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Norwich pagoda became a victim of planners

PUBLISHED: 13:14 24 February 2011

The pagoda in Chapelfield Gardens photographed by George Plunkett on July 1, 1934

The pagoda in Chapelfield Gardens photographed by George Plunkett on July 1, 1934

Archant © 2011; 01603 772434

Derek James remembers another sadly lost Norwich landmark - the pagoda in Chapelfield Gardens.

Yesterday we recalled the time when a much-loved Norwich church came tumbling down in clouds of dust... today we remember a nearby landmark which was also demolished.

Two acts of civic vandalism at a time when our planners were too quick to sign the death warrant on buildings which needed some tender loving care, while welcoming bland eyesores.

In Norwich of the 21st century the pagoda which stood so proudly in the heart of Chapelfield Gardens would have been a glorious Norwich work of art.

Back in 1880 a huge crowd watched and cheered as the colourful Mayor of Norwich, beer baron Harry Bullard, pictured, toasted the opening of a grand example of city workmanship.

This was a symbol of “Made in Norwich” but almost 70 years later it was ripped to pieces and the materials sold as scrap for £98.

The pagoda was built by Messrs Barnard, Bishop and Barnard of Norwich in 1876 as a showpiece for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. It was so popular the company showed it off at other exhibitions in Paris, Vienna and even Buenos Aires.

It had been designed by the brilliant local architect Thomas Jeckyall, who was one of the first designers to introduce the Japanese motif to Victorian England.

This was the age of industrial power. And Norwich was an industrial power.

Iron and steel formed the basis of wealth and prosperity in the 19th century and business around the world were looking at what was being produced in Norwich.

Jeckyall’s grand pavilion/pagoda was about 35ft long, stood 40ft high and weighed 40 tons – an ornamental fantasy and a blend of Victorian flamboyance and oriental simplicity. After its career as a big attraction in exhibitions worldwide, it was offered to Norwich Corporation as a centre-piece for the newly converted Chapelfield Gardens. The company asked for £200, it had cost £2,000 to build, and could cost another £200 to put up and make safe.

Because the corporation only had £1,000 to turn Chapelfield into a public garden, the money came as a result of an appeal to the public with the mayor of the day chipping in £25... saying Norwich citizens would have the pleasure of looking at a fine example of city workmanship.

At the formal opening in November of 1880 Harry Bullard did the honours while the band of the Inniskillings played “operatic airs” to an enchanted crowd.

The gardens played a big part of so many lives – many lived in courts and yards with no gardens.

During the summer season crowds listened to bands, and people loved the magnificent flower beds and tree-lined walkways. Eventually a new, more conventional bandstand was built and the poor old pagoda was becoming rather neglected.

By the 1920s Chapelfield was becoming more of a pleasure garden than a formal park and an area was created around the bandstand for open-air dancing.

During the Second World War the pagoda was damaged in the air-raids. When peace came and re-building war-ravaged Norwich finally started, the poor old pagoda got in the way.

It was demolished in November of 1949 and the materials sold as scrap for £98.

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that people started to ask... did we do the right thing? Should we have given the pagoda a future?

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