Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Low Down at Hellesdon

Low Road Hellesdon

ANOTHER conundrum courtesy of ebay. This is Low Road at Hellesdon, but where exactly? We’re looking north, but I can’t place this combination of gradient and curve of the river. Do email me at if you can help.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

King Street’s forgotten church

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HERE’S the last piece of my King Street jigsaw. The long shadows of early morning at the remains of St Peter Southgate just off King Street. The 12th century church was all but demolished in 1887. But these sturdy remains of a 15th century tower survive to look kindly over a children’s park.

It’s not easy to find. Southgate Lane is a tiny alley at the King Street end and not much broader up on Bracondale. It’s also the local park for Argyle Street residents - although it was a surprise to me to see that many houses there look set for demolition.

So King Street finished. Next stop Drayton.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

King Street: reflections of the past

King St 062I

I’VE collected a shelf-full of local books over the last ten years or so. And a dark green hardback with a ripped dust jacket and a 16 shilling price tag is proving very useful for the King Street chapter.

If Stones Could Speak was written by R H Mottram. Mottram was a novelist and a First World War poet who loved the city of Norwich. He was its Lord Mayor in 1953 and was also a staunch defender of Mousehold Heath. If Stones… is a romp through the history of Norwich, but done geographically rather than historically. So Chapter VI, for example, is dedicated to King Street:

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“There is no doubt as to which of the Norwich streets is most connected with the sea. In King Street you find the signs of the Ship and the Old Barge, the Ferry Inn and the Keel and Wherry. One of its by-streets, descending the deep slope to the west of it, is Mariners Lane. Here is Waterman’s Yard and Swan Yard.

“For half its length, the long, straight, street leading due south from the old market-place on Tombland, into South Norfolk, runs parallel with the River Wensum.

“Here, at the continuous line of “staithes”, as they call a quay or landing place in Norfolk, are tied up the craft, mainly registered in London or north-west Europe, that bring to Norwich all varieties of bulky, non-perishable goods. Mills and breweries, engineering and constructional works line the banks, which, like so many things in Norwich, have never become entirely sacrificed to ruthless commerce”.

I’m going to quote at least that last paragraph in my book. It seems to sum up a 1950s King Street very nicely. A non-conformist, Mottram was buried in a beautiful spot within the Rosary Road cemetery. Forty two years after his death, all hail Ralph Hale Mottram.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A viaduct across the Wensum

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THIS wonderful vision of an alternative future for the King Street riverside comes from possibly the most famous document the city council has ever produced.

City of Norwich Plan 1945 mapped out a 50-year blueprint across 135 pages of elegant prose. (When did council officials stop writing in plain English?)

An inner ring road and an outer ring road would converge on this tall viaduct “carrying a high-level road from Bracondale to the railway bridge at the junction of Carrow Road and Clarence Road.” It would be, they claimed, “a light and elegant structure of great beauty, and would command a wonderful view of the old city from which it would be seen as a terminating feature and a break between it and the commercial and industrial zone further down the river valley”.

The conventional 21st century wisdom is to say thank goodness it was never built – to be fair it was controversial from the start. But I’m not so sure. In fact I can’t argue with a word of the authors’ comments. And even if you do, remember that the inner ring road is still not complete some 70 years later. To this day traffic still crawls down King Street and across Carrow Bridge to get to Thorpe St Andrew.

The 1945 masterplan is worth quoting elsewhere – particularly with regard to the river:

“While Norwich has turned her back to the Wensum, industry has helped herself. At present the river is looked upon chiefly as a commercial utility providing a cheap form of transport; but unfortunately whilst rendering this old established service, it has encouraged the evil of an ugly spread of unsightly buildings and ramshackle sheds along its banks as well as the defilement of its waters by effluent from various factories…

“Except for short stretches of its course, the Wensum is at present overshadowed by grim walls, hidden by ugly barriers and inaccessible to the public as an amenity within the city: the potential attractions of the river are almost lost. We propose that its banks should be cleaned wherever possible and opened up for the public to enjoy the pleasures of the river which is one of the largest open spaces in the city.”

We’ve come a long way haven’t we? Nice work messrs C H Jones FRIBA, S Rowland Pierce FRIBA and H C Rowley, City Engineer.

* More on the viaduct from Nick J Stone here.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Welcome to the Wensum Way

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NORFOLK gets a new footpath tomorrow – or at least it’s officially unveiled tomorrow. Twelve miles of decent track close to the River Wensum sounds good enough to me, but the council is keen to let us know that it completes a missing link as well.

The Wensum Way runs from Gressenhall to Lenwade. And in doing so it creates a mammoth 96 mile walk by linking the Nar Valley Way to Marriotts Way. Now it’s possible to walk from King’s Lynn right across to Great Yarmouth without those pesky internal combustion engines getting in the way.

What follows comes direct from the council:

“The Wensum Way passes close to 26 county wildlife sites and four Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Even the River Wensum itself is a
designated European Special Area of Conservation. Over 270 species have been recorded in the river valley, from plants, butterflies and moths, 18 recorded species of dragonfly and damselfly to otters, water voles and eight types of bat.

“Keen-eyed birdwatchers can glimpse over 200 species of birds including bitterns and marsh harriers. Surfaces, signposting and furniture on the Wensum Way is the same standard as the UK's prestigious National Trails. Work to upgrade 1200 miles-worth of designated countryside paths to this high standard has been systematically carried out by the County Council across the network to create the portfolio of footpaths known as the Norfolk Trails.”

