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I’m fascinated by the idea of the city as a palimpsest – a parchment scraped down to be used again with signs of previous lives grinning through.


On the 1000-year-old Archimedes Palimpsest, previously unknown works by the Greek mathematician were poorly erased then overwritten with religious texts (http://www.pbs.org/)

Old street furniture illustrates this perfectly: usually it will be discarded if it doesn’t fit the current style guide but where it is allowed to remain it can tell us much about the layering of time.

Gybson’s Conduit on the boundary wall of Bullards Anchor Quay Brewery in Westwick Street once faced the road but when the brewing hall was converted into apartments in the 1980s the pump was restored [1] and re-sited to face into the development. This early Renaissance monument was built by Norwich Sheriff and brewer, Robert Gybson. It appears to be a philanthropic gesture (‘for the ease of the common people’) but it was actually a condition of buying the site on which St Lawrence’s Well had stood since at least the time of Edward the Confessor [2, 3]. Gybson seems to have been an angry man and for ‘failing to be buxom to the mayor‘ he was deprived of the freedom of the city and condemned ‘forever henceforth to be a foreigner‘ [2]. Coo!


In 1860, John Henry Gurney erected this drinking fountain and obelisk to mark the site of an earlier wellhead (ca 1700-1850) that had raised water to be stored for the higher parts of the city [3].


The Gurney Drinking Fountain and Obelisk (1860) in Tombland

Sewell Park – the triangle of land between Constitution Hill and St. Clement’s Hill –was given to the city in 1908 by the Sewell family. Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty when she lived about a mile away at Old Catton. The triangular horse trough – now a flower bed – that guards the park entrance is doubly appropriate.


Black Beauty was published by local printing firm Jarrolds and Anna Sewell’s name is commemorated on one of the shields decorating the first floor of Jarrolds department store in London Street.


The trough on Castle Meadow, commemorating the popular Dr Darrell, was moved from outside his practice at All Saints Green [4]. It is reminiscent of a time when water troughs were placed along the road between the railway station and the old cattle market, beneath which Castle Mall now stands.


Following John Snow’s pioneering example of epidemiology in 1854, when he mapped an outbreak of cholera to a particular pump in London’s Soho [5], the importance of clean public water was foremost in the Victorian mind. Erected in 1860, this Portland Stone fountain outside St George Colegate was for public consumption: the marble basin for people and the troughs beneath for dogs.


Presented by Mr JC Barnham, designed by architects Messrs Benest and Newton, and sculpted by Mr. Joseph Stanley of Norwich

Bearing in mind John Snow’s findings about the source of water, this parish pump – patented by Shalder of nearby Redwell Street – is worryingly situated next to the raised burying ground of St John Maddermarket. The water was once described as ‘pure essence of churchyard’ [2].


At a time when potable water was only just being piped into some homes, the need for fresh drinking water for the poor was often met by philanthropic commissions. Charles Pierre Melly had already provided many drinking fountains in Liverpool and in 1859 he presented Norwich with this fountain situated at the east end of the Guildhall [6].


FH fire hydrant signs are everyday parts of the streetscene but this FP sign in Unthank Road refers to an earlier ‘fire plug’. The small stretch of railings to which it is attached only survived because of the fire hydrant sign – most other railings and gates having been removed in WWII in a morale-boosting bid to make guns. However, the inferior quality of the metal was such that it was likely used for other purposes, if not dumped in the Thames [7].


Near Bay Cottage, 14 Unthank Road

… and to round off the water theme, what is thought to be the earliest example of a concrete pissoir is now closed [2].


St Crispins Road near Barn Road roundabout

Due to that programme of scrappage in WWII there are precious few examples of locally-sourced ironwork on our streets. These curvaceous Art Nouveau-like railings around St Giles on the Hill reflect the flowing tracery of the beautiful east window from the Curvilinear Decorated period of the early C14 [8]


Some domestic gates have survived; Mill Hill Road has several examples, some refurbished. The gate below, with inverted curve, is a common pattern still copied when gates are replaced.


