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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

The Magdalen Street flyover


Making a Ghastly Mistake - The Magdalen Street flyover


As the builders of the tram system discovered in the late 19th century, Norwich was still essentially a medieval City of cluttered back yards, narrow streets and sharp bends. Pleasing to the eye of the passing tourist according to J.B. Priestly in 1933,

"The capital of East Anglia ... where the feeble light of occasional street lamps showed you ancient, gnarled and gnome-like houses and little shops, you expected to run into characters from Edwin Drood going muffled through the chilled gloom. It was difficult to believe that behind those bowed and twisted fronts there did not live an assortment of misers, mad spinsters, saintly clergymen, eccentric comic clerks and lunatic sextons. Impossible to believe that the telephone could find its way into this rather theatrical antiquity."

It was possible however to believe that motor vehicles could not find their way in this rather theatrical antiquity following the post First World War increase in traffic of trucks, buses and private cars. The motor car first arrived in Norwich in 1896 with pioneer driver Mr F. W. Fitt and by 1927 ten thousand cars had been registered in the city. Traffic congestion was causing concern. Something had to be done! One means of reducing this problem was to build a road to send the traffic around, instead of through, Norwich. In 1931 architect Robert Atkinson, referring to City congestion, claimed,

"... in almost every position are slum dwellings put up during the last fifty years. It would be a great adventure to clear them all out and open up the road following the wall which has always been a natural highway. Do this, and you will have a wonderful circulating boulevard all round the city and its cost would be comparatively nothing."

Although the term a great adventure probably meant something else back in 1931, the words comparatively nothing still had a certain ring to planners with an eye on their budgets. Although the cost turned out be much more than comparatively nothing, the concept of an orbital feeder road for Norwich was now in the public arena and by 1939, in a bold move, Barrack Street was widened to 50ft. Unfortunately the orbital road scheme ground to a halt when World War Two stopped play.

Norwich was badly hit in the Luftwaffe raids which gave the City planners an idea, as Norman R. Tillett put it,

"It is a truism now to say that the devastation caused by bombardment from the air has given Norwich and her sister cities in the front-line an unrivalled opportunity to re-plan their physical structure."

So the town planners rolled up their sleeves and went to it with a will. Norwich City Corporation engaged architects James & Pierce to draw up the 1944 City of Norwich Plan:

"... much thought (has been given) to the treatment of the many fine old buildings - chiefly churches and houses of the medieval periods - which still exist in Norwich; and we have not been unmindful of the architectural or material values of buildings of later or a recent date ... Buildings are the cultural manifestations of the internal conditions of a city; they express the quality of its aesthetic ability and appreciation, the degree of prosperity and its civic sense. Unfortunately, much energy is sometimes spent in producing meaningless architectural fakes, and comparatively little is directed towards revitalising and maintaining the old buildings of genuine and undisputed lineage."

However, Norwich City engineer Horace Rowley came up with an alternative, potentially devastating plan in his 1945 Reservations On Report by a City Engineer, stating,

"... designed for the long term, during which time a considerable increase in traffic must be expected. Bearing in mind the life of a City depends on its industry and business I feel that the limited sacrifice of property must be made and that, in the interests of efficiency and safety to the public, my suggestions are the minimum that should be laid down."

His map of the new Norwich was, according a contributor to Eastern Daily Press letters to the editor, 'architectural rape, a ghastly eyesore,' as huge swaths of the city were to be bulldozed for road widening and a four-lane inner link highway.

From a new hub centred on the Royal Hotel, (see fig.1) properties along Tombland, Wensum Street, Fye Bridge Street and the full length of Magdalen Street would have been swept away. From another new hub (see fig.2) at Orford Place, centre for the earlier tram system, another four-lane highway would done away with Gentleman's Walk, Exchange Street, jinked left up Duke Street, Pitt Street and followed the line of Aylsham Road as far as Drayton Road. The northern section (see fig.3) of the inner link road is much as we see it today with the exception of a major cross road with Magdalen Road. The most devastating part of the plan (see fig.4) would have entailed eradicating an area between Chapel Field North, Theatre Street, St Peters Street, Pottergate and bearing south west just beyond St Gregory's Church to what is now Chapel Field roundabout. Far from keeping traffic out of the City centre, Horace Rowley's plan would have brought major highways into it.

