History of Trowse & Whitlingham by Joe Mason

The following excellent article on the history of Trowse is published with kind permission of East Anglian historian Joe Mason. It contains a fascinating insight into the village’s local history (including Whitlingham) with some great photographs. Thank you Joe!

Trowse, Autumn 1958

Trowse has been turned into a sleepy back-water since the construction of the Norwich Southern By-pass. Before then it had always been on the main route from Lowestoft and Bungay into the City. With the growth of dormitory villages and the motor car it had become a very busy place. Now it is the quietest it has been in centuries.

Old and new signals at Trowse about 1970; both now gone. The bridge replaced a level crossing which used to cross the railway about 100 years ago. The railngs around the footpath were to keep pedestrians separated from the cattle when this was the main way into the old market.

Back in 1698, at the end of the 17th century, Trowse was the way Celia Fiennes made her entrance into the City. She had come from Beccles and got her first view of Norwich from the top of Bixley Hill. Neithe Trowse nor Bixley were named by Fiennes, but they can be identified from her description. Bixley was a small village then as now.There was a causeway across the low lying land approaching the rivers Tas and Yare in Trowse. There were ditches across this tract of marsh. She mentions a bridge across the river Yare; whether or not there was a bridge across the Tas back then she does not say. Until she reached the marsh there were houses all along the road very much as there are today. She referred to the village as a suburb of the city. What struck her most of all was all the woollen cloth (stuff) laid out on the fields to bleach in the sun. We can still appreciate the suburban nature of Trowse, but the cloth industry that was such a feature of the City has utterly vanished.

The church in Trowse is on the banks of the River Tas, and it is prone to flood during exceptionally wet seasons. There are records of it being inundated going back 300 years. It is so obviously a bad place that I wonder why it was built on such low-lying land. It was in this church that my cousin David Anderson married Diana Harrod in 1958. At the time his mother Olive was Assistant Matron at a care home, Whitlingham Hospital in Trowse. This I think would account for the choice of venue. Diana also lived nearby in Bracondale but she did not live in Trowse itself.

Back in the eighteenth century Richard Mackenzie Bacon, the editor of the Norwich Mercury, had family connections with Trowse. His mother Katherine was the daughter of the Vicar of Trowse, the Rev John Kirby. I have written on R. M. Bacon in other blogs (e.g. May 2012).  Also in the 18th century Parson Woodforde used to send his corn (which he had grown on the church farm in Weston Longville) to be milled at Trowse Millgate, although it was on the other side of the city from Weston. I am hoping to discover why he sent his corn so far when there were many closer mills, both wind and water powered. I can only think that the Trowse miller must have given him a particularly good price. In July 1785 a bare knuckle boxing match was held in Trowse, which was won by Haylett of Coltishall.

Trowse was further developed in the nineteenth century with estate cottages for the Colman workers. These included both servants from the Crown Point Estate and employees from nearby Carrow Works. It was to one of these cottages  that my great-grandmother Susan Peachey (nee Jones) moved when her husband ceased to be the warrener down White Horse Lane in Arminghall.  25 Russell Terrace, Trowse, was also where my great-grandfather Charles Mason (on the other side of the family) finally moved. He was born near Stone in Staffordshire, and after his marriage lived in Easton to the west of Norwich, and also in Kent and Northamptonshire. He had always worked with animals, both horses and dogs. He found work for the Colmans as a carter. He had an allotment behind the house, and grew flowers as well as vegetables, much to the amusement of his neighbours, who could see no point in growing flowers.

The Crown Point Tavern is now cut off from the Kirby and Lowestoft Roads, but before they were altered in the 1980s it was at the junction of two main routes into Norwich. The busiest was of course the road up Bixley Hill which took all the traffic to and from Lowestoft, Beccles and Bungay. The pub was a handy place to drop in at lunch time for a pint on the way home. Crown Point was also the name by which we knew Whitlingham Hospital, its name when it was home to the Colmans and before that to Colonel Money.

The siding at Trowse pumping station

The hamlet of Trowse Millgate is administered as part of Norwich, although ecclesiastically it is still a part of Trowse parish. The old sewage pumping station which stood just to the far side of the railway line (but still to the city side of the rivers) is similarly part of Trowse Millgate. My picture shows the short siding at Trowse where the coal trucks were unloaded to fire the pumping engine for the City’s sewage. This photograph was taken in the mid 1960s, by which time the old coal fired pump had been out of use for several years. The siding however does not look too overgrown. The gentleman in the grey Mac and the Trilby hat is my father.

Trowse (Part 2)

[I think I am fighting a losing battle on this one, but I will try anyway. I should stress that Trowse is pronounced to rhyme with ‘gross’. Many people assume that it rhymes with ‘cows’ but this not so. If you think of a ‘dose of medicine’ that is how my relatives who lived there said the word, and I suggest they knew best.]

