Video: Hundreds attend re-opening of Norwich Memorial Gardens

Hundreds of people gathered in the city centre this afternoon for the long-awaited re-opening of Norwich's Memorial Gardens.

The gardens had been off limits to the public for more than six years, but at 2pm today a veteran and a serving soldier cut the ribbon to mark the completion of a �2.6m restoration project.

Victor Howe, 84, president of the Norwich branch of the Royal British Legion was joined by 20-year-old David Heir, who is serving with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment, in officially opening the gardens.

Proud veterans mingled with members of the public who were keen to see how the gardens, which sit on a terrace between the market and City Hall, had been transformed.

One of the major changes saw the war memorial itself, which was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the same man who created The Cenotaph in London, turned around to face St Peter's Street.

In its place in the gardens is a new bronze sculpture called Breath which is the work of the award-winning Paul de Monchaux.

It is designed to mark the furtherance of peace, hope and survival in contrast to the sombre message of the Lutyens monument.

Most Read

The gardens closed back in November 2004, when the structure they sit on was found to be structurally unsound, but even before that veterans had voiced concern about the state of the gardens.

In 2007 former BBC foreign affairs correspondent and ex-MP Martin Bell, during a visit to Norwich, said you would have to go to war-torn Iraq to find a war memorial in such bad condition.

For years there were problems in getting the restoration off the ground, while the city council struggled to find the funding to do it.

However, the breakthrough came in 2009 when a deal was struck with the government's Homes and Communities Agency which unlocked the funding to fix it.

The repair project saw a complete restoration and enhancement of the Grade II* listed structure on which the Memorial Gardens sit.

The building supporting the gardens has been repaired and new ramps put in to allow disabled access, while the gardens have been laid out with sensory plants to allow people with mobility problems or disabilities to enjoy them.

The city council had to work every step of the way with English Heritage to ensure each stone of the gardens and the memorial itself were put back exactly where they were before.

Norwich City Council worked on the scheme with architects NPS Property Consultants, construction company RG Carters, landscape architects The Landscape Partnership, construction consultants Stirling Maynard, and stonemasons Fairhaven and Woods.

The war memorial itself was rededicated on Armistice Day last year, but today was the first chance for people to visit the new-look Memorial Gardens, which were originally opened by King George VI on October 29, 1938.