What was Anglia Square like in the 60s?

Charles 'Charlie' Catchpole worked for the Eastern Daily Press and Evening News for a brief spell in

Charles 'Charlie' Catchpole worked for the Eastern Daily Press and Evening News for a brief spell in the late 1960s. Pictured here in 1967 in the EDP office in King’s Lynn - Credit: Alan Howard

It has been a privilege to work alongside some talented writers since the 60s. You never forget them. One who died recently was Charles Catchpole, who went on to become a household name working on several national newspapers.

Norwich-born Charlie loved the city, the county and the Canaries….and never forgot his roots.

He was a brilliant and much-loved man of words.

Back in the 60s he was learning his trade with the Eastern Daily Press and the Norwich Evening News and this was an article he wrote in 1968 when times were changing…in the bold, new Anglia Square.

Over to Charles:

Quietly behind the vast glass frontage they move in.

With the minimum of fuss, and with the slowness, sureness and inevitability of Aesop’s tortoise, a community of Londoners who will soon number around 700 are being absorbed into Norwich and mixed with about 300 of the indigenous population.

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The mixing bowl for this integration is Sovereign House, Botolph Street – the new premises of HM Stationery Office.

Since June – when the advance party of around 100 who had been working in Norwich for up to two years, left their temporary accommodation and moved into the giant, seven-storey building – a steady trickle of employees from London has broadened into a stream.

At the moment, nearly 400 have settled in. Next week another 100 are due, and by the end of the year 1,000 pairs of feet will be treading the miles of identical-looking corridors which lie behind the sweeping glass frontage, Londoners will outnumber locals by about two to one.

The traditional unflappable efficiency of the Civil Service, the willingness of Norwich and its people to take visitors to its heart, and an eagerness on the part of the Londoners to belong, have all combined to give the transplant operation a smoothness that Dr Barnard would admire.

Sovereign House at Anglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Sovereign House at Anglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Mr Arthur Jennings, an executive officer with the establishment division, arrived in the city with the advance party, and has been in charge of the arrangements for recruiting local employees, moving in London staff, and settling everybody in together.

“The whole business has done very well indeed up to now, like clockwork in fact,” he said.

Each move takes place at the weekend. On a Friday afternoon, the staff who are due to move from London stop work, and prepare for the trip to the “backwoods.” Thousands of working papers and office equipment are loaded onto lorries, and sent ahead, to be ready for the arrivals when they move in on the Monday.

Mr Victor White, of the inspection, transport and warehousing division, is one of the longest-serving “newcomers” having come up from London with the advance party.

Like most people who have followed him, he has quickly settled down with his family in Norwich which he now regards at his home.

Norwich Stationary Office open plan office, 20th October 1971. Photo: Archant Library

Norwich Stationary Office open plan office, 20th October 1971. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

Norwich Stationary Office, 24th April 1986. Photo: Archant Library

Norwich Stationary Office, 24th April 1986. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

“We find the social life in the city excellent, and get on very well with the people. At first we really missed the theatre, which we used to be keen on in London, but we have joined the Maddermarket, and the Norwich Operatic Society, and we go to the Theatre Royal a lot,” he said.

Local employees – invariably young people, since the Civil Service’s hierarchical precludes newcomers starting anywhere other than at the bottom – are welcomed either by the training section or the department welfare officer.

After only four weeks with the Stationary Office – which she chose in preference to working in a bookshop – 16-year-old Teresa Cunnington has been standing in for the personal assistant to the director of the printing and binding division.

“It really is a good life here for young people, locally,” she said. “There is security, chance of promotion, day release to college for training and, of course, this great new building.”

One of the big mysteries surrounding the Stationary Office is the simple question – what does it do?

“In a nutshell, we keep the various Government departments going,” Mr H Jackson, a staff inspector of the establishments division, said: “We are not a policy department: our work is very much behind the scenes. We operate like a commercial business in many ways.

“Pens, pencils, paper have to be provided: White Papers, leaflets, posters, and all manner of things have to be printed for various Ministries,” he said.

Dwarfing all this is the terrific and ever-increasing volume of work done by the office’s computer division, which at the moment is separated from the main building.

In Wensum House, off Prince of Wales Road, 150 local girls sit transferring information on to punch cards for the benefit of a £270,000 computer complex in an air-conditioned former garage at Norvic House, Chapel Field Road.

This mighty brain – soon  to be replaced by one four times bigger in a new computer block currently under construction at Sovereign House – deals with information of all kinds, from every Ministry in Whitehall: staff records, calculations, supply orders, invoices, statistical, surveys, to name just a few.

Anarchists, who want to bring the machinery of government grinding to a halt need look no further than Norwich.

Assassinations are unnecessary: riots and strikes obsolete. All that is needed is an attack on the Stationary Office.

Today we live in different times. Sovereign House is empty and rotting away. An eyesore and as for poor old Anglia Square. Only time will tell.