Red Lions and expensive little cats

Last Sunday Mrs W and I did a circular trip taking in the closing down sale at Comet in Norwich. You can have no idea how guilty I felt about going there – I don’t for one minute know why but it made me distinctly uneasy although Sue had no such qualms and purchased a kettle and a toaster both very reasonably. Anyway I digress as our ultimate destination was Tesco where another inordinately large sum of money got spent on cat food but I suppose that’s the price of having 5 of the little darlings. Between the two we went for Sunday lunch at the Mrs Potts café in Aylsham which for those that don’t know it is at the opposite end of Red Lion Street from the market. We were virtually the only ones in there at the time which is a pity as the food was good and reasonably priced. Aylsham is blessed with eateries but this one is just a little away from the centre and you have to walk to it. It’s a clean, friendly establishment and you can sit there and watch the world going by or not as it happens on a Sunday when things are very quiet in this part of town.

Red Lion Street is part of old Aylsham and I doubt if it is much changed visually (apart from the traffic) this last 100 years. The wherrymen of old would recognise it still but they would find a street that, and I’m sorry if this is controversial, now looks more than a little sorry for itself. Many of the shops are empty and others appear tired all of which gives a depressing air and I for one would love to see it rejuvenated. The nearer you get to the market square the more economic activity there appears to be but even here there is decay and nothing could be done, for example, to save Clarke’s. Two things would help I think and the first of these is to restrict the traffic although that would also create its own dynamic in other ways and I mustn’t forget that it is on a bus route. Far too much traffic, some large, use this street and the pavements are so narrow that even the hardy can feel threatened. Deliveries are also a problem as a lorry or van parked can create a jam in double quick time. The second thing is an economic imperative and this falls in to the realm of personal opinion but I would like to see a lively selection of niche market shops that draw their own clientèle and offer attractive goods and services. If it was in my ability I would subsidise this type of business until they were established and provide economic support in the form of rate and rent holidays. Of course had the Navigation survived it would undoubtedly be different as the footfall along Red Lion Street would be much greater as the tourists plodded their way to the town centre from the staithe.

See below for details.

This photograph shows Red Lion Street in 1965 and an earlier site for Clarke’s. It’s changed little in the intervening 47 years and I suspect that it was much like this 53 years earlier at the end of the Navigation. As an aside the Plunkett family have given their permission for their fathers photograph to be used by me here and there are many more of his pictures at the dedicated website including some of the Broads and the boats that sailed on them. It’s well worth a look if you’ve got the time. There is one picture in particular that I like of the ship Rotterdam photographed in 1934 in Norwich which reminds us that until relatively recently Norwich was an inland port visited by coasters and these low bridge class of short sea traders capable of riverine traffic in Europe and the UK. As usual I’m now digressing but the history of Norwich as a port is a fascinating one.

After my musing about Red Lion Street I got to thinking about how much the wherrymen would recognise along the way, not just in Aylsham and I came to the conclusion that there’s quite a bit that is unchanged on the surface or at least by the river. Buxton and Aylsham are probably the most changed with Brampton and Oxnead the least. The last mile in to Aylsham doesn’t actually exist as it did for the wherrymen but if you can suspend time for a minute and take a walk from where the staithe was to the market square there is more than enough that those of old would recognise. I suspect it would become more familiar the nearer they got to the town centre.

Brampton as it was and still is – well more or less !!

On that wonderful programme Countryfile last Sunday, in the evening after we had got home and I had enjoyed my customary snooze, there was an article debating the reintroduction into the UK of the European Lynx. As a cat lover I would support this and it would help keep the deer population in check but only if it’s done in the wilder areas as I doubt that Lynx and domesticated farm animals would mix well..

It would have to be understood of course that the cat food purchased in our household was for our own small felines. It’s bad enough that sometimes we feed the interlopers that sneak in through the cat flap including one very cunning but engaging feral with whom we have had a running battle for many months. Bonny, the kitten, hasn’t had a mention for some months and that is because she has decided that she is Sue’s personal lion guarding her lap at each and every possible occasion. I am not here as far as she is concerned except for those rare times when Sue is at work, I am on rest day and Bonny wants a fuss- then she comes and jumps on me demanding strokes with menaces. We have 5 cats but try as we might not to there are individual favourites; mine is Poppy our ginger Siamese, the product of a champion queen and a feral domestic. She is referred to in this house as the Norfolk Rex as she does have very pronounced stripes around the face. She sits here with me as I type; I should explain that normally I sit down and pour out whatever rubbish comes in to my head and then upload it straight away but sometimes I’m a bit more organised and prepare these ramblings in advance and this is just such an occasion. She is sat with the sun coming through the window catching her beautiful colouration and she simply shines like gold. She’s beautiful and knows it but clever too and always knows which buttons to press with me to get her own way. Anyway I have rambled far too long so until the next time – bye bye …….


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