Did you hear about the time that cows ran loose up Norwich’s King Street, and ate the vegetable displays in a shop? How about the time a boy threw a snow ball at a post man by accident, and was chased all the way down the street?
We all love a good story, a tale recounted by a friend down the pub, an insight into our family history as told by a relative, a feature on a local radio station.
This week is National Story Telling Week, and what better project to celebrate the weaving of words with than Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.
Across the UK, there are thousands of recorded stories, held in public and private archives and collections. These may be interviews and memoirs, discussing accounts of life, reliving local events, or sharing insights into bygone years. Within archives, these types of personal audio recordings are referred to as ‘oral histories’.
Norfolk Record Office is currently working in partnership with the British Library, collaborating on a national project called Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH). UOSH is a project that is working to digitise the nation’s sound archives, to ensure that they are preserved for future generations, as well as facilitating public access to them.
As one of ten UK wide UOSH project hubs, Norfolk Record Office is working with audio collections from across the East of England. Each day of the UOSH project brings new stories, that help us gain a greater connection to our area by enriching our understanding of its past.
Often, it is the way that a story is told that makes it memorable; the colour of the descriptions, the infectious laughter of the storyteller that tickles us, or the detail which makes us feel as if we have experienced the recounted events with them. Sound archives not only preserve stories but also preserve the voice of the teller. They allow a story to be passed on beyond the life span of its teller, their children, and their children’s children, while retaining its original narration. As their voices are carried forward by generations to our present day, we are in turn transported back in time through their tales. We can close our eyes and hear them as if they were sitting in front of us, a tea spoon rattling against a tea cup, a ticking clock in the background; an intimate encounter with people we would otherwise never experience.
To celebrate National Story Telling Week, we would like to share with you some of our favourite stories from the Norfolk Record Office Sound Archives. These stories are snippets taken from interviews from a large oral history collection called The Record of Patricia Daniels. The collection, which was created in the 1980s, consists of interviews with residents of Norwich’s King Street. It provides a fascinating insight into the social history of Norwich, from as early as the turn of the 20th century.
The following stories are extracts taken from interviews from this audio collection, and can be heard by following the links listed below to the Norfolk Record Office SoundCloud web page:
Track 1. Breweries in King Street
At the turn of the 20th century, two large breweries dominated much of the area surrounding Norwich’s King Street. In addition to the influx of traffic, trade, and pubs that this introduced to King Street, one storyteller within the collection recalls fondly how it also brought with it the wonderful smells of cooking breakfast from the workers break room.
Track 2. Childhood Memories of Norwich
Our childhood antics stick with us in our memories, from the friends, games, toys, and the mischief we got ourselves into. These storytellers recount their childhood on King Street, including an accidental incident involving a snowball and an angry postman.
Track 3. Norwich Cattle Market
From as early as 1738, and up until the 1960s the Norwich Cattle Market was situated at Castle Meadow where Castle Mall is today. Pigs were sold on ‘Hogs Hill’ which is now renamed Timber Hill, and horses were sold on Tombland. The cattle market was held upon a Saturday, and cattle would often be walked up from Trowse to the market via Kings Street. This was not always as straight forward, as the cows would often have a mind of their own.
Track 4. The community of King Street, Norwich
“It was like one big community, but one big happy family”.
These storytellers recall the honesty, friendliness, and community spirit of King Street at the turn of the 20th century.
Track 5. Hygiene at the turn of the 20th century
At the turn of the 20th century, much of King Street and its surrounding area was made up of a dense network of Victorian style terraced housing. Alleyways would have led to shared outdoor yards, which were used for all manner of hygienic activity, from washing oneself to washing clothes.
Track 6. Groceries at the turn of the 20th century
From hot cross buns to water cress, milk to vegetables, all manner of produce was sold upon carts by independent vendors up and down King Street at the turn of the 20th century. The produce may have been nice, but the carts used to transport them may not always have been so appealing to a shopper.
Track 7. Childhood poverty in 1930s and 1940s Norwich
These storytellers recount the hard work of hard days, the simple pleasures that helped relieve them, and the food that was foraged during the shortages of the Second World War.
Track 8. A hard life: the rough reputation of Norwich streets
“Little jolly King Street, knock them into dust”.
These storytellers recount their experiences of King Street in the early 20th century, and its reputation for being a little rough around the edges.
Track 9. Norwich traffic before the Second World War
In the early part of the 20th century, King Street would have been alive with activity, thronging with people, and busy with traffic. These storytellers recount tales of trams, well trained horses, and reveal the number of pubs that once lined the road.
To find out more information about the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, please visit to following link:
Whilst it is quite true that horses were sold on Tombland in Norwich, on the Cattle Market horses were sold in a lofty ‘tin shed’ at the top of the market complex fronting onto Golden Ball St., just about opposite the Woolpack Pub. The site has long gone.
Thank you very much for providing this information David, it is brilliant to hear from local people and receive new insights into the history of our city.