A Brief History Of The Streets

This celebration all began in 2010 on Magdalen Street and now in 2012 will expanded to cover both Magdalen Street and St. Augustine's Street.  These areas where largely part of the historic district of Norwich Over the Water.  Here's a brief history of the two streets as well as the inspiration for the festival!

Looses Store, 1935, Copyright: George Plunkett

Magdalen Street: A History of Diversity 

Magdalen Street was the most important thoroughfare in Norwich-over-the-water. (This is Morant's street map of 1873.) Until the 1960s this was a completely self-contained medieval quarter, full of workshops and factories. For centuries much of the industry that made Norwich fabulously wealthy was concentrated in this area and you can still see clues today. Beneath the veneer of the modern shops, the street’s character is much closer to districts like Santa Croce, the leather-working area of Florence, than any industrial British city. 

In medieval times, the Strangers and other migrants and refugees settled in Magdalen Street, with densely packed courts and alleys such as Twinemakers – a long alley for stretching out ropes. There are the houses of wealthy Tudor merchants, with massive wooden doors concealing private courts.

Georgian architecture is represented by Gurney Court, which you can see through a wrought iron gate not far from St Saviours. Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker prison reformer, was born here and it’s where her father set up Gurneys Bank - later merged with Barclays. And perhaps the saddest sight is number 44, almost opposite. Once it must have been the finest house in the street; now it’s slowly rotting away.

At the start of the twentieth century there were fifty food and drink shops in the street – now there are nine; and twenty pubs – today three. A saddler, a blacksmith, a basket-maker, a cabinet-maker and countless other trades kept Magdalen Street self-sufficient.

In 1959 a spectacular makeover of the street was admired and copied nationally, it won the first Civic Trust award for regeneration. This photo shows Barclays Bank at Stump Cross. Botolph Street forks to the left, Magdalen Street to the right.

The construction of the St Saviour’s flyover and the Anglia Square shopping centre served to sever the northern stretch of the street from the rest of Norwich-over-the-water.

Today something extraordinary is happening. The street buzzes with renewed energy; new shops and businesses are springing up; artisans are making things in new workshops. And a new scheme for Anglia Square has been approved.

The most important part of this transition is the people – the local community, some of whose families have lived here for centuries, some of whom are are new arrivals, drawn to the vibrancy and diversity of the neighborhood, just as the Strangers did in Tudor times.

We’re celebrating Magdalen Street’s future – we hope you’ll join us.

Jane Chittenden and Stefi Barna

To explore more of Magdalen Street's history and read about Jane's tour of the street with history guide, Rod Spokes, visit the Transition Norwich blog here.

St Augustine's: Norwich's Hidden Heritage   

St. Augustine's Street, early 1900s
St Augustine's is one of Norwich's hidden gems. Probably known to most people as a street they rush through on their way somewhere else, it is in fact much more than just a thoroughfare; it is a place of green spaces and play areas, secluded courtyards and neat streets full of well-maintained Georgian and Victorian houses. Here you’ll find a surprising range of buildings and architectural styles, including substantial portions of the city’s medieval walls, a 15th-century church and great hall, the longest continuous row of Tudor cottages in England, a 17th-century Quaker meeting house, the oldest Jewish and Quaker cemeteries in Norwich and a 19th-century, Grade II-listed gentlemen’s urinal, thought to be the oldest surviving concrete urinal in Britain!

The St Augustine’s area is also home to what remains of a large open space known as the Gildencroft (now a public park), which was once used to practice jousting, archery and a rough-and-ready early form of football known as ‘campings’. A nearby housing estate, The Lathes, takes its name from a farm that was managed here in the Middle Ages by stewards appointed by the Great Hospital in Bishopsgate.     

St. Augustine's Carnival, 1930s style. (Photo courtesy of Viv Lynes)
St Augustine’s is arguably the last part of the city still known by its parish name. Although the earliest known reference to a church in Norwich dedicated to St Augustine is dated 1163, the building that stands here now mainly dates from the late 15th century. Its attractive brick tower was built in 1688 to replace the original flint-faced spire, which had fallen down ten years earlier; its orangey-red colour earning the folk who lived in the parish the nickname Red Steeplers. Inside is a fascinating collection of memorials, including no less than seven war memorials to individuals and the parish’s collective war dead; more than any other church in Norwich other than the cathedral, a reflection of the terrible toll on the area’s population extracted by two world wars. The building is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

St. Augustine's Gate by Henry Ninham, 1791    
For more than 300 years the St Augustine’s area was famous for it weavers, in particular for the sumptuous silk shawls they produced. A sculpted brick column at the southern entrance to St Augustine's Street, engraved with the curious names of some of the fabrics once woven here, commemorates this heritage. During the 19th and 20th centuries the local textile trade was gradually replaced by the boot and shoe-making industry, which employed the majority of people who lived here, working long hours in their homes and local factories.

St Augustine’s Street was once a thriving high street with up to 80 shops and 10 pubs. After years of decline the area is now regenerating with new houses under construction and new businesses taking over some of its long-empty shop premises, all helped by the area’s improved traffic management system – the St Augustine’s one-way gyratory – completed in 2011. 
Stuart McLaren

ACT (St Augustine’s Community Together Residents’ Association) –  is now in its tenth year of existence, while a new hireable community space, The Stage (St Augustine’s Gateway Enterprise) has recently opened at 52 St Augustine’s Street. (Click here to email for more information.)

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