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Harbour plan that came to nothing

PUBLISHED: 19:10 20 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:57 16 September 2010

ALTHOUGH the Norwich southern bypass has been in use for no more than a few decades, it has been of incalculable benefit to drivers heading between Great Yarmouth and the Midlands and north of England.

ALTHOUGH the Norwich southern bypass has been in use for no more than a few decades, it has been of incalculable benefit to drivers heading between Great Yarmouth and the Midlands and north of England.

When I first journeyed from Yarmouth to Sheffield in the late Sixties, the route passed through almost every city, town and village of that 180 miles: Acle, Norwich, Dereham, Swaffham, King's Lynn, Sleaford, Newark and Worksop, to name but some, usually entailing stop-start and frustration. Inner ring roads, such as the old one in Norwich, were little better.

Today, the clogged centres of those communities are out of sight across fields as traffic progresses steadily, hopefully untroubled.

Before the building of the southern bypass, whenever I drove into Norwich, either on my way to somewhere or heading for the city centre, I used to puzzle at some of the names in streets when you entered the one-way system near the old AA headquarters. There was, I recall, a Clarence Road and, in Carrow Road, a public house called the Clarence Harbour that was popular among football fans attending Norwich City matches.

Norwich was never able to boast a harbour, and its water-borne trade was mainly wherries, coasters and tug-hauled barges; the seagoing vessels entered and left through Yarmouth and, if I recall correctly, a bridge over the new southern bypass at Thorpe had to be high enough for shipping to pass beneath it, only for the trade to peter out and render it an unnecessary expensive component.

It transpires that the Clarence Harbour title is a reminder of a grandiose scheme nearly two centuries ago to make Norwich an inland port for trade across the North Sea with continental Europe, entry and egress being through Lowestoft. Why not Yarmouth? Well, hitherto, goods to and from Norwich had to be trans-shipped at Yarmouth, and our businessmen fought a long, expensive campaign to scotch the plan because they would lose money if cargoes went straight through here without being discharged and reloaded.

The Clarence Harbour pub in Norwich was built by 1837 with

the intent of serving those employed at a new harbour to be built for shipping supplying the city.

But the harbour never progressed beyond the drawing board, the emerging railways winning the business.

The pub was closed and demolished in 2004.

Strictly speaking, part of that grand plan did proceed beyond the draughtsman's blueprint and is still there today, a reminder of that aborted scheme, although perhaps only a few folk nowadays realise its significance. It is the New Cut, that two-mile-long, man-made canal linking Haddiscoe and Reedham and also the Rivers Waveney and Yare.

According to a Norfolk Heritage information board that once stood on the bank (and might well still be there today), it was opened in 1832 and “was the work of William Cubitt, son of a Norfolk corn-miller, who later became a distinguished engineer and, after work on the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, was knighted by Queen Victoria.

“This canal... was part of a series of works designed to enable seagoing vessels to reach Norwich, via a new harbour at Lowestoft. Norwich thus became a port and could

trade direct with the continent of Europe, avoiding the expense of trans-shipping goods at Yarmouth from river to sea vessels and vice versa, as hitherto. It would have been easier to have given Norwich access to the sea through the port of Great Yarmouth rather than Lowestoft, but the Yarmouth middle-men had fought for some 15 years all proposals to this effect, as they were afraid of losing their share of the profits.

“In spite of their opposition, which cost the Corporation of Yarmouth £8,000, Parliament authorised the Norwich and Lowestoft Navigation in 1827. Thus, the New Cut was excavated as a canal to link Norwich with the sea.

“In 1844, it was bought by Grissell and Peto [Sir Samuel Morton Peto, of Lowestoft fame], the railway contractors. At Norwich, the site for the harbour had become railway yards for Thorpe station, and a new line was built alongside the New Cut. British Rail inherited the canal and eventually it passed to the Anglian Water Authority [now Anglian Water], which now maintains it.

“The New Cut had only been in use for about 16 years when Parliament authorised the deepening of the lower Yare and the dredging of a channel across Breydon Water; thus the more direct route to the sea via Yarmouth was at last opened, and the New Cut became virtually redundant.”

Often when Mrs Peggotty and I drive from our Gorleston home towards Norwich, we shun the Acle New Road, preferring the back route through Fritton, St Olaves and Haddiscoe, joining the A146 Lowestoft road at Hales. That route takes us over the big Haddiscoe Bridge spanning the start of the New Cut, which looks to be seldom used these days apart from a few holiday hire cruisers ambling along it in peak summer. A small clutch of houseboats are tied up almost in the shadow of the bridge.

On the same bank but the other side of the bridge, dwarfed and in its shadow, stands the former Queen's Head Hotel beside the old road, now a dead-end but once the approach to the previous bridge.

Back in Seventies summers we would park beside the closed pub and take our canvas chairs and picnic basket to a small enclosed area on the canal bank a few yards away where our pet dog was safe off the lead, relaxing there in the sun for a few hours, reading the papers, watching the occasional boat pass by and exercising our pet along the

towpath.

Then, I recall, the building reopened as a restaurant for a few years, but its position almost out of sight under the bridge did it no favours.

Currently, a possible revival of river transport is under consideration. A scheme has been devised to transport imported raw sugar cane from Yarmouth to the Cantley processing plant by water in preference to road or rail.

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