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The tale behind Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Anglia Square, Norwich

PUBLISHED: 18:00 07 June 2017

Norwich Stationary Office, 24th April 1986. Photo: Archant Library

Norwich Stationary Office, 24th April 1986. Photo: Archant Library

Archant Library

It was half a century ago when an advance party from London arrived in Norwich on a mission... to set up Her Majesty's Stationery Office in the city.

H M Stationary Office reunion. Photo: Antony KellyH M Stationary Office reunion. Photo: Antony Kelly

And it would be based in what was then a bold symbol of 1960s architecture and today regarded by many as a blot on the landscape. Sovereign House on Botolph Street looming over Anglia Square.

Last week, members of that advance party gathered for a reunion in the city to meet up with old colleagues and friends 50 years on.

“We thought it would be a good opportunity for members of the advance party, as it was called at the time, and others who worked together at HMSO to get together,” said party member Roger Nash.

H M Stationary Office reunion. Photo: Antony KellyH M Stationary Office reunion. Photo: Antony Kelly

At the time Roger was living in Bromley and says the move was such a big thing for the families in those days.

“I moved to Drayton and the thing I remember most was that there were no lights at night. Everywhere was do dark,” said Roger who soon settled down to life in Norfolk and became a long-serving member of Broadland Council.

“We settled down to live in Norfolk. So different to where we came from. Our children went to school and we became part of the community. It is a lovely place to live,” said Roger.

The Morris Printing Co Ltd. Photo: Archant LibraryThe Morris Printing Co Ltd. Photo: Archant Library

It was in September of 1964 that the Stationery Office officially announced that it was on the way to Norwich. Around 1,000 people would be working from its new high-tech multi-storey home.

The move from London to Norwich was planned like a military operation.

In mid-1966 local women were recruited to work at the Stationery Office’s central computer bureau at Wensum House, most of them punch-card machine operators.

The Queen visiting the Stationery Office. Photo: Archant LibraryThe Queen visiting the Stationery Office. Photo: Archant Library

The first to move from London was the advance party the following year and they were based at Norvic House. They, along with two dozen from the typing pool at Prince of Wales Road, headed the arrival at Sovereign House.

A total of 580 homes had been provided in the Norwich council house programme to accommodate some of the staff.

And in 1966, George Carver, vice-chairman of the council’s housing committee, said if 300 tenants were assumed to earn less than £20 10s a week, the special annual contribution from the rate fund could be estimated at £14,000 per annum for the first three years.

Norwich Stationary Office open plan office, 20th October 1971. Photo: Archant LibraryNorwich Stationary Office open plan office, 20th October 1971. Photo: Archant Library

By the summer of 1968 the move from London to Norwich was in full flow.

Each of the monthly moves involved up to 120 people, their papers and equipment.

In June it was members of the finance and establishment divisions, also some of the duplication division and part of the computer services division, and they were followed each month by members of other departments.

Norwich Stationary Office, late 1960s. Photo: Archant LibraryNorwich Stationary Office, late 1960s. Photo: Archant Library

Each move took place at weekends. Thousands of working papers – most packed well in advance – were loaded on lorries together with other machinery, after staff had finished their week’s work.

On a Saturday it was brought to Norwich where staff in the city would help unload it and fitted in Sovereign House along with the latest computer equipment which was used, among other things, to store facts and figures on pay rolls, accounts and government statistics.

This was a busy and bustling building which loomed large over the new Anglia Square. Much of old Norwich had been flattened to make way for the inner ring road, cinema, multi-storey car park and a range of shops.

Norwich Stationary Office, 5th January 1995. Photo: Archant LibraryNorwich Stationary Office, 5th January 1995. Photo: Archant Library

Anglia Square, we were told at the time, was the future and the area around would prosper and benefit.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

About 30 years later, in the mid 1990s, HMSO staff were being made redundant... the service was being privatised.

Today the old headquarters looks has become an eyesore. As for Anglia Square... time will tell. It deserves better.

To share or simply enjoy more Norwich nostalgia, join our Facebook group Norwich Remembers.

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