Stepping back in time along a key city street
PUBLISHED: 12:53 17 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:54 17 January 2017
All Saints Green; Today it is at the heart of the latest controversial road closure scheme but more than 30 years ago the late Norwich historian and author Geoffrey Goreham wrote in the Evening News: “If ever a road needs the therapy of pedestrianisation it is All Saints Green.”
Geoffrey, a man who loved his city with a passion and was a former Sheriff, added: “Like many other of our streets that have become traffic highways, it is being constantly over-stimulated by movement and tension and for most of the day it wears its 20th century role with the fatalism of a martyr.”
No doubt that Geoffrey would have been delighted at the plan to shut All Saints Street and parts of All Saints Green (named after the church which dates from 1320) to traffic to link in with traffic-free Westlegate. In 1985 he said: “The once-quiet dignity of All Saints Plain, edged by the churchyard wall, is patterned with temporary or permanent islands of greenery and overlooked by tall lamp standards.
“For the shopper and the pedestrian, perspective and visual harmony appear to have been sacrificed for commercial advantage. There is architectural conflict which has been distorted by modern high rise buildings,” wrote Geoffrey.
Well, some decades on it is the traffic which is hitting the headlines in this ancient thoroughfare which has seen so many changes...good and not so good over the years.
While controversial developments such as the Westlegate “glass tower” have been given a new lease of life, the poor old Carlton (Gaumont), now described as a former bingo hall, has gone forever and some of the grand terrace of Georgian houses opposite which have survived have been left to rot.
High-rise office blocks dominated the sky-line. Towards the crossroads and the Surrey Street corner to Queen’s Road the balance is restored and the buildings are in better shape. The building that once housed the much-loved Norman School of Dancing is looking better than ever – along with Ivory House and the old BBC HQ.
The re-building of the Bonds store, now John Lewis, following Second World War bombing has been regarded as a triumph. Even Geoffrey described it in the swinging 60s as “pleasing to the eye.” Praise indeed.
Let’s take a look at two of the lost buildings of public entertainment on All Saints Green.
The Thatched Theatre
One of the few thatched buildings in the city centre. This was a class act. It opened as the Thatched Assembly Rooms and what a grand place it was, comprising a restaurant and an elegant ballroom which during the First World War was used by soldiers.
The thatched front part of the building housed the restaurant and provided the facade to the ballroom which became a cinema auditorium in 1915.
The freehold belonged to the Bond family, whose landmark Norwich department store was next door.
We can imagine life in this fine building where the best films of the day were shown, accompanied by a string orchestra. It was also a popular meeting place for afternoon tea and there was a sliding roof which would be opened during warm weather.
It was never wired for sound and when the talkies took over it closed in 1930 and became a ballroom before being part of the Bond store until the Luftwaffe bombed it during the Second World War...and that was the end of it.
Another landmark Norwich building opposite survived the Blitz – but only just – to become a great centre of entertainment where the likes of Bill Haley and The Rolling Stones played...The Carlton turned Gaumont turned Mecca Bingo which came to a sad end when it was said to have had structural problems and was demolished.
This was the first cinema in the city built for the talkies when it opened in 1932, showing films and live shows. People loved it and in its heyday was a fine-looking building.
It soon became obvious the 900-seater palace of entertainment was not big enough so it was more than doubled in size – offering 2,000 seats.
During the war a bomb fell on the cinema during the 1942 Blitz year but it failed to explode.
It went on to play a leading role in city life, with films and live acts all appearing at the Carlton. Bill Haley played two shows to 4,000 people in 1957. In 1959 it changed its name to the Gaumont when the cinema with that name closed in the Haymarket.
The Rolling Stones raised the roof in 1964 along with many other big names. Morecambe and Wise
popped up to promote one of their films.
By the 1970s it turned into a bingo hall – where the man calling the numbers was another great Norwich character – the late, great Marshal Pete Wood.
It closed for “temporary” repairs a few years ago and never re-opened. The Rank group said the cost of the repairs was too high...it was the end of an era.
Now it has been announced that a 244-bedroom student complex will be built on the site...another chapter in the story of All Saints Green.
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