Saturday, 19 October 2013

King Street: reflections of the past

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I’VE collected a shelf-full of local books over the last ten years or so. And a dark green hardback with a ripped dust jacket and a 16 shilling price tag is proving very useful for the King Street chapter.

If Stones Could Speak was written by R H Mottram. Mottram was a novelist and a First World War poet who loved the city of Norwich. He was its Lord Mayor in 1953 and was also a staunch defender of Mousehold Heath. If Stones… is a romp through the history of Norwich, but done geographically rather than historically. So Chapter VI, for example, is dedicated to King Street:

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“There is no doubt as to which of the Norwich streets is most connected with the sea. In King Street you find the signs of the Ship and the Old Barge, the Ferry Inn and the Keel and Wherry. One of its by-streets, descending the deep slope to the west of it, is Mariners Lane. Here is Waterman’s Yard and Swan Yard.

“For half its length, the long, straight, street leading due south from the old market-place on Tombland, into South Norfolk, runs parallel with the River Wensum.

“Here, at the continuous line of “staithes”, as they call a quay or landing place in Norfolk, are tied up the craft, mainly registered in London or north-west Europe, that bring to Norwich all varieties of bulky, non-perishable goods. Mills and breweries, engineering and constructional works line the banks, which, like so many things in Norwich, have never become entirely sacrificed to ruthless commerce”.

I’m going to quote at least that last paragraph in my book. It seems to sum up a 1950s King Street very nicely. A non-conformist, Mottram was buried in a beautiful spot within the Rosary Road cemetery. Forty two years after his death, all hail Ralph Hale Mottram.

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