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A prince of roads: How our city’s entrance has changed

PUBLISHED: 11:21 08 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:42 08 September 2018

Queuing for the old Norvic (Electric) on Prince of Wales Road  Picture: Archant

Queuing for the old Norvic (Electric) on Prince of Wales Road Picture: Archant

Archant

Derek James tells the story of Prince of Wales Road , Norwich, which is now the clubbing capital of the region attracting thousands of people out for a good time.

Meet the demolition men in the days before health and safety. They were standing on top of the finest example of cinema architecture Norwich ever had...turning it to dust with their pick-axes.

The picture was taken at the beginning of the 1960s. a time when so many of fine buildings, works of art, across Norfolk and Suffolk were destroyed. Old was bad and new was best - so we were told.

When it came to cinemas the problem was that audiences were dwindling with the arrival of television and bingo and it was decided to pull the picture palaces down rather than keep and convert them.

Here we have the grand Electric which opened on Prince of Wales Road in 1912, became the Norvic in 1954, and the last star was Elvis Presley (on film that is) in Wild in the Country.

The ornate picture theatre with its own orchestra had been established by F. H. Cooper, from Wisbech, and designed by his talented architect friend Francis Burdett Ward also from Wisbech.

When Broken Blossoms was released in 1920 all the staff and extras dressed up as Chinese characters to promote the film and when the talkies came in 1929 almost 90,000 people turned up over a five-week run to see Sunny Side Up.

Other cinemas demolished along the famous road included The Prince of Wales which was created in the former New Assembly Rooms, also by Mr Cooper. It became the popular Grosvenor Rooms where the Beatles played in 1963...and then later demolished.

Prince of Wales Road has rarely been out of the headlines for one reason or another...with the Great Eastern Hotel at one end and the Royal Hotel, Post

Office and the Agricultural Hall at the other, now the HQ of Anglia Television and today is a playground for people from across the region packing the pubs, clubs and restaurants.

The actual building of the road was a remarkable piece of engineering, creating a grand entrance to the city on fields and marshland where vegetables, fruit and flowers grew.

In 1895 a group of powerful bankers, including Messrs, Barclay, Birkbeck, Buxton and Gurney, formed the New Street Company getting the green light to build the road and buy out the stallholders from around Rose Lane and St Faiths Lane.

A considerable number of buildings were destroyed to make way for the new road linking the city with the railway station. They included the old Griffin Inn, the reputed birthplace of artist John Crome.

The road was a wide one and had to be raised from the marshy ground to form a gentle slope and three branch roads had to be built.

It opened amid much pomp and ceremony in November of 1862. Mind you there were only four properties at the time.

It set the scene for Thorpe Station which opened in 1866, followed by the Agricultural Hall which at the time played a leading role in Norfolk life.

The Royal Hotel - still standing but no longer a hotel - opened in 1897. There have been many famous names running businesses from PoW Road over the

decades - Wallace King, Willmotts, Mann Egerton and so many others.

Today there are no cinemas but pubs, clubs and restaurants....but one thing hasn’t changed. It’s the heart of the night scene where boys meet girls.

In my day it was known as a chicken run and I remember the Milk Bar, watching films at the ABC, later to become Mercy, listening to Norfolk rockers Memphis Index, in the Blue Room at the Compleat Angler, and my fibbing about my age to get a drink at the rough ready Duke of Connaught

where some great “spivs” gathered.

As for today...it’s a different world which I am no longer part of.

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