I have lived in Norwich for ages, mostly on or around the Unthank Road, and became fascinated by the name and the distinctive style of housing found in this area.
“What’s in a name?” The name first occurs as William de Unthank (or Onthank) of Unthank Hall, Northumberland (ca 1231). Several explanations have been offered for the name .
- Unthank = thankless or unthankfulness
- the amount of land granted to a Saxon thane, or to a Scottish chieftain, each recipient holding “a thank” or one thane’s holding – about the size of a village or hamlet. A thane would be known as a “one thank man” and un/on thank was originally confined to the borderland between England and Scotland .
- Old English for land held without leave by squatters. Or common land annexed by outlaws, e.g., the border reivers.
Unthanks came down from the north to Norwich in the 17th century; others came in the 18th century  and became prosperous businessmen. In 1793 William Unthank moved outside the walls of the congested medieval city. He bought land in rural Heigham, just outside St Giles’ Gate, over a century before St John’s Catholic Cathedral was built (ca 1910).
The family amassed about 2500 acres of land on their Heigham Estate, stretching from St Giles’ Gate southwards to Eaton (aka Waitrose). This meant that when William’s son and heir, Clement William Unthank, went courting the heiress of the Intwood Estate, Mary Anne Muskett, he could ride for most of the journey without leaving family parkland [1,3, 4].
At first, Clement William and Mary Anne lived in Norwich at ‘Unthanks House’ near modern-day Bury and Onley Streets but in 1855 they moved to her childhood home, on the Intwood estate, at the outskirts of the city [3, 4]. (‘Onley’ was a family name of the Musketts).
Unthank Road and the New City The Unthanks had already begun to sell off parcels of their Heigham Estate for housing but this was accelerated when Clement William moved out to Intwood in 1855. This helped the spread of the New City. The old city itself contained unsanitary medieval courts  that had to wait until the C20th for demolition or improvement but Clement William’s buildings were of a higher standard. As the New City continued to be developed it became subject to the more enlightened bye-laws and acts that arrived in the latter half of the C19th [6,7].
Originally, ‘Unthanks Road’ had been known as Back Road – a private sandy lane on the Unthank estate . But between 1849-1870, when some of the early ‘Unthank’ streets (such as Essex, Cambridge and Trinity Streets) were built, Unthank Road became the main axis to which they were attached.
Norwich: “No place in England was further away from good building stone” Stefan Muthesius 
The Normans had to ferry stone for their cathedral from Caen in Normandy; much of the medieval city was built of flint but the new city was to be fronted in brick and slate. This was helped by the arrival of the railways, which also allowed easier access to slate from North Wales. Clement William Unthank closely regulated the appearance of the estate and builders had to sign restrictive covenants stating how brick and other building materials were to be used [5, 6].
- the building to be faced in good white brick and roofed in good slate or tiles
- that doors should be arched in gauged brick
- that no building be placed beyond the building line
- that no gable peak be allowed to the front of the house
- that no porch or projection should extend more than 18 inches from the building line unless agreed by Clement William Unthank
Uniform, flat-fronted terraces of a high standard were therefore assured across Unthank’s Heigham estate, as seen in Trinity Street below. Suffolk White bricks were known to have been used as were ‘Cossey Whites’ from the nearby village of Costessey. I lived for some years in Cambridge with its plain-fronted terraces of white brick and it was this that had drawn me to the Unthank estate.
Evidently, workers leaving the land for the city could be more economically housed in uniform terraces compared to the individuality of rural cottages. These modest houses may well have been a much diluted version of the Palladian houses and terraces seen by the upper classes on their Grand Tour. In Norwich, the use of white brick and arched doorways are likely to have been influenced by the expensive white bricks used for country houses like William Kent’s Holkham Hall in north Norfolk and John Soane’s Shottesham Park, which was only five miles south of Norwich – a short horse ride from CW Unthank’s new home at Intwood [7,8].
The widespread use of arches made of ‘gauged’ bricks fired in specially-shaped concentric templates, and the fineness of their pointing, is thought to be characteristic of Norwich [8, 9]. Nowadays, generations of owners have personalised the houses by painting over the gauged brick and adding porches that would have been frowned on by Clement William Unthank. This British reaction against uniformity was celebrated in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s ‘My pink half of the drainpipe’.
However, compared to the gentility of the front elevations the backs of buildings were generally constructed of cheaper materials.
The use of cruder materials to the back has been referred to as a Queen Anne front and a Mary Anne behind – as in the popular song: (6)
Queen Anne Front (lyric Robert Schmaltz) When Great Grandfather was a gay young man And Great Grandmother was his bride They found a lot, a jolly little spot Over on the old North Side It sloped down toward the river, from River Avenue Great Grandma said that it would give her Such a lovely view So they took a look in Godey's Ladies Book To see what they could find And they found a house, a jolly little house, With a Queen Anne front And a Mary Anne behind.
