Search

We’ve never had it so good - a city bouncing back from wartime

PUBLISHED: 10:00 29 July 2017

A children�s party at Woodlands Road, Norwich, on Coronation Day. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity  by Frances and Michael Holmes

A children�s party at Woodlands Road, Norwich, on Coronation Day. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes

Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes

Victory was sweet - but it came at a cost. Norwich was a city which had been shattered. Hundreds of people had died, many more injured, and thousands had lost their homes.

Peter Watson as Robin Hood at a fancy dress parade at the Firs speedway stadium on Coronation Day 1953. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity  by Frances and Michael HolmesPeter Watson as Robin Hood at a fancy dress parade at the Firs speedway stadium on Coronation Day 1953. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes

This was 1945. The country was on its knees. The people were on a diet, thanks to rationing, and the road ahead was a bumpy one.

The story of how the city, the county and the country came to together to build a new life is told in the new bestselling Norwich 1945 to 1960: A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes of the Norwich Heritage Projects.

Those coming home from the war in Europe – many Norfolk men were still prisoners in the horrendous jungle slave camps of the Far East – were shocked by what had happened to Norwich.

Between 1940 and 1943 there had been 45 bombing raids claiming around 350 lives. More than 14,000 homes had been damaged, of these 1,200 had to be demolished. Many factories had been destroyed, including Bonds (John Lewis) and Curls (Debenhams).

More fancy dress fun to celebrate the Coronation. Is that the Mighty Atom himself, speedway ace Billy Bales, with the children? Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity  by Frances and Michael HolmesMore fancy dress fun to celebrate the Coronation. Is that the Mighty Atom himself, speedway ace Billy Bales, with the children? Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes

It was time to re-build. So called prefabs (temporary homes) were put up on the Marlpit Estate in the city which the Evening News described as a “housewife’s dream of convenience and comfort in its kitchen and bathroom equipment.”

In 1946 work started on building the Tuckswood Estate and a couple of years later the foundations were laid for the West Earlham and South Park Avenue Estate. But many people were still living with family and friends in overcrowded homes or even in rat-infested Nissen huts used by the GI’s.

Slowly but surely life was getting back to normal but it was tough.

In April of 1949 thousands of people took part in Norwich Scout Week – an organisation which gave boys a ray of hope in a drab world - and a host of activities took place on the site of the Curls store in the city.

Princess Elizabeth visits the city to open the Norwich Festival, accompanied by the Lord Mayor, Eric Hinde, in 1951. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity  by Frances and Michael HolmesPrincess Elizabeth visits the city to open the Norwich Festival, accompanied by the Lord Mayor, Eric Hinde, in 1951. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes

A couple of years later, Norwich was selected as one of the places to play a leading role in the Festival of Britain designed to put a smile back on people’s faces. A time for celebration. A time for hope.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children, lined the streets in June of 1951 to cheer as Princess Elizabeth arrived to open the festival and was welcomed by the Lord Mayor Eric Hinde.

He summed it all up so well by saying: “Today... is a tribute to the co-operation of all citizens and traders in Norwich, who have done their best to cover our scars, to lessen our pain, and with decorations of flowers and flags which have added beauty to our historic city.”

Norwich has always known how to party and a huge range of events and attractions took place during the festival.

Snap the Dragon and the Whifflers lead the Lord Mayor�s  coach along The Walk on festival day which attracted huge crowds from the city and county. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity  by Frances and Michael HolmesSnap the Dragon and the Whifflers lead the Lord Mayor�s coach along The Walk on festival day which attracted huge crowds from the city and county. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes

As the Evening News and Eastern Daily Press said all those years ago: “During the Festival there has been a spirit of gaiety and happiness in the city, a spirit of thankfulness for past glories and a deliverance of our city... a time to renew our energies for the future.”

Two years later it was time to celebrate again when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II.

Once again the people came out to party... highlights of a carnival at Eaton Park, included a display by the Hell’s Angels, described as the greatest trick and stunt motorcyclists in the world and a Miss Coronation competition.

Life was starting to get better and in 1957 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan declared: “Most people have never had it so good.”

Today it is where Debenhams stands but in 1949 the bombed out Curls site was the perfect setting for Norwich Scout Week which raised enough money to build new headquarters for local troops. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity  by Frances and Michael HolmesToday it is where Debenhams stands but in 1949 the bombed out Curls site was the perfect setting for Norwich Scout Week which raised enough money to build new headquarters for local troops. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960: A journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes

But then asked, which is often forgotten: “Is it too good to last?”

• Don’t miss the next part of our story looking at life in the 50s – the days of television and rock ‘n’ roll, when Made in Norwich was a symbol of style and craftsmanship. Oh yes, and there was some excitement at Carrow Road at the end of the decade. On the Ball City!

• Norwich 1945 to 1960: A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes is on sale in Jarrold and City Bookshop, Davey Place, for £9.95. It is also available by clicking on www.norwich-heritage.co.uk

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years, through good times and bad. Coronavirus is one of the greatest challenges our community has ever faced, but if we all play our part we will defeat it. We're here to serve as your advocate and trusted source of local information.

In these testing times, your support is more important than ever. Thank you.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Norwich Evening News