This was the first major thoroughfare in the city to be pedestrianised; some minor streets in Norwich had always been for passage by foot only, simply because they are too narrow for vehicles. When I was being driven around Norwich as a boy I could go down Gentlemans Walk, turning right into London Street and go past Opie Street and down Queens Street to Tombland, all in the car. I don’t claim this was easy – there were too many parked cars for that – but it was possible. The pedestrianisation was hailed as a great breakthrough by many, but there were dark statements that it would kill the street for shoppers from others. You hear the same still whenever the closure of a street to traffic is mooted, but shoppers still use the street about 50 years later. It is certainly true that it can be convenient to drive through the city centre, but even where you can still do this you are extremely unlikely to find anywhere to park, so the possibility of shopping by car is a remote one.
You can see Stevenson’s Interflora Flower Shop in the picture which heads this page. This shop has been there as long as I can remember and appears little changed. Interflora flowers are perhaps a little on the expensive side and on those occasions when I have to buy flowers I tend to use a more reasonable shop. For sending flowers abroad it seems better to go for other options today, what with the internet and credit cards. Nevertheless Interflora was my father’s favourite florist and the only one he ever patronised.
London Street is an expensive place to go shopping, being the jewellers’ quarter of the city. This picture is of the shop window of Windsor Bishop. It was taken about 30 years ago and although it appears not to have changed, then you could just walk in if you wanted to and browse around. Now the door is permanently locked and you must request entry. In those more law-abiding days you did not have to worry about thieves forcing their way into the shop. My wife Molly was looking for a watch to buy for our daughter recently and one place she tried was Windsor Bishop. The experience was one of high security combined with subtly high-powered salesmanship.
Besides jewellers, the street is also namely for banks. The large branch of Barclays (formerly the headquarters of Gurney’s Bank) which took up the whole block at the far end of London Street along the west side of Bank Plain is no more, though the building remains. There is still a branch of Barclays in London Street (but see Tim Lenton’s coment on this blog). There is still a National Westminster Bank too, the name now abbreviated to Natwest. See the picture at the top of this page to admire the building which stands at the junction with Bedford Street. With its classical pedimented portico below a cupola it looks more like a church than a bank – a smaller version of St Paul’s Cathedral. There was once a branch of the Midland Bank which is now part of HSBC and there is still a branch of the Co-operative Bank. Where Opie Street joins London Street is the office of Barratt and Cooke, Norwich’s stock broking firm. So you can see, what with all these financiers and jewellers, it is a street that has a high-class reputation.
This has not always been the case. In the 18th century London Street was still called Cocky Lane after the open sewer which used to run down the middle of the road. Opie Street was the haunt of prostitutes. In the middle ages it went by a disgusting name which I will not mention in this respectable blog, but which you can easily find by entering Opie Street in Wikipedia. [Click here to reveal the street’s old name.] The sensibilities of people have changed and the names of these streets have changed with them, to ones with less gross connotations. Opie Street’s current name is from the poet Amelia Opie who lived there in the early 19th century.
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