King Street's future is in its past

Derek JamesAfter decades of neglect one of the most important streets in Norwich is slowly coming back to life and its extraordinary history - ancient and modern - is being pieced together.Derek James

After decades of neglect one of the most important streets in Norwich is slowly coming back to life and its extraordinary history - ancient and modern - is being pieced together.

The people are returning and bringing a sense of belonging with them. King Street, with such a rich and colourful history, now has a exciting future.

In Saxon times it led to the main market at Tombland and from the days of the Romans, through to the days of rich medieval merchants to the Georgian beer barons and Victorian factory owners, King Street has been at the heart of city life for centuries.

When the Port of Norwich was buzzing King Street, the longest in the city, was home to hundreds of families and many lived in the courts and yards which littered the 'village on the hill' between King Street and Ber Street.

There were dozens of pubs along with shops and factories but when the river traffic moved to rail and then to road and the houses were demolished, poor old King Street was left to rot and decay with only a handful of buildings surviving…the ones protected by law.

And one of them was the magnificent Dragon Hall, once part of The Barge public house, which is now very much the face of King Street, the focal point of the area, and playing a leading role in Norwich life.

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Now the hall has received a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant of almost �50,000 to undertake a big research project into the living history of the area.

King Street Community Voices is a two year project to collect a digital archive of stories about the area stretching from the cathedral to Bracondale and also up to Ber Street.

It is hoped that schools, residents associations and other voluntary groups will all get involved along with individuals with stories to tell.

Three new part-time positions will be created to run the project and Natasha Harlow, Learning Officer at Dragon Hall, said the whole idea was to talk to as many people as possible about King Street - from those who remember what it was like before the Second World War to those living and working in King Street of the 21st century.

The project really started a quarter of a century ago when the Norfolk and Norwich Heritage Trust, which runs Dragon Hall, was founded.

'In various ways Dragon hall has been at the centre of the local community since it was built in the 15th century,' said general manager Stephanie Potts.

'We now feel the time is right to involve everyone around us to contribute their individual knowledge and memories for the benefit of the whole community. The King Street area has undergone great chance over the years and as it continues do so do we hope to be able to maintain the community spirit,' she added.

King Street Community Voices will launch at a two-week event called How the 20th Century Transformed our City' at Fusion in The Forum between March 15 and March 26.

Please pop along where people will be on hand to welcome you and explain how to get involved in this important project.

A short film put together by Dragon Hall volunteers will be shown alongside rare East Anglian Film Archive footage shot inside he Old Barge Inn, the pub which occupied the southern edge of Dragon Hall.