Green bits. The Estate was built with open space in mind. If you wander around the estate you’ll notice the big verges with tree-lined vistas, you’ll notice that most of the homes have been blessed with large gardens, you’ll also spot quite a few large, open greens. Some of the greens you may be familiar with were purposefully made as features of the Estate during its ‘Garden suburb’ inspired construction. Most of the open greens have survived the near 100-year life of the estate and remain in place, although not always given the attention or funding they deserve:
The brace of parks (mentioned in this previous blog entry) at Losinga Crescent on the Northern (and once-grand) entrance to the estate have survived mostly intact, although they are currently in a dire state.
The fairly pleasant green in the middle of Civic Gardens is still a prominent feature and it still retains most of its charm.
The small green at the top of Galley Hills is in a fairly pleasant state, although a large portion of it now has a driveway running through it.
I used to spend a lot of my time up here as a young teenager just ‘hanging about’. It had a good view and was conveniently located opposite my parents’ back garden, so it would offer a quick escape route should any of the estate’s ‘rougher’ characters came looking for somebody to fall out with. You had to be on your toes as a youngster back in the 80’s and 90’s as it felt as if you were never too far away from a possible violent encounter. Looking back on it all as an adult I’m not sure how real that threat was, but that’s genuinely how it felt back then.
There is another large green on Wheeler Road that I recall having a small play-park on it at some point (?) which sat behind the school.
Another brace of Gardens straddle the bottom of the lane that runs down the hill from Soleme Road to Drayton Road, these recently having their decorative stairs removed to be replaced with a cycle/pram/wheelchair-friendly winding ramp. During the 1980’s, groups of children (including myself) would climb the fence or locked gate to play on these two greens during the summer months, but I think some of the older generations would have gotten a ‘cuff round the lughole’ had they tried it back in the day.
There is a fairly large green in the middle of an interesting little crescent of houses off Bolingbroke Road, which gives that area a unique charm.
Another small and featureless green sits at the junction of Bowers Avenue and Gresham Road although this is rapidly being turned into a swamp by some terrible parking.
Two more greens can also be found at the opposite ends Havers Road, the one at its eastern end being particularly large, this one having to be fenced off and double-yellowed to stop it being destroyed by the vans of a nearby firm.
We then have a few later-added additions such as the large open spaces found around Peterson Road area, converted to green spaces after removal of most of the Non-standard construction homes during the 1980’s and 1990’s.
There are also large greens to be found on Half Mile Road and Fenn Crescent, these being added at a slightly later date, during the extended period of construction of the 1930’s.
As well as all the greens and verges there were also many allotments dotted around the estate, the largest of which still remains in use today and it can be found wedged in between Valpy Avenue and Sloughbottom Park. This allotment used to be a lot larger, stretching all the way from Drayton Road to the north and following the curve of Valpy Avenue to its junction with Mile Cross Road, but the entire eastern half of it was lost to make way for the Mile Cross School playing fields, an extension to Sloughbottom Park and the Vale Green housing development of the 1960’s. What is left is still very much in use and it still feels like a vast and open space when you stand in the middle of it. The feeling of space is aided further by the fact that it sits on land that slowly slopes away down towards the Wensum, giving the whole area a fantastic, large-sky feeling with mostly uninterrupted views of the Horizon to the West.
These houses along Valpy Avenue have fantastic views which I am not ashamed to say that I am a little jealous of, especially during some of those spectacular autumnal sunsets. From this viewpoint, this particular set of allotments is still as they were when the new Mile Cross homes overlooking them had their very first occupants, and it hasn’t really changed since. This place is as much of the fabric of the estate as the houses that face them. Greenhouses, vegetables, fruit, chickens, pigeons, sheds, various trends of plants, and many generations of people have come and gone, but the premise remains the same: Living off the land. Something still very popular to this day, I say ‘living off the land’ but it’s more a case of ‘getting the shopping bills down a bit’ and it can be a fantastic way of keeping active and healthy and it’s for reasons like this that these allotments, along with all of the other council-provided allotments across the City are choc-full. Getting a plot in one isn’t easy. I love the fact that the Tesco-farming masses probably couldn’t get their heads around the fact that many people still grow their own food.
One day I decided it was time to wander down the allotment access path (pictured above) to see if a particular Greenhouse and Cherry Tree still stood where I’d last seen them:
Back in 2001 I’d managed to scrabble together the funds to buy myself a Peugeot 205 1.9 Gti – a car that I’d wanted to own since I was a youngster. Of course, my wonderful Mum came to the rescue and helped me out financially and in return I’d offered to help her and Dad out on their newly acquired allotment. I was tasked with helping to erect the greenhouse (breaking a pane of glass in the process!) and also planting a young Cherry Tree. Shortly after helping to plant this tree, Mum’s heart gave up. A combination of working too hard during the day, smoking and drinking too much and then taking on an allotment to compliment their dream of winning the ‘Norwich In Bloom’ competition proved too much for her and she died aged just 46.
It was an emotional stroll down that allotment track back to where their plot had been, but In some ways I was glad to find that the tree and Greenhouse were gone. I really don’t think I would have been able to keep my shit together had they still stood there, especially that Cherry Tree. Another generation of life and growth have taken over that small, fertile square of a land and the world carries on relentlessly, a metaphor for life on the Estate if you will, and my mind will no longer wonder about them still being there like some sort of awkward echo every time I walk past.
