Going on from the last piece I wrote at the end of 2018 about Anglia Square, I was recently reminded of a Saturday afternoon back in 2011 when we were working on the Norwich City Station site as part of the Friends of Norwich City Station (FONCS) project. An elderly gent had come along to view our progress and he had brought along with him an envelope containg a handful of old negatives that he’d taken when he was younger. He said that they may be of some interest to us and kindly allowed me to borrow them, I just wish I could remember his name.
After I’d had them scanned I could see that they were taken throughout the 1960’s and were all taken in and around the City Station area, whilst the roads and buildings were being cleared in anticipation of the answer to all our dreams: The Inner-link Road. This road was about to be laid right through some irreplacably-historic parts of old Norwich, almost encircling the entire city as it went, like a really crap version of the City Wall. It was also going to go right over the top of the now-closed railway terminus made famous by the much-missed Midland and Great Northern Railway, the remains of which us dipsticks decided to try and dig up some half a century later.
The derelict prefab (the original building was fire-bombed during the Blitz) structure of Norwich City Station just before it’s demolition to make way for the inner-link.
Like Anglia Square, this rather short-sighted vision of the future was dreamed up in the minds of the town planners who were seemingly riding high on the wave of “The Car is the future” mindset that was about to change the face of Norwich forever. This 1940’s post-war vision of a bright and grey future was first touched upon in the City of Norwich Plan of 1945. An interesting (and rather fanciful) publication produced for the Council not long after the Second World War had finished. This architect’s wet-dream was created to help add a bit of vision to the rather large rebuilding project that was needed after vast swathes parts of Norwich had been bombed flat by German bombers. Its sole aim was to redesign our fine City so that it was more accessible by people in their newly-acquired cars, something the Council is still struggling to rectify over 70 years later.
For images and maps taken from the City of Norwich Plan, 1945 take a look at this item on the fantastic Invisible Works website here: Click me, click me!
Thankfully the bulk of these now seemingly bizzarre plans never came to fruition, however, some slightly bastardized bits and pieces of it did manage to slip through the sanity filter and a section of the city stretching all the way from Hall Road to Kett’s Hill was to be bulldozed to make way for a road-widening scheme, which in some parts of the city was wide enough for four or more lanes of traffic. Homes and businesses were being swept into the gutters to be replaced with low-speed sections of motorway and the ghastly flyover.
When I wrote about the impact Anglia Square had on its surroundings I neglected to talk too much about the flyover as that particular blog entry was running on long enough as it was, however; I imagine the flyover to have been the final kick in the nuts for the already badly-beaten Magdalen Street as it was still on the floor licking its wounds having recently suffered its Anglia Square mugging.
Old Magdalen Street shops marooned by the Inner-link.
The new highway had managed cut this vital shopping street in two, but not in the normal sense. It erased the shops on either side of Magdalen Street but only replaced them with darkness and shadows. The four lanes of traffic rudely interrupting the street-plan were suspended in mid-air, completely disconnected from the road it had just finished off for good – and seeing as I seem to be in metaphorical kind of mood – It was a bit like when you hear about somebody burgling a house and then turning the taps on to flood it for good measure.
Darkness and emptiness replaced shops and businesses.
The road swept away Shops, Pubs, Homes, Yards, the old Drill Hall and even infringed on an old Jewish cemetary, all so that people could get from A-to-B in the all-important automobile. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but when you’re sat in queues of slow-moving traffic along there now, it’s hard to feel any enthusiasm for their visions of the future that we now have to suffer. Occasionally you’ll get stuck in a queue on the flyover and it can give you a minute or two to take in a slightly different view of the impact it had on the area as you look down onto the older parts of the city left behind like some old lady who never quite got over losing her husband all those years ago.
Looking down on where Butolph Street and Magdelen Street once went their seperate ways from the top of the flyover.
There’s an odd feeling when you look over to see rooftops of nearby shops and streets of terraced homes missing the complete opposite side of the street, their neighbours having relocated decades ago to make way for soul-less, concrete carriageways, and this is particularly prelevant along Peacock Street and Willis Street.
