FONCS: Friends of Norwich City Station

Straying away from the estate for a bit, I’m going to be talking about how the digital world can bring people together in the real world.

Since being knee-high to a grass hopper I’ve been fascinated by a stretch of path that runs along the back of Sloughbottom Park. It starts at the inner-link road by Halfords and makes its way along the Wensum Valley all the way to Themelthorpe, before curving East towards Reepham. You’ve probably heard of it as it’s called: ‘The Marriott’s Way’; but before it got ‘all official’ it was just an overgrown and dusty old path where a railway used to run. Back then it was mostly impassable in Summer and littered with the wrecks of stolen and burnt out cars and bikes.

I first encountered the path as a child. My Auntie used to live in Costessey in a house somewhere near Leewood Crescent (I can’t remember exactly where) and later, my Nan lived in a Bungalow at the bottom of Oval Road. Back in those days my family did a lot of walking, and the most direct route to go and visit these nearby family members would have been through Sloughbottom Park and down the old railway line. The path wasn’t metaled back then as it wasn’t officially a path, so it was often full of nettles or damp and muddy. Or both. I remember in the height of Summer having to fight our way through the nettles with a stick. Even so it was quicker to go this way rather than follow the roads. I’d be back and forth along here on a regular basis and the path became well and truly etched into my memories.

One day my mum stopped at a stretch of brick wall that I’d never noticed before – even though I must have walked past it countless times (It must have been exposed from the weeds because of winter die-back) – to give me an impromptu history lesson. She told me that it used to be the site of an old railway station called Hellesdon that had been closed back in the 1960’s. She had vague recollections of it even though it had shut to passengers back in 1952. The station still served Norfolk County Council as a storage spot for road aggregates. The station building being used for other things, such as a Sunday School and later as the headquarters for a company named: ‘Anglian Culinary Services’.

The building eventually fell into disrepair and was used as a drinking hotspot for youths from the nearby Marlpit Housing Estate. To resolve this problem the council decided to knock the building down. Unfortunately this turned out to be a rather a short-sighted solution. Along with the Station house about a third of the platform was also destroyed, and then weirdly finished off neatly with some later, red brick. Hellesdon 1 Continue reading “FONCS: Friends of Norwich City Station”

Running from Ghosts

Just a short entry to keep things bubbling along whilst I work on a ‘War and Peace’ sized item about Mile Cross pubs…

Anybody who went to the Dowson Junior or Mile Cross Middle schools will probably remember the fabled cross-country course. It was situated behind Sloughbottom Park and on what is now the Marriott’s Way. We’d run from the School field on the opposite side of Bowers Avenue (more on the schools later), through the corner of Sloughbottom Park, up and down through a storm drain, along an abandoned railway and through a bit of woodland recently killed off by May and Baker’s pollution. There’s a reason why Mile Cross kids had a reputation for being hard little so and so’s…

The first obstacle we’d encounter was known as the ‘Big Dipper’, which basically meant running through a gap in the fence and into (and back out of) the storm drain. This storm drain appears from the ground near Sweetbriar Indutrial estate and runs along, behind the park, behind the Council Recycling Centre (The tip) and Anderson’s Meadow before depositing all its oily surface run-off water into the Wensum, just behind the new Aldi (former Wickes site). It was full of oil, water, rubbish and god-knows-what, and it was advisable to jump over, rather than run through it. The second obstacle we’d encounter would be to run down another steep hill and onto the former M&GN trackbed. This wasn’t the neatly-trimmed path we know now, but the remains of a railway that had only recently had the sleepers removed. It was overgrown, full of nettles and was often littered with the burnt-out wrecks of stolen cars (the 1980’s was blighted by ‘joyriding’). We’d travel West along the old track-bed before taking a right at the Sweetbriar Road bridge and into the next obstacle: A dead, hilly bit of woodland, full of dead Silver Birch trees – reeking of chemicals – which then lead us back into Sloughbottom Park through another hole in the fence.

A couple of stories stick in my mind from the Cross Country run:

My schoolmate at the time: Billie (William) took a tumble down the big-dipper and broke his hip. For reasons unknown to me, his mother quickly appeared on the scene with a rickety, old push-chair which was used as a makeshift stretcher to wheel him back across Sloughbottom Park and off to the hospital; the agonised moans coming from his mouth as he was bounced across the grass in that pushchair (that was far too small for him) still stick in my mind and to this day and I often wonder where he is now.

