Norwich in the late fifties and sixties when I was growing up was a relatively quiet backwater, it’s never been easy to get here because of the dire road system and today more than fifty years on we are still waiting for the dual carriageway to be extended all the way from here to… well basically the rest of the UK. There is a gap, supposedly planned for completion in the next year of five between Thetford and Barton Mills. It’s about eight miles of misery any afternoon you want to get into Norfolk. Escaping isn’t quite so slow but it can still be torturous.
The town where I grew up is actually a city, we have a cathedral built by the Normans. It did take 49 years but that compares rather favourably with La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s unfinished job in Barcelona. While they were about it they also found time to throw up a castle in what is now the centre. Considering they only arrived in 1066 they certainly cracked on as it was finished by 1075. It was used as a prison and a visit to the dungeons was always a great experience. There used to be a well you could drop a coin down and wait patiently for the “plop” as it finally hit the water. As castles go it’s probably not that big or adventurous in design but as a landmark it’s pretty good.
As a child I can just remember the livestock market, in the shadow of the castle, on a Saturday with cows and sheep in pens across what used to be the Cattle Market. This is now the site of a rather mediocre shopping centre. It was built too small and therefore was unable to attract a big name store as an ‘anchor’ tenant.
Norwich has improved over the years and is apparently one of the top ten places to shop in the UK, I’m not quite sure why. The arrival of the far superior and larger Chapelfield shopping centre adjacent to Marks & Spencer is probably the main justification for such an accolade. The key shop is House of Fraser, not as big as Bluewater or Oxford Street it nevertheless has provided a much needed alternative to Bonds or John Lewis as they insisted on renaming it.
For train commuters Norwich is the end of the line both metaphorically and literally, trains to London run on the hour in both directions but take almost two hours to get there. Some years ago when it was still British Rail or possibly Anglia Railways, I can’t remember who exactly, they introduced a “fast” service that stopped only once at Ipswich, one hour forty, amazing. Didn’t last, I think when punctuality targets were introduced it was far too risky to promise such a blistering time so back to just under two hours and that is how it has stayed. The coaches leave a lot to be desired too, if you travel on Great Western into Paddington you are travelling first class compared to us.
We have an airport, Norwich International, you can fly anywhere providing you don’t mind going via Schipol. The owners introduced an airport development fee of £5 that you have to pay to fly in 2007, this is to help pay for improving the airport.
Over the years I have come to regard Norwich as a safe comfortable place to live, it has one of the lowest rainfalls in the UK, it is relatively safe and people are reputed to live longer in the county. But it’s parochial, we may have better shops but the job situation is awful, all the industry has disappeared. There used to flour mills, engineering, electronics, a chocolate manufacturer, a successful shoe industry. All gone. The Guildhall used to house some very fine silverware made locally. It seems to me that Norwich peaked sometime in the middle ages but failed to maintain its position.
If we could just improve the links to the outside world it would be so much better, but then I’ve lived elsewhere and I know what we’re missing.