56p per week for a three-bed house: The early days on Mile Cross estate
- Credit: Norwich City Council
Only a short distance away from the grim courts and yards of the city, this was a different world.
One hundred years ago one of the first housing estates of its kind in the country was being built in Norwich and it was called Mile Cross.
Taking its name from the old boundary marker St Faiths Cross or Le Whytecrosse, which was a mile from St Augustines Gate, this was a dream come true for many people.
It was the first municipal garden housing estate in the country supported by shops, schools, pubs, parks and allotments.
Work on building it began at the end of the First World War. Much of the country was on its knees and there had also been the Spanish Flu pandemic. Work was hard to find.
More than a hundred men were involved in building the new Mile Cross estate when King George V and Queen Mary visited in February 1921 before the first tenants from the yards off Oak Street, St Martins Road, Cowgate and Barrack Street started moving in a year or so later.
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Furniture was fumigated before they made the short journey to a new life in modern houses. A three-bedroomed home with electricity, water and a large garden cost from 11s 3d (56p) per week.
Mind you, a lot of people in Norwich at the time could not afford that kind of money. They were struggling. Workers were angry. They needed jobs.
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Government money helped and by the autumn of 1924 almost 500 houses had been or were being built.
Many people had gardens for the first time, grew their own vegetables and the council ran competitions for the best displays.
Roads were often named after famous Norfolk and Norwich people from days gone by such as:
Edward Valpy, former high master at Norwich Grammar School, who was also rector at All Saints, Thwaite, and vicar of St Mary, South Walsham.
Luke Hansard, the first diarist at the House of Commons, who was born in Norwich back in 1792.
Margaret Paston, Herbert de Losinga the founder of Norwich Cathedral, the great writer Walter Rye and many more.
As more families moved in the estate took shape.
Shops opened. There was Johnson’s general store and Co-op which had separate counters for groceries. Chambers fish and chip shop, J A Daniels at the Post Office on Aylsham Road and those mouth-watering cakes from Rogers & Rhodes, the bakers.
St Catherine’s Church was built in the mid-1930s replacing a smaller temporary building on the same site at the Aylsham Road/Mile Cross Road junction and Queen Mary returned to lay the Foundation Stone.
There was also the Methodist Church on Aylsham Road, members of the Jewson family gave a plot of land to build what is now Mile Cross Baptist Church. Then there was the Salvation Army Mile Cross Corps.
Mile Cross Council “Temporary School” opened on April 26 1926 with Agnes King as the headmistress and 200 pupils.
Dowson Infants School, Dowson Primary School, Mile Cross Primary and then in 1931 Dowson Secondary Girls and Mile Cross Senior Boys were opened.
In 1935 Mile Cross School was renamed the Norman School after Alderman Norman who had formed his first school in Cowgate, Norwich.
Dowson for the girls and Norman for the boys.
In 1931 Lord Mayor Mabel Clarkson opened the Mile Cross Library, built at a cost of £3,100 saying: “Branch libraries should be placed in the midst of every new estate. In the restricted lives many people are obliged to live they can have no better companions than books.”
During the first year almost 80,000 books were issued and more than 25,000 were to children.
When the locals wanted some fun there was the great Lido (later Norwood) dance hall on Aylsham Road with the Capital Cinema next door. A great double act.
And that was just the start of the Mile Cross story… to be continued.
If you have any memories or photographs of life on Mile Cross over the years we would love to hear from you. Perhaps you were a Dowson girl or a Norman boy? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org