The forgotten streets of Norwich’s ‘village on the hill’
- 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
Could they build the big tower blocks on the land?
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.
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