A portfolio of footpaths? Please no. But how many Norfolk trails are there? And how many Norfolk pub quiz teams would get a full house? Here goes:

Angles Way, Boudicca Way, Cross-Norfolk Trail, Marriotts Way, Nar Valley Way, Norfolk Coast Path, Paston Way, Peddars Way, Weavers Way and the Wherryman’s Way.

More details here:

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Dragon Hall’s mysterious neighbour

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I SHOULD be writing up Dragon Hall, but I’ve been diverted by its mysterious neighbour. Dragon Hall is to the left of this picture. It’s a 15th century trading hall, built by the wealthy merchant Robert Toppes and now open to the public as a museum.

But what’s next door? A medieval first floor along quite a stretch of King Street, curiously suspended on 20th century pillars. Everything is boarded up at all levels and no-one seems to know who owns it or what their plans might be. I vaguely remember it being home to the electrical retailers Bennetts, but that was years ago wasn’t it?

So what next for 125-127 King Street? Do get in touch if you’ve got any info about this remarkable survivor.

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Monday, 7 October 2013

King Street: the new and the old


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I DON’T think I’ve walked down King Street at any time in the last 20-odd years and not seen signs of life in some quarters and old-fashioned decay in others. The road vies with Colegate for the tag of most interesting street in Norwich, but blimey, the promised gentrification is slow coming.

So while there are trendy designers at Nether Conesford in the top picture, the lower one shows the old Utting’s garage supplies shop now in urgent need of some TLC. The writing scrawled over the gaffer tape on the red front door reads “no mail please, house subject to court order”. Enough said. Elsewhere on King Street the combination of scaffolding and boarded up wasteland must make it harder for Dragon Hall to pull in the punters.

The new developments on the site of the old Morgans Brewery (Polypin Yard, Fuggles Yard etc) were meant to be the trigger for regeneration, so too the new bridges across the Wensum. Both have played a part, together with the lively Kings Community Church where the Lads Club once flourished. But we’re not there yet. Will it be another 20 years before it’s job done?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Eaton: What no Waitrose?

Yare from Cringleford Bridge
THIS picture gets better the more you look at it. It’s taken from Cringleford Bridge with Eaton church in the background. It slowly dawns on you (thanks Pete and Jon) that we must be looking roughly across the current Waitrose car park.

Closer inspection from Katy W and Google Maps reveals that there is still marshland between the bridge and the church. So the Waitrose land would only cover the extreme left of the picture.

The huge increase in the number of trees makes it very difficult to get a modern day shot which bears any relation to this one.  Unless anyone knows different?

This canoe-view shot taken a few years ago is the nearest I've got, but I was downstream looking north on to the other side of the church. It's a beautiful spot for a paddle.

Masterpieces: our art, right here

Copyright The Munnings Collection at The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

THE University of East Anglia is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. And a new exhibition at The Sainsbury Centre is doing its bit to put the EA into UEA. Some 270 exhibits from 65 collections have been brought together to celebrate the varied art produced and inspired by Norfolk and Suffolk over the centuries. And they do cover every inch from Sizewell to Holbrook to King’s Lynn. From the Halesworth heiress on her deathbed to a John Piper painting of tiny Hales Church near Loddon. If nothing else Masterpieces gives the lie to any notion that Big Art is about Big Cities.

We’re lured in by “Faces of East Anglia”, with exhibits ranging from a copper alloy head of the Emperor Claudius found in the River Alde, to a bronze bust of Albert Einstein. Immediately it’s clear that we’re not just dealing with paintings. The Team Lotus Formula One car might be a bit of a gimmick, but throughout the exhibition curator Ian Collins gives books, clothing and maps equal billing with more traditional artwork

Broads fans will be glad to see the 19th century classic “On English Lagoons” artfully left open at the beginning of a chapter.

“A miserable day. Of all the melancholy joys of life, perhaps a wet day afloat is the worst,” writes PH Emerson.

We skip lightly through both centuries and themes. Collins delights in unusual juxtapositions. A flint handaxe from 700,000 years ago found on Happisburgh beach, sits next to the similarly-sized “Reclining Figure” by the sculptor Henry Moore. Constable paintings hang next to those of John Crome, a landscape painter of the Norwich School. A storm scene on Yarmouth beach by Crome’s colleague John Sell Cotman is the neighbour of a more famous storm painted off the same coast by JMW Turner.

The 20th century is well-represented. I love John Piper’s dark paintings of churches, but Edward Burra was a new name to me. Look out for Sugar Beet with its ghostly, transparent figures. Why so? “Don’t you find as you get older, you start seeing through everything?” he’s quoted as saying in the accompanying blurb.

Good blurbs are important for us rank amateurs. These ones are good. I particularly enjoyed the guest writers. We have the former Norwich MP Charles Clarke on an 18th century “Prospect of Norwich”, while the thoughts of the Dean of St Edmundsbury sit well next to a modern crucifixion piece by Elizabeth Frink.

I could go on. but you’ll find your own favourites. A Suffolk Horse Fair, Lavenham (pictured) by Mendham-born Alfred Munnings perhaps, or a portrayal of the Battle of Sole Bay by the Dutchman Willem van de Velde.

But just finally, remember “A History of the World in 100 objects” at the British Museum and on Radio 4? Well Masterpieces takes 270 exhibits just for our small corner. But nevertheless it has a similar breadth, depth and sheer ambition. Get along while you can.

* Masterpieces, The Sainsbury Centre at the UEA until February 24th, 2014. Adults £8, family ticket £20.