Mile Cross disturbs the neighbours – Heigham.

I haven’t written anything in a while as my head’s been in a bit of a muddle, but after popping out out for an evening walk with the kids a week or so back, a few bits and pieces of an old puzzle began to form in my head. We’d ended up just over the water from Mile Cross and in a little play-park situated in the corner of quiet and secluded green space that is probably missed by the majority of Norwich as they drive on past. I was sat on a swing hidden from the last dregs of the rush-hour traffic under the suspicious gaze of the tower of St Bartholomew’s. When I say tower; I mean just the tower, as that is all that remains of this former village church; and when I say gaze, I mean that I could literally feel the eyes of the surviving grotesques staring at me from the top of the nearby tower.

Ever feel like you’re being watched?

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It’s a curious little space, ring-fenced by tall trees and shrubs making it quite easy to miss – or if you do manage to stumble upon it – quite easy for you to briefly forget where you are. I’ve been here a few times now as the kids seem to enjoy the peace and quiet as well as the bit of space it affords. Although it is very quiet place, I’ve never really felt like I’m alone here. It always feels to me as though somebody – or something – is watching. It’s either quite comforting or a little bit unsettling and I’m still unsure which one it is.

St Bartholomew’s, 2019

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On this particular evening, I wasn’t wrong about being watched. A rustling in the foliage behind me grabbed my attention – a dog perhaps? Maybe some other kids messing about? It was definitely empty when we got here; who is it and what are they up to? The noise was definitely too large to be a dopey Wood Pigeon; so, Intrigued, I got up to investigate. As I squinted suspiciously into the bushes I was surprised to catch the gaze of another set of dark and beady eyes staring right back at me – and for a split second – my mind struggled to comprehend what my eyes were seeing. This brief moment of confusion didn’t last too long. There was a panicked crashing of leaves and branches and a very spooked Roe Deer burst from its cover, galloping past me and across the park towards the church tower. If I’m going to be honest, I don’t know which of us were spooked the most, a point not lost on my two kids who were having a bit of a laugh about it at my expense.

I don’t believe in ghosts as such, but if there was ever a place that felt like you might encounter one, this is that sort of place; especially when the sun is dipping low and the shadows start to creep their way slowly across the undulating grass, hiding the fact that most of this green space is still very much a graveyard. If you are inclined to believe in that sort of thing; ghosts and ghouls and whatnot, this site does have some previous form. It seems that this secluded graveyard was the scene of a spate of supposed apparitions of the “grey lady” garnering a lot interest from quite a few Victorian Ghost-hunters, some of which started camping out in the graveyard to try and get a glimpse of her. This supposed grey lady must get about the country as she seems to haunt everything. I reckon she must be knackered by now and was far too tired to reveal herself to me, unless she’s into the possession of medium-sized mammals. If so she’s now responsible for a couple more of my remaining hairs turning a little greyer.

After the encounter with the surprisingly-urban deer, I sat there watching my kids play on the park and watching a couple of bats silently patrolling the grave yard, skimming our heads for insects and it gave me a bit of time to think about Mile Cross and it’s connections to Heigham, and about the former village of Heigham itself.

Although Heigham village was swallowed up by the ever-expanding Norwich many years ago it still has hints to its former rural setting, still semi-connected to the Norfolk countryside by an ever-narrowing slither of green land either side of the river Wensum as it arrows its way into the grey urban sprawl of the city centre; the extra wildlife on this particular evening only compounding these thoughts.

It was now getting quite dark at the park so I decided it was time for us to retrace our steps and head home, exiting the graveyard/park, through the original church gateway and heading east towards the cross-roads of Mile Cross Road along Heigham Street. Whilst walking along here you really get to see how this part of the city has changed over the years. This now-busy crossroads had been placed rather unceremoniously on top of – and straight through – a very old and interesting collection of buildings that were nestled up against the banks of the Wensum here, the most striking of which when looking at it from this viewpoint being what is left of Dial Square, now named Dial Corner House.

Dial Corner (2019):

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Up until the late 1800’s the only place between New Mills and Hellesdon to get across the river at Heigham would have been via ferry behind the Dolphin Inn on Heigham Street. But as the city expanded into the 20th century a number of bridges were beginning to make their way across the river to make it easier for the citizens of Norwich to make their way north or south into or out of Heigham.