From a time, pre-Ocado, when tradesmen brought your orders to your (back) door …


Mount Pleasant

Clarendon Road has some of the best examples of Victorian ironwork.


Clarendon Road

Again on Clarendon Road, these cast-iron railings and gates separate two fine Victorian houses from the roadway. But further examples of street furniture can just be glimpsed in the side alley: a bollard and a puzzling pipe.

Clarendon Rd.jpg

Another fine set of cast-iron railings on Clarendon Road. Just creeping into shot is a bollard (bottom left) and a curious pipe (top left).

First, the bollards. The Norwich City Council’s Streetscape Manual (2006) [10] mentions two designs: a plain octagonal post – generally painted dark green – used in the city centre, and a more ornate cast-iron bollard that was photographed by George Plunkett in 1931 and is probably Victorian [11]. Here, just outside the city walls, in the Heigham Grove Conservation Area, two of these latter bollards guard the alleyway between Clarendon Road and Neville Street. Two years ago I wrote about the bollards when local residents campaigned against the council’s plan to remove them to allow access for a mechanical street sweeper [11].

bollards2.jpgIt’s worth repeating the message that vestiges of a previous age are a vital part of the feel, the texture, of the streetscape. This design of bollard is entirely appropriate to one of the city’s finest late Victorian streets – as recognised in the council’s own planning appraisal:

“Several surviving cast iron railings along Clarendon Road are particularly fine and rare examples of once common Victorian ironwork found in Norwich cast by local firms such as Barnard, Bishop and Barnard(s)” [9].

This more ornate version can be found around churchyards, such as St Peter Mancroft and St Gregory’s but it can also be found at secular locations like Bishop Bridge (below) and the steps to the Castle at Davey Place.

A convocation of traditional cast-iron bollards on Bishop Bridge. (Note the electric ‘gas’ lamp).

The historic Norwich Lanes [12] have been delineated by painting the modern octagonal bollards red instead of the more usual green. This references the colour of the plant dye, madder, that was so important to the city’s once-thriving cloth industry. Twenty-one of these bollards are crowned with bronze sculptures designed by Oliver Creed [13].


Oliver Creed’s bronze capitals to red bollards in Lobster Lane (L) and Swan Lane (R).

Within the jurisdiction of Norwich Cathedral, distinctive canon-style, cast-iron bollards are used. Since the partnership of Norwich ironfounders, John Francis & Thomas Blyth, was dissolved in 1840 the bollards must be at least 178 years old [14].

cathedral duo.jpg

Back in the alleyway on Clarendon Road we glimpsed what was a tall, cast-iron stench pipe. If we think of such pipes at all we probably think of vent pipes that extend above the eaves. However, the pipe belonging to Anglia Water is part of the public sewerage system, its function being to regulate the pressure in the sewer when waste passes through.

stench pipe trio.jpg

Stench or stink pipe in the alleyway between Clarendon Road and Neville Street. The cast iron pipe bears the city’s coat of arms and was made by Barnards Ltd, who superseded Barnard Bishop and Barnards Norwich Ironworks in 1907. 

I did wonder whether a column at the junction of Newmarket and Christchurch Roads might have been left over from the electric tramways or electric lighting of the early C20 but it is identical to the Clarendon Road example and the wire balloon on top confirms it to be another stench pipe.


Newmarket Road at Christchurch Road 

Another such pipe, by another of the city’s famous foundries – Boulton and Paul, is on Waverley Road. Listing stench pipes may sound train-spotterish except these are living reminders of our industrial history that should not be airbrushed from view in search of a uniform modern look. Only a year ago, the Cambridge News reported that residents on Hills Road/Queen Edith’s Way, Cambridge were – in their words, not mine – ‘kicking up a stink’ about plans to remove a tall, cast iron, Victorian stench pipe [15]. And last September the Eastern Daily Press reported that a tram standard had been removed for ‘safety reasons’ (Pah!) from the junction of West Pottergate and Heigham Road [16]. This matters because it was the very last post belonging to the Norwich Electric Tramways that had replaced horse-drawn omnibuses in 1900. The post that once carried its electricity was sturdy enough a century later when George Plunkett photographed it reincarnated as an electric lamp post. Now that link is lost.

