Saturday, 12 October 2013

A viaduct across the Wensum

Wensum Viaduct3

THIS wonderful vision of an alternative future for the King Street riverside comes from possibly the most famous document the city council has ever produced.

City of Norwich Plan 1945 mapped out a 50-year blueprint across 135 pages of elegant prose. (When did council officials stop writing in plain English?)

An inner ring road and an outer ring road would converge on this tall viaduct “carrying a high-level road from Bracondale to the railway bridge at the junction of Carrow Road and Clarence Road.” It would be, they claimed, “a light and elegant structure of great beauty, and would command a wonderful view of the old city from which it would be seen as a terminating feature and a break between it and the commercial and industrial zone further down the river valley”.

The conventional 21st century wisdom is to say thank goodness it was never built – to be fair it was controversial from the start. But I’m not so sure. In fact I can’t argue with a word of the authors’ comments. And even if you do, remember that the inner ring road is still not complete some 70 years later. To this day traffic still crawls down King Street and across Carrow Bridge to get to Thorpe St Andrew.

The 1945 masterplan is worth quoting elsewhere – particularly with regard to the river:

“While Norwich has turned her back to the Wensum, industry has helped herself. At present the river is looked upon chiefly as a commercial utility providing a cheap form of transport; but unfortunately whilst rendering this old established service, it has encouraged the evil of an ugly spread of unsightly buildings and ramshackle sheds along its banks as well as the defilement of its waters by effluent from various factories…

“Except for short stretches of its course, the Wensum is at present overshadowed by grim walls, hidden by ugly barriers and inaccessible to the public as an amenity within the city: the potential attractions of the river are almost lost. We propose that its banks should be cleaned wherever possible and opened up for the public to enjoy the pleasures of the river which is one of the largest open spaces in the city.”

We’ve come a long way haven’t we? Nice work messrs C H Jones FRIBA, S Rowland Pierce FRIBA and H C Rowley, City Engineer.

* More on the viaduct from Nick J Stone here.

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