The ‘Big Dipper’:

MXdipper Continue reading “Running from Ghosts”

There be Pirates!

Tucked away in a quiet little corner of Sloughbottom park is a faint little oval in the grass. When the sun shines and the rain falls, it can be easily overlooked in between the irregular Council grass trims. I remember it looking a lot fresher as a kid in the 80’s, the 80 yard Harco-surfaced track was fresh and it was still occasionally being used.

I remember the park-keeper at the time, a friendly old boy named Phil (Pilbrow?) who my friends and I would often chat to, and he would occasionally bore us with tales of how back in the day he was a bit of a demon on the cycle speedway. If only I knew then (a scruffy-looking little scamp on BMX) that in the future I’d be sitting at a PC blogging about him, I’d have probably paid a bit more interest in what he was trying tell us. When he’d finally get bored of our glazed-over and disinterested faces he’d disappear back into the Pavilion to get back on with his work. This would be the cue for this cheeky little collection of scamps to pick up his funny little green 3-wheeled Council van (remember those?) and relocate it somewhere impossible for him to drive it out of, before cycling away as fast as we could. In hindsight, had he wanted to chase us down we’d chosen the wrong man to tempt fate with on a bicycle!

mxtrack Continue reading “There be Pirates!”

The slough and the Knight.

For whatever geological reasons, the slough (pronounced ‘slew’) is a natural depression that sits at the Junction of Hellesdon Hall Road, Drayton Road (formerly Lower Hellesdon Road) and at the base of Galley Hill. I discovered that it used to be referred to as ‘the Slough’ after reading it in an old Raleigh Cycle Guide that dad found in an old barn in Rackheath back in the 1980’s. This old magazine was printed long before the estate even existed and noted the bad condition of the roadway here.

It wasn’t until very recently that the Council got around fixing the drainage issues that have blighted the area for as far back as I can remember, and going by the old magazine, a lot further; even predating the invention of the motor car. This area always filled with water after moderate rain and at still to this day floods a little further along at the junction of Whiffler Road after a particularly heavy downpour.

15914594494_a3c962fa09_o Continue reading “The slough and the Knight.”

Over the Wensum and down with a bump.

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.MXBridge3.jpg Continue reading “Over the Wensum and down with a bump.”

The King, the Queen and the Church.

After the initial phase of house building on the estate was complete attentions were turned towards providing more amenities for the inhabitants of Mile Cross. It was the 1930’s and a third pub and a Church were to be built in close proximity to each other at the northern end of Mile Cross Road.

St Catherine’s Church went up first, it’s foundation Stone was laid by Queen Mary on the 2nd February 1935 and it had opened it’s doors by November the next year. It stands proudly looming over the crossroads of the Mile Cross, Aylsham and Woodcock roads replacing the earlier, Victorian-built St Katherine’s Mission Room of the 1880’s. It is a huge and imposing church when you get up close and personal with it, built primarily out of brick-faced concrete that seems to change colour depending on the light. It was funded somewhat ironically by the Wills Cigarette Family. I’m not a religious man by any means but I do love a nice bit of architecture and this building is rich in it; both inside and out, especially with its Art-Deco inspired interior. Next time you’re passing, pop in and have a look, you might be surprised at how attractive it is. I found the staff (is that the right word?) most welcoming too.

MXqueen Continue reading “The King, the Queen and the Church.”

Mile Cross – topography to the point

Before I start, here’s a little warning to let you know that you’re going to see the word “point” a lot. Sorry.

At the very south-western extreme of the estate, the two major boundary routes, the Fakenham and Aylsham Roads meet at a single point. It’s at this point (I did warn you) that you can get a real feel for the topography of the estate. Aylsham Road heads uphill slightly all the way up to the Boundary, and the Fakenham road drops away sharply as it heads off down into the bottom of the Wensum Valley before slowly creeping back up towards Hellesdon. Even out here, Norfolk is far from flat.

MXpoint Continue reading “Mile Cross – topography to the point”

Mile Cross – expansion and toilets.

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).

MX old new Continue reading “Mile Cross – expansion and toilets.”