The Treasures of Magdalen Street

OK, I know this has been a long time coming – what can I say, I lost my blogging mojo for a while – but here is the long-promised post on the Magdalen Street area of Norwich.

There’s no use pretending.  Magdalen Street has a reputation of being down at heel, and it is true that you can find all the usual suspects of  discount and cheap shops (not even a Poundland, but a 99p store!) in and around the charmless Anglia Square, as well as that horrid little moneypit that is Spinners. But there is a certain spirit even to Anglia Square.  I’m assuming the ‘Welcome Home Alan’ sign was for Alan Partridge, as his UK premiere of Alpha Papa had not long taken place in the Square when these pictures were taken.

welcome home alan          anglia squarespinners moneypit                       odeon

But I prefer to look at Magdalen Street in the light of its incredible diversity, creativity and energy; it is an absolute treasure trove of goodies.  Keep reading, and I hope to enlighten you with this little taster, hopefully to encourage you to visit and try something different from what you find in Chapelfield and all those boring chain stores.  I started at the Wall, near the Artichoke, right at the end of Magdalen Street, although I’ve probably mixed a few things up.

wall lane

First off was a shop so new they literally had opened that day and so they had to tell me the name as there was no sign – E&J Euro – and they specialise in food from several European countries, including Latvia and Russia according to their sign.  The staff were very friendly and welcoming, and wanted to press various little sweeties on me, although don’t blame me if they are not still doing that 6 months later.

  romanian shop                                   sign outside romanian shop

A little further down the road is another small supermarket catering to Eastern European tastebuds, alongside a Turkish corner cafe, and several other foodie heavens all the way back to Fye Bridge Street.  And I can say from personal experience how helpful and welcoming they are, explaining different unusual foods if you ask.

Image   moonlight cafe and haider halal

euro foods             babylon marketasian bazaar               Ajman Miah and Spice Land

That has got to beat the Sainsbury’s experience:

unhealthy basket

There are some lovely cafes:

the street cafe  namaste india

The Dandy Horse is really interesting – unlike the trendy Bicycle Store on St Benedicts, this one actually does combine a bike repair shop with a lovely cafe (more seats upstairs).

dandy horse  inside dandy horse

upstairs dandy horse

One of the main reasons I go to Magdalen Street is to browse the junk shops – wow, what a wonderful selection, some of it over-priced but some of it cheap as chips and just brilliant for ideas.  I have to start with Looses – a flea market emporium that is always good for a rummage – and check out their fancy toilets!

looses emporium   inside looses emporium

looses loos

but try these too:

retreat vintage  beatniks  junk and gems

rspca, aladdins cave and beatniks      inside aladdins caveshrunken secondhandland  now-n-then  stalks  longs pledge centre

That last one is a pawn shop with the traditional three gold balls – calling itself a Pledge Centre, I guess it is just a prettier version of Cash Converters.

Also worth a browse are the incredible number of charity shops – Oxfam, RSPCA, Scope, Salvation Army, Barnardo’s, Pact, Daisy International, Store House, Sense etc.

There are also some actual proper shops selling new things like this clothes shop, which I liked a lot even though isn’t really catering for my age or pocket.

mod one

The other main reason I go to Magdalen Street is for the craftiness of it – the best fabric shop in Norwich, and lots of ideas:

anglian fashion fabrics  inside anglian fashion fabrics

sew creative              make place

It’s not really my thing, but I have to mention that there are several rather chi-chi little beauty, hair and nail bars.

beautique    carxel

one touchnail boudoir

The other random things you will find are some really pretty little courtyards, such as the Gothic House B&B which you  can see through the Kings Head courtyard, and Gurney House courtyard:

kings head and gothic house  gurney house courtyard

There is also Epic Studios in the old Anglia TV building, home to a second life for some old bands (Visage, anyone?) and occasional tribute bands and even wrestling events.  And even the local pubs have gone European.

epic studios  escape european bar

I have to digress into a mention for the architectural highlights not so far away – Fye Bridge is said to be the oldest river crossing in Norwich with records suggesting a bridge from 1153 onwards, although the bridge you see today dates from the 19th century.  This was also the site of a medieval ducking stool, used to punish women who were ‘scolds’ and also to test for witchcraft (if you drowned you were innocent – hmm, wonder what evil bastard thought that one up).  You have to go to Bishop’s Bridge the other side of the Cathedral to see the oldest bridge still standing – that was built in the 1340’s.  Also keep walking towards Tombland, and special mention can be made for the wonderful crooked house that is Augustine Steward House, seen here back through the Erpingham Gate that leads into the Cathedral Close.

fye bridge                   crooked house in tombland

When I first came to Norwich from London (about 30 years ago) I heard it criticised for being a little ‘middle class toy-town’ that was white and bland.  Well I think things have changed, but especially here in Magdalen Street, which is becoming the heart of multi-cultural Norwich.  It has always had its share of Indian restaurants, and some have lasted and lasted because they are so good (yes, Ali Tandoori, I’m talking about you).  But now there are lots of different nationalities living in Norwich, and many of them have found that Magdalen Street is a great place to start their own small businesses.  This means a fantastic range of food, and the freshest spices you can get. Good luck to them all.

Apologies for all the photos getting jumbled and being in odd places – not my fault, they didn’t look like that when I was editing, and I can’t seem to improve things!