According to Gavin Stamp in his book, Britain's Lost Cities:

"The principal achievement of the wretched Rowley - Planning Officer until 1966 - was the Inner Link Road proposed back in 1944 and finally planned in 1965. This runs outside the City walls to the east and then cuts across the City centre to the north - precisely what James & Pierce had hoped to avoid. In the late 1950s Magdalen Street received a 'face lift' from the Civic Trust, only to have a flyover crash through it a decade later ..."

The motorway plan for Norwich went dormant, with the country's coffers empty paying off war debts, until 1961 when the then Minister of Transport brought out his 'rolling programme' of regeneration allowing Norwich City Engineers to carry out a Comprehensive Survey Project. In December that year Norwich City Council accepted a plan from the City Engineer for a viaduct across Magdalen Street. The previous plan was to widen the whole street and build a big roundabout with the inner link road to the north.

In 1962, the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) in an editorial dubbed the flyover 'The Bridge of Sighs' and wrote,

"The Civic Trust claims the new development, far from destroying the character of the (Magdalen) Street, gives it fresh interest."

And on 6th March 1962, The EDP reported of a Council Meeting,

"Town Planners agree 'the flyover, instead of a ground level crossing, will save the destruction of a good deal of property.'"

Which led to an irate letter to the editor from Geoffrey Gorham quoting Basil Spence, architect of The Sea & Ships Pavilions at the Festival of Britain (1951) and Coventry Cathedral  (1956) who wrote,

"Sir, The road vehicle is one of the greatest potential menaces to our civilisation from an aesthetic point of view and if Magdalen Street was freed from the brutalising effect of the motor car it would be a place people would want to go to (but) decapitated by an unwanted flyover it is a place where only planners would want to go."

In March, City Hall displayed a model and photographs of the scheme to the public and in April the City Council approved the building of a flyover by thirty votes to eight. In 1963 City Council approved the project to uproar from the public at news that £173,950 would be borrowed with annual capital charges of £13,000; there was also £521,840 in grant available. The Minister of Transport informed the City Council that he was prepared to consider an application for a grant for the construction of the inner link road between St Giles Gates and Barrack Street, to begin in the financial year 1964-65. The Committee welcomed the 75% grant and said if work were to begin, the route must be settled without delay and land acquired so detailed planning could proceed on the basis of,

•·        The route proposed was the shortest and therefore likely to be the most attractive to traffic.

•·        It passes through an area where much traffic is generated and will thus best serve its purpose of distributing such traffic.

•·        The route provides convenient links to the radial roads.

•·        It does not pass through any primary residential areas.

•·        It is substantially less costly than the alternative proposals.


And, the report went on,

"The Committee believes that the construction of an inner link road along this route, as opposed to Oak Street, Bakers Road, Magpie Road and Bull Close Road will enhance rather than detract from the value of Magdalen Street as a shopping area. Earlier proposals, the Council was reminded, envisaged a widening of Magdalen Street which would have entirely destroyed its character."

Despite the City Council's protestations they were not, as it turned out, in for an easy ride. The Norwich Society objected to the proposed line and advocated one across City Station, a new bridge across the Wensum, and then via Bakers Road, Magpie Road and Bull Close Road to join Barrack Street at Silver Road. This, the Society claimed, would be cheaper than the City Engineers' plan. The Chamber of Commerce supported the Norwich Society plan principally on the grounds of amenity. But it said,

"Modern planning recommendations that, for reasons of convenience and safety, a link road should skirt rather than cut through an area such as Coslany."

The Magdalen Street and District Traders' Association objected because they felt the flyover would create a division in their shopping area, ruin the beauty of the Street and St Saviours Church in particular, disrupt business during the building period as well as causing some shops to be closed.

