The Changing Shape of Sprowston

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The Changing Shape of Sprowston

Norwich becomes a City & County

Prior to the 1550s there seemed to be the County of Norfolk and the City of Norwich as totally separate entities. They had even been bans from building outside the city walls although records show that there were areas outside the city wall that the inhabitants of the city used for keeping livestock and collecting fuel. This said much of the land seemed to be within the control of the church taking in a considerable portion of Mousehold Heath which would seem to support conjecture that it was originally called Monks Hold. Records show that in the 1300s the church employed on the heath shepherds for the sheep walks, a neatherd to look after the cattle and a swineherd for tending the hogs. It would seem that the area was well wooded as the monastery received payment for underwood, faggots, bark and timber.

Perambulating the City & County Boundary

Depending on how one interprets Blomefields account in his History of Norfolk the city petitioned Parliament to become a City and County taking in a considerable area around the city itself, the charter confirming this statute as being in either 1555 or 1556. The account of the perambulation around the border of the new City and County of Norwich is not particularly clear a fact borne out by the early mapmakers. Cunningham's map of 1558 is only rather like an artistic view giving no clue as to the boundary but Faden's map of 1797 shows the boundary almost along its present line at the edge of Sprowston as does Bryant's map of 1826 which calls Mousehold Heath, Pockthorpe Heath.

Early Mapping is Confusing

An early 1832 sketch map of the coming Ordinance Survey map calls to this interpretation into question showing the boundary not far from where Wall Road comes on to Sprowston Road, however by the time the map was published in 1885 the boundary had moved yet further city wards to the Denmark. To confuse the issue even further the Poor Law Unions map of 1834 seem to take yet another view the boundaries as being different yet again.

Conclusions from Early Trade Directories

Now we need to look at the trades directories and their conclusion of where the boundaries of various parishes were and in all the early ones they certainly have Sprowston going all the way to the Denmark or even slightly beyond. This may have been due to this statement in the original charter. " The liberties of all persons within the said county, and the several towns, hamlets, and precincts thereof, belonging to the several lords of the several manors and owners of lands, &c. are reserved to them and their heirs, to be enjoyed in as ample a manner as before the making of this charter.” To this mix be added that the civil parish and the ecclesiastical parish are not one of the selfsame thing even to this day taking in a considerable portion of what the city considered as their territory.

The 1907 Boundary Change

We now have a date that the city of Norwich extended swallowing up a portion of what had been previously Sprowston and Old Catton this took place in November 1907, the city boundary moving to where it is at present. The only other loss of Sprowston ground to the city was an area previously divided between Thorpe St Andrew and Sprowston that had been the airfield on Salhouse Road this was purchased by the city for the building of the Heartsease housing estate.

One only needs to look at the census returns to see the devastating effect of the transfer of part of the Sprowston Parish to the City of Norwich. The acreage in 1901 was 2627 with a population of 2359 and by the year 1911 the acreage had fallen to 2432 and the population was down to a mere 906. The 1950 transfer of land to the city council did not have such a marked effect as the land was mostly waste or agricultural land. The housebuilding programme by the city council was matched within Sprowston Parish by private developments filling in the area between Mousehold Lane and Blue Boar Lane although some land was given over to both industry, schools and recreational facilities.

For map and more information [1]