When the bombs fell on St Benedict’s
It was a hustling, bustling part of Norwich with medieval churches, a dozen pubs, factories, shops of all sizes and numerous courts and yards.
People were proud of living on and off this famous old gateway in and out of the city which is often in the news today as people decide whether or not to restrict traffic.
There are those for and against and all have good reasons for their opinions as they struggle to make a living in a year like no other.
Whatever happens historic St Benedict’s has a proud history…and deserves a prosperous future.
It was an old Roman way which was the main entrance to the city from the west through St Benedict’s Gate, part of twelve which surrounded the walled city.
Much of the area was destroyed in the 1942 Blitz which flattened parts of the city killing men, women and children.
The junction of St Benedict’s with Grapes Hill had been reduced to a smoking ruin, sections of the old wall survived and are still there…but little else.
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Factories, pubs, shops and houses were gone and a witnesses said there was no glass in a single window frame on St Benedict’s.
Some people thought it was the end of the world. For many it was the end of a world they called home which had been destroyed in a couple of hours.
Those of us who didn’t live through the dark days of the Second World War can only imagine what it was like.
Slowly but surely the area recovered. “Normal” life resumed. So what was it like? There was one person who knew more than most about the community and its people was…the local bobby on the beat.
Back in the 1950s it was a well-known and highly respected police officer by the name of Basil Kybird who became well known all over Norfolk.
I suspect some of reading this will remember dear Basil who died a few years ago. Such a lovely man who wrote wonderful memories of just what it was like to be a policeman in Norwich at the time.
And he had a fine way with words.
“Point duty at St Benedict’s Gate from 5.15pm until 6.25pm. We were expected to act like human traffic signals, a most dangerous occupation, especially dealing with a great number of tired factory workers hurtling down Grapes Hill on cycles with dodgy brakes.”
He seemed to know everyone and they certainly knew him,
Basil said he would have a cup of tea at Flore Cooper’s hat shop at the junction with Westwick Street. As it was on a corner he could see if the patrol inspector was out and about looking for him.
If he spotted him he would pop out and nip down St Lawrence Steps to meet up with him. “I would greet him with a salute and a cheery ‘All correct, sir.’ Usually this was met with a grunt,” said Basil.
His regular haunts included cycle shop owner Frank Kirkby and Reeves butchers, where the tea was often a touch too cold, but still welcome. Not forgetting shops such as Henry Jarvis, Bretts, Taylors, Ashworth & Pike and the remains of the Coleman’s factory where the world famous tonic Wincarnis was produced.
It seemed everyone knew Basil. An old-fashioned copper who looked after them well.
He went on to train traffic wardens and, in the 1960s, became the first full-time crime prevention officer becoming well known in the city and across the county. He was a regular on Anglia Television and organised exhibitions on all forms of crime prevention and established one of the best museums on the subject.
He was the burglars’ worst enemy.
Basil retired in the 1980s. An award-winning artist and writer he was also a founder member of the Norwich City Police Association and President of the Norfolk branch of the National Association of Police Officers.