A postcard of Dial Square, as it looked before it was rudely chopped up to make way for Mile Cross, note the (barely visible) sundial from where the square got it’s name, sat on the wall above the shuttered window on the left:

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For reasons unknown to me, Dial Square had been selected as the very spot for the new road, rail and river bridges to make their way across the river to connect the yet-to-be-built Mile Cross Estate to Heigham and vice-versa. Looking at old maps it seems like there was a large enough gap between the buildings about 100 meters to the west where the new road and bridge could have been easily placed without having to demolish anything, so I can only assume that the intention was for Mile Cross Road to flow directly over Heigham Street and into Nelson street, or as an excuse to get rid of some untidy, flood-damaged properties lining Heigham Watering.

This brilliantly-posed photograph (Janet Cork) just goes to show that area and the residents were no strangers to getting their feet wet:

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Whatever the reasons, Dial Square was effectively chopped in two to make way for the new road, the western and northern wings being torn down for this new road heading towards the new kid on the block, Mile Cross. The remaining Eastern wing was crudely capped off and Dial Square was no longer a quiet square set back from the street in a quiet little corner of Heigham. To add insult to injury it’s remaining wing was to be branded with a new name, a sick reminder as to who had inflicted these wounds upon it as it crashed its way through the seeming tranquillity of old Heigham: Mile Cross Road.

If a house could speak: I’m actually in Heigham don’t you know. Oh, the indignity!

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The now relocated sundial can still be found, hidden in the corner, next to the stump of the building on which it used to live:

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As the early 20th century City began spilling outwards and along the banks of the river, Heigham used to sit on the very fringes of the city bordering the Countryside, often seen as a rural retreat for those who grew tired of – or were expelled from – the City (More on that later). However, before all of this expansion, Heigham Street (and Waterworks road) as we now know it was once little more than a quiet little lane heading eastwards from the City Centre; starting at Charing Cross before exiting the City Walls through the Hell Gate, roughly following the Wensum as it snakes its way north and then west away from the city before re-joining the road it originally split from, now known as Dereham Road a couple of miles to the west before the modern ring road. Roughly half way along this lane and where it came closest to the Wensum were a small collection of dwellings, or the tiny village of Heigham. There was the church of St Bartholomew, its ancient (Gibralter) Inn, Dial Square and Heigham Watering and a farm with a large country house, often incorrectly referred to as Heigham Hall. Now I’m not going to focus on the entire history of Heigham here as that has been more than adequately covered – brilliantly – by Colonel Unthank, but I shall go into a little bit of detail to this handful of buildings sat here just on the other side of the theoretical fence, next to Mile Cross.

Situated between Dial Square and the Britannia Gardens (formerly the Gibraltar Gardens) was a well-used part of the Wensum known as Heigham Watering, a place to water your horses and possibly the site of an ancient ford or shallow river crossing. You can see how rural the area was back in the early 1900’s in the brilliant image attached below:

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©NORFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL, COURTESEY OF PICTURE NORFOLK

In the background you can just about make out a carter waiting patiently as his horse takes a much-needed drink from the Wensum. On the far side of the Wensum are the fields where the Mile Cross and Drayton Estate now live, complete with the wild hedging that made up the field boundaries; tying up with the ones that appear on maps from the same period. Also visible is the line of the M&GN cutting through the bottom of the valley. Looking towards the horizon you can make out couple of what I presume to be old Oak Trees standing on the higher ground between Drayton Road and Margaret Paston Avenue. In the foreground you can see the line of homes situated behind Dial Square that were demolished to make way for the Mile Cross Road Bridge and I wonder if any of the people in the image ended up as residents on the new estate.

This area was obviously very susceptible to flooding, I’ve seen it mentioned that in places old Heigham Street was often practically impassable after heavy rain and it seems that quite a bit of damage was done to these particular homes during the 1912 floods, which may have been a contributing factor when the decision was made as to where to put the new road and bridge.

