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Duke Street.

Duke Street spans the Wensum from Charing Cross towards Colegate and Norvic Ultra Aquam. Nowadays there is the main NUA building, occupying the site of the old girls' school. Next door is a recently-built riverside student housing block-slash-lecture theatre (an awful combo), which is tremendously ugly on the outside, and much cooler on the inside.


When this complex was being built during the second 2020 lockdown, a 17-year-old named Alex Sidney climbed to the top of a crane on the construction site, as a protest against national and local government inaction on the climate crisis. He carried up a sleeping bag and supplies with him, 33 metres above street-level and the snaking Wensum. He remained there for 48 hours, making national news, before climbing down and being arrested. He was eventually fined £145.


Further down, across the road is one of the only remaining pubs in the country with a bar billiards table, bar billiards being a curious and endangered game.

And towards the top of the street is an enormous facade of derelict offices. On weekdays, a gate in the middle opens up into a car-park, a vast expanse of weeds and concrete, surrounded by a bigger complex of derelict buildings, which seem to have been vacant for almost a decade. The offices are all firmly boarded up. A warehouse at the far end is also shuttered, but a closer examination will reveal thousands of words scrawled onto the brick in white paint. As far as I can make out, this was done for an art project in the mid-2010s. The source material for the rantings is unknown; the sentences, trailing round the outside of the building, take in a vast array of topics.

The derelict complex is due, as of summer 2022, to be converted into yet more luxury student flats.

The street itself got its name from the palace of the Duke of Norfolk. The Duke in question who first built a palace on this site was Thomas Howard, the 3rd in the Howard family to hold that office, and one of the most powerful members of King Henry VIII's court. By all accounts Howard was a treacherous bugger, and only survived the King's reign because the King expired the day before Howard was due to be executed for treason. He built a palace here because his son had two different palaces, one on Surrey Street (now the site of Marble Hall), and one on Mousehold Heath (used by Kett's rebels as a stronghold and then burnt down), and the elder Howard was not one to be bested.

Their palace was reportedly subject to frequent flooding: one writer described it in 1681 as 'seated in a dung-hole place', surrounded by dyers' yards and slum houses.


The dye works under Duke's Palace Bridge, which stained the river a toxic red.
Lithograph by James Stark, 1887.

In the 1680s the Howards commissioned a rebuilding of the palace with all mod cons, as the estate agents who now operate across the road would say. But they (the Howards) were by now living mainly in Arundel in Sussex, and after a series of disputes with the Crown and local government, re-located there permanently in 1711.


So after the Howards packed up, the whole complex, half-rebuilt, was converted into a workhouse, with the duke's former bowling alley (yes, really) becoming a dormitory. Well into the twentieth century, local youths would line up in front of the shuttered doors of the palace, where it faced onto Maddermarket. Here they would wait until local employers came along looking for odd-job work or general cheap labour. This process was known as 'going down the Palace'.

Parts of the palace became a chapel, while some areas remained in use as a workhouse. Then the building spent a while in the early 20th century as a billiard hall, before finally being demolished in the 60s (ah, the 60s!) to make way for the Duke Street car park.

Much of the information here comes from Reggie Unthank's article on the Duke's Palace.

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