There are certain people from history whose names and photographs pop up from time to time…but they rarely make the headlines.

Talented people who do important work behind the scenes while others tend to take pride of place, shake hands and smile for the camera.

One such gentleman was Arthur Elliston Collins. You may have seen his name on commemorative plaques on bridges and buildings around Norwich…but just  who was he?

He has cropped up in several of my stories recently in connection with the city of 100 years ago and we certainly have a lot to thank him for.

Eastern Daily Press: The new book The Masterful Mr Collins. The story of the man who dragged Norwich into the 20th

Arthur was Norwich’s City Engineer from 1894 through to 1925, and among other things he is credited with at last providing us with a working sewage system.

A basic requirement which helped turn the medieval city into a place fit for the 20th century.

Later on, he was the key to the city fathers’ pioneering development of social housing, culminating in the great Mile Cross Estate, which has recently celebrated its centenary.

Not only a brilliant engineer and builder Arthur was also a forceful and interesting character.

Eastern Daily Press: Dolphin Yard in 1921 before clearance

He arrived in Norwich halfway through his working life and remained for 31 years until his retirement at the age of 68.

Matthew Williams has written previously about him in his books on Norwich’s water systems and the Great Flood of 1912, but has now gathered together all his research on Collin’s life to provide a highly readable and illustrated little book, appropriately called The Masterful Mr Collins.

Eastern Daily Press: New Mills Compressor Station in 1898 - designed by Arthur Collins

And he wants to praise and thank all those who helped him in collecting the information from a variety of local and national sources.

“For years, we have celebrated the architects George Skipper and Edward Boardman who have left us with some wonderful buildings, but I believe their contemporary Arthur Collins was just as important to Norwich,” said Matthew.Eastern Daily Press: The plaque on Whitefriars Bridge


“Without his staying power and his engineering work, much of which is out of sight, the city could not have functioned. It is time to celebrate his life and his great achievements,” he added.

Indeed it is.

Eastern Daily Press: Arthur striding out at Mile Cross in 1923

Arthur was primarily a ‘nuts and bolts’ man, a provider of vital utilities rather than a designer of stand-out buildings. Much of his extensive construction legacy remains hidden from view.

But now, at last, we can learn more about them and the brilliant and outspoken engineer who did so many to improve the day-to-day life of the people of Norwich.

Eastern Daily Press: Matthew Williams, author of the new book The Masterful Mr Collins

The Masterful Mr Collins: Norwich’s City Engineer 1894-1925 by Matthew Williams is available for £7.50 plus postage from SCT Books at or from local bookshops.