Heigham Watering can still be found today and it’s now an interesting little Cul-De-Sac, hidden from view that allows access to the rear of the remaining homes of the former Dial Square as well as the location for a staircase leading from Mile Cross Road and into the pub garden. The part where the lane continued its way down and directly into the river is impassable these days as it’s now the site of a storm drain that clouds up this part of the Wensum with oily run-off from the roads of the Wensum Ward after heavy spells of rainfall. If you look at the picture below, taken from the same spot as the 1907 image above, you don’t need to stretch your imagination too far to still sense the countryside feel it had a century ago. The fact that the area is now home to a substantial storm drain isn’t just a coincidence, it shows that the area is still affected by rain and why it was probably not the best place in which to build homes. If you could brush away the trees and drain in my image you’d see that the fields are long gone and the view would now be dominated by the two bridges crossing the Wensum and the former railway line.

Heigham Watering (2019):

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Both of the above pictures move us nicely along to the neighbouring pub, the Britannia (Gibraltar) Gardens.

The pub was originally a house was owned by a Flemish weaver in the 1500’s and is later said to have been used as a wine store for the Bishop’s House close by, but it didn’t become a pub until the early 1700’s. The first recorded landlord being a Worstead Weaver named John Cotton, but he wasn’t mentioned until about 1760.

The house/pub is another beautiful old building that has witnessed Heigham being swallowed up by the urban sprawl over the years, but it also somehow manages to retain it’s (former) countryside charms, partly due to mature tree growth shielding most of the gardens from Heigham Street and partly because of its position next to the river and opposite the open green space of Anderson’s meadow.

On Monday 26th June 1786, a young man was pulled from the river here, apparently drowned. The Gibraltar landlord, Possibly a Mr T Woods took him in to the pub and managed to revive him. The young man, seemingly no worse for his brush with death walked himself home that very same evening, no doubt with a bit of a story to tell his worried family!

The Gibralter or Britannia:

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In the Victorian era Heigham had gone from being a quiet riverside village and was rapidly becoming a tightly-packed, working class quarter of Norwich where the predominant style of new buildings were small Victorian terraced houses, which were still being built into the early 20th Century. The area was also beginning to take on a more industrial theme with a shoe factory, the Waterworks and other businesses beginning to utilize the banks of the river, such as the Swan Laundry.

Another Victorian addition to increasingly-industrial Heigham was the ‘The Norwich Steam Laundry and Baths Company Ltd’. The business started life in the 1870’s and was built directly against the banks of the Wensum, next door to – and just downstream of – the Norwich Waterworks. A swimming pool was incorporated into the banks of the river and it was unique in the way it was partially-warmed by the steam-operated laundry, which must have been infinitely better than taking a direct dip in the frigid waters of the River Wensum. Unfortunately, the swimming baths were deemed to be too uneconomical and were closed In 1932. The name of the company was also simplified to ‘the Swan Laundry (Norwich) Ltd’. Despite the many growing obsticals to this particular industry (such as an increase in affordable, home washing machines) the Laundry managed to carry on for a few more decades before eventually going into voluntary liquidation. The Swan Laundry closing its doors for good in 1979.

The site is now occupied by the slightly over-priced riverside dwellings that make up ‘Old Lundry Court’, but the laundry and it’s ill-fated pool did leave a legacy of sorts; the ‘Norwich Swan Swimming Club’ taking their name from the pool where they first started. A bit of history about ‘The Swans’ and a picture of the old Laundry and its heated pool can be found by following this link: clicky!

“Heigham Hall”

Heigham Hall or the Heigham Private Lunatic Asylum was situated just a stones throw away, just on the other side of the church and almost opposite the Dolphin Inn. The name is somewhat misleading as it was never actually a Hall. It was most likely the large Country House and Grange of a wealthy farmer named Mark Wilks. Mark was a dissenting evangelical preacher and Whig politician originally born in Gibraltar, which is most likely where the nearby pub got it’s ‘Gibraltar Gardens’ name. Wilks died in 1819 aged 71. The large house can also be found being referred to as ‘Marrowbone Hall’, supposedly after a Butcher named John Lowden who bought it before making a few alterations to it during his retirement . In 1836 The ‘Hall’ then became a Private Lunatic Asylum.