As for all those long hours and hard work put into the garden (and briefly in that allotment) for the Norwich in Bloom competition? Well, they regularly won ‘Best floral display in containers’ but they only ever came in second for ‘Best residential display’, much to the annoyance of my mum! Had her ticker not given up, and with the extra, much-needed space of their new allotment, maybe she would have got that win she so craved. Still, they made a tidy profit selling some of their prize hanging baskets to friends and colleagues, so it wasn’t all bad news. Here’s a picture I took of their front garden in the early nineties on my first ever SLR:
During the Estate’s early years allotment gardens would have been a common sight all over, parts of the estate being purposefully left clear of housing to ensure there was space for extra plots. Today (as mentioned above), only the largest of these survives off Valpy Avenue, but the rest have all since made way for clusters of ugly brick and asbestos garages that residents could rent off the council for a minimal fee. As the years progressed further and demands changed, the lines of garages dotted about all over the Estate themselves began to gradually make way for newer and much-needed housing. Space is at a premium on the estate and most of it is listed as a conservation area, so losing the nasty-looking garages seemed to make the most sense.
The last of those garages have finally been demolished at the Northern end of Bowers Avenue and the footings for some extra houses are now going into the ground.
Just across the road from these new footings you can see the recently-added homes that were built on a plot of land between Bowers Avenue and Appleyard Crescent that used to be home to swathes of bland-looking garages.
The building in the next picture contains the district heating equipment for a collection of newer homes off Lefroy Road, that also replaced a collection of run-down looking garages that nobody in their right mind would have wanted to leave anything of value in.Before the garages and the newly-added housing, this particular site was home to the Norman Boy’s School Allotment Garden. It also had a pond and a place to keep and breed their Rabbits.
As you can see, some of the green bits have had to make way for various building projects over the years, but it’s good to see that only the old garages have made way for homes as opposed to the decorative greens.
The estate was being built during a period of great change for the population of Britain and as well as everything else going on at the time, Automobiles were becoming an ever-popular means for shifting goods and people about. Automobiles were slowly becoming more reliable making them cheaper to obtain and run, particularly for private use. Although for most of those early inhabitants of the estate would have initially struggled to afford a car, that wouldn’t be the case for too much longer. The Norwich Corporation (Norwich City Council) had obviously realised that parking could (and would) become an issue and had decided that it would be wise to employ the services of a warden whose job would have been to patrol the estate, issuing out fines to anybody parking their motor vehicles on any of the green spaces. The fine would have been £1 – a lot of money back then – so it was a good way to ensure that the green spaces were offered some protection from being destroyed by the ever-increasing numbers of tyres rolling through the city.
As time rolls on It appears that at some point Norwich City Council has given up on trying to protect the pockets of green dotted about the estate, particularly the verges. At this time of year some of the verges can only be described as shocking, the tree-lined vista of Drayton Road being hit particularly badly.
No matter where you are on the Estate these days, it seems that wherever there’s a bit of grass that somebody can fit a car onto, somebody will give it a go, churning up most of the verges and in places damaging the paths and kerbs further dragging the aesthetic appeal into the gutter, literally.
There is a tiny strip at the North-Western end of Drayton Road between Parr and Road and Valpy Avenue that has at some point had wooden posts and honeycomb rubber matting driveways installed, presumably as some sort of teaser as how much nicer it could all look if the Council weren’t being so short-sighted.
When approached about the issue, Norwich City Council always responds with the predictable: “There aren’t the funds” or that they would have ask the tenants to pay for it, which will never happen. In some places the verges have all but gone, leaving bare earth (or mud) and exposed tree roots. The trees now sit on tiny little raised Islands of grass that the car tyres can’t quite get close enough to destroy. It looks particularly bad at this time of year, especially when it’s wet and makes for a depressing journey either by car or foot and before long it will start to have an impact on the health of the trees that give these roads their character. What can be done to stop verge parking? Not a lot. The Council will not spend money to resolve the issue and the residents don’t want to foot the bill either. The people need somewhere to park, and as long as they’re not clogging up one of the vital arteries into the City from the North by parking on the road, nothing will change. The verges will continue to decline until they get into such a state that all the trees will need to be felled and the verges covered in tarmac. For now, I – like everybody else it seems – will have to just bury my head in the sand and pretend it’s not the potentially huge issue that it will be soon. It’s a terribly short-sighted way of thinking and it will lead to part of the Estate’s vital character being lost for good. Studies have shown that having green areas in your local vicinity is good for your mental well-being, so when that inevitable day comes (Norwich City Council), don’t say I didn’t tell you so.
Warning: May contain further ranting…
The blame cannot be left solely at the door of Norwich Council though, all it takes is for some of the residents to park a little more thoughtfully and it wouldn’t be as large a problem as it currently is. I have a small verge outside my own home that I try to look after, I try not to park on it and I ask my visitors not to park on it, I look after it when the Council aren’t cutting it and I have a bit of pride about it. Personally, I couldn’t live in a house and be happy looking out of my window and seeing my car parked on a destroyed verge, or sat in a filthy puddle that I’d made. Perhaps I’m just wired differently? I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say that this is the biggest issue I have with living on the Estate today, an issue that if left unchecked will potentially lead to me selling up and moving away. I just can’t cope with it; not just the appearance, but people’s attitudes towards it too.
Thanks for reading,