Could Norwich ever be flooded again?

PUBLISHED: 18:13 22 March 2019 | UPDATED: 18:14 22 March 2019

The way it was...St Miles Bridge in Norwich of 1912

The way it was...St Miles Bridge in Norwich of 1912


We walk, cycle or drive over bridges without a second glance. The water is below us. It always has been...we tend to take it for granted.

Norwich floods , view of Thorpe Valley from Carrow Works. November 18, 1878Norwich floods , view of Thorpe Valley from Carrow Works. November 18, 1878

How much to do know about the stories they have to tell. One of smiles and laughter or of death and destruction?

Once a busy commercial highway, this is the River Wensum, the name is thought to come from an Old English word meaning “winding” although most rivers do meander.

There was a terrible flood in 1878 and then the last “Great Flood” was back in 1912, a dark time for Norwich and Norfolk when lives were lost, property destroyed and thousands of people washed out of their homes and left penniless.

Could it happen again?

Milk delivery to Dial House, Heigham Street, Norwich, in 1912 with the modern view for comparison taken 106 years laterMilk delivery to Dial House, Heigham Street, Norwich, in 1912 with the modern view for comparison taken 106 years later

The question is raised in a fascinating new book by the man who brought us Subterranean Norwich concentrating mainly on the shape of the landscape and on what lies beneath our feet.

This time Matthew Williams has turned his attention to the River Wensum in Norwich Submerged, an important local history offering which asks the question...what is the prospect of another great flood for the 21st century?

His first book inspired him to find out more about the 1912 flood and not least to get to the bottom (almost literally) of the puzzle of why the flood plate at New Mills Yard seemed half-buried below the ground.

He has followed its twists and turns and dug deep into its history for this important local history book which includes an enormous amount detail of local history from this well-informed author who spent much of his career in the construction industry.

“I was also intrigued why there were a dozen or more flood plates mounted on walls elsewhere throughout the city – did they all record the same level?

“A great thing about Norwich is being able to walk around and look at these things because of the good access we have to our city centre and to share friendly discussion with random strangers,” said Matthew.

“I found I was not the only person who had asked these questions and so I set out to find the answers using a similar approach to that in my previous book, with a strong emphasis on comparing relative levels,” he added.

And Matthew soon discovered an intriguing story, not just in the detail of the inundation itself, but of the way it was dealt with and reported at the time.

“I was able to delve into 100-year-old City Council documents charting the determination to ensure no flood like it would ever happened again.

Rare photographs, maps, charts, and words make up this compelling tale and it makes readers realise just how important it is to treat all our rivers and waterways – not just with Wensum – with dignity and respect.

“I uncovered drawings showing engineering works that were started but never fully completed before other 20th century concerns took over and we rather turned out back on the river – that is until the recently launch of the River Wensum Strategy,” said Matthew.

And he adds: “Understanding 1912 in the context of earlier floods has helped me to a still deeper appreciation of the city we see today, and I wanted to share that with anyone who may be interested.

“I am always keen to understand the past and see what it can tell us about the future. But I’m leaving it up to the reader to judge the chances of Norwich one day seeing another Great Flood,” said Matthew.

Norwich Submerged: The Meandering River and the Great Flood by Matthew Williams, is published by Lasse Press and is in the shops now at £14.99. You can also click on

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