& Anglia Square.
Magdalen Street was originally called Fybriggate, meaning 'track by the Fye Bridge'. The area at the bottom, where it meets the Fye Bridge over the River Wensum, is still known as Fye Bridge Street today. The name Magdalen Street comes from a leper house in a chapel at the north end, dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. She herself has been inaccurately described as a prostitute, due to a mistaken claim by St Gregory, and as a result she is often associated with the poor and the downtrodden.
The street is the backbone of Norvic Ultra Aquam, or Norwich Over-the-Water. This quarter of the city, as the name would suggest, occupies the area on the north bank of the Wensum, but within the old city walls. Magdalen Street continues out of the old city boundary, now marked by the ring-road flyover, and stretches northward into the Silver Triangle, towards Old Catton. Magdalen Street, Fye Bridge Street, Wensum Street, Tombland and King Street together form a single north-south trackway bisecting the city, one that is probably older than any Anglo-Saxon settlement.
Today the Magdalen Street area has a reputation as one of the most deprived areas of the city centre. The rest of Norwich Over-the-Water has been rejuvenated by the presence of the art school and tourism, but ask any hardened Norvician about Anglia Square and they'll wince and tell you gleefully that it's proper dodgy round there, bor.
This reputation goes back to the 19th century, when the area was filled with narrow slum yards, squeezed amid the 17th-century houses and manufactory buildings. Many of these yards can still be seen on the map, as car parks, alleyways or courts, and in most cases, the signs still survive. Usually the yards are named after whatever pub occupied the building at the front. Hence, White Lion Yard, Golden Dog Lane, etc. But this was the case all across the city, not just Magdalene Street—King Street was by far the worst offender.
Magdalen Street was for hundreds of years a hub of industry. The Flemish weavers, known locally as the Strangers, lived in huge numbers round here, and brought with them prosperity and excellent craftsmanship.
The 1930s saw slum clearances all across the city, and then, in a double-whammy on the poorer citizens of Norwich, the Luftwaffe raided the city. Norwich Over-the-Water was hit particularly hard, with many of the remaining yards, the decaying Tudor buildings, collapsing under aerial bombardment.
The postwar urban planners looked at this bombed out area, riddled with dereliction and poverty, and rubbed their hands, got pound signs in their eyes, etc. etc. The automobile revolution had reached its zenith (or nadir), and these planners were keen to refashion the city in the car's image. Compulsory purchase orders were handed out to shops all along Magdalen Street and Botolph Street, the shops in their Tudor and Stuart houses were demolished. A new office building, with adjacent shopping precinct and cinema, was plonked amid the rubble. New name: Anglia Square.
In 1971 the coup de grâce was administered: a monstrous flyover cut the street in two. The north end of the street, outside the old city boundary, was truncated and as a result went into full-pelt economic decline. The empty area beneath the flyover, hemmed in by gigantic concrete pillars, was impossible to use for anything except bus stops, and became a patch of waste ground. Today, there is a graffiti amnesty zone on the west side of the flyover's underbelly, and a collection of tents in one corner of the vacant lot.
Anglia Square's Brutalist utopia was short-lived. Sovereign House, the towering office block at the back of the Square, famously had its windows installed inside out, which let rain in, and over time the building became damp and structurally dangerous. The offices on the premises were decommissioned in 1996, and no maintenance was done in the years that followed. The council have made noises about regenerating the whole area a number of times, but these have never come to anything. Any attempts to sell Sovereign House for redevelopment have failed, because the building is a corroded husk. It would need to be demolished and completely rebuilt. There were plans in 2018 to plonk a twenty-storey tower block in its place, but this was met with vigorous opposition from locals.
A 2015 urban expedition by Adam X found the roof of the building covered in cracks, with plants growing from the fissures. In the basement sick room there were beds which had obviously been used by local homeless. Files and office detritus cover the damp carpets. Graffiti artists have long since covered the rear side of the building with throw-ups. How long until the whole thing collapses?