Horace Rowley, in a long report to the Executive Committee answering these criticisms, claimed the cost of his flyover was £695,800 compared with well over £900,000 for alternative schemes. He told the Planning Committee,

"The traffic problem is already upon you and in about seven years the probability is that what is now congestion will become chaos."

The Executive Committee report concluded that in annexing the comments of those who had made alternative suggestions for the inner link road, together with the complete reports and plans which the City Engineer has prepared, they had provided the City Council with the fullest possible information to judge the matter.

However, both the Norwich Society and Magdalen Street and District Traders' Association spent the next two years drumming up support from Members of Parliament to look into the matter again as the EDP reported,

"Opponents of the Magdalen Street flyover in Norwich may yet take heart. They are to be given the opportunity to do battle again. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government has given notice that a public inquiry is to be held. It is believed it may be a joint inquiry with the Ministry of Transport, taking into account the whole of the inner link road scheme, of which the flyover forms a part."

For the City Council it was a blow to their hope of making a start on the first stage of the road and, according to Horace Rowley,

"It has come more or less as a bombshell. It could hold us up for another year. If any other line is accepted, there could be another two years work ahead. I have no grievance against the holding of an inquiry, but it could not have come at a more inconvenient time. If it had been 18-months ago there would have been no difficulty."

One of the puzzles for City Hall was the Minister of Transport had already scheduled the first phase of the inner link road for 1964-65 with the promise of a £500,000 grant. Over two years had elapsed since the City Council approved the line of the northern sector, from Barrack Street to Barn Road, incorporating the flyover near Stump Cross. At the time the Norwich Society and the Magdalen Street Traders' Association were campaigning for an alternative route via Magpie Road and Bell Close Road and eliminating a flyover and had lodged objections. The Association collected more than 2,000 names for its petition against the flyover. The City Engineer's department had been working flat-out on the detailed preparations and a good deal of property had been bought. Test borings had been made and consulting engineers engaged to design the structure of the flyover itself. Mr. Rowley was not a happy man,

"Never once has it been suggested by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government or the Ministry of Transport that the line was unacceptable. It does not mark any material departure from the town development plan, which was approved after a public inquiry."

The Ministry of Housing and Local Government were concerned the proposed road as shown in the plan did not envisage a flyover. Since then there had been the Civic Trust's Magdalen Street 'face lift' and Horace Rowley later added the flyover which was the main complaint by both the Norwich Society and the Magdalen Street Traders' Association. It was this addition which persuaded the Minister to hold a public inquiry to satisfy himself on the 'line of the road.' Solicitors acting for local residents in respect of the proposed St Giles roundabout were also informed.

However, hopes were dashed again, the 1965 Public Enquiry found in favour of the plan which included a five-span viaduct with East & West approach ramps, high level access to Anglia Square made from reinforced concrete with brick facing. Various legal, land and grant procedures were carried out.

On 22nd December 1966 Richard Crossman of the Ministry of Housing told Norfolk MPs George Wallis and Christopher Norwood the flyover decision could not be reversed. The following year work was started on the Barrack Street section of the inner link road by City Engineers' Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) and in 1969 contracts were awarded to May Gurney for the Chapel Field Road roundabout, Barrack Street roundabout to Pitt Street and Pitt Street to Westwick Street.

The cost of the scheme included £785,000 for the land purchase and £1,118,000 for the works. As part of this the costs for the Pitt Street roundabout to the flyover section comprised £274,000 for the purchase of land purchase and £470,000 for the works.

The scheme required a viaduct of five spans - four of 60 feet and a central span of 70 feet. Each span was supported and pin locked at the base. The deck was made up of precast hollow box-beams, post tensioned with high tensile bars. The viaduct was designed so the space underneath would be used for shops although they were never built and it was left as empty space. There was no provision for pedestrians on the flyover which reduced the amount of land required, as there was no requirement to segregate vehicles and pedestrians,. Roger Gosney, resident engineer for Gibbs & Partners, claimed the cost of the beams were £65,000. However, the cost of the inner link road in total had risen by 8.5% to £618,380 from the 1966 figure.

