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Photo gallery: Evening News writer Derek James looks back on life at Norwich's Earlham Hall

PUBLISHED: 10:30 27 August 2012

Earlham Hall

Earlham Hall

Archant

A place to swim, a place to relax, a place to see a show or take part in an event - and also a place to learn, go to school and even be born.

Earlham Hall and its park has been used by generations of boys and girls, men and women over the years. And still is.

It is perhaps the most natural of all the city parks – its 88 open acres slope gently down to the River Yare and overlook peaceful countryside.

Once the site of the medieval village of Earlham, part of the manor of Earlham belonged to Sir John Falstolf of Caister Castle in the 15th century.

The Gurney banking family lived there for 150 years or so when it was a grand home with beautiful grounds.

For them life was good, while just down the road, life was not so good. But the Gurneys were generous and good-hearted Quakers, people who reached out to the community.

One of John Gurney’s children was Elizabeth who went on to became Elizabeth Fry, the face on the £5 note.

Elizabeth (1780-1845) and her brother Joseph (1788-1847) devoted much of their lives to helping others.

She became a devout Quaker at 18 and, despite having 11 children worked tirelessly to reform prisons and ease the plight of women locked up in appalling conditions.

Joseph campaigned against bribery in local elections and organised relief for Norwich’s poor during the deep depressions of the 1820s and 30s, when people were starving.

The estate was bought by the city in 1924 and a municipal golf course was laid out their in 1931 – one of several government sponsored scheme to create jobs.

A paddling pool was created by the river and in the summer it became a playground for hundreds of boys and girls from the city, who would play in the water while mums and dads looked on from the parkland.

Over the years the park has been used for all manner of events – large and small. From pop and classical music concerts to firework displays, sponsored runs and dog shows.

The grand hall itself has been used for various purposes through the decades.

In the 1940s it was a maternity home and teaching centre for midwives. Then it went on to became a school and was an annexe for the Bluebell School for Girls at one time.

It later years it was the UEA School of Law.

The grounds were a pleasure to walk around years ago – so beautifully maintained in years gone by.

The city council’s nurseries moved to Earlham park in the early 1930s and at one time more than 100 men, some wonderful gardeners, worked from the nurseries putting colour and style into city life.

The greenhouses went up in 1981 but the nurseries were later closed by the city council. It was later run by SHES – Sheltered Horticulture Employment Scheme and became a second home to many people who needed and deserved a helping hand.

In recent times the nurseries later closed and moved out to Blofield.

The University of East Anglia bought the Grade II listed building from Norwich City Council for £700,000 last year.

If you have any memories of Earlham Hall or Earlham Park please get in touch with me at derek.james@archant.co.uk or drop me a line at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE

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