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©NORFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL, COURTESEY OF PICTURE NORFOLK

In 1854 the asylum became the subject of some scandal when it was alleged that a Revd. Edmund Holmes, a well-known and respected County Clergyman (who was acting as chaplain at the Hospital) had been wrongly admitted as a patient so that he could avoid a potential prosecution for rape. The case brought against the proprietors of the Hospital eventually fell through and the Norwich Magistrates not exactly covering themselves in glory in the process. The justices had come to the conclusion that Holmes had been placed in Heigham Lunatic Asylum so that he could avoid facing a criminal charge and in doing so, casting long-lasting shadows on the professionalism of the owners. Even though the subject recieved a lot of attention from the press at the time the scandal eventually blew over and the Asylum was allowed to carry on taking in patients.

The grounds of the Heigham Mental Asylum were unusually large, well secluded and appealing to the eye – if you were fortunate enough to be only admiring them as a visitor at least – and they filled the large swathe of land between Armes Street, Nelson Street, Old Palace Road and Heigham Street. The Asylum finally closed for good in 1960 and was demolished to make way for the collection flats that make up the less-than-glamorous, but aptly-named Dolphin Grove, another slightly-muddled nod back to this particular part of Heigham’s history. Like a lot of these little pockets of old Heigham, the site of the old Hospital/Farm/Hall still has a secluded and almost countryside feel to it (if you stand in the right places) and there are a number of mature trees that make up a small woods that are no doubt survivors from the site’s past. The long footpath leading from Old Palace Road (another historical nod) follows the exact line of the Hospital’s long and wooded driveway, the edges of the yellow bricked-lined entrance still protruding from the grass as you enter from the road.

Entrance driveway, now a footpath:

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Interestingly, the last recorded death at the Asylum occurred on December 7th 1954 and was that of an 85-year-old lady named ‘Edith ‘Mollie’ MacRae’, the mother of pioneer RAF test pilot and air race contestant Campbell Mackenzie-Richards.

If you walk along the former driveway and towards the flats, the trees finally part to reveal a rather interesting-looking old building that is now home to a Spinal Health Clinic, or known to people like me as ‘The Dolphin’, or ‘Browne’s House’.

Browne’s House is another building incorrectly referred to as a Hall. This fantasic old building is also well connected to Mile Cross as it had been the site of a ferry (man with a rowing boat willing to punt people across the river here) and then the Dolphin Footbridge, a bridge well-trodden by any Mile Cross resident worthy of their status. Before being somewhere to get your spine ‘bent straight’ or a place to imbibe a pint or five, the building actually started out life as a summer house for a certain Richard Browne, somewhere he could come to get away from the hustle and bustle of the City.

Browne’s House, Bishop’s Hall (or The Dolphin) 2019:

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This beautiful old building – arguably as iconic as Pull’s Ferry – was actually built on top of an earlier house in 1587 as a Summer-House for said Richard Browne, a sheriff of Norwich and an obviously wealthy chap in his day.

The building became an Inn in about 1715 and remained a pub right up until 1999. Now I’m not really sure how the pub became to be known as “The Dolphin”. There is a supposed carving of a dolphin on the front of the pub, which to me looks more like an ugly fish but this was added fairly recently as it isn’t present in a photograph of the Inn taken back in the 1840’s.

The later added ‘Dolphin’. Looks more like a fish to me:

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Walter Rye also noted in his research that this carving was a fairly modern edition, describing it in his words: “I am inclined to think the name was only given to it as emblematic of a river swimming bath, which was annexed”.
In 1842 the pub was referred to as the ‘Dolphin Inn, Bath House and Ferry’. Showing that the building was being used to monetize the Wensum behind it for both bathing and crossing. This remained to be the case even after the Dolphin Footbridge was put in as the site was also home to a boat hire business, one of the many along the river here to cash in on the popular Victorian pursuit of rowing up ‘Back river’.

Over the years this old building has seen a lot of changes, but there are a few original pieces of architecture that nod to the building’s origins, particularly the initials ‘RB’ and the date of ‘1587’ engraved into the ancient, stone door frame.