On 9th December 1966 Philip Sutton, of Hainforth, wrote a letter to the EDP criticising the paper for not standing up to the builders,  

"Sir, ... a gigantic wart is to be erected and all you can manage is a weak whimper."

However, there was bad news for the City Council by May 1970 when objections arose once again for the need to build a flyover at all. The City was changing, heavy industries were moving out and residential areas were taking their place. Apparently Horace Rowley, by then retired, had not foreseen this in his 'the life of a City depends on its industry and business, the limited sacrifice of property must be made' comment back in 1945.

There was uproar at the Council meeting but the proponents of the flyover felt they had gone too far to pull back. In a moment of 'you turn if you want but this Council is not for turning' the meeting clashed as all sides of the recognised the flyover was a 'ghastly planning mistake.' Harry Perry suggested to the City Council that money allocated to the flyover could be switched to another section of the road scheme while the committee re-considered the northern route. But planning permission had already been given to Sovereign Securities to close Botolph Road, for the spur link to a car park and to buy up properties for £250,000. Tom Eaton was worried how a U-turn would be seen by local industry,

"In my view businesses and industry are entitled to feel that once a decision has been made it is a firm decision. To throw out something which has been planned for 10-years we lose not only respect but create chaos and confusion."

Harry Perry was,"... adamant that the flyover could and should be stopped now we have changed circumstances. For Council members to say it is a ghastly mistake and still say it must go on is too silly for words."

Arthur Smith (Lab),"I opposed the building of the flyover over at Stump Cross all the way through but I seriously doubt if we could hold it up now, even though a good deal of industry has moved out. While the reason for the line of the flyover no longer exists, to change horses now would be an appalling hold up which could not be sustained."

Horace Rowley, architect of the flyover, "I do not particularly like the flyover but if we were back in 1959 I think we would have made the same decision. Circumstances have now completely changed. It has become a residential area which is an argument for having it as it is. The flyover is an integral part of Sovereign Securities plan at Magdalen Street, giving this shopping centre easy access to the inner link road."

It seemed to be a case of the tail wagging the dog. The builders Sovereign Securities were not to be inconvenienced even if the flyover was no longer necessary, as stated in a letter to the EDP by O.R. Durrant, of Eaton,

"Sir, The Ministry of Transport admits the second route proposed by the Norwich Society would provide a satisfactory traffic route (and) would pass through the area behind Stump Cross which is already derelict whereas the City Engineer's route would destroy one of the most picturesque and thriving sections of Magdalen Street and (claims) any change would inconvenience Sovereign Securities."

Designed by Monty Gaynor's and his team at Alex Gibb and Partners, the flyover section cost £410,000, to be constructed by May Gurney. It was expected the bridge would be finished in the summer of 1972 using 5,000 tones of concrete, 360 tons of steel, 10,000 tons of infill and special rubber and steel sandwich hinges under the supporting columns to allow for 4.5 inches of expansion during hot weather. The project was known amongst the construction workers as 'May Gurney's Flying Circus.'

Commenting on the alleged 'ghastly mistake,' Monty Gaynor responded, "Norwich will have its ultra-modern four-lane flyover, whether Norwich takes to it is a matter for the future."

One unforeseen design element in the plan for the flyover was the spans were too low to allow older buses, which needed a 14ft 6" height clearance, to drive underneath as buses taller than 14ft 3" would not be allowed. That same year Anglia Square opened and in December construction started on the flyover, finishing two-months ahead of schedule.

On August 27th 1971, the EDP reported on noise pollution during construction of the Magdalen Street flyover,

"Charles & Peg Lane, at 68a Magdalen Street on top of a cake shop of what remains of the corner of Botolph Road, are subjected to constant noise and their back yard is a jungle of unfinished concrete and steel with the constructors hut on the site of the nearby Barclays Bank." 

