How did football come to Carrow Road

On this day in 1935 the first football match was played at Carrow Road. In this blog we will be looking at why the ground was built on this site and some of the changes which have taken place to both the stadium and surrounding area over the following 90 years.

Football in Norfolk

But firstly we start with by looking at the history of football in Norfolk which goes back much further than this.

The Norfolk Annals in December 1868 announced ‘A club bearing the name of the Norwich Football Club has been started, and has already begun to play upon the Norfolk and Norwich Critcket Ground. Mr. Croker has been elelcted president, and a Mr Edward A. Field treasurer and secretary’. The members made their public debut on February 5th 1869, in a match against King Edward VI School.

Of course the official start of Norwich City Football Club isn’t until 40 years later, in 1902, when the team we now know as the canaries was formed.

Amateur players

Within the archives there are plenty of amateur accounts of playing football over the years. David Chance, an interpreter in the British Navy, was stationed at bases around Murmansk, Russia during the Second World War. He gives an account of his first experience of playing football whilst at a base at Polyarnoe. ‘Like the rest of Polyarnoe, the football pitch was totally devoid of grass but at least there was a sprinkling of soil above the rock, so some of us paraded in front of the Doc for another tetanus jab and preceded to form a football team.’ (NRO, MC 2145/1, 925×6)

The men even thought of a solution to that age-old dilemma of how to decide the winning team after a draw. There were no penalty shootouts, and no golden goals. Instead they ‘started with a relay race, then a knockout football competition. If a match ended in a draw whichever team was ahead in the relay went into the next round.’ Chance found it was ‘Not a bad way of deciding the winner of a football match.’

These were good-natured matches: ‘The crowds clapped good play, regardless of which side it came from and the matches were played in a very friendly spirit.’ However, competition appears to have been fierce: ‘Later in the year we had a visa refused for a relief telegraphist. When I complained about this I was accused by the Russian authorities of trying to improve our football team by stealth. This man, they told me, had once had a trial with Bristol Rovers….  They didn’t believe me when I said we had no idea he even played football.’

Choosing where to build Carrow Road

Of course the profession teams of today don’t have to worry about playing on a ‘sprinkling of soil’ instead having purpose built grounds, which are constantly monitored by groundsmen and contain undersoil heating. Carrow Road got its first undersoil heating in the 1990s, just after their UEFA Cup run. But the stadium itself had been there for a lot longer than that. Being originally built in 1935 when the club had to frantically look for a new home after The Nest was deemed no longer suitable for their spectators. So why did they chose the area of Thorpe near the train station?

The Carrow Abbey Estate

The story actually goes back to the 1800s when Philip Martineau owned the surrounding land and a grand house, known as Bracondale Lodge. Images at the time show the area to be very picturesque with the house overlooking the river.

Coloured engraving of Bracondale, the seat of Philip Meadows Martineau, 1818. NRO, MC 2295/1, 946X1

It is said that Carrow Hill Road was created on Philip’s Carrow Abbey Estate, to provide work for the poor, using the name of the local area of Carrow as part of the road name. The estate passed down the generations to Fanny Martineau, and the plan of 1855 shows just how extensive the grounds were. By this date the railway had been added, being run by Eastern Counties railway and leading to the building of Thorpe Station, now used by many visiting and home fans on their way to the stadium.

Estate of Miss F.A. Martineau, 1855. NRO, BR 276/1/652

By 1860 the area and house, belonged to another famous Norfolk family and their business, J. & J. Colman, and again passed through the generations. 

Russel J Colman and family at Bracondale Lodge on the 1901 census.

In 1935, Colman’s owned the Boulton and Paul Social Club adjacent to Boulton and Paul’s Riverside Factory. On hearing that the club was looking for a new site to build their ground they offered the leasehold of the site to Norwich City. From signing for the site on 11 June the work was pretty quick in order to be able to take a large number of fans again. Ariel photographs from the Boulton and Paul archive show the ground next to the factory site. Carrow bridge is to the top left of the photo, and the railway lines to the right. Only 82 days after work started the first match was played at the new ground; against West Ham United.

Ariel Photograph of Carrow Road, c1935. NRO, ACC 1997/146/2/30
Photograph of main stand at Carrow Road, c. 1935. NRO, ACC 1997/146/2/28

Over the course of the next nearly 90 years major changes were made to the stadium; stands burned down and were replaced, all seater stadium came in after the Taylor report, and a new hotel was built in the corner of the Barclay and South Stands to name but a few. Even the area surrounding the ground changed to be almost unrecognizable. The riverside works of Boulton and Paul are now a retail park, the car park shown on the ariel photograph became flats in the 2000s. However, one very important feature of these new changes was to keep the road the stadium is named after. Instead the new Riverside Road runs parallel to Carrow Road giving people a safe area to walk along when getting into the ground.

What happened to Bracondale Lodge?

Bracondale Lodge no longer exists, it was pulled down to create County Hall in the 1960s and the family gave their name to Martineau Lane (the road which runs in front of County Hall today). However, some parts of the original features can be found. The landscaping for the garden has left behind some of the trees which still stand in the County Hall grounds today and the old folly can still be seen in the woods behind County Hall itself. It is amazing to think how much Carrow Road and the surrounding area has changed over the years, and even more staggering to wonder what it could look like in another 200 years time.

The folly as drawn by Ladbrooke
The folly as it stands today
This entry was posted in Snapshots from the Archive, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How did football come to Carrow Road

  1. Alan Harper says:

    Thank you Victoria for this post on an important anniversary for NCFC. One point of order – the competition you refer to in the 1990s was the UEFA Cup not the European Cup, which is a different competition.


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