Norwich the Old City A History of Norwich Page 6

20th Century Norwich

The 20th century opened with the heart of the city being transformed by the arrival of the tram system. Where the ancient route from St Stephens Street through the city had gone thro' Red Lion Street, White Lion Street, Gentlemans Walk and London Street; the demolition of a building next to the Bell Hotel now opened a new route thro' Castle Meadow. And the ancient West-East route from St Andrews thro' Princes Street to Tombland, was replaced by a new road cut thro' from St Andrews to St Martins at Plea church and onto Bank Plain. But considering the amount of upheaval and work involved in its construction, the tram system's life was short, being replaced by buses in 1935

In August 1912 continuous torrential rain fell, amounting to over 7 inches in nearly 30 hours. Many streets flooded as the drains became blocked, and eventually the River Wensum overflowed flooding over 3,500 houses in low level areas near the river.

The First World War saw the Norwich factories of Mann Egerton and Boulton & Paul producing aircraft. Mann Egerton made Short seaplanes for the Admiralty (On August 2nd 1915, one of Mann Egerton's seaplanes attacked and sank a Turkish freighter carrying supplies to Turkish troops opposing the Anzacs at Gallipoli. This was the first ship sunk by an aerial torpedo). Boulton & Paul made Sopwith Camels and other aircraft. By the end of the war they had produced over 2,500 aircraft.

In 1915 one of Norfolk's heroines - Edith Cavell - was executed by the Germans for helping prisoners-of-war escape. You can read about her on our 'Names & Legends' pages. By 1918, over 3,500 Norwich men had given their lives in the war.

The period between the World Wars was marked by the building boom which saw the area covered by housing expanding way outside the old city walls. The two peak years were 1927 and 1938 when over 1,100 houses were built each year. The 1938 boom was mainly to replace slum clearance housing inside the city walls.
High unemployment in the 1920's led to the unemployed being used to create the parks around the city - Earlham Park, Eaton Park and Wensum Park.

In the 1930's work began on the demolition of the buildings on St Peters Street and the Market Place for the building of the City Hall and new Market Place. The City Hall was opened in 1938, even though it wasn't finished (and still isn't today!).

During the Second World War, the German 'Baedeker' Air Raids caused a lot of damage across the city, mainly from incendiary bombs. How many businesses were destroyed isn't recorded, but of the 35,000 domestic dwellings in Norwich, 2,000 were destroyed, and another 27,000 suffered some damage. Fortunately, only 340 people were killed and 1,000 injured.

As the war ended, the city council revealed what it had been working on before the war. It was published as a book - 'The City of Norwich Plan 1945' - a grandiose scheme of massive redevelopment which fortunately never materialised.
But the seeds had been sown, and during the 60's Norwich Union led the way with the widening of St Stephens Street and the building of their office blocks.
The final part of St Peter Street (at the top of St Peter Mancroft church) was demolished to make a car park for the new City Library, and the pleasant green area of the Haymarket was turned into a concrete jungle.

The destruction of old Norwich continued in the 70's with the building of the inner link road which saw an ancient road junction and Tudor buildings in Magdalen Street demolished to make way for a fly-over and concrete shopping centre and office blocks.

The 90's saw the city centre again became a major building site with the Castle Mall being built above and under the old cattle market and under Farmers Avenue to the north side of Timber Hill. The Mall was opened in 1993.
And across the Wensum the Riverside Leisure Complex along with a retail park and housing was being built all the way along from Carrow Road Football Ground to Thorpe Station. Riverside Road disappeared, and a new road - Koblenz Avenue - was built around the outside of the new development.


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Copyright © Ken Ward 2004
Last Updated: 28 November 2006


Time Line
1901City population 111,733.
New Jenny Lind hospital opened on Unthank Road.
1903Grand Opera House opened, later to become the Norwich Hipperdrome (now a multi-storey carpark).
1909King Edward VII bestows title of Lord Mayor to the first citizen of Norwich.
1911Lord Mayor's coach presented by Sir Eustace Gurney.
1915The Thatched Cinema opens in All Saints Green.
1921The Maddermarket Theatre founded by Nugent Monck.
1927The Round Table organisation founded in Norwich by Louis Marchesi.
1932Work begins of new City Hall.
1938City Hall officially opened (29th October) by King George VI.
1940First air-raid on Norwich.
1942Year of heaviest air-raids on Norwich.
1960Cattle Market moved to Harfod Bridges.
1963Central Library opened.
University of East Anglia opened.
1965London Street pedestrianised.
1993Castle Mall opened.