The ‘human alarm clock’ of yesteryear

William Wright, on the right, with other blacksmiths, at the Norwich Gas Works

William Wright, on the right, with other blacksmiths, at the Norwich Gas Works - Credit: Archant

The story about the 200th anniversary since the arrival of gas in Norwich prompted memories of the 'waker up' in the city... along before the days of alarm clocks.

Norwich -- Buildings -- G Norwich Gasworks at St Martins in Palace Plain pictured after it had cl

Norwich -- Buildings -- G Norwich Gasworks at St Martins in Palace Plain pictured after it had closed Used in the Evening News "Do You Remember" 21 January 2004, Page 8 Dated -- 24 August 1968 Photograph -- c8804 - Credit: Archant

It was on a winter's evening in 1804 when a crowd gathered on the historic market to watch as a light flickered in the darkness at Mr Harrison's stall and gas was produced for the first time by burning coal on a stove.

With four years Oxley's textile factory on Gentleman's Walk was lit by gas and by 1820 the Norwich Gas Light Company was established.

This led to the large gas works at St Martin's where the courts now stand today – and many historic buildings which stood in the way of the expansion were flattened so the demand for gas could be met.

While many, including wise businessman Jeremiah James Colman, opted for electricity to light up Carrow Works, gas played a leading role in the industrial life of the city and provided work for many.


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Our article prompted Roy Burrell, of Easton, to hunt out this photograph of his grandfather William Wright, on the right, with his workmates – blacksmiths at the gas works. He worked there for all his life and was responsible for making the iron gates in our photograph of the gas works.

His brother Robert and son William (Billy) also worked at the plant.

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'He always spoke of the 'waker up' who would tap on his bedroom window at 6am, shouting 'Wright, Wright' until he showed his face at the bedroom window, apparently this haunting voice frightened my mother,' said Roy. The family lived on Kett's Hill.

Grandad William had been born at Normandie Buildings, Paradise Place, now the Archant car park, which was described as a 'bit of a rough area.' He married Georgina in 1910.

'My mother's name was Elsie, Burrell, wife of Ernest who was a director of Norwich City Football Club at the time of Sir Arthur South. She passed away in December 1912 at the age of 94,' said Roy.

She remembered the year the coke pile stored at the Gas Works catching fire and had to be allowed to burn out as the fire service could not douse it... the glow could be seen all over Norwich.

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