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New book goes deeper underground Norwich streets

PUBLISHED: 10:00 18 June 2017

The author of the new book Subterranean Norwich: The Grain of the City, Matthew Williams: Photo: Matthew Williams.

The author of the new book Subterranean Norwich: The Grain of the City, Matthew Williams: Photo: Matthew Williams.

Matthew Williams.

It is a book, launched today, which delves deeper than any other into the fascinating history of Norwich - and tells the story of the ground beneath our feet.

The book which takes readers on a journey to discover what lies beneath our feet. Photo: Matthew Williams. The book which takes readers on a journey to discover what lies beneath our feet. Photo: Matthew Williams.

Subterrranean Norwich: The Grain of the City is the result of several years work by the cycling geologist and historian Matthew Williams.

It is about the city’s past, present and future... viewed from ground level downwards.

There are plenty of books around about Norwich but none quite like this one which is illustrated with old and new photographs, paintings, drawings, diagrams and maps which all help to piece the story together of how and why Norwich looks the way it does.

Matthew, now a professional cycle instructor and a man who knows more than most how hilly the city is, loves Norwich with a passion but while most of us look up at the buildings or straight ahead to admire, or shake our head, at what we have... Matthew tends to take more of a sideways view.

The excavation for The Forum in the heart of Norwich during 1999. Photo: Matthew Williams. The excavation for The Forum in the heart of Norwich during 1999. Photo: Matthew Williams.

So how did this book, which is far more than just a local history offering and is one which could be picked up by authors in other towns and cities, come about?

A chartered geologist with a professional background in the construction industry, Matthew grew up in the city and after university and working with the Blue Circle Cement returned to Norwich in 1981 to join May Gurney as a geotechnical engineer.

After working on developments such as the new magistrates’ courts and Dencora House and overseeing ground investigation work for the A11 Thetford bypass he went on to set up with own independent site investigation company, SIC (East Anglia) Ltd., which traded for more than 20 years.

During that time, Matthew oversaw ground investigations on more than 2,000 sites across East Anglia and several hundred in the city which included The Forum and the Norwich Cathedral extensions,

The Undercroft beneath the Assembly House, Norwich. Photo: Terry George. The Undercroft beneath the Assembly House, Norwich. Photo: Terry George.

Today he works as a national standard cycle instructor for Smart Cycle Training – a job which he loves. So why write this book which involved such a huge amount of work and research?

“I have done talks and adult education courses for a few years on underground Norwich, and people are always asking me where they can find this sort of information,” said Matthew.

“I realised there was a big gulf between what the experts know (often kept under wraps, or swathed in academic jargon) and the sort of thing which often appears in the press – sometimes speculative and ends up getting hyped out of proportion, perhaps causing unnecessary worry,” he added.

Matthew wanted to set down a readable, balanced and non-technical account of what is actually beneath our feet (geological, archaeological and engineering), how it works and its significance for the way we experience the physical city today – for anybody who may be interested.

An extract from Cunningham’s Prospect of Norwich way back in 1558. Photo: Matthew Williams. An extract from Cunningham’s Prospect of Norwich way back in 1558. Photo: Matthew Williams.

He began by going down the route of self-publishing. “I got to the point where I didn’t know what I was doing but last year I was lucky enough to find a local publisher who wanted to take it on,” he said.

That was the highly-respected and regarded Lasse Press of St Giles Terrace in the city, the independent publisher of non-fiction books of historical and general interest who have done a fine job.

“There are lots of pictures, thousands of words which include bits of information given to me by various people I have met along the way (often literally) as well as my own researches,” he says.

“I think Subterranean Norwich is a fascinating enough story without having to sensationalise it, and it gives another angle on appreciating the Fine City – not least for those who have to experience the ups and downs on a bicycle!” he said.

Former county archaeologist for Norfolk, Brian Ayers, has written a foreword saying: “He encourages us to look at the city, with empathy and comprehension. His book is a wonderful gift of knowledge to all who wish to understand the places in which they live.” • Subterranean Norwich: The Grain of the City by Matthew Williams is published by Lasse Press (www.lassepress.com) and is in the shops now at £19.99.

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