Anglia Square – a vision of the future

Most of us look at Anglia Square and see it as a s***hole. I can’t argue with that. But I am too much of an optimist to live with the notion that the creators, the planners, the thinkers of the 1960s had a s***hole at the heart of their vision of the future. So what on earth were they thinking?!

Through my research I tried to burrow into the minds of those people involved in the creation of Anglia Square as well as looking at what was going on in England at the time driving the changes. It wasn’t easy, and all I really got was snippets of information from newspaper cuttings and reports. So without really knowing what the thinkers of the time were actually thinking, I’m assuming it went something like this…

Change was needed. Something in the pre-Anglia Square area needed to happen. The Kirby Shoe factory had stood derelict for years, and bomb damage from the Baedeker Blitz raids still potted the location in the 60s. With the war now behind them, everyone was excited for the future. It would be a new age future, with self-service shopping, loading your week’s worth of cheese, cabbage and pork chops into the boot of your shiny new Hillman, straight home into your fancy new refrigerator.

Cars were becoming more numerous, parking was disorganized and dangerous, and the Planning Department’s ‘Traffic in Towns’ (AKA The Buchanan Report) of 1963 was a forward thinking document. It showed concern for car damage to the town environment, both people and buildings, and concern for the future if Planning didn’t step in and control ‘a monster of great potential destructiveness’. I read it with the feeling that the people writing it cared – imagine that if you can.

And so Norwich looked to the pedestrianised shopping nirvana of Stevenage for inspiration. A ‘square’ of shops would be constructed, with multi-level parking, a cinema, motel, a restaurant with al fresco dining amongst the fountains and trees that would fill the central area. Even maybe a monorail!? Who couldn’t get excited by such wonderous ideas, and it was a positive, and optimistic answer to the problem.

But reality stepped in. The businesses involved didn’t keep all of their promises, the money started to run out, and there is never enough money for the good stuff, so compromises were made to a backdrop of already changing times and shopping habits. Anglia Square was created but the fountains and trees never got the memo.

Most concrete buildings are a bit like having Gangnam Style tattooed on your forearm. It might be on trend and cool at first, and your mates are impressed. But after a while it’s not so cool, and you realise it may not have been your best idea, and you are left with a fading embarrassing statement of its time.

I love Anglia Square. But I am well aware that all my love for it is down to nostalgia and memories of my teenage years spent there break-dancing, and it doesn’t blinker me from seeing the s***hole that it truly is. Sorry Anglia Square.

Phil Halls

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