Norwich owes much to the River Wensum. Once its lifeblood, it was the conduit for trade and people, linking the city to its historic European trading partners.

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The 1920s Whitefriars Bridge

Until the 19th century it was quicker and easier to travel by water to Amsterdam from Norwich than it was to go to London overland, which could take three days on terrible roads. So the city grew up around the river and it was at the heart of the economy. There must have been river crossings from the earliest Saxon and Viking days in Norwich and, although most of the bridges around today date from more recent times, often they replaced earlier structures. With the current renaissance of the citys riverside, its time to take a walk through history one bridge at a time.

Starting at the edge of the inner ringroad we come to Station Bridge. Built in 1882, it served the now demolished City railway station at what is now Barn Road roundabout. It cuts Oak Street, a historic part of the city, in two. The bridge was built by Barnard, Bishop and Barnards. What is reputed to be the oldest public toilet in Britain is also there.

Walk on past the waterworks and leave the riverside for a while. Soon you come to Coslany Bridge. Were now in Viking Norwich, the part of the city that Danish settlers colonised in the late 9th century. Following the defeat of East Anglian King Edmund in 870AD, the Danes did much to build up the future city of Norwich. Archaeologists are still piecing together the story of a time when the citys life was centred upon the area known as Tombland. The current pedestrian bridge here was built by James Frost in 1804. Also known as St Miles, it is the earliest iron bridge in Norwich. Standing next to it is the former Bullard and Sons Anchor Brewery, built in 1773, now sympathetically converted into flats.

Next we come to Duke Street. Once the site of the Duke of Norfolks palace, it is now a busy road. A cast-iron bridge built in 1822 was a private moneymaking venture which charged tolls until 1855 when the City Corporation took over. It was removed when the street was widened in 1972 and re-erected in the Castle Mall car park in 1992 where it can be seen today.

The medieval Bishop Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge (or St Georges) was built in 1783-84 by Sir John Sloane with with a single stone arch and iron railings.

The oldest known bridge in Norwich is at Fye Bridge, down the road from ancient Tombland leading to Magdalen Street. A 13th century structure was rebuilt in 1829, and later widened. The old bridge was taken down and put up again at Heigham. Walking along the riverside we can see Friars Quay, new housing replacing redundant riverside industries. Names of former traders and residents are recalled by stone sculptures representing bales. Look out for names such as Edward Cutmore, Miss Miles, Edward Osborn, J Aspland, butcher and Mrs A Paul.

Whitefriars Bridge was built in the 1920s by AE Collins, the city engineer, replacing one of 1591. The original was taken down to be re-used elsewhere but it seems the materials ended up instead as the foundations for the new Aylsham Road. Jarrolds Publishers stands on the site near where the Carmelite friars once had a 13th century monastery.

Bishop Bridge is the only surviving medieval bridge in the city. It was built in 1340, one of the oldest bridges still in use in England. A fortified gatehouse stood on the bridge until the 18th century, and the semi-circular projection you can see today is part of its outer turrets. In 1549 it became a battlefield, when Robert Ketts rebels fought royal troops. The rebels overcame the defenders, and ran amok through Norwich. You can see the arms of the city a lion and castle carved over a central arch; the Red Lion pub probably derives its name from this. Originally owned by monks, the prior was allowed to build houses on the bridge but had to allow access for people and their horses beside the arches. In 1393 it was handed over to the city

Novi Sad Friendship bridge.

A ferry ran from Cathedral Close, just down from the Bishop Bridge. Pulls Ferry was originally known as Sandlings. He was an Elizabethan chorister who kept the ferry early in the 17th century and lived to be 89. It got its current name from John Pull, who ran the ferry and adjoining inn from 1796 to 1841. After surviving an attempt to close it down by extending the railway along the river edge (defeated by the cathedrals Dean Goulburn) it operated until 1943. Several bridges have stood on the highway leading to Prince of Wales Road. Jonathan Davey, after whom Davey Place, the first pedestrian street in Norwich was named, put up the money in the early 1800s. Travellers on the bridge paid a toll. Two more bridges followed, one when the railway arrived in the 1840s, and another 40 years later at a cost of 12,000. This is the current Foundry Bridge.

Novi Sad Friendship Bridge was built in 2001 for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge can swing open just in case any large ships should pass through. Another pedestrian bridge is planned to go up at Riverside towards the railway station.

Carrow Bridge, next to Norwich Citys football stadium, was originally built in 1810 as a toll bridge when it was used by cows from nearby Trowse. The current bridge was built in 1923 just south of the old one. It is still the lowest bridging point on the Wensum, and can swing open to allow large ships to pass up river. Boom towers there were once part of the medieval defences of Norwich; by night a chain was strung between them across the river which prevented any waterborne surprise attacks. Beyond Carrow the Wensum merges with the Yare and heads towards Yarmouth and the sea.

FURTHER READING

A History of Norwich, Frank Meeres.

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