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A Short History of Hellesdon

I was born in Hellesdon in 1952. Hellesdon today is a suburb of Norwich and is about three miles from the city centre. Originally the settlement was a village as the following short history illustrates.

 

A village settlement was set up in Hellesdon by the Anglo Saxons and flint tools have been found that date back at least 4,000 years. Most early settlements were by the river in Lower Hellesdon. It is not known where the name Hellesdon comes from but it could have Scandinavian extractions.

 

The first full picture of the village comes via the Domesday Book which estimated a population of between 120 and 150 in 1086. The river drove two mills and was a fishery and many other villagers cultivated the land.

 

Later Hellesdon became well known for rabbits and fish. By the 15th century, 6,000 rabbits a year were produced with their skins being used for hats. As trade increased, roads began to be cut out from Norwich and turnpikes collected fees. Farms grew larger and smallholdings smaller. Poverty began to strike and a poor house was set up.

 

A route was set up to take the increasing number of cattle coming into the area from Scotland. Up to 50,000 cattle a year tramped over the lanes of Hellesdon before sale and fattening on the farms of Norfolk.

 

In the 19th century Norwich expanded beyond its ancient walls and Hellesdon was within walking distance of the city. Hellesdon Mill developed into a large oil and corn mill. There were market gardeners and a bombazine manufacturer. Bombazine is a twilled dress material of worstead much used for mourning. In addition there were cabinet makers, agricultural seedsman, a grocer and a blacksmith and brickmaking was carried out in Upper Hellesdon.

 

By 1841 the population of Hellesdon was 400. Cottages and more substantial residences were built along the main roads out of Norwich. In 1880 the Norwich Pauper Lunatic Asylum was set-up and later became Hellesdon Hospital.

 

Then the railway came to Hellesdon. The Eastern and Midlands Line opened Hellesdon Station in December 1882 linking the old City station in Norwich to King's Lynn and the Midlands as well as Sheringham and Cromer. A golf course was built and substantial houses were built fronting onto the river in the 1890s.

 

Humbler developments began to spring up in other parts of the parish and tram routes cut into the area.

 

In the early years of the 20th century movement out of the city of Norwich gathered pace and the First World War brought further growth to Hellesdon along the Cromer Road. In 1915 the coachmaker and car firm of Mann Egerton took up residence and successfully bid for aircraft contracts during the war.

 

After the war buses started to run along Drayton High Road and Cromer Road. The boundary between the city and the county was gradually built into a ring road as part of the improvement relief projects of the 1920s.

 

Trams along Aylsham Road stopped in 1925 and the improved bus route led to more housing being built along Cromer and Reepham Roads. Heather Avenue School was built in the 1920s and Edward Bush Builders put up numerous inexpensive houses. Between 1921 and 1931 the population of Hellesdon rose from 922 to 2,237 and in the 1930 avenues and side roads were developed off the main routes.

 

Hellesdon High School was built in Middleton's Lane to take the place of the original 1930s secondary school which became Firside Infants and Junior School. By 1941 the population was about 5,000 with many of the homes being occupied by young families.

 

During the Second World War the new RAF base in St Faiths was used for the United States AirForce's B24 bombers. For a short time further development was cut short by the war, but after the war many local groups such as the Royal British Legion Branch (1947), Old Folks Club (1948), Hellesdon Players Drama Group (1952) and the Youth Club (1953) grew up and the population by 1951 was 6,359. Bush started building houses again and the parish church was built in 1950. Kinsale Avenue Junior School followed in 1951 and I attended here from about 1956 until 1962. The playing field off Middleton's Lane was opened in 1954 and was followed by the community centre in 1959 and library in 1960.

 

Middleton's Lane (where I loved from about 1964, having moved from Reepham Road) became the centre of the parish. It was named after Charles Middleton, a farmer and brickmaker at the end of the 19th century. He owned 450 acres of land in the north of the parish and a brickyard off what became Middleton's Lane.

 

The railway station closed in 1953 - six years ahead of the closure of the line which served it. The RAF left St Faiths in 1962 and a large industrial development sprang up around the airport which itself began to expand after being opened in 1969 towards its place of today as a major provincial airport.

 

For many years the Firs Stadium in Hellesdon was home to the Norwich Stars speedway team which met with great national success and included in its ranks the Swedish multi world champion Ove Fundin. The stadium closed in 1960s and was built on between 1966 and 1969.

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