I could continue this story on all along the Inner-Link, but it would take forever and I only really wanted to share some old photogrpahs that the kindly-gentleman had handed over the best part of a decade ago now, so I’ll stick to the bit around Norwich City Station, and rather handily, the bit closest to home.
One of the images in the colection of negatives took me a little while to locate where it was taken. It was unfamiliar to me back then but a small (or should I say rather large) clue was hiding in the background of the image that enabled me to help pin down its location:
Look at the top right hand corner for your clue.
You can just about make out a tall building covered in scaffolding being serviced by a crane with an all-too-familiar logo (Carter) on it in the top right-hand corner of the image. The building is of course Sovereign House in the process of being built in about 1967 or 1968 and what we can see is the southern-most tip of the longest wing, next to what is now the flyover.
The photographer is stood opposite what used to be an old Corn Mill on St Martin’s Road, looking towards its junction with Pitt Street, you can just about make out the street sign on the shop at the far-right side of the 1960’s image. This street is very easy to miss these days and I’d happily bet that most Norwich residents have never ventured down it. Only St Martins church and number 47 remains of the original street as the road leads to a dead-end at the back of St Mary’s House. To help you get a feel for how it looks today I created this Ghost image back in 2012 to help me get my head around it all:
St Martins Street now and then.
You can make out Sovereign House (the HMSO) appearing through the soon-to-be-demolished homes and shops both in both the past and in the present in this mind-bending image. Preperations are being made for the the Inner-link road that will soon follow through the rear of these abandoned properties and I think it serves as a stark reminder of how the inner-link killed off parts of it’s surroundings like some sort of urban ebola as it flowed through the veins of 1960/70’s Norwich. To ram home this point, George Plunkett had been to the very same spot some 80 years earlier than myself as if he knew somehow what was coming:
A fantastic-looking slice of old Norwich, soon to be lost in the name of progress, captured in 1936 by our City’s most famous photographer: George Plunkett.
Moving a few hundred meters to the West we encounter the next fascinating picture from the envelope handed over back in 2011 and it is of a rather delapidated-looking Norwich City Station, this time looking South. You can just about make out Station Road on the right leading out onto the Barn Road we now know, unrecognisable today with its four lanes of traffic replacing the narrow cobbled street that it used to once be:
Former M&GN terminus of the British Railway replacement Norwich City Station building.
What really helps you to locate this image is the position of both the City Hall Clock and the New Mills pumping Station on the other side of the river from this angle. Station Road (Barn road) is sandwiched between river and the station building on the left of the image before it made a right angle onto the bridge that then took the road over the river towards a T-junction with Oak Street.
This Ghost image puts the original image into today’s context.
Originally the railway bridge was built to ease access into the newly-built terminus and to help people from the Eastern approaches make it over the river, but now it carries far more traffic than Barnard Bishop and Barnard could have ever imagined when they built it. It is now one of a pair of bridges that sit side by side as they both carry two lanes of traffic in opposite directions along the Inner link at St Crispins Road as it heads East towards the flyover, cutting the flow of the ancient Oak Street as it does so. This beautiful old bridge is now lost in amongst the concrete and tarmac and can only be viewed from the footpath that used to be Barn Road or the path running alongside the opposite bank of the Wensum.
The impressive City bridge of 1882, now hidden by a larger concrete bridge carrying traffic in the opposite direction, note the Tram-Driver’s urinal in the background.
The next image is taken just to the right of the above bridge, just outside the boundary of Norwich City Station from City Road, showing you how close the road was to the river before the inner-link turned up. It also shows New Mills Yard and the Westwick Street Corporation Depot along with factories lining the opposite bank of the Wensum. You can also see that the fence is made is made from sleepers that would have come from the nearby railway.
New Mills Yard from Station road, 4 lanes of Barn Road now rumble by on the right.
