For a couple of my previous pieces ( Old Farm Lane and Sweetbriar Marsh ) I’d been studiously looking into the countryside landscape and the scattering of buildings that were here in what we now call Mile Cross, long before the later housing estate turned up. Whilst poring over the old maps and aerial photographs, searching the landscape for anything of interest, my eyes kept falling upon a little lane that was lost long ago. This little lane was called “Half Mile Lane” and it ran south from Upper Hellesdon Road (now Aylsham Road) down to Lower Hellesdon Road (now Drayton Road), seeming only exist to enable the local farmers to access the many fields that made up our landscape and to connect the two main roads together. Unlike the bloated and expanding city we live in today, Norwich had barely stretched out this far along Lower Hellesdon Road, the only buildings of any merit being the ancient Lower Hellesdon Farm and the pair of old Red Cottages about half a mile further out at the slough bottom. However, at the northern end of Half Mile Lane where it met Upper Hellesdon (Aylsham) Road, The city had been a little more adventurous, managing to branch its way out along the busy, Aylsham/Cromer Road as far as the boundary. Along this busier trunk road, which led out to Aylsham and the then the coast, the maps show that there were plenty of homes and businesses dotted along it all the way from the inner boundary at the old city walls, right the way up to the outer boundary of the city and county at the imaginatively named boundary at St Faith’s Cross, or the area known then as Mile Cross.
Why this particular little country lane with no buildings along it had intrigued me so much is anyone’s guess, but when I started searching for any references to it I wasn’t really expecting to find anything. To my delight I kept finding the road mentioned in newspaper articles from the early 1900’s, which only helped to feed my curiosities further. The lane was not completely forgotten by the passing of time either and two later-added roads, part of the “Mill Hill” extension to Mile Cross estate; Half Mile Road and Half Mile Close were named after it, even though they don’t mirror it. On top of this, although the old Half Mile Lane no longer exists in name, many of us have regularly and unwittingly travelled the northernmost half of it as we walk or drive along the later-added Mile Cross Road.
The wandering wonderer. I’m often wandering about Norwich with my camera in hand and my head in two separate places, usually the same space but in two completely different time-zones. No, not like you used to see in those 1980’s movies where some Fleet-Street shyster dressed in a suite that needed a volume control, who has three or four clocks on the wall behind him showing New York, London and Japan whilst he arrogantly barks down a mobile phone the size of a breeze-block. My head can be found wandering and wondering through and across completely different sets of decades, or floating between completely different centuries.
This is a story that I have already written about in the past, over two separate pieces and I thought it was about time to merge the two old posts together to tell the whole story in one. It’s a story that demands attention and it makes far more sense to be able to read it all in one sitting.
In the very northern corner of the estate and just behind the Boundary Pub is a quiet little cul-de-sac named Spynke Road. Like a lot of the roads up there on the very fringes of the boundary it wasn’t always this quiet. Most of the roads adjoining Boundary Road were once connected directly to it, allowing for people to use it as a rat-run to avoid the increasing volumes of traffic building up on the increasingly-busy outer ring road. Soon these roads were deemed too unsafe for the local residents and it was decided that for everybody’s safety it would make sense to have them closed off. Because of these road closures the area now has a strangely quiet and closed-off feel, but with the unrelenting background drone of traffic. As annoying as that background droning may be to the visitors or new residents, the modern day residents of Spynke Road are probably more than happy for that to be the only drone they need to worry about, as will become apparent later on.
I wrote a piece some time ago now about the names of the roads here on the old estate and the possible/probable thinking behind them, and there’s one road in particular that stands out for me above the rest. It stands out not because it’s named to echo the memory of a famous person who once frequented the streets of Norwich eons ago, or out of some sort of pride-fuelled 1920’s civic duty. This particular road name is purely a nod to what was here, in this exact spot long before the estate and its rows of lovely new houses appeared on the scene. This is a lane where the path has been well-trodden by footsteps for centuries. This particular road formed part of a much-longer road than it does now and occupies the southern-most stretch of the only road that cut from north to south across what we now call Mile Cross. Other than the two main trunk roads (Aylsham and Drayton) that now border the estate as they head in and out of old Norwich, it’s probably the oldest road on the entire estate. The road I’m talking about is a short little road, now closed off at one end, just next to the entrance the nineties Lidl Supermarket on Drayton Road, and it’s named “Old Farm Lane”.
August 24th, 2001. To start with it was a morning like any other, I’d dragged myself out of bed and was unenthusiastically contemplating breakfast before another day of staring blankly into a computer screen in a bland office. However, my weekday morning indifference was to be interrupted by a vibrating mobile phone on my bedside table, making me wonder; who on earth is calling me at this time of day? As I flipped open the phone, there was the name ‘Dad’ on the screen, which was odd for two reasons; he was normally at work by now, and if they ever wanted anything it would usually be mum who rang, as dad and I never really see eye to eye. Casually intrigued, I pressed the answer button and said: “Hiya, what’s up?”
A trembling voice that almost sounded like dad, but not as I’d ever heard him before simply replied: “help”. Now, at that time, Dad’s car – a mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier – was notoriously shit, leading me to instantly assume that he had just dropped mum off at work and that the unreliable Vauxhall shit-box had broken down (again) leaving him stranded somewhere on the A47 between Norwich and Brundall. My short-lived assumptions were about to be stopped in their tracks like a car running into the side of a bridge by the next few words that would leave my dad’s mouth: “Your mum’s dead”.
My response, which still haunts me to this day was: “OK, I’ll just finish my breakfast and I’ll be right over”. A shock like that and the way a person reacts to it can be simply baffling.
