Today, Norfolk Archaeological Trust is known for its management of rural archaeological sites. However, in its early days, its focus was on the acquisition of historic properties in the county that were at risk, whether through neglect or from the slum clearances that were taking place in Norwich. Most of the Trust’s early holdings were in the city, including the Rosemary Tavern building (renamed as Pykerell’s House) on Rosemary Lane, the Great Hall on Oak Street, and most notably, Augustine Steward’s House in the neighbourhood of Tombland.

The Trust found that managing old houses was difficult and expensive; they had to act as landlords to tenants and the properties required constant monitoring and repair. During the war years Pykerell’s House and the Great Hall were badly damaged during the Baedeker bombing raids on Norwich. Augustine Steward’s house was also damaged by a fire in 1944. But it was the events of a few years later that precipitated its eventual sale by the Trust.

In 1950, Colonel Sydney Glendenning, who acted as the Trust’s property manager, presented Basil Cozens-Hardy, its honorary secretary, with a series of complaints from nearby residents about the noise coming from the Samson and Hercules dancehall in Tombland (now home to a branch of Mortgage Advice Bureau). The Samson and Hercules was owned by Geoffrey Watling, a local businessman who owned dozens of businesses and was famously the chairman of Norwich City Football Club (he has a stand named after him today). The dancehall was popular with young people of the city, and the US airmen that were still stationed in Norfolk. This is where the problems lay.

Chief among the subjects that drew the neighbours’ ire was ‘the noise […] of the band, and more particularly of the moaning of the Crooners.’ There was also ‘loud talk and banging of car doors, and not infrequently drunken brawls[1].’ Glendenning was most concerned about the grumblings of Mr. G. R. Clark, who was the Trust’s tenant at Augustine Steward’s House, right next door to the Samson and Hercules. Mr. Clark complained of ‘powerful amplifying equipment’ that meant it was ‘impossible to sit by my fireside without being compelled to listen to the nightly performance which reverberates through the walls.[2]’ He dramatically conjured up the ‘orgy of noise’ coming from the bands and the ‘wild screams and shouts of the half-drunk inmates’.

Most distressingly, he claimed that after the dancehall closed there were ‘equally disgusting performances […] adjacent to my front door, which frequently take the form of the deposit of urine, excrement and vomit upon my doorstep’, as well as ‘sundry articles of contraception.’ This is a sobering reminder that anti-social behaviour is not just a ‘modern’ phenomenon! Mr. Clark naturally blames the problem on the ‘American occupying forces’ and ‘the most doubtful female characters of the district.

In one letter a few months later, an increasingly exasperated Mr. Clark wrote to Basil Cozens Hardy, telling him he would be ‘greatly obliged to hear from you whether any steps can be taken to keep these demoniac performances within reasonable social limits.’[3] There is a letter from Geoffrey Watling assuring the Trust he would look into the issue, but whether he did so is not known.

Eventually, perhaps fed up with the problems caused by the building, the Trust sold Augustine Steward’s House to the City Corporation in 1960. It goes to show that heritage management is not always a glamorous business!

Robin Sampson, Project Archivist


[1] Letter from S. E. Glendenning to B. Cozens-Hardy, 22nd May 1950. ACC 2012/47 box 1

[2] Letter from G. R. Clark to S. E. Glendenning, 22nd March 1950. ACC 2012/47 box 1

[3] Letter from G. R. Clark to B. Cozens-Hardy, 7th July 1950. ACC 2012/47 box 1