The Golden Triangle is home to many things: cats (friendly and unfriendly); an immense student population (whose living standards generally lie on a scale from 'bohemian' to 'abject squalor'); hippies; yuppies; letting agents with pound signs in their eyes; children with names like 'Cordelia' and 'Deacon'; local eccentrics; corner-street boozers; a Roman Catholic cathedral; parks that feel like secrets; lime trees; above all, endless rows of Victorian terraced housing, undulating with the landscape from the city centre out to Earlham.
The 'proper' definition of the Golden Triangle is a wedge-shaped area fanning south-west from the city centre, bounded by Earlham Road to the north-west and Newmarket Road to the south-east, with Unthank Road running down the middle. All three roads are ancient trackways leading headfirst into the labyrinth.
The tracts of land between the roads were owned by a handful of rich gentry, and they cashed in when the city, after four hundred years contained firmly within its medieval walls, spilled out into the countryside. Norwich's industries were expanding: the factories needed workers, and the workers needed somewhere to live. So throughout the 19th century, these landowners drew up a grid of terraces with names like Caernarvon Road, Warwick Street, Stafford Street, and Cardiff Road. Many of the terrace rows still have small stone panels with patriotic names: 'Earlham Villas', 'Glencoe'.
Unthank Road is named after one such moneyed family (and also, for good or ill, shares a name with the infernal nightmare-city in Alasdair Gray's psychedelic novel Lanark). Clement William Unthank owned a villa in the meadows to the west of the city, when the Golden Triangle area looked like this:
The precise location of Heigham House has never been established.
Unthank supervised the building of many of the streets around his eponymous road, with such close attention to detail that the contract his builders had to sign included this line:
... no porch or projection should extend more than
18 inches from the building line unless agreed by
Clement William Unthank
Although the fronts of the terraces were uniform, the backs spilled out into long, narrow gardens and looked excitingly ramshackle. Even more so today after the invention of graffiti, with all the backyard privies converted into Man Caves and garages.
Along the main roads into the city, and in the Mount Pleasant area, the Victorians built actual detached villas for the landowning class. These beautiful houses, miniature country mansions, have since been sub-divided to within an inch of their life, let out as one-bedroom flats to young urban professional people.
The student population, which migrated into the Golden Triangle when the nearby University of East Anglia opened in the 1960s, was allocated the smaller terraced houses. A typical student let in the Golden Triangle will have most if not all of these things:
The front room is converted into a bedroom (with all the problems that causes). Only one student has the front door key. The others have to go round a back alley and through several back gardens.
There is the front bedroom, two ordinary rooms and then one tiny bedroom at the back that was originally a cupboard.
An even tiner kitchen. Rancid fridge is optional, but likely.
A de facto-adopted cat.
Magnolia walls with blu-tac stains on them.
An unbelievably steep staircase.
A bathroom tacked onto the back of the kitchen.
A lettings sign in the overgrown front garden that remains there all year round.
In the years after the students and the yuppies appeared on the scene, the area got its name from the aforementioned golden pound signs in the eyes of lettings agents, landlords and property developers all over Norwich. Such is their delight at this housing gold-rush that any Victorian terraced housing to the west of the city and south of Mile Cross will claim to be in the 'Golden Triangle' and have correspondingly higher rent PCM.
Recently, some of the students who moved to Norwich and fell victim to the infamous "honey trap effect" have returned to the Triangle to start families and enjoy the artisanal coffee—only to find that their younger selves are living next door, they like to have loud parties, and they have a habit of missing the bin collection. This does not go down well with the grown-up neighbours, although surprisingly it seems to boost the property prices. So there is a growing campaign to 'put families back into the Golden Triangle'.
Despite this, and despite the artisanal coffee shops that begin to crop up at even the mention of an art student moving into the area, this picturesque region has yet to be fully gentrified. There are still 'old man pubs' on the street corners, pre-built by the Victorians for the working population; there are still addicts skulking around in The Dell, a scrap of wild space off Earlham Road; there is still lots of graffiti, even if it's getting more and more postmodern and influenced by the works of Basquiat and Duchamp.
The autograph of a ghost on
There are positives to the Golden Triangle besides the cats: people know there are students in the area, and will leave everything from old bookshelves to poor-nick record collections out in the street. You could furnish your entire student let in a day's ramble up and down the terraced maze. The place has a deeply friendly character as well: something in the DNA of the streets, something baked into the masonry, or seeped into it from generations of ordinary people living and working in such messy proximity.
I always hear a band practising
when I walk past this chapel.
Thanks to Colonel Unthank's Norwich for much of the historical info here.