Remember when Norwich city centre was a 'farmyard'?

Cattle market from Cattle Market Street

Cattle market from Cattle Market Street looking towards rear of Agricultural Hall. Date: Unknown - Credit: Archant Library

I would sit in my father’s car waiting for him to come out of his office in Ber Street, Norwich, (he worked for the NFU) and watch the cows come past – clattering on the cobbles.

This was a busy Saturday in Norwich during the 1950s. A very different place to the one we have today.

Cattle market sheep sale, Bell Hotel etc

Cattle market sheep sale, Bell Hotel etc in background. Date: Unknown - Credit: Archant Library

A time when the city and towns across Norfolk and Suffolk had market days and half-day closing. Once a week there was a busy day and a quiet afternoon in our communities.

In Diss, where I grew up, Friday was packed for market day while on Tuesday afternoon the streets were empty…up the road in Norwich half-day closing was on a Thursday and of course Saturday was the big market day on “Norwich Hill” in front of the Castle.

Wandering around that part of the city now it is difficult to image those times when it was packed with livestock, members of the farming community, country and city folk.


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One man who wrote a fine piece about Norwich Hill was author Robert Bagshaw  in his book More Memories of Norfolk 30 years ago.

“I still cling to the belief that something of the heart went out of Norwich when they took away the old Cattle Market and transplanted it at Harford Bridges,” he wrote.

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“Mind you, part of the city’s agricultural soul had already gone, for the Corn Exchange had long been demolished and the Agricultural Hall was no longer fulfilling its original function.

“But when the city finally gave up playing host to the weekly invasion from the countryside there was little left to remind Norwich of the debt it owed to its agricultural surroundings,” said Robert.

And he went on: “For as long as any of us could remember, Saturday had been the day when Norwich became a farmyard, with all the sights and sounds - not to mention the smells – of the countryside.

Norwich Castle with cattle Market pens in foreground

Norwich Castle with cattle Market pens in foreground. Date: Unknown - Credit: Archant Library

Washing cattle floats on Agricultural Hall Plain

Washing cattle floats on Agricultural Hall Plain. Date: Unknown - Credit: Archant Library

Norwich Cattle Market sheep sale (note City hall under construction in background). Dated: mid 1930s?

Norwich Cattle Market sheep sale (note City hall under construction in background). Dated: mid 1930s? - Credit: Archant Library

“The cobbles of the city streets echoed to the assorted sounds of sliding hooves, hobnailed boots and clattering sticks,” he added.

The Hill was the Saturday mecca for the farming fraternity. Sheep by the hundred at the bottom, fat cattle, the store cattle and the area up to Rose Avenue was where the modest and much respected Edmund Ireland carried out sales.

Then there were the pigs and the smaller stock such as goats and rabbits, ferrets and cage birds…and it was Sir Alfred Munnings who painted the horse sales at Spelman’s with such passion..

And rows and rows of stalls – the  'car boots' of their day.

Bob Applegate and Albert Barker back in 1957. 

Bob Applegate and Albert Barker back in 1957. - Credit: John Duffield

“To a little boy such as I was then, it was the most wonderful of all spectacles. It was frightening, yet alluring, smelly, yet romantic. It was inconceivable then that the tradition of the Saturday Market on Norwich Hill could ever become nothing more than just a memory. But the market has gone, and all that remains is the memory.”

The late Robert, who lived at Wymondham was a dentist when he wasn’t writing. Look out for his books in the second-hand shops. They are wonderful reads.

These pictures were taken back in 1957 and were sent to us many years ago by John Duffield. At the time he was a trainee with the firm of Jonathan Howlett who sold cows, calves and store cattle on a Saturday.

“The characters featured include Bob Applegate, market foreman, and Albert Barker who was a drover and also milked out every awaiting collection for the new owners. Note: cigarette over the bucket,” said John. Different times…

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