The ‘RB’ seen below are most likely the initials of Richard Browne:

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Unfortunately, this ancient building was almost completely destroyed by enemy action during the infamous Baedecker raids of April 1942. It was struck by incendiary bombs and was completely gutted by the ensuing fire. Thankfully, most of the walls survived and somebody had the foresight not to just knock down the shell (like the Boar’s Head on St Stephens). The carcass of the building ceased being a pub (obviously) for 18 years whilst its fate hung in the balance; however, the flow of ale was only temporarily halted (yay!) by the German bombs and in 1944 the pub began operating on the site once more, but only from a basic hut.

The Dolphin Inn, in its entirity:

Heigham St 252 Dolphin Inn [1513] 1937-03-26

In 1960 the former pretend-palace-fish-pub was restored “in as near as original style as possible” by the Steward and Patteson brewery allowing it to open its doors once again to the thirsty residents of Heigham and Mile Cross. They did a sterling job of bringing this vital piece of history back to life, especially when considering the devastating effects of the fire bombs had had on this poor old pub. It was however, now missing a couple of wings and only taking up about two-thirds of its former footprint.

All of this means that I’m still none-the-wiser as to why this pub and it’s surroundings were and still are referred to as the Dolphin, but I’m going to hazard a guess at the river’s long history and connections with being a good place for swim in the Wensum. What isn’t in doubt is that the former-pub’s most famous tenant was to be the feisty Bishop of Norwich Cathedral, Joseph Hall.

Joseph Hall

Joseph Hall

Born in Ashby in 1574, Joseph was a stoic, satirical, moralistic and often-controversial writer, he also happened to be a highly-respected Bishop. After an expensive education paid for by his uncle, Jospeh quickly rose through the ranks of the Church of England. His controversial writing style had soon gained him the attention of Henry the Prince of Wales and he was promoted to one of the King’s chaplains in 1608. By 1627 he was the Bishop of Exeter and in 1641 he took on the job as the Bishop of Norwich Cathedral, a role he was soon probably going to regret taking. Not long after he and a few other bishops were brought before the House of Lords to be charged with High Treason. Joseph and his peers were sent to the Tower, spending about three months locked away before being officially charged for Praemunire (a 14th century law regarding a claim of supremacy against the supremacy of the monarch).

Luckily, Joseph was eventually released on bail at Whitsuntide, but his freedom came at a price. He and the other Bishops were to forfeit their estates in return for small maintenance payments from parliament. He returned to Norwich to resume where he’d left off, as Bishop of the Cathedral for a couple of years up until 1643. The English Civil War was now in full swing and the church were headed into a very uncertain and tumultuous period, ultimately leading to Joseph’s maintenance payments ending prematurely. As tensions escalated between the Church and the parliamentarians he and his family were to be kicked out of the Cathedral Palace whilst the Cathedral was being desecrated by the puritan iconoclasts.

After Joseph was rather rudely evicted from his home at the Cathedral Palace he was forced to leave the comfort of the city and make his final move in life, relocating to his new Heigham residence; Browne’s former Summer House. From then on it seems that the building was somewhat sarcastically-named the ‘Bishop’s Palace’.

Joseph Hall wrote about the desecration of Norwich Cathedral:

It is tragical to relate the furious sacrilege committed under the authority of Linsey, Tofts the sheriff, and Greenwood: what clattering of glasses, what beating down of walls, what tearing down of monuments, what pulling down of seats, and wresting out of irons and brass from the windows and graves; what defacing of arms, what demolishing of curious stone-work, that had not any representation in the world but of the cost of the founder and skill of the mason; what piping on the destroyed organ-pipes; vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had been newly sawed down from over the greenyard pulpit, and the singing-books and service-books, were carried to the fire in the public market-place; a lewd wretch walking before the train in his cope trailing in the dirt, with a service-book in his hand, imitating in an impious scorn the tune, and usurping the words of the litany. The ordnance being discharged on the guild-day, the cathedral was filled with musketeers, drinking and tobacconing as freely as if it had turned ale-house.”

Apparently there is still a musket ball, lodged into the Cathedral’s high and ornate ceilings to this very day.