Susan (Sue) Lane was a Tuckswood Girl born in 1955 and she grew up on Fountains Road on the southern fringes of the then fairly new estate, built during the post-war housing boom. She went to the nearby Hewett School where she performed well as a student and shortly after leaving her full-time education she was introduced by her cousin (as pen pals) to a chap he had befriended in the same regiment as him in the British Army, a young Glaswegian chap named John. After exchanging letters, they instantly hit it off and by November of 1974 they were married at St Paul’s Church in Tuckswood. The day of their marriage was the only the third time they’d actually met in person! As a result of this whirlwind romance I entered this mortal realm in 1976 as an army baby, born in Tidworth Military Hospital. For some reason and even though the Maternity Block had recently been refurbished the hospital closed 5 months later in March 1977. Perhaps it was something I’d said?
How do you write a piece about a man you’ve never actually seen a photograph of but know so much detail about? It’s quite hard and this is why I love historical photography, particularly photographs of people. If the subject is looking at the camera you can see into their eyes. Even if they’re no longer with us you can almost get a sense for the soul lurking behind those eyes looking back at you across the years. Unfortunately I can’t make this particular connection with the man I’m about to talk about and it troubles me a little.
Albert Bayes came into this world on the 13th May 1890 at 4 Kensington Place, Lakenham and the life that was mapped out before this particular Lakenham boy was going to be something of a rollercoaster, which I’m going to delve into shortly; but as is often the case when I look into the history of people, I get side-tracked and stumble across hidden little corners of Norwich I’d never considered and this is the case here. The Kensington Place in which Albert was born only really survives in name these days as the tightly-packed double-row of houses, accessed by a small entrance off Queens Road have been swept away for some 1960’s un-improvements. However, the original entrance alleyway still survives along with the only real clue to it’s former use in an old yard-style name-plate, but it’s a blink and you’ll miss it affair as it’s so tiny.
It’s interesting to think that this tight little alleyway was once the main entrance to so many houses on a piece of land sandwiched between City Road, Hall Road and Queens Road and only a stones-throw from St Mark’s Church where a young Albert would have been christened. Unlike the cramped yards of the era, these houses looked as though they had a little bit of outside space, both front and rear and a chance at some good amounts of daylight once you’d entered through the tiny alleyway. As I stood in that tiny, little conduit taking the photograph below I could almost feel the ghosts of young Albert and the rest of his family brushing by as they made their way in an out of their home over a century previously.
If you speak to anybody who remembers growing up on the Mile Cross Estate from the very early days and right through until the 1960’s it won’t take them too long before they mention a seemingly infamous character going by the name of “Fungi”, his farm or his pit. “Old Fungi”, “Farmer Fungi” or even “Cowboy Fungi” was actually a chap named Arthur Prentice and he had moved out of the city centre to and into number 64 Appleyard Crescent to be closer to the countryside, which back then was just across the road.
Arthur was a Market Gardener who before relocating to Mile Cross had lived at Rupert Street and Waddington Street and in 1911 at the age of 33 married Minnie Abbs at the Holy Trinity Church on Essex Street. Arthur’s father was a Bankers Agent named Frederick Prentice and his wife, Minnie came from a Gardening family; her father Jacob Abbs profession being a Gardener, which is probably how Arthur and Minnie had met.
Way back in 1928 a couple going by the names of William and Dorothy Beeston (Billy and Doll) moved into their new home right here in the middle of the Mile Cross estate. Both born in 1900 and aged 28, they’d travelled up from Suffolk to live here and the reason for their relocation across the border and into Norwich was in pursuit of a new career and a new life.
Billy had decided to move up to Mile Cross to try and make a life-long career out being a railwayman. As was the norm back then, he would have had to work incredibly hard in the pursuit of his dreams, starting at the very bottom and working his way up through the ranks, which was the only way when chasing a life on the rails. Luckily, young Billy had managed to land himself a job as an engine cleaner at Thorpe Station’s Shed 32A working for London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), which would turn out to be his first step on the long ladder towards his dreams of becoming a steam-engine driver.
With the 100th anniversary for the first ever council-built homes appearing in Norwich approaching quickly, along with the fact that I’ve been contacted by various people from the City Council to the national and local press to offer up my opinions, I thought I’d better type something up about this interesting and important anniversary and take a look back over the last century of social housing right here in Norwich. Before I start proper I’d better mention that some of this info has been taken from (and in some cases corrected) the centenary section on the City Council’s website, which I’ve sorted into a crude chronological order, added to, and worded in my own way; a lot of which I’ve also already written about previously during the last three years of this blog.
As I’ve touched upon – frequently – before; by the end of the First World War in 1918 there was a huge demand for housing in the cities and towns throughout Britain, the problem becoming so large that it was now an unavoidable one for the British Government. By 1919, Parliament had passed an ambitious Housing Act, or the creatively-named: “The 1919 Act” (also known as the ‘Addison Act’) which promised generous subsidies to help finance the construction of up to 500,000 houses within a three-year timescale.
I haven’t written anything in a while as my head’s been in a bit of a muddle, but after popping out out for an evening walk with the kids a week or so back, a few bits and pieces of an old puzzle began to form in my head. We’d ended up just over the water from Mile Cross and in a little play-park situated in the corner of quiet and secluded green space that is probably missed by the majority of Norwich as they drive on past. I was sat on a swing hidden from the last dregs of the rush-hour traffic under the suspicious gaze of the tower of St Bartholomew’s. When I say tower; I mean just the tower, as that is all that remains of this former village church; and when I say gaze, I mean that I could literally feel the eyes of the surviving grotesques staring at me from the top of the nearby tower.