Tours return to Norwich’s hidden street likened to Diagon Alley
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
From stories of executions to secret tunnels, you can once again explore Norwich’s underground street as it has reopened up for tours with social distancing measures in place.
Hidden beneath two flights of stairs below KindaKafe in Castle Meadow is an eerie passageway, with fascinating features which are clues to the city’s colourful past.
Before charity The Missing Kind took on the building in 2014 it was owned by the famous Ponds Shoe Fitters and the tour begins by discussing its most recent history.
Mr Pond bought the building where the café is now in 1861, but as the shoe industry grew in Norwich he was able to expand and purchased the neighbouring Victorian lodging house in 1888 and below it was the secret passageway.
He then patched the two buildings together and extended the new premises outwards to create a showroom floor, which is now used by KindaKafe as an event space.
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While Ponds used the subterranean street as a basement and store room, it wasn’t until they left that a team of volunteers helped the charity clear it out and they were able to appreciate its rich history.
The house was built in the old Castle Ditches which were eight metres deep and created when the Normans came to the city and started building Norwich Castle in 1067.
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In 1345, King Edward III gave the ditches back to the city and they have since been filled in and the street, which would have once been at ground level, was forgotten for many years.
KindaKafe has now brought back its popular Hidden History tours as lockdown restrictions have been eased and it has been adapted for social distancing with tours reduced to two households, with a maximum of eight people, and everyone needs to wear a face mask.
Among the features to look out for on the tour include a traditional weavers’ window, which would have flooded the workshop with natural light, and a 16th century oak beam.
Lisa Willett, tour guide at Hidden History, said: “We have made several adaptations to make it Covid-secure with smaller groups that are immediately socially distanced when they come in the door with coloured zones, which are green and orange for each household, and this continues around the building.
“We also have hand sanitiser, leave extra time between tours to clean and have a one-way system - the feedback so far has been really positive and people say it feels more exclusive with less people.
“The tour comes out in London Street and I won’t give too much away but even if you’ve lived in Norwich your whole life, chances are you haven’t seen the door.”
Those that go on the tour will also be supporting the charity, which runs as a social enterprise and relies on its trading activities to support its community work.
Tom Gaskin, general manager of KindaKafe, said: “KindaKafe is all about building community and reducing loneliness and we pride ourselves on being a social enterprise, so coronavirus had a huge impact as we had to stop our trading activities overnight.
“We are also fundraising to adapt the café because social distancing means it isn’t safe at the moment and we have raised over £2,000 so far on our Crowdfunder.”
The team are also planning a fundraising virtual tour of the hidden street soon and it will be led by Sarah Walker, who originally developed it, and it is ideal for those that can’t visit due to access issues.
The street also doubles up as an escape room, run by History Mystery, and games will restart on August 15 with increased cleaning measures in place.
You can book a Hidden History tour, which lasts one hour, by phone on 01603 850309 or online at kindakafe.org and donate at crowdfunder.co.uk/help-kindakafe-norwich-to-reopen
Tickets cost £15 for adults, £9 for children aged four to 12 and there are also family discounts available.