Norfolk Record Office to launch exhibition on life of one of Norwich’s most famous sons

Joe Royle and Geoffrey Watling at Carrow Road, Norwich, May 2 1981. Norwich played Leicester on this

Joe Royle and Geoffrey Watling at Carrow Road, Norwich, May 2 1981. Norwich played Leicester on this day. - Credit: Archant

He was known as Mr Norwich City, whose charitable legacy is still helping good causes across the county, despite his death nine years ago.

Senior archivist Jonathan Draper sets up The Watling Way: City of Opportunity exhibition at the Norf

Senior archivist Jonathan Draper sets up The Watling Way: City of Opportunity exhibition at the Norfolk Records Office. Jonathan with the programmes from the official opening of City Hall in 1938 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant 2013

The life of one of Norwich's most famous sons will be commemorated next week with the launch of an exhibition to mark the centenary of the birth of Geoffrey Watling.

The businessman, dance hall owner and Norwich City's longest serving chairman will be remembered with a special show at the Norfolk Record Office in Norwich.

The Watling Way: City of Opportunity will celebrate the lives and careers of father and son Charles and Geoffrey Watling, who both made a major contribution to life in Norwich during the 20th Century.

The exhibition will include a host of Norwich City memorabilia collected by Geoffrey Watling during his time as chairman of the football club for 16 years from 1956 and as club president from 1985 until his death in 2004.

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Council leaders hailed the influence of the Watling family on the make-up of Norwich and the display at The Archive Centre was a fitting tribute to their influence.

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'Geoffrey Watling was a legend when I was growing up in Norwich. In the great Norwich City Football Club crisis in the late 1950s, he was the man called in to chair the club when it was at the foot of the 3rd Division South applying for re-election, and unable to pay the players' wages. Together with manager Archie Macaulay and Arthur South, he set the club on the path to future glory.

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'But in my youth he was equally famous for running dance halls and taxi firms and being a leading figure in the local entertainment and business world. I met him much later in life and remember him as a courteous and thoughtful man who loved his native city. People of his stamp are all too rare today.'

Mr Watling's link to the Canaries is reflected in a selection of matchday programmes from the last four decades that form part of the exhibition.

A pair of 1950s football boots will also be on show alongside architectural drawings of a stand dating back to 1919, and function rooms at The Nest, the former home of Norwich City in Rosary Road.

The exhibition also includes a gate receipt book from 1908, when the football club played at their very first ground on Newmarket Road.

Hilary Cox, chairman of Norfolk County Council, who will be speaking at the exhibition's launch at The Archive Centre on Tuesday, said: 'This fascinating exhibition draws together both the history of Norwich and its people and two key local historical dates; the centenary of the birth of Geoffrey Watling and the 50th anniversary of the Record Office with its vast wealth of records designated in their entirety as of outstanding national importance.'

The exhibition of Norfolk Record Office archives has been boosted with the loan of exhibits from the Geoffrey Watling Charity and Norwich City Football Club Heritage Trust.

Geoffrey's Watling's father, Charles, was Lord Mayor of Norwich when City Hall was opened in 1938 by George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to study a menu served at the lavish luncheon in St Andrew's Hall on the day of the opening, when guests were treated to turbot with shrimp sauce and apricot cream ice with gaufrettes washed down with claret, whisky and port.

Charles Watling established C. Watling Ltd couriers and hauliers and by the 1930s, Watling was a very well-known name in the city. The exhibition includes two photographs taken just eight years apart, the first in 1924 that shows C. Watling Ltd's horse van fleet, and the second was taken in 1932 and shows the company's all new motorised fleet.

The Watling Way: City of Opportunity is at The Archive Centre, next to County Hall, from July 16 to October 12. It is open to the public from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and 9am to noon on Saturdays. Admission is free.

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