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Closed clubs and new flats - what's the future for Prince of Wales Road?

PUBLISHED: 12:21 07 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:10 07 August 2019

Prince of Wales road, city traffic problems. Photo taken in June 1965. Photo: Archive

Prince of Wales road, city traffic problems. Photo taken in June 1965. Photo: Archive

It is the city's clubland and a well-trodden route to and from the train station. Lauren Cope looks at 150 years of Prince of Wales Road - and what will happen to it next.

Looking down Prince of Wales Road from Agricultural Hall Plain

. Dated 22 March 1960

. Photograph: ArchiveLooking down Prince of Wales Road from Agricultural Hall Plain . Dated 22 March 1960 . Photograph: Archive

With lengthy roadworks under way and venue owners fighting for revellers, the once-bustling clubland appears to be nearing a crossroads.

As of Tuesday, there were at least 15 empty units on the road, including the Prince of Wales pub and the former Liquid nightclub.

Nationally, studies estimate £200m has been wiped off the value of the nightclub scene in the last five years.

Owners say consumers want more than strobe lights and shots, with rising costs piling on the pressure.

1912 Norwich Floods.  Photo: Archant Library.1912 Norwich Floods. Photo: Archant Library.

Steve King has been involved in the night time economy since 1989, and today runs Stadia nightclub and sports bar, among other businesses.

He said the scene had shifted dramatically over the last decade, with five out of eight venues on one side of the road now shut.

"The night time economy has been going downhill since the 2008 recession," he said. "It's not that the operators are doing anything wrong, they're trying everything, but kids today aren't going out.

"We have 80s nights, we've tried over 25s, over 21s, different types of music. We tried putting on Wimbledon, the horse-racing. Everyone is working hard to make it work."

Traffic building up on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, in 1937. Mann Egertons motor showrooms on the left. Photo: ArchiveTraffic building up on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, in 1937. Mann Egertons motor showrooms on the left. Photo: Archive

He said technology on demand, supermarkets' monopoly on affordable drinks, sugar tax, council tax, and minimum wage increases had hit the industry hard.

It is a varied picture. Many clubs have closed. Popworld, though, which opened this time last year, has so far proven popular. There are plans for a new over 25s themed nightclub at a former Chinese, and a new escape room is planned.

But the growing demand for housing has crept into the area. Last year, Grosvenor House was turned into flats and an office block on nearby St Faiths Lane is up for sale with permission to become homes.

And a bid was this week lodged for the former Mercy nightclub to become 49 homes.

But while the future looks uncertain for Prince of Wales, where did it all begin?

- 1800s

It was hoped the creation of the road would shape a grand entrance to the city, with its route covering what had been a monastery of the Greyfriars.

Prince of Wales road pictured just before the war. Photo: Archant LibraryPrince of Wales road pictured just before the war. Photo: Archant Library

A group of bankers formed the New Street Company, securing the green light to build the road and buy out existing stall holders around Rose Lane and St Faiths Lane.

Buildings were destroyed to make way, and it opened in 1862, then home to just a handful of properties, including the Commercial Hotel - now the closed Prince of Wales pub.

But construction moved quickly. In 1886 Thorpe Station opened, followed by the Royal Hotel - which closed in 1977 but could soon reopen as a hotel - in 1897.

The red brick Agricultural Hall opened in 1882 and in 1890 the first block of residential flats in Norwich opened at what later became Mercy nightclub.

A view of the main garage at Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, which accomodated 200 cars. Dated c.1912. Picture: Archant libraryA view of the main garage at Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, which accomodated 200 cars. Dated c.1912. Picture: Archant library

- 1900s and 1910s

The road quickly became a bustling centre for business and transport, with the Norwich Tramway System, which had routes down Prince of Wales, opening in July 1900.

The former Railway Mission site, today a listed building, was built between 1901 and 1903 to the design of Edward Boardman.

A 1912 A 1912 "boy racer" splashes through flood water in Prince of Wales road as those who have to walk tiptoe along the edge. Photo by Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service.

