North Walsham & District Community Archive

North Walsham 1875 - 1975

"North East Norfolk Country Churchman Centenery Magazine 1875-1975"


In 1875 North Walsham was a small market town with a population of 2,842 people and a rateable value of £12,692. Some of its streets were paved and it was lighted by gas.
It was, as it had always been, a focal point for the main industry of the surrounding countryside - agriculture: a centre to which farmers, large and small, brought their stock to be bought and sold.
Most of the shops were to be found in or around the Market Place, with the owners living over them. The goods and services they offered reflected the needs of the people of those days: there were blacksmiths and coach-builders, coopers, curriers and gunsmiths, as well as, of course, butchers, fish curers, drapers, grocers and two straw hat and bonnet makers, to mention only some of them.
The town was not without its industry: there were two agricultural implement makers, a gig and cart maker and a rope works.
It was a thriving and prosperous town, very much of a self-contained unit as towns and villages were in those days. But then, as now, change was taking place, slowly, inexorably, a change which would eventually affect and alter their way of life for most of the people of North Walsham.
A Carriers' Cart still plied between the town and Norwich - it left the Black Swan at eight o'clock in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, returning from the White Horse in Norwich at four p.m. and there was a once-a-week trip to Yarmouth on Fridays, returning the next day - but the railway had come to North Walsham in 1874, the town being at that time the terminus for the Great Eastern Railway. This was to mean easier, cheaper travel for the townsfolk, with the opportunity to find more varied and perhaps better paid work further afield, as well as giving the women a chance to shop in larger, better stocked stores. This, in turn, led to a gradual decline in the number of shops and trades in the town and, eventually, to the virtual closing down of the North Walsham and Dilham canal, which had brought the wherries and other trading vessels with their crews and cargoes, mostly coal and grain, to the town.
Until the Waterworks were started on the Norwich Road in 1900. a pump situated in the Market Place, opposite the Church, supplied the people in the area with water, while open gutters carried the drainage of the town into a broad ditch called the catch pit, which ran through meadows to the North end of the town.
Education seems not to have been neglected. As well as the Paston Grammar School, there was a Free School for the children of the poor, a School for Ladies in Aylsham Road and a Seminary in Angel Street. This was an ordinary school, not a training establishment for the clergy - the word being used here in the snobbish sense, rather like Academy was used, to give a superiority to a very ordinary school.
The intervening years have seen the coming of electricity, natural gas (and the consequent closing down of the town's own gas works), television and the opening up of a modern Old People's Home, as well as other amenities which add to the quality of life for all North Walsham's citizens.
Yet, such is the vigour and social conscience of the people who live in the town today there is little doubt North Walsham will measure up to its problems and that it will still be a thriving town and a good place in which to live in another hundred years' time.