Moving North along Bignold Road will find you following in the footsteps (or tyre tracks) of the first builders onto the estate. Bignold road heads it’s way north from Drayton Road until it reaches the horseshoe shape that is Appleyard Crescent; which has become 0.7% more infamous since the resurgence of the Star Wars series of films (more on that later in the series).
The shot above is taken looking through a gap in the original 1926 housing and into the mind-bending vision of the future that was the 1960’s. To me it’s like looking through a time portal (I do a lot of that – and if you keep with this blog you’ll get to see why later) and it’s somewhat jarring. Town planners from the late-forties onwards had a habit of tearing up the rule book when it came to sympathetic design, and this is due in some part to necessity. The City was hit badly during the war and extra housing was greatly needed, both quickly and on the cheap. Tower blocks and flats seemed like the best option at the time. Interestingly it seems that we’re now going through a similar approach when it comes to the new builds cropping up all over Norwich in the mid twenty-teens.
Before the 1960’s this part of the estate was heath, not dissimilar to what you’d find over at Mousehold (And if you look back far enough it was most likely part of Mousehold). I’ve spoken to many Mile Cross ‘old boys’ who remember it well; they’d spend hours here, digging, fighting, climbing trees, building dens, shooting each other with air rifles, burning things, picking blackberries and generally being post-war kids. It would have been like having the countryside on the doorstep.
However, speaking to some of the older generations doesn’t always end up in misty-eyed conversations about Mile Cross child-hood. I’ve had a few arguments about one particular subject: Toilets. Yup, toilets. Humans love to argue about pointless subjects.
Mile Cross was built to be modern – for the inter-war years at least – and they were all built with indoor toilets. Before you start, they were… alright?! Don’t get me started. Too late.
Modern, huh? Well if you take into account the new residents on the estate were coming in from the slum clearances of the yards, an indoor toilet was a revelation. A toilet, indoors, in every house. Crazy shit! Pun not intended.
At some point in the estate’s early history, a series of modernization works were carried out, and for whatever reasons it was decided to move the toilet out of a little room off the kitchen (that also housed the copper water boiler) and into a little extension at the back of the house. You’d need to go out of the back door under a porch and into the new extension to go to the loo. Due to the age of the estate and the relative ages of most retirees you end up discussing the subject with means they’re not old enough to have seen the houses before the extensions, and therefore they will argue until the cows come home that Mile Cross Houses were built with outside toilets.
This brings me back to the houses in this picture. Most of the houses along Bignold Road are of a certain build design – the same design as my own home in fact – and I can prove that these houses were built without said toilet extension. After World War 1 had ended a lot of the surplus aircraft were sold off for commercial use and a company called Aerofilms decided to utilise them for a new venture. Shortly after the first phase of housing was complete Aerofilms took to the skies over Norwich to photograph it. One particular shot of interest is this 1928 aerial shot of Bignold Road and Appleyard Crescent (sign up, it’s free and it unlocks the fantastic zoom function). When you zoom in, you’ll see that the houses have been lived in for a couple of years now, the gardens are mature vegetable patches and there are no outside lavs.
Interestingly enough, the houses with the later toilet extension modernisation works were re-modernised in the 1980’s and the toilet was moved back into the bathroom next to the kitchen; squeezed into whatever gap there is next to the bath. The original houses had a tin bath in the kitchen and this explains why a lot of Mile Cross houses now have tiny, cramped little bathrooms.
The original higher-res image can be found here: clickety-click
Thanks for reading, there’s a lot more to come.