Hellesdon is nowadays a built-up area that is continuous with Norwich. The ASDA Supermarket, the High School and the approach to the Airport; it is all part of a busy Norwich. Note that when the airport was an RAF station it was called St Faiths, and most of the airport is still technically in the parish of Horsham St Faiths. As I said, it is all part of busy modern town but down by the river Wensum, across the Royal Norwich Golf Course (open February 1st 1894) it is still possible to appreciate the old country village as it used to be.
At the time of the Domesday book the name of the village was HAILESDUNA –almost identical with its modern name. In those days there was more than a mile of open country outside the city before you reached the village.
The mill was a cause of friction with the church which owned it. The abbey of St Benets at Holm was in repeated disagreements with other millers on the river over the rights and use of the water. It is the mill upstream that is affected by the activities of a downstream mill; this is because the fall is reduced by the conservation of water by the lower mill, thereby reducing the ability of their upstream neighbour to operate. All this was ended by the Reformation; there had been two mills in Hellesdon during the middle ages but there was a gap for a century or more with no mill operating in Hellesdon. In 1683 a mill was rebuilt, probably on the site we know today.
The mill was used first for grinding corn; later it became an oil mill where linseed oil was produced from grinding flax seeds. Then in the mid-nineteenth century it was turned into a pulp mill for the paper manufacturing mill at Taverham. This was in the personal occupation of William Delane who was also a partner in the Taverham mill. After his death in 1871 the mill reverted to flour production. It was unused by 1920 and was pulled down by the city council ‘as an eyesore’. They also said that they needed the timber to build the “homes for heroes” (i.e wooden shacks) that were being erected nearby in New Costessey.
A well-known resident of Hellesdon was Sir Harry Bullard, of Bullards the brewers. He was colourful and generous man and was popular throughout Norfolk. Among other things he had a tug named after him at Yarmouth. He was involved in politics and represented the city in parliament as a Tory.
Another well-known Norfolk character from a slightly later period was John Knowlittle (his real name was Arthur Patterson), the writer on natural history. Although he spent most of his life in Great Yarmouth, he lived in Hellesdon in retirement. His job had been as a schools attendance officer but he is best remembered as one of the pioneering naturalists of the Norfolk Broads. He has a number of books to his name on the wildlife of the Broads. He died aged 88 in 1935.
The river banks were very well-kept when the photo at the head of this article was taken from the river’s southern bank, just beside Hellesdon railway station. This station was the last stop before the terminus at Norwich City Station and was the place where the cattle destined for market were unloaded to graze on the water meadows. From there they were taken by drovers along the streets to the cattle market in the centre of the city. This view was probably how it looked just before the First World War.
See also the rowing boat just beyond the man lying on the bank. Rowing was a popular pastime on the “Back River” – the local name for the reach of water upstream of the New Mills as far Costessey. In my day the Back River ended at Hellesdon where Hellesdon mill had been, but before the war you could drag your boat round the sluice there and continue upstream to Costessey. It was still possible to hire skiffs near the Gibraltar Gardens from an old gentleman when I was a teenager. I remember taking my parents rowing up to Hellesdon one summer afternoon. The old gentleman warned his customers that it was inadvisable to row downstream to the City side of the Gibraltar Gardens because there were a lot of obstructions in the water which had been thrown into the river by vandals. When the skiffs were no longer rented out in Norwich it was possible hire out canoes in Marlpit Lane but now I think the Back River is no longer used by rented leisure boats. Those with canoes still explore the Wensum, and I have done this myself.
I have not mentioned what is undoubtedly Hellesdon’s greatest claim to fame. It is deep in the past – A.D.869- and is mired in controversy. It is the death at the hands of the invading Danes of King Edmund, better known as SAINT EDMUND. This is an involved story which deserves not a single blog entry but a whole book on the subject. Until the book appears (I have written it) I have published a little booklet on the subect. This is a picture of its front cover. I would be delighted if anybody wanted to read it. Please get in touch by email if you do. You may have it for free as a pdf or if you wish for a hardcopy it is available on Ebay.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA