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Fine City looked Festival Fantastic in 1951

PUBLISHED: 11:11 27 June 2011

Norwich Castle in 1951

Norwich Castle in 1951

Archant

Derek James looks back 60 years at the part Norwich played in the Festival of Britain.

This was a glorious opportunity for Norwich to open its doors to the rest of the country and shout from the roof-tops – welcome to The Fine City.

Sixty years ago the country was embarking on a new era with festivals and Norwich had the honour of putting one of the biggest outside London.

Parties, parades and processions were aimed, not only at people locals of all ages and all walks of life together, but to show others that Norwich was a great place to work, rest and play.

From June 18 to June 30 1951, the city was decorated and illuminated and throughout the whole fortnight it was said that “gaiety and pageantry will walk hand in hand”.

Earlier this month we looked at how the city was “festival fantastic” – much the same way as it is today – but what kind of a place was it all those years ago?

One of the articles in the excellent Book of the Norwich Festival was written by the talented Andrew Stephenson, a writer not fond of waffle who cut to the quick, and all these years on his words ring true.

Under the heading “The Blend That is Norwich” he wrote: “The charm of Norwich is elusive and ever fresh: it quickly captures the hearts of men and holds them lightly in lasting bondage. Here is a living beauty: not a fossil or a reconstructed museum piece.

“Of course, you can find all the blemishes of modern cities: insensitiveness and shoddiness posing as modernism: fine buildings which have been scurvily abused or deliberately neglected by commercial owners; the purgatories of builders’ whimsies and banker’s baroque.”

He advised the visitor not to start at the Castle Mound and survey the city like a purse-proud purchaser examining a bargain. The view would include most of the horrors and none of the charm.

Andrew picks his way around the city streets and parks pointing out the good, the bad and the ugly.

Sadly many of the courts and yards he encourages the reader to visit were destroyed in the name of progress.

So what did he think of the parks?

Eaton Park – large but somewhat undistinguished.

Waterloo Park – pleasantly laid out and has a magnificent herbaceous border.

Wensum Park – a flowering sublimation of a rubbish dump.

Earlham, Park – a charm and atmosphere of its own. This beautiful Georgian house, once the home of the Gurneys and Elizabeth Fry, has a lovely setting of lawns, gardens and shady steam.

And how should a visitor take his leave of 1951 Norwich?

“For my part I should go in the late evening to the School Meadow in the Lower Close.

“To the east are the two tiers of street lamps along Rosary Road and Riverside Road, the gasometers are lost against the wooded bluff along which the camp-fires of Kett’s rebels once glared, and farther south is Thorpe Station making steady and busy little noises

“From these signs of modern comforts one turns westwards. Above the silhouette of trees and roofs rise the castle, the softly lit tower of city hall and the serene beauty of the cathedral.

“Here in a very little time one is absorbed in a deep and pervading peace, rich with memories of the past, fresh with the signs of the vigour and visions of youth.”

Wise words – I wonder what he would have made of 2011 Norwich?

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