does anyone have a photo? Apparently it didn’t close until 1975 so someone, somewhere, surely?

* Please email if you have any info or photos.