Original foreman returns to city tower 53 years after it was built

94 year old Harry Walpole, who was the original foreman on the construction of Westlegate Tower in 1

94 year old Harry Walpole, who was the original foreman on the construction of Westlegate Tower in 1960, visits the re-development of the tower at the invitation of FW Properties Ian Fox and Julian Wells.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

More than half a century ago, Harold Walpole was the 'proud' foreman in charge of the construction of one of Norwich's most controversial buildings.

Now, at the age of 94, Mr Walpole has returned to the site of Westlegate Tower to see how its long-awaited £8m redevelopment is progressing.

Once dubbed one of Norwich's ugliest buildings, the transformation of the derelict building into 17 luxury flats, along with two townhouses and three commercial units, is on schedule and the tower is shrouded in scaffolding.

Mr Walpole, from Pottergate in Norwich, worked for the builder, Lusher's, on the construction of the tower in 1960.

He has been keeping a close eye on its transformation and was invited to have a cup of tea and to meet Norwich-based property developers FW Properties yesterday.

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Mr Walpole said: 'There was a lot of bad press about it even when we were building it, as most people did not like the design.

'And I have I got some stick over the years for the tower being a bit of an eyesore on the Norwich skyline, but I was proud of it when it was finished.

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'I knew it was symmetrical and balanced and that there were a lot of worse buildings in Norwich at the time.'

Despite his fondness for the original design, he said: 'I'm glad it's being reinvented for us all to be proud of. I think it's a good idea. Structurally, there's nothing anyone can do to harm it; it's indestructible.

'I'm really looking forward to seeing it completed.'

Back in 1960, he said the building trade was very different, as there was no such thing as health and safety and no hard hats or hi-visibility vests.

'Everything was by hand then,' he said. 'The materials were a lot different. We just had a mixer and a hoist and everything went up and down on the hoist.

'As to safety, we put up a handrail round the stairwell, but there were no hard hats or proper shoes. People just used their common sense.

'They were taught common sense and how to be careful. I never remember there being any accidents. People knew what they were doing and did their jobs.'

He said political correctness had also put a stop to the idea that workers might wolf-whistle pretty girls as they walked by.

He added: 'I remember I had to tell off some of the men when they wolf-whistled a lady walking by, as it turned out to be Mr Lusher's daughter-in-law.'

At least three people who worked on the original construction are still around, said the grandfather, who was an army driver during the second world war and worked for the city council for 25 years. ANd he remembered the team completing one of the floors in just 10 days.

Ian Fox, who owns FW Properties with Julian Wells, said work on the project was progressing well.

'We are still on programme to complete the tower by the end of January next year, and the whole scheme by the end of April.'

He added that 13 out of the 19 homes being built at the 13-storey building were already in the process of being sold by estate agent, Savill's.

The tower was bought in 2011 by Norwich-based FW Properties in a joint venture with London company Soho Estates.

The new height of the building will see it tower above Norwich Castle and rival the peak of Norwich cathedral's spire.

Westlegate House was originally an office building occupied by several insurance companies including Provident and Mutual. But it had been empty for a number of years when it was purchased in 2011, with McDonald's having moved out of the ground floor in 2006.

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