River Wensum walk

A walk along the river Wensum  through Norwich. 

By David Edleston of the Northern Rivers Sub-Committee

As a member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation and the East Anglia Branch Committee, I have recently been involved in organising the IHBC Annual School for 2015, a three day conference which was held in Norwich at the end of June. I mentioned this at a meeting of the Northern Rivers Sub-Committee and in particular that I would be leading one of the tours at the conference which would explore the influence of the River Wensum in the development of Norwich, especially through the once thriving port. It was suggested that I should arrange a similar walk for the Broads Society committee members and on 4 June, 12 members of the Main, Northern and Southern Rivers Sub-Committees met outside the Norwich Playhouse to walk along the River Wensum as far as Carrow Bridge. This route of the riverside walk through the core of the city, is full of historic and architectural interest as a major tourist and visitor attraction. Back in 2007, the Norwich Society in conjunction with Norwich HEART (Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust) published a document entitled ‘Wensum River Parkway – Norwich’s forgotten asset’, which sought to promote and raise awareness of the value of the river. Although some work has been undertaken, such as encouraging the provision of public access to the river in new development, there are continuing concerns that the full potential of the river as a valuable asset to the city has not been fully realised and is not being adequately promoted. However, more recently, there has been further interest in the river with various organisations intending to work together to develop a strategy for its future. With this background information in mind, some of the key sites that we looked at along the riverside walk included the following :- Friars Quay : A development of 40 houses and 9 ground floor flats designed by Feilden & Mawson Architects and built in the mid 1970s on the site of the former Jewsons Timber Yard. This is an award winning scheme which featured in the Architectural Review where it was praised for its locally distinctive character and sense of historical continuity achieved through appropriate scale and form, layout, steeply pitched roofs, subtle use of colour and provision of semi-private space. Quayside : An attractive group of buildings with diverse architectural styles and materials from different periods including recent infill development and conversion of former school to residential use with interesting design of public realm and streetscape linking with the historic past. St James Mill : This Grade I listed Victorian Yarn Mill, built on a site originally occupied by the White Friars was central to the city’s industrial history.


It was built between 1836-39 in response to the crisis in Norwich’s textile trade and was fitted with power looms to try and make the trade more efficient and lucrative. It has had a variety of uses including Caleys chocolate manufacturers for their box and cracker department in 1904 and in 1918 it was sold to become a Government Instructional Factory where those injured in the First World War were taught skills such as carpentry, bricklaying, plastering and tailoring to enable them to reintegrate into society. Today it houses Jarrolds headquarters and training centre along with a number of other businesses and the John Jarrold Printing Museum. Great Hospital Swan Pit : This Grade II listed mediaeval swan breeding pit in the Great Hospital Meadow is the only such structure left in the whole of the UK. Constructed in 1793 as a purpose built confined area, the swan pit contained the hospital’s cygnets, to be fattened on grain and sold. Cow Tower : Constructed of flint and clad with bricks, the tower was built as part of the city walls between 1294 and 1334 and then extensively rebuilt in 1390. It was one of the earliest purpose-built artillery blockhouses in England, which controlled a strategic point in Norwich’s city defences. Its height of almost 50 feet was necessary to overlook the high ground on the opposite bank and it housed guns and a garrison of gunners to defend the approach to the city across the River Wensum. Bishop Bridge : The only mediaeval bridge now surviving in Norwich. Built between 1337 and 1341 and constructed in stone, it formed part of the city’s defences and was originally topped with a fortified gatehouse as the main point of entry into Norwich from the east. Pulls Ferry.


This arched watergate was built in mediaeval times, but the adjoining house of a later date was the home of the ferryman after whom it is named – John Pull. Its original purpose was as the entrance to the canal where the stone to build Norwich cathedral was brought in. When work started on the cathedral in 1096 this canal was built to link the site to the River Wensum so that stone could be transported by water from Normandy. The canal was eventually filled in. Port of Norwich : Norwich became a port by Act of Parliament in 1872. The port of Norwich was at the heart of its history as a thriving maritime city. The wide section of the river just downstream from the Hotel Nelson was the turning point for ships and the port covered the reach of the river from Carrow Bridge to Foundry Bridge, which formed the upper limit of navigation. King Street with merchants houses and sites sloping down towards the river was the centre of the brewing industry in Norwich. Reads flour mill used river transport for deliveries of grain and at Baltic Wharf, timber was imported from Scandinavia. Eventually industry deserted King Street and Riverside Road, the area that supported river traffic and the size of coasting vessels increased so that fewer vessels were capable of navigating the narrow and winding rivers that led to Norwich. By the end of the 1980s transport by river had almost completely ceased. Riverside : This former industrial area to the south of the railway station was redeveloped in the 1990s providing retail and leisure facilities along with housing to the river frontage and the new Novi Sad and Lady Julian bridges creating further pedestrian and cycle links to the city centre. However there was a missed opportunity for the development to engage with the river in a more positive way. Ferryboat Inn Site : Proposals are currently under consideration to convert the Grade II listed Ferryboat Inn to residential use along with new large scale residential development and the creation of public access to the river. However the planning application has been withdrawn for further review following concerns at the scale and height of the development, its impact on the setting of the listed building and potential restrictions on navigation. Reads Mill :

Residential Development at Reads Flour Mill


Redevelopment of former flour mills site including conversion of some of the older commercial buildings to residential use. Carrow Bridge : Originally built in 1810 as a toll bridge, the current bridge dates from 1923. Boom Towers : Built in the 14th century, they are the last remaining boom towers in England. They were used to collect taxes from boats using the river with a chain or boom being strung between the towers to stop boats passing. New residential development : Large scale, new residential development continues along the river frontage downstream of Carrow Bridge as well as residential conversion of existing industrial buildings such as those at the Paper Mill site. Consent has been granted for residential development of the Deal Ground site, including a pedestrian and cycle bridge link to the city centre. A scheme is also being drawn up for redevelopment of the Utilities Site known as Generation Park to include a bio-mass power station, student residences and further residential accommodation. The River Wensum Strategy is a joint initiative currently being drawn up by Norwich City Council in partnership with The Broads Authority, Norfolk County Council, The Environment Agency and The Wensum River Parkway Partnership. The strategy will aim to manage the River Wensum and surrounding area for the benefit of the city and its residents as well as increasing access to and use of the river itself. A public consultation exercise was carried out by the partnership during July 2015 seeking views on the proposed strategy area and its objectives as well as any issues that should be addressed and opportunities to be explored. These include the river’s potential for contributing to the green infrastructure network and biodiversity; its links with the footpath and cycle network; its heritage and its potential to boost the local economy through attracting tourists and visitors. Further consultation will take place on the draft strategy and action plan later in the year. Further information can be found on the Norwich City Council website at : http://www.norwich.gov.uk/Planning/PlanningPolicy/Pages/RiverWensumStrategyPartnership.aspx David Edleston Northern Rivers Sub-Committee