Magdalen Street

If this were the Oxford or Cambridge Magdalen(e) Colleges, the word would be pronounced Maudlin. Here in  Norwich it is pronounced Maglin. All you Norwich people will know this already, and my American readers will pronounce all English place-names as they are spelled (like the city itself, Nor- witch, rather than Norridge). Most Britons however will use the Maudlin version, unless they are referring to St Mary Magdalen in the Gospel, when they will give the full three syllable version of her name.

Magdalen Street

Magdalen Street

Before the construction of the Inner Link Road this was a bustling shopping centre to rival The Walk in central Norwich. The decoration of the street was refurbished around 1960 with the shop fronts and rendered walls being given a fresh coat of paint – in many cases the first since before the war.

There was Loose’s shop that was Norfolk’s principal emporium for the sale of china, and in those days all the great names in the British china industry – Wedgwood, Minton and Spode among others – were still names to conjure with. Whether you wanted a dinner service, or something more ornamental like a Beatrix Potter figurine by Beswick, this was the place to go. Until the 1970s tea was served in cups with saucers; without a saucer, where would you put your teaspoon? Teacups were made of china, not of pottery, as most of the mugs we use today are.

Magdalen Street was the site of the second branch of  Woolworth’s in the city. This was not quite as big as the main branch in Rampant Horse Street, but it was still a well-stocked shop. The Woollies in Magdalen Street didn’t have a cafeteria it is true, although there were plenty of other places in Magdalen Street where you could go for refreshment.

On the corner of Colegate was the Army Recruiting Office, on the way to the Employment Exchange; I wonder if many unemployed young men were tempted in to sign up? National Service had just ended but the army was still a major employer and needed a steady flow of recruits. There was every kind of shop along Magdalen Street; florists, bakers, greengrocers, hairdressers, fishmongers, a chemist (who specialised in selling razors), an optician and of course plenty of tobacconists. Many sweet shops were dotted along the street.

Was there a doctor’s surgery in the street? Dr Heburn’s surgery was just beyond Magdalen Gates in Clarke Road. (It is still a clinic.) Heppie was our family doctor; he was a Scot, coming up towards retirement when I was a child going through the childhood ailments of measles, mumps, whooping cough and chickenpox. He wore a dark suit with a waistcoat and watch chain, and carried his stethoscope in a Gladstone bag. He always asked my mother for a teaspoon so that he could hold down my tongue to examine my throat.

The whole feeling of Magdalen Street changed when the flyover and Anglia Square were built. Anglia Square should have been the modern shopping mall for the whole city, but it has always struggled to find suitable tenants. The offices above the shopping centre, which have been empty since John Major was Prime Minister, held the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. This Government department was one of the first to be moved outside London in the 1960s. It ceased to be a Government department when it was privatised in 1996, and it immediately moved back to the capital. It was a bloated organisation, full of long-haired young graduates in sandals who seemed to have little to do. The Stationery Office still functions as the publisher of official documents, but I gather it no longer produces lavish works like the multi-volume and fully illustrated History of the King’s Works, high quality publications that only an organisation with no thought of the cost could undertake.

There have been many proposals to redevelop Anglia Square over the years. A while back they closed the multi-storey car park that was very convenient for shopping at Anglia Square, as a first stage towards demolition. The car park remains closed but the sad 1960s block is un-rebuilt, with no immediate prospect of anything happening. I am rather glad it is still there; if they leave it long enough it will come back into fashion as an icon of the time. Sovereign House – the former home of HMSO – could be spruced up; it is after all not very old, and it ought to be possible to find a tenant.

Junction with Botolph St.

Junction with Botolph St.

Stump Cross, where Botolph Street met Magdalen Street, disappeared along with the Odeon cinema and Botolph Street itself when Anglia Square was built.  It was at the Odeon that my sister took me every year to see the latest Disney feature-length cartoon. A cinema was built as part of Anglia Square, and as the Hollywood Cinema it survives, only it is not where the cinema quarter is located. Access is from the flyover, so it does not feel a part of Magdalen Street.

St Botolph must once have had a church along this street in Norwich, but only one church now stands along the whole length of Magdalen Street, and that is St Saviours. This church has a very squat tower, hardly poking above the ridge of the nave. This redundant church had been a sports hall before being taken in hand by the King’s Community Church, but they too have now left, and like many a redundant church it has not found a permanent tenant or raison d’être.

Magdalen Street never recovered from being divided in two by the Inner Link flyover. Woolworths disappeared from the street long before the whole chain went from the UK. Loose’s shop shut its doors for the last time soon after, and the variety of small traders were replaced by charity shops. In many ways this has been the story of retail shopping generally, but it is more pronounced in Magdalen Street.

CLICK HERE to read Basil Kybird on A Policeman’s Memories of Magdalen Street, (1951-54).




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