The forgotten streets of Norwich’s ‘village on the hill’

The tower blocks at Heartsease named after streets on the other side of the city – Ashbourne, Burlei

The tower blocks at Heartsease named after streets on the other side of the city Ashbourne, Burleigh and Compass. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

There are many stories to be told about how the names of our streets, roads, courts, yards and housing developments came about... but none quite so strange as to why a trio of tower blocks on the Heartsease in Norwich were given their names.

Looking down Thorn Lane from Ber Street during the 1920's. Photo: Archant Library

Looking down Thorn Lane from Ber Street during the 1920's. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

Ashbourne, Burleigh and Compass will be familiar to the people who lived in the 'village on the hill' between Ber Street and King Street before it was swept away in the 1960s.

They were among the many streets which were flattened when the families moved out, many of them to the estates on the outskirts of the city, and demolition men moved in.

Ber Street showing the streets and buildings that were cleared in the 60s redevelopment of the area.

Ber Street showing the streets and buildings that were cleared in the 60s redevelopment of the area. Dated 19 June 1959. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

The tower blocks were planned to be built off Ber Street but letters in the Evening News and a man with dowsing twigs put a stop to it.

There was talk, once the densely populated area had been cleared, to establish the new university there but the planners and powers-that-be then switched their attention to Earlham for the UEA.

Ber Street showing the clearance area with Mariners Lane running down the hill. The majority of buil

Ber Street showing the clearance area with Mariners Lane running down the hill. The majority of buildings in this photo no longer exist. Date is not given, but it is believed to be taken in the early 60s. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant


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Work started on preparing the ground for the tower blocks during the end of 1962 at the beginning of the 'big freeze' one of the harshest winters in recent times.

The ground froze solid but the work went ahead with huge pile drivers... then suspicions were raised. Tunnels in the chalk were discovered and readers of the Evening News wrote in warning of chalk workings and buildings sinking.

Letters warning of the dangers in the Evening News. Photo: Archant Library

Letters warning of the dangers in the Evening News. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

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More investigations took place. Where were these tunnels – if they really did exist?

It was the famous Norfolk builder Bob Carter who came up with an idea which stopped the housing team in their tracks.

The way it looked in 1963 after the houses were demolished. Photo: Archant Library

The way it looked in 1963 after the houses were demolished. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

Get in touch, he suggested, with Bill Youngs of Harleston. A dowser who could find out what was going on underneath their feet.

They had their doubts but they got in touch with Bob and he agreed to come to Norwich with his dowsing twigs.

The work in progress at the demolished “village on the hill” between Ber Street and King Street in N

The work in progress at the demolished village on the hill between Ber Street and King Street in Norwich in the winter of 1963. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

He arrived, and said if they wanted to pay him they could give £20 to a local hospital. After a pint in a pub which once stood on the corner of Horn's Lane, he went to work.

Dowser Bill soon discovered find tunnels and even an underground watercourse which had even claimed a steam roller years previously.

Compass, Burleigh and Ashbourne Towers on the Heartsease Estate. Photo: Archant

Compass, Burleigh and Ashbourne Towers on the Heartsease Estate. Photo: Archant - Credit: � ARCHANT } NORFOLK 2003.

Could they build the big tower blocks on the land?

No.

General view of the tower blocks on the Heartsease Estate. Photo: Colin Finch

General view of the tower blocks on the Heartsease Estate. Photo: Colin Finch - Credit: Archant � 2006

The smaller maisonettes and buildings we have on Ber Street today are safe and stable and there was no evidence of tunnels further down the hill where Normandie Tower stands today.

As far as the 11-storey tower blocks are concerned... they were built at Heartsease and named after streets wedged between Ber Street and King Street.

Compass Tower, one of three blocks of flats in Munnings Road, Heartsease.
Photo: Bill Smith

Compass Tower, one of three blocks of flats in Munnings Road, Heartsease. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers

To share or simply enjoy more Norwich nostalgia, join our Facebook group Norwich Remembers.

Burleigh Tower in Norwich. Photo: Sonya Brown

Burleigh Tower in Norwich. Photo: Sonya Brown

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