By Wayne Kett
As promised here is part 2 of my history of Norwich. Rather than attempt to tell the whole 1600 year story of Norwich (difficult in 2 blogs) I have chosen 10 events or periods that had a significant effect on the formation of the city we know today.
If you have not yet read part 1, it can be found here: https://shinealightproject.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/the-history-of-norwich-part-1/
Thomas Ivory, a Georgian Architect
During the Georgian period (1714 – 1830) many significant buildings in Norwich were constructed. However I would like to focus on the work of one man, as a means of illustrating the long-lasting effect a single person can make on the architectural landscape of a city.
Thomas Ivory (1709-1779), is not a household name, however his influence on the visual appearance of the city is vast. Through his work as an architect and builder Ivory’s work can be seen in many buildings and structures that survive.
Ivory built the following:
- The Assembly House
- The Octagon Chapel (Colegate)
- The second purpose built theatre in England on the site of the current Theatre Royal (this was called the Concert Hall and was modeled on London’s Drury Lane)
- The Methodist Meeting House on Bishopgate which was demolished in 1953
- St Helen’s house (part of the medieval Great Hospital)
- St Catherine’s House on All Saints Green
- 25-35 Surrey Street
This link is an image of 25-35 Surrey Street taken in 1935 before the demolition of numbers 25-27 which took place in 1963. Numbers 29-35 are still standing.
Ivory also designed Norfolk & Norwich hospital, which served the people of Norwich between 1771 and 2003; it has since been converted into flats.
Whilst carrying out major alterations to Blickling Hall, a timber fell on Ivory’s leg leading to an injury that he sadly failed to recover from and resulted in his death.
Whilst the Georgians built some amazing buildings that adorn the streets of Norwich, they were also responsible for the destruction of the city gates at the end of the 18th century. Traffic problems and hygiene were the excuses given, but it was probably to save the cost of maintaining them.
The Industrial Revolution
Within the narrative of the Industrial Revolution, Norwich is not generally discussed; focus tends to be centered on areas where change was most intense – London and the great Northern industrial cities like Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester. But the Industrial Revolution had a profound effect upon Norwich as well.
Norwich did not experience the same boom in population growth as other cities in Britain. However there was still a significant rise in population as many people moved from the countryside to find work in Norwich. In 1811 the population of Norwich was 37,256 by 1871 it had risen to 80,368 (compare this with Manchester 89,000 in 1811 and 351,000 in 1871.) This influx of people meant the population could no longer be contained within the city walls. The wealthier people of Norwich began moving to suburbs outside the city walls, due to the unsanitary and crowded conditions in the city centre. Kings Street and Ber Street were where the worst slums could be found.
Manchester had its cotton mills, Sheffield had its steel manufacturing and like them Norwich saw the growth of its own unique industries. In 1856 J.J. Colman moved his mustard mill in Stoke Holy Cross to Norwich. There he produced the mustard for which Colman’s are famous, but also a variety of other products.
Most people view the Industrial Revolution through Dickensian eyes, characterised by the evil industrialist, exploiting his poor and suffering workers. This was not the case with Colman’s, who took an incredibly enlightened approach to the welfare of its workforce. Workers were provided with food as well as assistance in times of illness and many lived in housing owned and supplied by the company.
As well as mustard, Norwich is famous for its shoe production. During the Industrial Revolution the shoe trade boomed in Norwich with over 8,000 people employed by the turn of the 20th century. Shoe production remained strong in Norwich for many years, but sadly like many industries production has now shifted overseas.
During this period the Norwich textile trade was fast losing ground to more competitive areas of production in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Norwich textile companies diversified and consequently the Norwich shawl became famous. The textile industry declined further when shawls became a victim of changing fashions. The Norwich textile industry never recovered, limping on for almost 100 years before eventually dying in the 1970’s.
Norwich Becomes a Green City
This is not a reference to Norwich City Football club who were founded in 1902 and have since 1907 played in yellow and Green, but instead relates to the opening up of green spaces and planting of trees that characterised the 1920s and 1930s in Norwich.
Most of Norwich’s parks and green spaces were opened in a relatively short space of time. This period saw the creation of Heigham Park (1924), Wensum Park (1925), Earlham Park (1925), Eaton Park (1928) and Waterloo Park (1933). These all complimented the older Victorian open space Chapelfield Gardens, which was built in the 1880s. These parks contain distinctive concrete features (which survive) including bandstands in Eaton and Waterloo Parks, a pavilion in Wensum Park, a boating lake in Eaton Park and a paddling pool area in Waterloo Park.
Heigham Park and Wensum Park are both classified as Grade II listed by English Heritage and as recently as September of this year Waterloo Park and Eaton Park have been reclassified from Grade II listed to Grade II* listed. As they are great examples of early 20th century park design and have remained unchanged.
These parks were the brainchild of Captain Sandys-Winch (1888-1964) – Born in Knutsford, Cheshire, he attended Cheshire Horticultural College and trained to become a landscape architect. After serving as a pilot during World War One, he became Parks Superintendent in Norwich, a position he held for 34 years.
At the commencement of his tenure Norwich had few open public spaces, by the time he had finished there were over 600 acres. He oversaw the planting of over 20,000 trees; these were not just in parks, but all over the city in the streets of Norwich.