Trowse Newton Old Hall Ruins

This ruin is near Whitlingham Broad. Whitlingham Broad is not a real broad any more than the University Broad at UEA is. They were both dug out as gravel pits in the late 20th century, whereas the proper Norfolk Broads were medieval peat diggings. This picture was taken before Whitlingham Broad existed and the surrounding area was a tranquil water meadow where bullocks were grazed in the summer months. Water meadows are still quite a feature of Trowse, because the low-lying land where the rivers Tas, Yare and Wensum all meet is suitable for little else. This is a parish of extremes however, as the steep hills between the church and the old hall are home to Norfolk’s only ski slope.

Trowse Newton Hall was originally a medieval foundation, a country retreat for the Priors of Norwich Cathedral Priory. It would have been a short voyage by rowing boat from the Cathedral and under the arch at Pulls Ferry to Trowse. After the Reformation the Hall was retained by the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral. By the middle of the nineteenth century it had become a farmhouse on the Crown Point Estate. The avenue of trees which leads from Crown Point Manor to Trowse Newton Hall was planted about this time. Later the Hall was reduced to a “picturesque ruin”, which is how you see it now.

Edward VII was entertained at Trowse on Monday 25th October 1909. After a day of official engagements in the city he took supper at Crown Point, a guest of the Colman family. Alighting from the train on the other side of the river he crossed on a pontoon bridge and was driven past the ruins of Trowse Newton Hall and along the avenue of lime trees. This was not the first Royal visit to Trowse Newton Hall; Edward III and Queen Philippa lodged there while visiting Norwich in 1335. A visit to Norwich by the King used to be a rare occurrence. None had taken place between 1671 and 1909, and before Charles II no reigning monarch had visited the City since Queen Elizabeth I.

Crown Point is named after a fortified town in New York State. It was where a battle took place during the French War in North America (The Seven Years’ War) which resulted in a British success. In command of the British troops was General Money, who later purchased the estate in Trowse which he called Crown Point to celebrate his victory. The surroundings of the ruins of Trowse Newton Hall were changed to marked degree by the development of Whitlingham Broad as a leisure facility. Whitlingham Lane was diverted and the nearby barn, part of the farmyard associated with the Hall, was converted to form a coffee shop for the visitors to the Broad. A car park was built adjacent the double avenue of lime trees near the Hall.

Whitlingham Reach (A. Sandys 1860)

150 years ago Trowse Millgate and Trowser Newton, which since the 17th century had incorporated Whitlingham, together made a bustling village. Whitlingham was not a place of pleasure and relaxation as it is today, but a centre of industry. A limekiln was in operation where the steep cliffs approached the river. Wherries were frequently at Whitlingham quay unloading barrels of beer from Norwich and returning with quicklime. The White House contained a pub and was where the ferryman lived. The ferry gave dwellers in Whitlingham access to Thorpe Green and Whitlingham station which was opened in 1844. This was on the Yarmouth line built by George and Robert Stephenson.

The street in Trowse Millgate gave access to Trowse station on the London line. The Pineapple pub was adjacent to the station at Trowse and stood on the road that used to take horse-drawn traffic to the south. A level crossing originally existed here before the bridge was built. Some of the livestock sold at the cattle market under the walls of castle were grazed in Trowse, but far more were unloaded from cattle trucks in sidings at Trowse station, to be returned under new ownership to the same station. Where the cattle trucks used to be loaded and unloaded is now a depot for sand.

A blacksmith, woodturner, shopkeepers, several butchers and a shoemaker all served a population of just under 600. The Colman family bought Crown Point in the last quarter of the 19th century and proceeded to turn Trowse into a model village. They gave the land which is now the common to the community in exchanged for some land in Whitlingham Lane. The White Horse pub was demolished and rebuilt where it stands today, on the other side of the road. You should read my first blog on Trowse, published on September 10, 2012; also my blog on Whitlingham, published February 3, 2012.

Entrance to Crown Point (Whitlingham Hall)


Whitlingham Church, 1795


THERE is so much to say about Whitlingham, it is hard to know where to begin, but it is not on account of its size. If I were to say that there were half a dozen houses including those on the sewage farm I would probably be over generous. It used to have a church but that was abandoned in the seventeenth century. A hundred years ago the ruined tower still stood, but that fell well over 50 years ago. At some time, not all that long ago (but well beyond living memory) there was a flourishing business involving chalk pits, tunnels and lime kilns. You could still see the remains of them if you braved the stinging nettles on the steep bank, at the top of which stands the pile of rubble that is all that remains of the church.