Larger houses for the middle classes were built along Unthank Road itself whereas the smaller houses for artisans were situated in the streets behind. As part of the Unthanks’ urban planning, trade was prohibited from the terraced houses so purpose-made public houses were confined to corner locations on back streets (e.g., York Tavern, Rose Tavern, Kimberley Arms and Unthank Arms).
So who was Colonel Unthank? Clement William Unthank sold much of the land his father had amassed on the Heigham Estate. His son, Clement William Joseph, continued to sell parts of the state for building but the effect is said to be less good . CWJ is the first of two Colonel Unthanks in this article. He was a captain in the 17th Lancers and Lieutenant Colonel of the 4th Volunteer Battalion of the Norfolk regiment [1, 4].
CWJ Unthank’s son was John Salusbury Unthank (below) who continued to develop the Heigham Estate into the C20th. He served in The Boer War and World War I, where he fought at The Somme and Ypres. So John Salusbury Unthank is the second Colonel of this article. Anecdotal evidence of him survives into the C20th and there may be some who still remember him [1,3,4].
Colonel Unthank would stride into Intwood church where the service would not start until he’d taken his place. Once, when he stood up in church to take off his mackintosh the congregation behind him also stood up, telling us something of his position in the community . Imagine.
In addition to the Unthank family the area was also developed by others, notably the Eaton Glebe estate . Their restrictive covenants also ensured quality and some uniformity e.g., all parts of buildings exposed to view to be faced in good red brick . But in detail the different use of materials – not just red instead of white brick but different treatments of bays and porches – gave this area a different texture as can be seen along College Road.
The entire area to the south-west of the medieval city is now known as The Golden Triangle, beloved of estate agents. The borders of this vibrant area can be drawn in various ways but the Triangle’s online organ, The Lentil (“Our finger on your pulse”),  gives this authoritative version:
I can’t remember who told me that this piece of tall wall was the last remnant of the Unthank Estate, but it has adopted the status of urban myth. The wall shelters No 38 Unthank Road from traffic and is at the junction with Clarendon Road.
In the early C19th, according to Reverend Nixseaman , William Unthank lived in Heigham House and he places this directly opposite the stable wall above. However, it is claimed elsewhere  that the family estate was further down Unthank Road, too far away for ‘the wall’ to be part of their stables.
So who did live opposite the wall? Consulting the tithe records for 1842 reveals that the brewer Timothy Steward lived here; he is shown as the owner of Heigham House (sometimes called Lodge) while William’s heir, Clement William Unthank, is recorded as living with family and servants further down the road near modern-day Bury Street (blue star).
But back to Reverend Nixseaman, he wrote his book about the Unthanks  in 1972 with the assistance of William Unthank’s descendants and was familiar with minutiae such as the names of CWJ Unthank’s three dogs. In his authorised version he asserted that in 1792 Clement William’s father, William, moved into a newly-built and spacious home named Heigham House, set in its own parklands.
The OS map confirms that in 1887 there was indeed a Heigham House opposite the wall although by then the encroaching terraces left little room for the ‘parkland’ illustrated in Nixseaman’s book (below). So which version is correct?
The search for the location of the Unthanks’ house continues with two further posts and a book (which contains much material – and Unthank photos – not in the blog posts). See:
©2017 Reggie Unthank
- Nixseaman, A.J. (1972). The Intwood Story.ISBN 0950274208, Norwich. (Available from the Heritage Centre, Norwich Library)
- Read the excellent article by Norwich City Council on St Giles Gate http://www.norwich.gov.uk/apps/citywalls/20/report.asp
- A History of Intwood and Keswick (1998), by Cringleford Historical Society. ISBN 0953011623. Held at The Heritage Centre, Norwich Library.
- Memories of Intwood and Keswick (2001) by Cringleford Historical Society. ISBN 0953011631.
- Holmes, Frances and Michael (2015). The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich. norwich-yards.co.uk
- Muthesius, Stefan. (1982). The English Terraced House. Yale University Press.
- O’Donoghue, Rosemary. (2014). Norwich, an Expanding City 1801-1900. Pub, Larks Press ISBN 9781904006718.
- Muthesius, Stefan. (1984). Norwich in the Nineteenth Century. Ed, C. Berringer. Chapter 4, pp94-117.
- www.norwich.gov.uk/Planning/documents/Heighamgrove.pdf – an excellent discussion of the Unthank/Heigham Estate.
- The Lentil. The Golden Triangle’s wittiest online magazine http://the-lentil.com
Thanks to: the staff of The Heritage Centre in Norwich Library and of the Norfolk Records Office for their cheerful help; Tom Tucker of The Lentil for drawing the Golden Triangle map; and Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk for permissions.