Bowthorpe: 40 years of Norwich’s great unfinished estate

Picture shows: Aerial view of Bowthorpe, Norwich. June 2005 Picture by: Mike Page

Picture shows: Aerial view of Bowthorpe, Norwich. June 2005 Picture by: Mike Page - Credit: Archant

The master plan outlining the brave new era for Bowthorpe could not have been clearer in 1974.

It was to be a pleasant place for 13,500 residents to live, split into three villages and built within 10 years or so.

At a push the development to the west of Norwich, which would increase the city's population by 10pc, would take 15 years – five years for each village: Clover Hill first, followed by Chapel Break and rounded off with Three Score.

Next month, Norwich City Council's planning committee has tentatively pencilled into its agenda to debate and then decide on proposals for the final 1,000 houses at Three Score. If approved, the planning documents state this will take 10 to 12 years to build.

Bowthorpe could finally be finished by 2025 – 52 years since the land was first purchased and almost a century since the first talk of development was mooted for the area in 1930.

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After various other bids to build on the land, which was included within the City of Norwich boundary in 1968, Norwich Corporation finally secured a deal on January 22, 1973. For £9.5m the authority purchased 502 acres. Further acquisitions later brought this figure closer to 600 acres.

Talks on houses, services and the transport network started within weeks.

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The Bowthorpe Committee was established at City Hall to focus on the project, with a newspaper report noting on April 19, 1973: 'The committee decided it would get to know the area even better at its next meeting if they took a picnic lunch to eat actually in the middle of the 500 acres the council has bought.'

Committee chairman Leonard Stevenson also said they had determined they would create the 'ideal environment in which people would live for the next 100 years'.

The design guide of 1975 made it clear this housing development was not to resemble a generic housing estate.

It said: 'It is one of the stated aims of the master plan to create a place with a feeling of 'identity' and 'character'. In other words we want to make a place that feels like East Anglia rather than south Wales or North Shields or anywhere else.'

There was to be an industrial area to the north west of the site, off Dereham Road.

People could work in one part of the area and live and socialise in another. You would be close to the city and on the countryside's doorstep.

Each Bowthorpe village was intended to have its own services, such as a school and corner shops, a pub and a village hall, alongside Bowthorpe's centre where the main shopping would take place.

There were even hopes attitudes would change towards the use of the car, with the area's bicycle and bus-centered designs expected to encourage changes in travel.

Data indicated there would be 5,208 houses. The aim was for a 50/50 split of council/social and private houses. People would also have the chance to build their own properties on plots of land.

Clover Hill was the first development to emerge and the first detailed planning application was approved in December 1974 for 43 homes.

Towards the end of 1976 the first houses were to be occupied.

Lord Mayor Raymond Frostick, said at the time the project was one of the most important undertaken by city citizens since 'in the Middle Ages they decided to put a wall round the old city'.

But by May 24, 1978, the reported target date to complete the Bowthorpe development was now 15 years – up from the previous aim of 12 years.

And by September 1979, headlines of 'Shock report slates Bowthorpe' had started to emerge.

The article referenced a city council report which noted the first stage of development was cramped and lacked privacy.

These assessments were aimed at Clover Hill. Too much red brick had been used and gardens were too small, according to observations in the report. Private builders and government rules were blamed for the problems.

But a major change to local government had set the project back almost immediately. Norwich Corporation became Norwich City Council in 1974, and it lost many of its powers to the newly-created county council.

Margaret Camina, a former councillor for Catton and University ward, said: 'It was very difficult to get it going as we lost city borough status, which allowed you to control everything – the schools, the services – and then it became a district council. It didn't quite have the power to do things.'

Mrs Camina, who lives north of Norwich city centre today, has spent time studying the area throughout its development, and said the main aim was to ensure services developed at the same time as the houses.

But she added the economic problems meant there were periods of no house building.

Mrs Camina said: 'Once Clover Hill got going it was substantially completed by 1983. It came across as a popular estate from a social housing purchasing point of view. It's always been able to offer what people want.

'I think the early Clover Hill residents felt themselves to be pioneers.

'They felt like that they had moved on.'

In the late 1970s, Clover Hill's 'First Lady' Yvonne Nicholson insisted the area was perfect for her family.

Mrs Nicholson and her husband Chris and two children, Mark and Michael, were reported to be the first people to move in to the Bowthorpe development in Clover Hill. They later bought a plot to build their own home.

The paper reported Mrs Nicholson said of her time in the area: 'I couldn't be more happy. I have lived in quite a few places and this is the best place I have lived. I have two children and the freedom they get is unbelievable. You don't have to worry when they go out to play they are going to get knocked down.'

The 1,000th home was handed over to owners by August 26, 1980, and questions continued to emerge about the area.

In February, 1989, it was reported there were residents' concerns in Chapel Break – what should have been a proper community was just a collection of houses, they said.

A 'promised' Bowthorpe library had been postponed for two years, there was a lack of shops and there was no youth centre, although funds were allocated for 1990.

It was also noted children had to be bused from Bowthorpe to city schools as there was a lack of places at St Michael's Middle School, Chapel Break.

House building in Chapel Break and later Three Score continued in the ensuing years, until the final push to complete Three Score hit the buffers with a 2005 planning application failing to come to fruition.

Tomorrow: Bowthorpe's past, present and future, plus thoughts on life in the community.

What do you think of living in Bowthorpe? What are your hopes for the future of the area, including Three Score? Contact Evening News reporter Richard Wheeler on 01603 772474 or email

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