Norwich History by Parish : St. John Baptist Timberhill

And a new little project that Jonathan and I are undertaking because this lockdown is clearly here for at least a few more weeks. It’s a bit niche (our project I mean, not the lockdown), I’ll accept that, but there we go. Effectively, it’s walking around Norwich, ancient parish by ancient parish and seeing what is there now compared to a map from the 1880s (the map above is from 1789, but the one from the 1880s is more detailed, which is why we used that). There’s a PDF of these boundaries to provide some extra background to this whole project.

St. John Baptist Timberhill is the sixth parish we’ve done this for and, again, there’s substantially more history than I can mention in this post, a reminder of just how much heritage remains in Norwich. As can be seen in the above PDF, these boundaries are not that neat and they follow the lines of buildings that have long since gone. I’m generally spelling Timber Hill as two words, but views on this seem to differ, but I won’t let it overly worry me…..

This is the area of Norwich that we were meandering around. And, this parish was difficult to follow, not least because the entire cattle market area to the north of the former parish has disappeared and has been replaced by the Norwich Castle Quarter shopping centre, but also because the Rouen Road area has been entirely changed in post-war developments.

Starting off at St. John the Baptist Church, which was open and offering a friendly welcome. I took numerous photos in the church, but I’ve written about this building before and shall just refer back to that. Nearly no graves remain in the churchyard, but they appear to have been removed long ago, and little of the exterior remains. The church’s tower collapsed in 1784, during a period when many Church of England buildings were neglected as the number of people attending services started to fall, and it was never replaced.

We first went to the southern end of the parish, which is now the beginning of Ber Street, but this section was once considered to be part of Timber Hill. Also visible in the above photo is the entrance to White Hart Yard, which was named after the pub which once stood at its entrance. The pub closed in 1940 for the duration of the war, but it was then bomb damaged and became derelict, so that re-opening never happened.

This is perhaps something of a loss, this was the Kings Arms and George Plunkett took a photo of it in 1979. It had traded as a pub since the first few years of the nineteenth century, was damaged during the Second World War, but then repaired and it remained open until 1968.

The former Cullings Coaches building, a independent bus company which operated from Norwich.

The parish boundary stops about here somewhere where it meets St. Michael at Thorn parish. The back of these buildings on Ber Street would have once been yards which stretched back some distance, but this has all gone now, and that’s the back of the Archant building at the rear.

This is on the other side of Ber Street and is the Bonds building (operated by John Lewis) and this is a post-war building as their rather lovely previous shop got destroyed during the Second World War. George Plunkett has a photo of the Bonds building from 1935, which would have perhaps been one of the iconic images of the city if it had survived the war.

Bonds (or John Lewis) today, although the area on the right is in a different parish, but there was no evidence of any old parish markers here to show where that line was exactly.

We then went back to St. John the Baptist Church and walked back towards the city centre along Timber Hill. This is a vastly improved road and the city council have done a decent job here, with pedestrianisation making it a much more walkable area and there are numerous cafes and restaurants along here. Older photos show a busy road and pedestrians shoved to one side, so this is a more pleasant area to be now.

The entrance to Scotts Court, not to be confused with Scotts Yard on nearby Ber Street. On the other side of the road here is the Castle Quarter shopping centre (formerly the Castle Mall) which means little original from this area remains.

And a parish marker at last and many of them have gone missing from this area, with PAS meaning the Parish of All Saints.

The entrance to Lion and Castle Yard, which leads off Timberhill and is in the parish. It takes its name from the Lion and Castle pub which was located here between 1822 and 1925, with a sign also noting that the lion and castle are on the city’s coat of arms.

This building in the yard is one of the few thatched structures that still remain in Norwich and it is now one single property that was combined from two seventeenth century cottages. The building was restored by the Norwich Preservation Trust in 1996 and it’s likely that weavers would have once lived in the properties. George Plunkett took a photo of this location in 1935 and the area has a rather different feel today to back then.

Back on Timber Hill, this is the former Baptist Particular Chapel, which was originally built as a warehouse in the eighteenth century. It was purchased by the Particular Baptists in 1832 for £1,150 and then converted into a chapel, a usage that it retained until 1975. More recently it has been converted into a restaurant and bar.

Looking back up Timber Hill, with the Murderers Pub on the left.

This is the birthplace of Sir Arthur Michael Samuel (1872-1942), who was the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Norwich. He later became the Conservative MP for Farnham, the Secretary of Overseas Trade between 1924 and 1927 and then the Financial Secretary to the Treasury until 1929.

This is where Timber Hill meets Orford Hill and George Plunkett took a photo in 1984 of that stag being lifted onto the roof. There’s a blue plaque on that building which noted that George Walpole, the Earl of Orford (1730-1791) was seen as a bit of an eccentric at the time, but he gave generously to public subscriptions to fund planning improvements. This section of the street, which is also where three parishes meet, was renamed from Hog Hill to Orford Hill in his honour.

Orford Street, looking down towards Farmers Avenue.

The Bell Hotel from the Orford Street side. This large building is no longer a hotel and is operated as a JD Wetherspoon pub and is one of their first in the country to have opened outside of London. Sections of the structure remain from the fifteenth century and it has been known as the Bell (or the Blue Bell) since at least 1696. Revolutionary groups met here in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (and frankly, I can think of a few that have met here over the last few years, but that’s a different matter) and it was also used by the American Women’s Army Air Corps during the Second World War.

The front of the pub, from Castle Meadow.

The rather grand entrance, which was formerly the way into the stables of what was then a coaching inn.

This area has all changed now, with Norwich Castle in the background, Farmers Avenue now has the Castle Quarter structures on it.

The entrance to Orford Hill on the right, but once again, everything behind that has changed with the shopping centre development.

The entrance to the cinema.

This is the only remaining older section of this road, with what was Number 12 at the rear, a now permanently closed restaurant that was located in a building with parts remaining from the seventeenth century.

The rear of Number 12.

This building, 18 Golden Ball Street, was saved and now sits a little awkwardly within the Castle Quarter shopping centre structure. George Plunkett took a photo of this property in 1936, but everything else around here has gone. To the left of these structures is St. John the Baptist Church, where we started our little meander.

There’s also a parish boundary marker located on the front of the building and I wondered whether it was put there as part of the renovation and heritage of the building. However, it’s also visible in the old photo from George Plunkett and it stands for St. John Timber Hill.

The Archant building, which is perhaps not the most liked structure in terms of its design, but is something a little different and I’m sure it’ll become an important part of the architectural history of the city. Long since the home of the EDP, the building was sold by their owners Archant in 2019 to Alan Boswell Insurance, but they retain a floor in it. New ways of working and changes to regional newspapers (primarily they don’t sell many now) meant that Archant didn’t need as much office space, hence the downsizing arrangement.

Paid for by Archant, or Eastern Counties Newspapers as they were, this sculpture is by local man Bernard Meadows (1915-2005).

The car park of the Archant building, where once there was housing.

This is Paradise Place which is an old name for the streets here, but they were changed in the post-war period when a new housing development was placed here. Personally, I think this area has been botched in terms of its atmosphere (given there’s a busy road and big car park by it), as it doesn’t feel like part of the city and the old streetlines were lost. However, I’m sure that the quality of housing is better than what was here before, so the residents were perhaps rather quite pleased. And, I do like old streetlines to be maintained, so perhaps I’m just being biased.

And that concludes another parish, one which isn’t necessarily geographically huge, but which again contains a fair chunk of history. As usual, I’ve had to omit many stories from this account as there are far too many to tell, but it’s a reminder of just how much there is remaining in Norwich from the past.