It seems that Joseph’s writing lent rather heavily on wit, satire and sarcasm, especially when it came to the Government, his opinions often (intentionally) going against the grain and rubbing the right people up the wrong way. For that reason alone I think Joseph ended up where he truly belonged, ostracised from the ‘better’ part of the city and coming to rest close to what we now refer to as the ‘north city’, a place where the Norwich dissenters through history have always seemed to pool (see what I did there?).

Joseph spent his last thirteen years in this fine Heigham residence, writing and preaching until his death in September 1656. As he grew old, his doctor Thomas Browne wrote of him:

“A person of singular humility, patience and piety: his own works are the best monument, and character of himself, which was also very lively drawn in his excellent funeral sermon preached by my learned and faithful friend Mr. John Whitefoot, Rector of Heigham”.

Joseph was buried at the nearby St Bartholomew’s Church which if you recall is where I started this blog piece. Going full circle, I’ll end this long and rambling entry at St Bartholomew’s Church:

The lonely tower, 2019:

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Heigham’s unique, 44½ foot tall square church Tower was staring down on me once again. It used to house two bells which are now long gone, the long-forgotten chimes now replaced by the faint sound of pigeons roosting inside the remains of the tower. Following the length of its tower down to it’s base you can almost work out where the footprint of the rest of the church once stood and the remaining floor is partly remembered in a mix of paving slabs and a handful of left-over grave stones that are all pretty-much indiscernible, which is a bit of a shame. A single bench also sits close to where one of the many pews would have been and it has a companion in the form of a green refuse bin. No doubt, Joseph would have been proud of how it all looks now.. Heigham sarcasm is catching, obviously.

Gravestones make up parts of the floor, with what looks like a Norfolk flag:

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Luckily, George Plunkett was on hand to photograph the Church for us back in 1938 when it was still standing and still very much in use. It looked like a fairly plain and not overly-attractive perpendicular church, the church tower looking somewhat stubby in comparison to how it appears today.

St Bartholomew's Heigham from SE [2423] 1938-05-23

Like a lot of the County’s churches, St Bartholomew’s was extensively restored during the Victorian era, enlarged by the addition of a north aisle as a memorial to the Bishop Joseph Hall, who had been buried in the chancel back in 1656. Unfortunately, the church wouldn’t last for much longer after it was visited by George and his camera and on the 29th April 1942 the church became one of the many victims of the Baedeker raids that were to claim so much of Norwich and it’s poor inhabitants.

George also photographed the interior:

St Bartholomew's Heigham interior view west [2436] 1938-06-10

When the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled the church had been completely gutted, leaving behind only an empty shell and the tower. The sorry-looking remains hanging in the balance for a few years until they were declared unsafe by the authorities who ordered that the site had to be made safe. The remaining walls were then knocked down and the tower made secure so as not to topple over and I guess we have to be thankful that the Tower was to be spared at least. Later repairs to the tower were carried in January 1976 in anticipation of the City Council converting the churchyard into the public open space I’d found myself arriving into on this summer evening.

Taken by me, from a similar spot in which George stood back in 1938:

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A year before the churchyard was to be converted into a park, Joseph Hall was spared the indignity of having his memory swept aside to make way for swings and a slide and his body was exhumed from Heigham to be re-interred in the cloister of Norwich Cathedral. Which leaves me wondering how Joseph would have felt about it all if he could write from beyond the grave. I imagine he’d be pretty annoyed and have something rather witty or sarcastic to say about it all.

I’ll leave you now with a small snippet from one of Joseph’s publications:

I first adventure, follow me who list
And be the second English satirist.”

He wasn’t of course, but it annoyed the hell out of some of his competitors.

Thanks again for reading this stuff,

Stu

4 thoughts on “Mile Cross disturbs the neighbours – Heigham.”

  1. Thank you so much for this really interesting read. My grandmother told me when she was courting my grandfather (would have been early 1920’s) they would walk out into the country from Sussex street where she lived, on Sunday afternoons and hire a rowing boat. Nice to get an idea of how it must have looked then x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for producing a such informative and interesting post. I have sat in a traffic queue in Waterworks road, looked at the tower and wondered what was the history, now I know. Thank you very much.

    Liked by 1 person

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