© Nick Smith, 2016
We probably take for granted now that what is old and special in neighbourhoods such as Colegate and Magdalen Street should be protected and conserved, but not so long ago this was not the case. Whilst the grand buildings within the Cathedral Close have been preserved for centuries, other streets of similiar vintage such as Botolph Street had been torn down and erased from memory in the name of post war progress.
Therefore we are lucky that a considerable amount of the everyday but historic buildings remain intact in our study area; we have a rich subject matter to do walking tours that can bring history to life.
But this may not have been the case without the work of others, such as the Rev Jack Burton who founded the campaigning Norwich Over the Water Group in the early 1970s. At this time Norwich was in economic decline and was suffering from some of its most brutal town planning and highway schemes that had cleared vast swathes of old Norwich. The north city centre was depopulating and the long standing industries of shoe making and printing steadily declining, churches were being abandoned, ending centuries of continual ritual and traditions of parish life.
Amidst this spiral of seemingly terminal decline, the Rev Jack Burton started his ministry at St Georges Colegate whilst also being a local bus driver. The Norwich Over the Water Group sought to cherish the unique urban character of the area and defend it from insensitive change such as road widening of Duke Street. This highway scheme would have seen the demolition of the Golden Star and the entire row of perfectly good homes and medieval courtyard build along its east side between Colegate and Muspole Street.
Thanks to the efforts of the Rev Jack Burton and the Norwich Over the Water Group the area survived to prosper and is now the vibrant historic yet contemporary neighbourhood we enjoy today. Yet there is no statue, blue plaque or visible mention of a modern day activist. Perhaps we need to wait for the passage of years before we can truly take stock and celebrate our unsung heroes.