I should add for those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Norwich that Whitlingham is a tiny hamlet very close to the city. It is reached through Trowse of which it now forms a part. Trowse adjoins Norwich, so Whitlingham is close to the bustling heart of the city as the crow flies. Bearing in mind how close it is to the hubbub of the town it is incredibly remote in feeling. Just across the river trains to Sheringham, Yarmouth and Lowestoft regularly trundle by, but Whitlingham is on the road to nowhere. It is reached down a long lane. There is no access to the Southern Bypass, and no bridge as you go east from there until you reach Great Yarmouth, twenty miles or so away. Not only is the road quite long, it is (or was in years gone by) very narrow and pot-holed.

I will turn to Whitlingham station. It was in Thorpe, not in Whitlingam, but Thorpe was the name of the main terminuss in Norwich where trains from London terminated. Whitlingham station was in fact the other side of the river and only accessible (from Whitlingham itself) by ferry. When my “Uncle” Hubert (not a relative) was brought from London to be fostered by a farm worker and his wife in Whitlingham he was brought by train to Whitlingham station and then across the river; in those days a rowing boat connected Whitlingham with its station. The year would have been 1905 when he was a babe in arms. He was the illegitimate child of the daughter of a wealthy London family. I must tell you more about Hubert Catchpole at a later date. This station at Whitlingham has been closed for over half a century but I am fortunate enough to have used it. I was going to Thorpe (not Whitlingham) where my Nanny lived at the time. I can’t have been more than four years old. It was dusk when we got off the train and I would certainly have forgotten all about the trip if the kind guard had not made it memorable for me by giving the little boy his oil lamp to wave at the engine driver. I held up the green oil lamp and off the engine steamed. Magic.

SONORITY aground at Whitlingham, 16 March 1970. The police launch is alongside.

It was a favourite place to walk Fido or go fishing for eels for me in the 1970s. In those days when I lived in Poringland and the Southern Bypass had not yet been built, I passed the turning to Whitlingham every day on my journey to work in Norwich. There is a part of the river which runs alongside the road, near to where the church once stood. It is on a right angled bend of the river, a difficult place for sea-going coasters to navigate, even with the assistance of a local pilot. (Did  these coasters use pilots?) As you can see from this photograph, they did not always make it! (The Sonority, pictured here, belonged to F. T. Everard & Sons Ltd, a firm which had possessed a number of Thames Barges. She was a frequent visitor to Norwich.)


I haven’t mentioned WHITLINGHAM BROAD, that relatively recent gravel pit. It is down to the construction of the Southern Bypass, which needed large quantities of aggregate from nearby. When I was a regular visitor to Whitlingham the whole area was water meadows and cattle pens. It is at the Trowse end of Whitlingham Lane – the far end is relatively untouched but Whitlingham Broad is a busy place of recreation.


Dr Hubert Catchpole (went to Trowse Primary as a six year old)

A remarkable Norfolkman, Dr Hubert Catchpole, has died in Chicago, seven weeks short of his 100th birthday next month.  Brought by train from London to Trowse Station when two weeks old to live with foster-parents in Tower Cottage by the river at Whitlingham, he helped them in the holidays to deliver milk by horse and cart from the Norwich Corporation Farm, where his father worked, to houses in Lakenham .  Readily spotted as an outstanding six-year old by my great-aunt, who was a teacher at Trowse School, he gained a prized free place to the City of Norwich School in 1920 and went on from there to win an open scholarship – and another instituted in Whitehall after the war for the sons and daughters of agricultural workers – to study Biochemistry at Downing College, Cambridge, where he got a First. 


Emigrating to America in 1929 after five years of graduate research at Cambridge, Dr Catchpole gained a doctorate at Berkeley in 1934 and progressed over the years via lectureships at Harvard and Yale to hold three professorships – Professor of Pathology and Professor of Histology at the University of Illinois and Visiting Professor of the Humanities at Rush University, Chicago.  He toured extensively with his young wife after the Second World War – never failing to visit his Norfolk home and family on his visits to England.  His many friends on this side of the Atlantic included, in the early days, Lord and Lady Nuffield.  When Lady Nuffield found herself in America at the outbreak of war in 1939 he took charge of her welfare until she was able to return (under the name of Mrs. Morris) to England. 


Dr Catchpole continued lecturing until he was 90, held a driving licence at the age of 95, and was writing papers for learned journals up until the time of his death. He remembered King Edward VII’s visit to the city in 1910, the announcement of hostilities at the beginning of the First World War (mistaking, aged eight, “Austria” in a newspaper headline for “Australia”), the Armistice in 1918 when he walked three miles to the City centre to listen to the bells of St. Peter Mancroft ringing out and, as a sixth-former, the Royal visit when King George V drove along Eaton Road and got out of his car to receive the cheers of the Headmaster, staff and boys of the CNS. 

Yours faithfully,

Andrew Anderson

Note about the Author

This article was taken from Joe Mason’s blog, the originals are available here:


Joe can be contacted directly via email through his excellent blog.