Mile Cross sits to the North West of the City Centre and on the far bank of the river Wensum, so for access to the soon-to-be-built estate and subsequent expansion of the City further to the North and West, the Corporation needed to start building bridges.
Before any of the new bridges existed, the only means of crossing the Wensum – other than paying the ferryman at Dolphin – would have been at the old bridge in Hellesdon (Hellesdon Road) or at the newer (1882) bridge situated at Norwich City Station (now Halfords on the inner ring road). These two bridges are over a mile apart so it would have been a bit of a trek in either direction to get across. It seemed more important to get the Loco’s and their trains over the river than anything else, but people being people, always tend to find the quickest route of getting from A to B and I wonder how many people would have risked a dash across the narrow, single tracked A-Frame railway bridge to avoid paying the ferryman.
The first of the newer bridges to spring up was the Dolphin Footbridge.
This pretty twin-span bridge was opened on the 15th December, 1909 by the brilliantly-named Mayor; Ernest Egbert Blyth, replacing a Ferry run from the very same spot by the proprietor of the nearby Dolphin Inn public house. I often wonder how he felt about losing his buoyant (sorry) monopoly over this stretch of water.
This bridge carried the Dolphin footpath from Heigham Road (next to the Dolphin Inn)- up over the River Wensum and then higher again via a concrete viaduct (seen here in the 80’s) over the M&GN railway line and a system of drainage dykes, before heading back down towards the junction of Drayton Road and Junction Road. I’ll be covering another story about a tragic accident that happened here later in the series.
The viaduct part of the Dolphin bridge was removed in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s and its span relocated to ground level over the remaining nearby dyke.
Next up was Mile Cross Road and it’s two bridges.
The newly-built river bridge was opened by another fantastically-named Mayor; Colonel Duff M.C. on September the 12th, 1923 along with the nearby bridge over the M&GN railway line and these were the first bridges to allow direct vehicular access across the River along this stretch. This would no doubt have come in very handy for getting building materials from the City and onto the estate as it was being constructed.
The road and its bridges were being built by unemployed men in a ‘back-to-work’ scheme and on the 2nd February 1921 were lucky enough to be visited on site by King George the V and Princess Mary.
Interestingly the corporation decided to cut a building on Heigham street – named ‘Dial House’ – in half to create the new road. The remaining half of Dial House, and the Sundial from where it gets its name live on as a curious little building standing on the corner of Mile Cross Road and Heigham Street. There used to be a popular little café here too, alongside the intriguing little lane named ‘Heigham Watering’ which led down to the river as part of the Gibraltar Gardens Coaching Inn. Presumably this was used for watering horses and I’ve also read about this area being the sight of an ancient ford across the Wensum.
The newer river bridge holds profound personal memories for myself:
In the 1980’s I learned to fish next to it from the (now inaccessible) bank on Anderson’s Meadow, jump off it in the hot summer months, clamber underneath it (rod in hand) in the pursuit of specimen Perch and was almost killed on top of it on a lazy September afternoon back in 1989. I was aged just 12 and I made the near-fatal error of forgetting to look right when crossing the road. I managed to write off a speeding Ford Cortina and a pair of nasty QD trainers in the process, but apart from a 5-stitch gash on the back of my head, I came out pretty much unscathed, which was amazing considering the trauma my young body had just endured.
I still remember the moment vividly (and in slow motion) to this day; the moment I’d set foot on the road my brain was telling me something had gone drastically wrong, I heard the screech of tyres followed by – CRUNCH! Next thing I knew I was cartwheeling through the air before landing head first onto the tarmac and then sliding along like a rag doll. I hadn’t even stopped sliding before I was getting back up on to my feet. Before the dust had settled I was sprinting back over to the car and opening the driver’s door and screaming: “I’m so sorry!” to the rather shocked-looking driver and passenger. The mix of shock and adrenaline can make the body do some amazing things. According to the driver, he hit me at about 40mph and I was thrown about 50 feet. How I survived is a mystery and it was amazing thing for him to admit at the time; he too must have been in severe shock. I decided that because I was equally at fault, his car was a write-off and that I was still alive, that I would not tell the Police what he’d admitted to me.
On the plus side, the concrete and steel barriers that now ruin the appearance of the bridge from the road level were put in to stop other absent-minded children like myself from becoming further statistics.