And on 2nd September The Whiffler  EDP column reported,

"The former pride and joy of Civic Planning has slipped into shabby garb but now that Anglia Square has definite shape it is attracting both shops and shoppers. Perhaps now the time has come for a second Magdalen Street face lift. Nothing succeeds like success."

Two weeks later on September 17th Assistant City Engineer, Frank Jones, gave notice of closure of Magdalen Street for laying 90 concrete beams, 30-tons each, laid one every 20-minutes. The beams, each 75ft long, were precast at Lenwade. 5,000 leaflets were distributed to announce the road closure.

On June 12th 1972, the flyover was opened by Mayor Dick Seabrook.

The new inner link road brought forth a gush of plaudits. By July 1972 it was reported that the £710,000 scheme allowed 660 vehicles an hour to use Station Road. More people, it was claimed in the EDP, were using the inner link road and avoiding the City centre. But the uncertainty was not over for nearby residents. On May 8th the EDP reported,

"There was mixed feeling at a Public Meeting which was attended by 80 local residents invited to discuss the future of 60 properties in Peacock Street, Willis Street, Cowgate and St Paul's Square, voting whether to stay or go. Most were in favour of improving their properties rather than sell them for demolition for the inner link road. But Councillor Hollis didn't want to see, 'a row of demolished terraces with a couple of little palaces in the middle.'"

In 1989 Norfolk County Council agreed to continue the development of the city's inner link road by adopting a line from Queens Road (see fig.5) across Surrey Street via a tunnel below Ber Street to Rouen Road, then by new bridges over the river and railway to Lower Clarence Road and Thorpe Road. This idea was later abandoned.

The flyover lasted twenty years before it hit the headlines once again when City Engineer, Steve Hague, reported to City Council that repairs were needed to the expansion joints which were breaking up at a cost £20,000. That same year, on 27th November, Phase 3 of the Inner Link Road started.

According to an anonymous Norwich wag, the Inner Link Road caused more devastation to Norwich than Sven Forkbeard, the Norman Conquest and the Luftwaffe put together.

Flyover Sub Contractors

Anglian Building Products - precast concrete beams

Atlas Aggregates - filling material & sub base

Ayton Asphalte Co. - bituminous surface

City Engineers (DLO) - street lighting and signage

Grundy Arnott Ltd. - guard rails

Harford Plant Hire - earth moving equipment

F. Lee & Son - demolition

PSC Ltd. - toothed expansion joints

Readicrete  - in-situ concrete



Pubs which were all trading until the bulldozers moved in:

The Lame Dog demolished soon after November 1975. The Great Eastern, the Bull Inn and the Trumpet were all lost to the St. Stephen's roundabout in 1962. The Volunteer Stores near the top of Grapes Hill and was closed in 1964. St. Giles' Gate Stores, closed in February 1965. The Paul Pry survived until March 1967. Bull & Butcher, closed in November 1963.

For more demolished pub information see:


The home of John Crome (December 22, 1768 - April 22, 1821) principal artist of the "Norwich school"

St. Paul's Church, now partly under St Crispins Road and partly under a children's playground. For more details see:


Famous Residents of the Magdalen Street are

1505 - Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, born in St Clements Parish.

1549 - During the peasants' revolt Robert Kett broke into the City via the Magdalen & Pockthotpe Gates and set up camp there.

1579 - Good Queen Bess stayed at the Maids Head Inn.

1777 - Painter John Thirtle born in Elephants Yard.

1780 - Elisabeth Fry, in Gurney Court of Magdalen Street, prison reformer and the face on the £5 note.

1802 - Harriet Martineau, wrote 35 books and a multitude of essays from a sociological, holistic, religious, domestic, and, perhaps most controversial, a feminine perspective, as well as translating various works from Auguste Comte.


Photographs of the Inner Link Road scheme can be found at:


with grateful thanks to:

Research sources: Eastern Daily Press

                          Jon Crampton

                          Gavin Stamp's Britain's Lost Cities


Al Stokes

March 2012