In pictures: The history and changing face of St Stephens

St Stephens, Norwich, before road widening. c1968. Photograph courtesy Jack Roberts Archive

St Stephens Street in Norwich, before the road was widened. Date: c1968. - Credit: Courtesy Jack Roberts Archive

It is an ancient gateway to Norwich from the south which has been the victim of wartime bombing and re-development… St Stephens Street.

And now it is being re-shaped once again in a controversial multi-million pound revamp which will take many months to complete.

What will the future hold now?

St Stephens, Norwich. c1960. Photograph courtesy Jack Roberts Archive

A glimpse into the past along St Stephens, Norwich. Date: c1960. - Credit: Courtesy Jack Roberts Archive

As for the past…well, some of the photographs taken by Jack Roberts and George Plunkett, give us a glimpse of what it was like.

The name is taken from the beautiful church in Rampant Horse Street.

Stephen, a man “full of faith and power” was a Christian martyr stoned to death for his faith outside the door in the wall of Jerusalem, now known as St Stephen’s Gate.

Demolition work in progress on the remainder of the old buildings at St. Stephen's gate in Norwich

Demolition work in progress on the remainder of the old buildings at St. Stephen's Gate, which is now a roundabout. This view was taken from the then-new multi-storey car park. Dated 15th October 1963. - Credit: Archant Lirbary

Our St Stephen’s Gate was demolished between 1791 and 1808 along with the rest of the dozen gates and wall which enclosed the city. At least sections of the wall at the entrance have been saved.

It was originally called Needham Gate and at that time the street was crowded with quaint, irregular dwellings which were described as “fearful places” and it was reported that Queen Elizabeth I had to cover her nose when her many escorts arrived in 1578.

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Over the centuries it became a busy, bustling narrow entrance to the city, packed with shops.

The trams arrived and then the city side was blown to smithereens by the Luftwaffe in the 1942 Blitz and the historic thatched Boar’s Head on the corner of Surrey Street was destroyed.

St Stephen's Street 5 to 7 including the Boar's Head Inn at Norwich. 5th September 1938.

St Stephen's Street 5 to 7 including the Boar's Head Inn at Norwich. 5th September 1938. - Credit: © George Plunkett

When photographer Bill Smith and I presented an exhibition of Jack Roberts’ pictures during Heritage Open Days in 2019 many memories were revived.

John Munday, born in 1940, lived above his family newsagents Parfitts and recalled the close relationship between the people running the shops and the photograph of Duff Morgan & Vermont’s garage brought back great memories for David Barratt.

Duff Morgan & Vermont garage, St Stephens, Norwich. c1960. Photograph courtesy Jack Roberts Archive

Duff Morgan & Vermont garage in St Stephens, Norwich. Date: c1960. - Credit: Courtesy Jack Roberts Archive

David,  who went on to become managing director of the famous company, spent his school holidays working at the garage said: “I can remember the tramlines. St Stephens was a tiny one-way street and it was turned into a dual carriageway because of the motor car,” he said.

During the late 1950s and 60s what was left of the street was demolished to make way for the first multi-storey car park, a roundabout, subway, shops and offices. Not forgetting Barbarella’s nightclub.

St Stephen's Street air raid damage. Photograph © George Plunkett

Air raid damage on St Stephens Street in Norwich during the Second World War. - Credit: © George Plunkett

Did you have a favourite shop in St Stephens? Mine was Leach’s hardware store which closed in 1997 after more than a century. Remember dear old Herbert Coe? A true gent. All the people were worked there were so helpful.

With thanks to Bill Smith.

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