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St Benedict's Street.

Saint Benedict of Nursia (480 AD – 548 AD) was an Italian holy man, and the patron saint of cave exploration, civil engineers, dying people, gallstones, monks, students, Europe and protection against poison and witchcraft. He is depicted in a sculpture at the western end of the street, where it meets Grapes Hill and Dereham Road, at the site of the old St Benedicts Gate. A section of the city wall remains, but the medieval gatehouse is gone. The street also once had its own tram-line.


I'm a big fan of the cheeky demons.

Both the vanished gatehouse and the street got their name from St Benedict via his church, which was destroyed during the air-raids on Norwich during World War II. The council at one point planned to convert the ruins into a bike-shed, but the nave was eventually demolished. Today, only the tower remains, pointing like a wonky sore thumb out of a patch of green, in the midst of a housing estate on the south side of the street.


Also at that end of the street is the St Benedicts Gate complex, a 'luxury' student housing development aimed at NUA students. Underneath the central plaza is a car park, which is usually empty; walking past it, you will see a) a number of youths practising skating and roller-skating; b) a poem cast in concrete: Jenny Pagdin's Sisters of the Gated City, about the women and medieval gatehouses of Norwich through the centuries.


St Benedicts Street actually boasts not one, not two, but five churches. The eponymous ruined church; St Swithin's Church, which has been converted into the cracking local venue Norwich Arts Centre; St Margaret's Church, used as an art exhibition space; St Laurence's Church, which is usually locked up behind foreboding ironwork; and finally St Gregory's Church, at the very end, on the junction with Charing Cross and St Gregory's Alley.


Outside the Arts Centre. I've no idea what it does, but it looks suspiciously digital.

I once attended an art exhibition by City College students at St Margaret's. The students would take turns to church-sit and welcome visitors. It was extremely chilly. I climbed up to the base of the tower, which felt like it was shaking in the wind, and found a mysterious wine bottle balancing on one of the rickety wooden platforms.


On other sojourns down the street, I frequently saw a man with intricate facial tattoos who had suffered a brain injury and was unable to work. He usually sat on a low wall by the ruined church green, and probably still does. The signs of the failed state are all around us.


Part of the Norwich Lanes (a Council rebranding scheme), St Benedict's Street has lots of independent shops, the obligatory cluster of pubs, and two steep graffiti-covered stairwells dropping down to Westwick Street next door: St Laurence's Steps (where I once saw a man doing a wee) and the slightly smaller, imaginatively-named St Laurence's Little Steps. The street was half-pedestrianised in the last few years, and the café fronts spill out onto the road. A bit of a street party atmosphere in the English drizzle. There are usually bin-bags piled in the alleys between shops, which adds some texture.


St Laurence's Steps.

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