Weird Norfolk: Norfolk's own Diagon Alley hidden beneath Norwich
PUBLISHED: 09:00 10 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:12 11 November 2018
Archant © 2018
It's Norfolk's own Diagon Alley, a hidden street completely hidden from the Muggle world, a secret deep below a bustling Norwich street accessed not through The Leaky Cauldron, but rather through the headquarters of a charity which encourages people to be kind.
Hidden two flights of stairs below the headquarters of The Missing Kind on Castle Street in Norwich, there are secrets to be found, abandoned houses to explore, a passageway to follow that leads to a locked door where unsuspecting pedestrians stroll past, with no idea what is just inches away.
There have been whispers about what lies beneath what used to be Ponds shoe store for many years, tales of tunnels that snake through Norwich, secret dungeons where the worst prisoners of all were imprisoned, escape routes either to, or from, Norwich Castle.
And in the half-light, it’s easy to believe them all: the space underneath The Missing Kind’s headquarters is incredibly atmospheric, a warren of dark rooms and doors where it’s clear to see the remains of an old yard which was once in the shadow of the castle itself.
The journey to this subterranean street is filled with clues to Norwich’s heritage which span the centuries: a 16th century oak beam here, a traditional weavers’ cottage window which would have flooded a workshop with essential light, here a 15th century wall.
A patchwork of reminders of the rich heritage of this building lead visitors towards the biggest treasure of all: the street itself, a hotchpotch of architectural styles which was adapted by those who lived and worked there over the centuries.
While Nick Butcher’s photographs are wonderful, it is impossible to convey entirely just how magical this place is: you must visit.
Sarah Walker is the underground tour host. A storyteller, writer, teacher and trainers, she is a founder member of the East Anglian Fabulation which organises the East Anglian Storytelling Festival.
When The Missing Kind took over the building, the cellar was full of junk and I don’t think they realised what they had here and just how special it is,” explained Sarah, “volunteers cleared the area and when it was opened up, it was clear what they had, something pretty spectacular.”
Lead from the main building past a view of a George Skipper stained glass window hidden at the back of a high street coffee store, we venture downstairs into a different Norwich. It’s like entering another dimension.
Sarah explains that where we stand was once street level until the mighty ditches that surrounded Norwich castle were gradually filled and the street level rose to what it is today. She takes us on a windswept tour of the passageways beneath the ground that perplexingly lead us to London Street where an iron door gives us a glimpse of the modern world and allows us to venture into brick undercrofts, their floors filled with deep medieval rubble.
It a strange, other-worldly place of brick, stone, time-worn iron and aged wood, every surface tells a story and every story is of Norwich’s past, its people and the families that once made this incredible relic of bygone years their home.
The Missing Kind hosts occasional underground tours, including during Heritage Open Days week when tours are free. For more details, and to book a place, visit www.missingkind.org.
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