AN HISTORIC STREET When I first remember King Street it was still a busy industrial centre. Over the years it has changed from a through road full of brewers’ drays and engineers’ vans miller’s lorries and (just behind the row of shops) sea-going ships, to a quiet residential backwater. The first of the post-war breweries to go was Youngs Crawshay and Youngs which was amalgamated and closed in 1958. The brewery was at the further end of King Street, approaching Carrow Bridge. It included the Music House, said to be the oldest house in Norwich and reputedly getting its name from its first owner, a wealthy Jew – the Mosaic House, from Moses (not the decorative tiles!). After the brewery closed this became part of the Education Department and is now known as Wensum Lodge.
Morgans, another brewery in King Street, went into voluntary liquidation in 1961 but the brewery at 97-109 continued under the ownership of Watney Mann. All through my childhood and into my adulthood the smell of hops and hot malted mash would rise up from King Street and permeate the City, especially on misty autumn mornings when it hung around in the damp air. It was an evocative smell.
Brewing was an important part of King Street but it was only a part. Towards the crossroads with Rose Lane was Hagg’s shop which sold electric motors. This had a gantry which hung down from a first floor hatch over the pavement. Some motors could be quite heavy, although I never saw the gantry in operation. I gather the shop had been there several generations. Electric motors are rather dull to look at; even the excitingly name “squirrel cage” motors. Hagg’s full title was machinery dealer and his window may have been more interesting before electric motors took over. Even though it was rather dulll to most people my father and I would have our noses up against Hagg’s window in the evening, planning what motor to buy for our latest machine!
The Lad’s Club was a building on the opposite side. This was a favourite charity of the police who would request contributions at Christmas from local businesses, including my father’s. It wasn’t one of his favourite charities, but he thought it wise to contribute nonetheless. The police thought it kept “the lads” out of trouble, which to a certain extent I’m sure it did. Policemen would help out with the activities there; amateur boxing was a popular passtime. My father-in-law Alfred Turner was a police constable and he used to take the “lads” swimming, to the pool at Earlham School as there was no pool in King Street.
The fine medieval building now known as Dragon Hall was known merely as the Old Barge back in the 60s, from the pub which occupied part of the building till 1969. It was known to be an interesting building, but the fine interior was then covered up by later alterations; alterations which were still very old but have been removed to show the building off in its original glory. The house was built in abou 1430 by the rich merchant Robert Toppes. The carved Dragon which gives the hall its name was only rediscovered in the 1980s, during repairs.
Next to the Old Barge was Tom Watts Furniture Store. This has a modern open plan ground floor with plate glass windows incongruously supporting an ancient first floor. This later became a store for B. B. Adams/Bennetts, selling electrical and electronic appliances. On the opposite side of the road at 168 King Street was the Ship Inn until 1969. This has an old wooden lintel reading Princes Inn which may have originally been in Princes Street, Tombland, which had an inn of that name as long ago as 1391. It became council flats in 1970 and I used to visit a friend of mine who lived there.
Further along the street was the Ferry Boat Inn, now closed but due to reopen soon. It is notorious for having the murderer of the Ipswich prostitutes (Steve Wright) as one of its landlords. I prefer to remember it from an earlier and happier period when “Fag Ash Lil” used to entertain us round the piano. In the summer you could sit out by the river and sip your pint. Across the other side of the street is Rouen Road; Rouen is one of our twin cities. When I first remember it there was no Rouen Road, merely a warren of passageways and alleys like Paradise Place and Crusoe Street. The houses all went in the name of slum clearance.
Next on the riverside came Reads the millers, which always had squadrons of sparrows on the roof, feasting on the flour that was blown there out of the milling machines. They were the last business to use the river for trade beyond Carrow Bridge, bringing grain up in freighters or barges, although this may have ended before the business itself closed. Two pubs used to stand either side of Carrow Road, the Jolly Maltsters and the Kingsway. The Jolly Maltsters went first. The whole area from the Pineapple to the Clarence Harbour is now a dessert – all these pubs have closed.
How different it is today; all industry has long since vanished. So too have the shops and pubs. The road is no longer a busy highway, full of shops and factories. The area has returned to a residential quarter of expensive flats, particularly by Carrow Bridge. One was on the market for £1 million before the property bubble burst. It used to be very up-market and residential when the Howard House was the Duke of Norfolk’s family house and “wilderness” half a millennium ago, so in a way the wheel has turned full circle.