A window into the past

Then and now. Mary Jacobs.


Mary Jacobs poses proudly for a photograph at the gate of her new Valpy Avenue home. To be photographed outside your home in the late 1920’s was a bit of a rarity, especially in one of the less affluent parts of the city, and that is what makes this photograph all the more special.

There’s a very big chance that before moving into this house little Mary had lived and grew up in one of the many yards and slums around Elm Hill, Oak Street, Cowgate, Barrack Street, St Augustine’s or what is now Anglia Square. One can only imagine at how different her life would have been compared to the current inhabitants of the estate.

Bar a few modern TV-related additions to the brickwork, the house looks pretty much identical now to as it did back then in the late 1920’s. The original wooden windows and doors having only been replaced in the last couple of years. A lot of those original fences and gates survive and they can still be found dotted around the estate. There are even a couple of homes still sporting the original doors and windows. They must have been made out of some pretty decent wood to last this long and still look good.

These new houses must have seemed like a dream come true to these former residents of the slums. They had wide tree-lined roads with grassy verges, big gardens, indoor toilets, and on this particular road; a great view out across of the Wensum Valley, which would have been nicely complimented by regular Steam engines puffing through the middle of all that beautiful, green scenery. No doubt a far cry from the unsanitary conditions and squalor typical of the old, cramped yards littering the fringes of the City, just outside its ancient walls.

Mary passed away in 1938, but her family remained in this home for many years after.

The original image was kindly supplied by Mary’s Granddaughter: Susan McClarence, who informed me that her sister was born behind those very walls.

I year or so back I did post a copy of this photograph – with a few details on the back – through the letterbox of this house, but never received a response. In hindsight, this may have freaked modern day residents out a bit, especially if they were maybe a little superstitious! If you’re reading this now, and this is your house: I’m sorry if it spooked you!

A higher res copy of the image can be found here onĀ my flickr page.

Thanks once again for reading,


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