Past to present
PUBLISHED: 14:48 23 September 2013 | UPDATED: 14:48 23 September 2013
For nine decades, the Norwich Society has protected, cared for and unearthed some of the city’s most beautiful and historically important buildings.
Founded in 1923 by a small group of citizens concerned about the survival of Norwich’s ancient buildings, its work has ensured that the city’s wonderful history is protected and celebrated for generations to come.
It was the threat to Bishop Bridge from road widening which brought the first founders together to meet together in the Curat House in Haymarket, and famously it went on to save Elm Hill from slum clearance.
During the early years, the society also set about ensuring many Norwich monuments and ancient buildings were given listed status and it is to the society’s credit that so many of our much-loved pieces of architecture are in the wonderful condition they are today.
But, as Vicky Manthorpe from the Norwich Society explains, despite the increased awareness about the importance of protecting our heritage, the society’s work doesn’t stop today - and as well as looking after the buildings of the past, it is here to celebrate new architecture and remind people how much our built environment contributes to our quality of life.
“It is surprising that despite us all being much more aware of conservation, things get chiselled away at in very small ways. I think living in a city like Norwich, it is easy to forget how stunning and exceptional it really is.
“If you have a great architect in who is making sympathetic changes or creating a stunning building which will be a legacy for the future, then that is fabulous, such as the Forum or the work at the Cathedral. But often changes are just for perceived commercial purposes and undermine all the work done to keep those wonderful details of design and architecture in place,” she says. “There are still buildings where we don’t know what may be inside because over the decades they get covered up and covered up again. It is very exciting that there are still amazing things throughout the city to discover.”
Last month, the society held a special 90th birthday party at the Assembly House, one of the iconic landmark buildings which it has played a key role in saving. Guests included many previous chairmen and Sophia Hankinson, the daughter of one of the society’s most famous stalwarts, the late RH Mottram, who was a novelist, poet, historian and former Lord Mayor of Norwich. To celebrate the special birthday, the trustees of the society have created an anniversary brochure highlighting some of the work it has undertaken over the last two centuries. The society is entirely independent and has no political or religious affiliation and its members are as passionate about Norwich’s heritage as they were in those early days.
“We are always looking at what’s best for Norwich in general. It is not just about conservation, we are always thinking about what is best for the majority of those who live here, and of course things have changed a great deal since we started 90 years ago, not least the amount of traffic and demands of modern life,” says Vicky. “In 2005 we started our design awards for new architecture which are extremely important, because we are always looking at the heritage of the future.”