The photographer then turns around and crosses the road to take another look at the sorry-looking, abandoned Station building of the Norwich City Station, which at this point was still operating as a goods yard. You can just about make out City Station Bridge behind the overgrown grass. This station was thrown up during the war, fabricated out of concrete sectional huts that can still be found along parts of the railways after the original and grand-looking station had been destroyed by enemy action in World War 2. At this point it looks as if the local kids have smashed in all the windows and it must have been taken just before demolition. Just behind this ruined building now sits the massive roundabout that now turns the inner-link 90 degrees towards St Crispins and also gives entry to Barker Street and its industrial area known as City Industrial Estate, named as such because it is built upon City Station’s massive Goods and Coal Yards. There were at some point plans to build another main road here running off the the roundabout and along the Marriott’s Way to Sweetbriar, but thankfully these plans were thwarted.
A sorry-looking end for City Station.
Of course, I have another couple of Ghost images on hand to help you put the area into context. This one is taken from a little further back and shows a tidier-looking Station whilst it was still open to passengers. You can see that the Inner-link sweeps its way through the image with scant regard to the history in which it copied and pasted itself on top of:
Note the British Railways sign on the right and the later nod to the area’s past on the sign to the left.
The second ghost image is taken on the other side of the main station building and is looking at a DMU parked up at Platform 1 in anticipation of its return journey to Melton Constable (and most likely on to Cromer) along the former M&GN system as if snaked its way through the beautiful Norfolk Countryside. You can make out the old railway bridge to the right and it really shows how little room Station Road had as it squeezed its way between the Station and the river. Another interesting point to consider is that there was a siding to the right that left the station boundary, crossed the road (and its tramline) and made its way all the way across to New Mills Yard for loading coal onto barges to be used at the Palace Gas Works.
In this image you can see the platforms in relation to the current roundabout. Note the surviving EMR (East Midlands Railway) spandrels of 1882.
The coal barge sidings, still visible to this day at New Mills.
This next image comes from another source, but I’m adding it in here due to its relevance to City Station and its demolition to make way for the Inner-link road. It’s taken at almost the same spot as the black and white picture above, only this time it’s in colour and only two metal supports stand proud of the rubble around them. It appears to have attracted a crowd, a few of which were taking pictures. Now the station building has mostly gone you can see across the river and over to Oak Street/St Martins Road and the roof of the old Hall is clearly visible, along with the riverside flats, closer to Wensum Park. The cobbled remains of Station Road can just be made out in the foreground.
Curtains for Norwich City Station. Note the old car (Ford Anglia?) left on top of the coaling stage.
I could of course go on with exapmples of the what the Inner-link had swept away on its journey around the City Center but I can only go on the images I was given and I’d like to go outside once in a while so I’ll retrace our photographers steps as he made his way deeper into what was left of Norwich City Station, only a few years prior to the above images.
The next image shows City Station from the end of Platform One, a few hundred feet North of where the colour image above was taken. The Station had been closed to passengers for three years at this point but the goods yards and coal yards were still very much in use and in doing so they were holding up the construction of the Inner-link. The locomotive is a B12 and is running around it’s train to turn itself around on the 60 foot turntable. This train was to be the last passenger train ever to leave Norwich City on a special tour in 1962. The goods yard soldiered on for another 7 years before being moved to Thorpe and Victoria so that the Inner-link could finally be built.
City Station, looking North towards Mile Cross. The locomotive is still in service in 2019 on the North Norfolk Railway almost 60 years after this image was snapped.
On to the last image now and it was taken shortly after the one above. It shows the crew using the vacuum operated turntable to turn their beautiful steam locomotive around so that they can re-attach it to the opposite end of their train of carriages. They then backed the whole lot into Platform One in anticipation of its final farewell to passenger rail on the M&GN after it was prematurely killed off by British Rail and the apparent need for cars and lorries over rural railways. I made a crude attemp at adding some colour to the image back in 2011 and it’s this image I’ll use to end this blog entry on.
Before I sign off, I’ll just share a link to the following 1972 EAFA video showing parts of of the Inner-Link under construction, particularly the building of the flyover and you can see in the video that the point is well and truely trying to be made that there was a need for the Inner-Link to built to reduce what they considered to be traffic congestion back then. If the original film-maker is still with us I’d like to urge them to go back and make another video of it all as it is now and ask them if maybe they would have thought about it differently with the benefit of hindsight.
Thanks for reading,