These parks have been enjoyed by generations of Norwich’s citizens for almost 100 years. It seems strange to imagine a time when free to use, open spaces like these were not available for the people of Norwich to enjoy.
The Baedeker Blitz
As April 1942 neared its end the residents of Norwich might have been forgiven for believing they had escaped lightly from enemy bombing raids. The Luftwaffe had been decisively beaten during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz had officially ended 11 months previously. However a decision by the British command to bomb the picturesque, yet strategically unimportant German city of Lubeck set off a chain of events that led to two nights of intense and destructive bombing of Norwich.
The Nazi’s took exception to the bombing of the historically important city of Lubeck and in response set upon attacking the British equivalents; these were to be York, Norwich, Bath, Canterbury and Exeter. These attacks became known as the Baedeker Blitz, because it is claimed cities were selected based upon their rating in the German – Baedeker Tourist Guide.
At 11:40pm on the 27th April 1942 the air raid sirens rang out across the city, tragically many people did not take heed of these warnings and stayed in their home. Throughout the Blitz there had only been 27 raids on Norwich and just 81 deaths, so people were not accustomed to treating air raid sirens as a real danger. By the time the bombs had stopped falling, 155 people had lost their lives. Thankfully on the second night of bombing (April 29th) the people of Norwich were ready so there were fewer casualties (67). There were subsequent attacks in May and June, but these were not nearly as intense as the April attacks.
During two nights of intense bombing the Luftwaffe destroyed over 5,000 homes in Norwich and left another 5,000 uninhabitable, over 200 people were killed and another 700 suffered injury, often serious.
The worst hit areas of Norwich were the city centre and the West / Northwest of the city. It was not just houses that were destroyed; many shops and factories were hit, as was Norwich train station.
St Benedicts Church was destroyed, here is a before and after photograph:
In total 124 pubs were damaged, 26 were totally destroyed and of those destroyed 13 never re-opened.
Follow the link below to see an interactive map of the damage caused to Norwich’s public houses on these two nights.
Whilst the Baedeker raids on Norwich must have been horrific for all those that lived through them, other European cities suffered far greater destruction. On the 14th November 1940, Coventry was reduced to ruins as 4,300 buildings were completely destroyed, two thirds of all structures damaged and over 500 people killed in just one raid. Similarly between the 13th and 15th February in bombing raids over the German city of Dresden 3,900 tons of explosives were dropped. Destroying in near totality 40 square kilometres of the city and killing between 22,000 and 25,000 people.
The Pedestrianisation of Norwich City Centre
‘What do you think of the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre? I’ll be honest, I’m dead against it. I mean, people forget that traders need access to DIXONS!’ Alan Partridge
As much as I admire and respect the opinions of one of Norfolk’s greatest, I have to say I respectfully disagree with Mr Partridge.
Norwich is a fantastic place to shop, ranked 9th in the UK in a recent survey. A large part of its appeal is the comfort that comes with a large expanse of ground in city centre that visitors can explore without the fear of being mown down by a double-decker bus or having to inhale noxious bus and car fumes.
Mr Partridge might bemoan the fact that he can no longer park his vehicle in the centre of the city and pop into Dixons, but with a city the size of Norwich that is simply unfeasible. The population of Norwich is approximately 141,000, this rises to 213,000 if the suburban areas are included and closer to 700,000 if the rural folk who rely upon the city for their shopping needs are considered.
Norwich boasts two shopping malls – Castle Mall built in 1994 on the site of the former cattle market and the more recent 2005 Chapelfield Mall built where the Mackintosh chocolate and sweet factory once stood. The vibrant market has remained in place alongside the St Peter Mancroft Church for around 1000 years and offers shoppers a diverse range of goods and probably the best food in the city (half the price of well known fast food outlets nearby and 10x the taste!!). The Norwich Lanes provide a fabulous selection of independent traders, many offering locally sourced products and selling the types of products that many chain stores don’t. The Victorian era Royal Arcade (1899) is architecturally stunning, but also provides a great selection of shops including the Colman’s Mustard shop and museum, my absolute childhood favourite Langley’s toys, and more recently Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant.
As well as featuring all the major nationwide department stores House of Fraser, British Home Stores, Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and Debenhams, we also have our very own Jarrolds!
For more information on Norwich’s department stores see Dayna’s blog
Norwich was the first city in the UK to pedestrianise its central retail zone doing so in the early 1970’s; this innovative step has since been replicated in cities up and down the country. It is not the only factor that explains Norwich’s development into one of the countries top shopping destinations, but it is significant.
I think the pedestrianisation of Norwich is intrinsically linked to the atmosphere of the city centre, on any given day there are activities to get involved with outside the forum, Gentleman’s Walk is inhabited with buskers of varying levels of talent (can’t all be as talented as Puppet man), groups set up stalls to protest and fight for their cause in the space in front of Next, where shoppers sit to recuperate. Further along is the hustle and bustle of the Market and there is even a pub or two to sneak into for a quick pint and some respite from all of the shopping. Imagine if all that was split down the middle and segregated by roads and traffic? The buskers would go unheard, the summer markets would not come, shopping would become even more stressful and the city centre would stop being as much fun. Besides which Dixons is no longer there!!
So there we have it, two blogs offering a glimpse into the 1600 year history of the fine city of Norwich.
If you want to find out more about the history of Norwich or indeed Norfolk there is nowhere better to start than one of the regions many museums.