Mann Egerton, a car and aerospace company, opened its headquarters on Prince of Wales Road in the early 1900s.

The first sign the road would become a hub for entertainment came in 1910, when the popular Electric Theatre - later renamed the Norvic Cinema and demolished in 1961 - opened, creating queues down the street.

In 1912, the city faced heavy flooding, after roughly seven inches of rain fell in just 30 hours, briefly turning Prince of Wales Road into a river.

Prince of Wales Road. 

Dated 28 April 1988. 

Photograph: ArchivePrince of Wales Road. Dated 28 April 1988. Photograph: Archive

MORE: Reader letter - Prince of Wales Road is becoming a no-go zone

- 1920s to 1950s

By this period, businesses lined the streets, with a photograph taken before the outbreak of the Second World War showing Bullards Fine Ales, a newsagent, the Electric Theatre and the Norwich Motor Company.

In 1923, the flats on the corner with St Faiths Lane became the Regent Cinema, with its first film, Prisoner of Zenda, opening on December 3.

In 1935, the street hosted Silver Jubilee celebrations, and a coronation party in 1937. Shop fronts were adorned with decorations, which were also strung from lamp posts.

Businesses including Walpamur Co Ltd, which sold paints and varnishes, a florists, car salesroom and cleaners were up and running around the time.

Steve King, who has owned Stadia since 2014. Picture: StadiaSteve King, who has owned Stadia since 2014. Picture: Stadia

- 1960s to 1980s

During the early 1960s, most of the units were commercial or retail. One photo from 1964, taken where the Budgens is today, shows businesses including Delves Motors, Lamberts tea and coffee merchants, a frozen foods shop and Arthur Valori and Co fish merchants.

In 1963, the Great Eastern Hotel was demolished, making way for the Hotel Nelson two years later.

And in the same year, the Grosvenor Rooms, today Grosvenor House, played host to the Beatles.

Prince of Wales Road at night. Picture: Denise BradleyPrince of Wales Road at night. Picture: Denise Bradley

During the 1960s, traffic queues familiar to drivers today first arrived, with particular congestion on Agricultural Hall Plain.

In the 1980s, more free houses and entertainment centres arrived, and the road we know today began to take shape.

Popular spots included the Magic City amusement arcade, open in 1980s and 1990s, and the former Regent Cinema, which was renamed ABC Norwich in 1961 and the Cannon cinema in 1986.

ABC Cinema's Jonathan Davis removing letters from the Prince fo Wales Road cinema during the last film. Photo: Steve AdamsABC Cinema's Jonathan Davis removing letters from the Prince fo Wales Road cinema during the last film. Photo: Steve Adams

MORE: What is it like to work on the doors in Norwich?

- 1990s to 2010s

The move towards nightlife continued in the 1990s, with nightclubs opening and restaurants and takeaways following demand. In 2001 the SOS Bus parked up near Agricultural Hall Plain, relocating in 2006.

Prince of Wales Road. Photo: SubmittedPrince of Wales Road. Photo: Submitted

The popular Cannon cinema closed in the 1990s, standing empty until it was taken over by Mercy nightclub in 2003, which cemented the road's clubland reputation.

The night time economy boomed, bringing with it a chequered reputation, concerns over crime and safety and, in turn, measures to crack down on problems.

Some businesses remained, including estate agents and solicitors firms, though by this point most of the retail units had moved elsewhere.

The smoking ban arrived in 2007 and the recession hit in 2008, creating a difficult time for traders.

Various venues opened and closed - including Joe Alans Bar, Fatso's, Sing Sing, Rehab, Bar Seven, The Light Bar, Liquid, Tao and Optic.

In the last few years, several units have stood empty, changing hands regularly as owners try to make it work.

Despite the challenges, in 2017 the city was given Purple Flag status, an accolade for areas offering a fun, safe and varied night out.

Prince of Wales Road in 1906. Photo: ArchivePrince of Wales Road in 1906. Photo: Archive

MORE: What will a Norwich night out look like in the future?

- What are your memories of Prince of Wales Road? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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