What lurks beneath Norwich city's streets? Find out in author's book

Author Matthew Williams

Author Matthew Williams who has dedicated his new edition to the memory of Susan Curran. - Credit: Matthew Williams

Back in 2017, I featured the launch of a book which told the story of the ground beneath our feet in the ancient city of Norwich.

The title was Subterranean Norwich: The grain of the city - a 'core' work by the cycling geologist and historian Matthew William. Archaeologist Brian Ayers described it as a “marvellous book with judicious illustrations.”

Five years on, and with a track record of publishing a number of local titles under the banner SCT Books, Matthew has come full circle and produced a much-need second edition of Subterranean Norwich, after the first one sold out and was listed out-of-print.

The new version has been dedicated to the memory of Susan Curran, the proprietor of the highly-respected Lasse Press, which published the original version of the book.

Sadly, Lasse Press has now ceased trading following Susan’s untimely death in March 2020.

Matthew says: “Looking back, I owe such a lot to Susan, who not only undertook to publish my book, but went on to give me advice, even though her illness, and to encourage me as I took my first tentative steps into the world of book publishing.”

He had first been introduced to Susan in 2016 following a chance conversation with Keith Razey, who runs a book warehouse in St Mary’s Coslany in the city.

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At that stage Matthew had mapped out his ideas for the book, but had no real idea how to execute then, having become rather bogged down trying to go down the self-publishing route.

 Author Susan Curran with her latest book The English Event, pictured in St Peter Mancroft Church, N

The late Susan Curran who inspired and encouraged so many local authors. - Credit: Steve Adams

“Although I now know Susan was busy with a lot of other things, she responded so kindly to this enquiry from a novice writer, was happy to meet up, and subsequently offered to take my project on,” said Matthew.

“Then followed months of toing and froing as the picture-heavy book was assembled. When I think back to my ignorance about what was needed, I realise how patient she much have been with me,” he added.

The book was officially launched in the cellar beneath WH Smith in central Norwich, thanks to Susan’s usual flair for these things.

It even reached the finals of the East Anglian Book of the Year, requiring Matthew to attend the awards ceremony at Carrow Road,

He admits that seeing “proper writers” there made him feel like a complete fish out of water, but he has come to realise what a supportive environment we have in Norwich for all kinds of writing, not least from our excellent local bookshops.

Sales were good enough for a follow-up book to be considered, and Norwich Submerged, all about the city’s historical floods, was published two years later – by which time Matthew was also working with Ronnie Green and Dawn Castle-Green on a book about the Dodger’s cycling dynasty.

“Dodgers of Norwich didn’t really suit Lasse Press, but Susan was willing to assemble the book for me, and along the way offered all sorts of helpful advice on how to get it printed and registered. It was that generous guidance that gave me the confidence to go and produce other local books under my own steam,” he said.

These include the ever-popular Norwich Over the Water showing what the area around Anglia Square used to look like, and Matthew’s 2020 book Norwich’s Netherflow. That book was published on the 150th anniversary of the city’s first sewerage system and celebrated some remarkable underground engineering we still rely on.

The medieval undercroft extending beneath the forecourt of the Assembly House, Norwich. 

The medieval undercroft extending beneath the forecourt of the Assembly House, Norwich. - Credit: Matthew Williams

Late last year, when Matthew realised he needed to produce a second edition of Subterranean Norwich, he discovered the original printer no longer had the necessary proofs. Thankfully Susan’s husband Paul Simmonds still had her laptop and kindly allowed him to download the necessary files for use in the new edition.

Susan Curran was deeply involved in other aspects of Norwich heritage and politics and  I am hoping Paul will help me in a feature to more fully celebrate her life later this year.

Why did Matthew come up with  SCT Books?

His day job is a cycle instructor and he explains: “I first distributed the Dodger’s book from a page added to my Smart Cycle Training website, and called it SCT Books. Now the range covers non-cycling subjects, it has a dedicated website, but the original name remains.”

Matthew’s seven local titles so far are listed on his website sctbooks.co.ul where they can be bought, or of course from local bookshops. Subterranean Norwich: The grain of the city is in full colour and costs £18.