The Dowson days

Derek James remembers the Dowson School at Mile Cross, which educated thousands of Norwich children, as a new community grows up on the site where it stood.

Eighty-four years ago a new school opened in Norwich and the classrooms echoed to the excited voices of children with names like Sidney, Rita, Victor, Violet and Walter.

Now the school is gone, but the children who filed in on that first morning in December 1926 are being remembered – and invited to a celebration.

Dowson School, in Mile Cross, educated many thousands of Norwich children over its 80-year history.

But in 2008 a reorganisation of city schools meant it was no longer needed. The school was closed and its site, off Valpy Avenue, was sold.

Now a new community is growing up.

Every one of the 47 affordable homes built for Broadland Housing Association is already occupied and on Friday a new community room will be opened.

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Carved into the bricks which make up its walls are the names of all 153 children who were the first Dowson girls and boys back in 1926. The name Dowson comes from a Norwich solicitor and educational philanthropist, John Dowson and the school's first register was discovered at the start of demolition work in 2009.

Dated December 6, 1926, it lists the names of all the children registered at the school when it first opened.

The pupils include nine Georges, five Jacks, four Sidneys, two Sydneys, four Irenes, four Ednas, three Donalds, three Doreens, and three Leslies.

Those pioneers of Mile Cross education, who probably lived in the new houses being built right across the area as part of the first social housing project outside London, will be in their late 80s or their 90s – if they still survive. Some might have perished in the war, which also damaged the school so badly it had to be rebuilt in 1945. Others might still have fond memories of their schooldays.

But, as the children who began the history of Dowson School, they are also part of the start of a new era for the site. It has been developed by Broadland Housing Association and its 47 properties include flats, wheelchair accessible bungalows and solar heated houses – and the community room where the names of all the children in the 1926 register have been carved into bricks.

The community room will be opened this Friday, December 17, and Broadland Housing Association is inviting anyone connected with Dowson School over the years to attend. It is particularly keen to welcome anyone who is on that 1926 register.

Guests will be able to find 'their' brick and share reminiscences about their schooldays – as well as look forward to a new lease of life for the site. As well as speeches, refreshments and a ribbon-cutting ceremony there will be an exhibition of archive photographs.

The housing association is also keen to continue the site's links with local children and plans to host activities for youngsters in the community room.

If you, or your parents or grandparents, were part of that first December day at Dowson, back in 1926, and would like to attend, or find out more about the community room commemoration, you can contact Broadland Housing Association by calling 0303 303 0003 or emailing

And I'd love to see a picture of the those Mile Cross children from the 1920s. Do contact me if you have a class photograph from the early days of the school - or any pictures of the school and its pupils or teachers over its 80-year history.