Emotional reunion for Norwich men 50 years after last meeting
When Bob Knights last met Harry Walpole 50 years ago the Beatles were about to release ‘She Loves You’ and Harold Macmillan was prime minister.
Mr Walpole had also just completed work on the bungalow Mr Knights has lived in since August 9, 1963.
But the two old friends have now been reunited, after Mr Knights, 76, saw Mr Walpole, 94, posing in the Evening News in front of Westlegate Tower in Norwich.
Mr Walpole, from Pottergate in Norwich, was the original foreman on the construction of Westlegate Tower 53 years ago, and he returned to the site last month to see how its long-awaited £8m redevelopment is progressing.
After Mr Knights phoned Mr Walpole, the two of them plus two other old friends, Ron Bishop and Sid Houghton, whose homes Mr Walpole also built, arranged to meet up for a reunion at the Red Lion pub in Eaton, Norwich.
They enjoyed it so much they have agreed to make it a more regular occurrence, and the four of them were back together at our offices in Norwich on Friday to reminisce about old times again.
Mr Knights, who lives in Howell Road, Drayton, said: “On seeing Harry’s photograph in the paper - not realising he was still alive - the three of us decided we would like to meet him again and take him out to lunch. I arranged this and we all went to the Red Lion and had a great reunion.
“The last time I had seen Harold, as he was called then, was 50 years ago. He then worked for City engineers as foreman builder.
“He was a friend of my father-in-law Sid Barlow who was a master plasterer. He asked Harold if he would build a bungalow for his daughter and son-in-law and he started in 1962 working at weekends and completed for us to move in August 1963.
“His sidekick was Harry Pratt, who died a fairly young man, and they did a wonderful job.
“For a 94-year-old he has all his faculties and is quite fit apart from losing part of his sight which does not seem to hinder him at all and he definitely enjoys life, keeping himself fit as he enjoys dancing and getting about.
“Fifty years ago he had a super moustache which he kept manicured, making him look suave and very good-looking. I reckon he was a real poser in those days. Hard work certainly never did him any harm, he looks after himself well after losing his wife some years ago.”
Mr Walpole enjoyed the reunion as much as his friends, but he said Mr Knights’ phone call had come out of the blue.
He said: “He tested me on the phone and said, ‘I bet you don’t remember me?’, but I did remember.
“I also remember working on his bungalow. I did all the structural work and the tiling.”
Mr Walpole also built both Mr Bishop’s bungalow and Mr Houghton’s house.
In another coincidence, Mr Bishop, from Bradshaw Road, had attended the Norman school with Mr Knights, but they had lost touch until about 10 years ago, when they met at a school reunion and found out they lived just 200 yards from each other.
Mr Bishop, who spent 30 years in the fire service, said: “I had met Harry several times at Tesco, but it was brilliant to meet up again.”
Mr Houghton, from St Faiths Lane, Old Catton, has also kept in touch with Mr Walpole, and congratulated him on the workmanship at their homes.
Westlegate Tower was once dubbed one of Norwich’s ugliest buildings, but the transformation of the derelict building into 17 luxury flats, along with two townhouses and three commercial units, is on schedule and the tower is shrouded in scaffolding.
Mr Walpole worked for the builder, Lusher’s, on the construction of the tower in 1960. He has been keeping a close eye on its transformation and was invited to have a cup of tea and to meet Norwich-based property developers FW Properties last month. The tower was bought in 2011 by FW Properties in a joint venture with London company Soho Estates.