Heigham Rd former tram standard [7787] 2000-11-24.jpg

The last relic of the Norwich Electric Tramways 1900-1935 ©georgeplunkett.co.uk

On Bank Plain is a fine cast iron lamp post base ca 1900, updated with an electric lamp.

Lampost trio.jpg

In the early C19 the city was lit by oil lamps but the fuel was replaced by coal gas from about 1825-30. Although a few electric lamps had begun to appear at the end of the C19 it wasn’t until 1910-13 that the gas lamps were converted to electricity, except for a few in unadopted streets. This may explain the survival of the old gas lamp in St Giles Terrace, photographed by George Plunkett in 1955 [2]. It has been converted to electricity but retains its original lantern.

gas lampost.jpg

St Giles Terrace off Bethel Street

Walking the streets of Georgian or Victorian Norwich would undoubtedly leave mud on your boots and before entering the house this had to be removed with a boot scraper. The French are more direct in naming their scrapers decrottoirs, acknowledging that excrement (crotte) is a major component of ‘mud’ from streets populated by horses and dogs. A walk past the rich merchants’ houses in St Giles Street reveals several examples of cast-iron scrapers, either free-standing or (usually paired) set into the walls.

boot scraper.jpg

Now that most of us carry a mobile phone we can only wonder when phone boxes will become obsolete. The iconic model below, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, went into production in 1936 although modern ‘heritage’ versions are still made in the official colour, currant red [17].


At the corner of St Saviour’s churchyard in Magdalen Street

There are several styles of red post box in the city. Left, is a Victorian ‘Penfold’ with an acanthus bud on top, designed by architect John Penfold. I remember a Penfold post box at the bottom of Guildhall Hill; the present one outside the City Hall is probably a replica made in the 1980s [17]. The modern post box derives from the version made in the reign of Victoria’s son, Edward VII (centre); the advantage was that the post slot was integral to the door so that no letters could skulk in the top of the box [17].  The current Elizabethan ERII box is virtually identical.

Postbox Trio.jpg

(L) Penfold-type, St Peter’s Street/City Hall. (C) Edward VII, Opie Street. (R) Elizabeth II, Unthank Road.

A personal favourite is the original Victorian wall box in Upper St Giles. This now fronts The Post Room antiques and interiors shop but I first encountered it when it belonged to the Upper St Giles sub-post office. Remember post offices?


Bonus track


Villagers of Mellis, Suffolk, converted this £1 postbox to a colour therapy room


  1. http://norwichpreservationtrust.co.uk/gybsons-conduit-westwick-st-scheduled-ancient-monument/
  2. http://www.georgeplunkett.co.uk/Norwich/streetfurniture.htm An excellent resource for old Norwich street furniture.
  3. http://www.racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=291
  4. http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMJRMA_Dr_Harrington_Wyndham_Darrell
  5. http://johnsnowbicentenary.lshtm.ac.uk/about-john-snow/
  6. http://www.racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=47
  7. http://www.christopherlong.co.uk/pri/wareffort.html
  8. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2016/03/12/the-art-nouveau-roots-of-skippers-royal-arcade/
  9. https://www.norwich.gov.uk/downloads/file/3010/heigham_grove_conservation_area_appraisal
  10. https://www.norwich.gov.uk/downloads/file/3252/streetscape_design_manual (see page 25).
  11. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2016/09/24/hands-off-our-bollards/
  12. https://norwichlanes.co.uk/about/
  13. http://racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=806
  14. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Francis_and_Blyth
  15. https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/cambridge-stink-pipe-hills-road-13039347
  16. http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/last-link-to-norwich-s-tram-route-is-removed-from-busy-street-over-safety-concerns-1-5199416
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_telephone_box

Thanks to: Lesley Kant-Cunneen for information about ironwork in Clarendon Road and Alan Theobald for discussions about street furniture.