Reflections on Bowthorpe

Reflections on Bowthorpe

The Bowthorpe Experiment was a collaboration between the artists Townley and Bradby, Magnificent Revolution, and Jonathan P Watts. It took place on the evenings of Friday 13th, Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th May 2011 and was part of The Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Over the course of the three evenings many conversations took place as Lawrence Bradby guided the pullulating band of cyclists with his megaphone.

During the three tours the script was partly improvised; below is a post-hoc reconstruction, based on notes and on memory, of some of what was said.

The most important text from The Bowthorpe Experiment is that which has been lost: all the discussions, arguments, chit-chat, disagreements, technical knowledge transfer and jokes that took place amongst the participants as they cycled from one stop to the next.

What follows is a selection of some of the transcript.

Words in bold indicate a prop or object.
Sentences that are right-justified indicate directions for movement or positioning.
Capitals indicate the tour leaders: LB (Lawrence Bradley), AT (Anna Townley), JPW (Jonathan P Watts), LB (Lawrence Bradby), PM (Philip Moore), MF (Magda Frankiewicz).

The Bowthorpe Experiment

"So here, now, from this bandstand, we propose an enlargement of the experiment that began in Bowthorpe."

Bandstand, Chapelfield Gardens

LB mounts the bandstand, speaks through megaphone

Friends, citizens, fellow cyclists, we’re here this evening to celebrate. To celebrate our ability to live alongside one another. To celebrate our ability to act together. To celebrate the civic potential of outdoor urban space. In short, to celebrate Bowthorpe.

Forty years ago some bold decisions were made. Those decisions brought Bowthorpe into being. Those decisions added four and a half thousand new homes to the city of Norwich. Those decisions put council houses next to private houses next to housing association flats. Those decisions meant that cyclists and pedestrians could go straight from A to B, while motorists went the long way round. Those decisions made Bowthorpe a convivial place.

Now we want what Bowthorpe’s got. We want the whole of Norwich to have what Bowthorpe’s got.

So here, now, from this bandstand, we propose an enlargement of the experiment that began in Bowthorpe. We propose a generous increase, an emboldening, a rolling out of it to every street. We propose to retro-fit the city.

What will this transformed Norwich look like?

We don’t know. We want this cycle tour to show us.

This is not a performance. We’re not presenting you with a compelling illusion or a heart-rending narrative. We’re presenting you with an architecture of the imagination. We want you to slowly ignite it with the fuse of your thoughts. We know that a minimum number of changes to the traffic layout and street furniture will lead directly to changes in people’s daily movements. But what will flow from those new movements? What new connections, friendships, tensions will emerge? By all bending our thoughts to this same question, we, as a group, can project ourselves into the future, to a time when The Bowthorpe Experiment has decisively shifted the texture of daily life.

This collective mental labour will take courage, solidarity and trust. Courage to persistently look through the present to the future that lies behind it. Solidarity, to cycle together and negotiate the roundabouts as a group. Trust to voice our trepidations, reservations, suggestions about the way the future is growing in from the edge of our vision to occupy the foreground.

We will stop at a number of points en route and whet the sharp edge of our futuresight against the coarse surfaces of the everyday. And at Bowthorpe itself, we’ll take matters into our own hands. We will gladden our flesh with tea and flapjacks from our panniers. We will gladden our hearts by watching Phil and Magda assemble their fantastic mobile bike-powered cinema and by using it to project a film onto the gable end of Roy’s supermarket. By our own labours we will glow forth.

So now we ask you to put your best foot on your foremost pedal, and to push down hard on the brittle crust of the present, to crack it open and lead us into what lies beyond.

AT whacks vibratone.

Moves it around like a wand.

Casting a spell over the participants.

Anna will now lead us round the bandstand and then out towards this great labour. Anna… show us the way.


Lawerence speaks

Park Lane/The Avenues

Stop in front of church on Park Lane

We are still inhabiting the future. You can see it all around you.

AT: vibratone.

And as you look you will be thinking ‘how can these changes be taking place? How can there be space for these generous two-way cycleways?’ The answer: by the progressive restrictions to the free circulation of motor vehicles.

As the people of Norwich enact the Bowthorpe Experiment, the sort of heavy two-way traffic that we were used to a few years ago, in 2011, continues to flow on a small number of roads: the nine arterial A-roads into the city, the three ring roads, plus one or two others. These major roads define a series of sectors. Within each sector all other roads are now one-way, liberating a vast area of tarmac for other uses.

So this road, for example, …

LB points along Mill Hill Road

… is one way, and traffic coming up from the Earlham Road and reaching this junction is blocked from turning left by this line of wooden bollards.

LB points to imaginary line of bollards across Park Lane

Instead, the traffic follows the one-way system round to the right, …

LB points down Park Lane

… back towards the Earlham Road. Similarly, traffic coming down the hill …

LB points to The Avenues

… is blocked from going towards the Unthank Road (as it was able to back in 2011), and instead is directed right along Jessop Road.

But in itself, the infrastructure isn’t important. What’s important is the new freedoms that have opened up, and how people are exploring and developing those freedoms.

So this whole area in front of us is transformed. In the past, in 2011, it was almost invisible. It was simply a road, a means to being elsewhere. Now it’s wide open to other uses, many of which may conflict with each other.

LB moves to stand in pedestrian refuge in middle of Park Lane

Here, in the space that was once swept by people going places fast, someone has marked out a rounders pitch.

Mime throwing a ball to AT.

AT mimes hitting the ball & running round the four bases.

We will now push on with the tour.


Earlham Green Lane/Larkman Lane

If you stop and relax for a second you’ll probably feel a tingle. Something between a taste and a smell. Coming to you mainly through your hair and your scalp. What this tells us, of course, is that we’re close to Bowthorpe.

You may be thinking how do we know that these changes are what the people of Norwich want? You may be thinking surely automotive hyper-mobility and hassle-free parking constitute a human right? You may be wondering who we’ve consulted? Which doors have we knocked? What surveys and censuses undertaken? What polls, plebiscites, focus groups, questionnaires? How much gurning, glad-handing, grafting, foot-slogging, persuading, pleading, politicking, brokering? What gives us the bloody right?

We know that to expose the latent desires for this degree of change you must dig deeper. We’ve gone beyond the verbal. We have a mass of observations. We’ve looked at stance. And we’ve looked at gesture. And we’ve compiled a data set that gives intimate access to people???s civic longings. For months we’ve amassed data on the range of stances adopted by those at bus stops, on the varied ways to handle your keys as you cross the brick weave and approach your front door, on the cast of your face as you indicate right and wait to turn across the heavy and seemingly unending traffic. These observations tell us to let The Bowthorpe Experiment continue!

???No Access to Bowthorpe Except for Buses???. That’s not just my opinion, that’s a quote.

Most people on the tour are facing a road sign marked ???Bowthorpe, No Access Except to Buses???.


Bowthorpe Experiment

"We believe in Norwich people???s capacity to self-organise and to determine their own future."

Earlham Green Lane/Malbrook Rd

AT leads tour off the road and into large car park in front of Earlham Christian Centre.

Before we enter Bowthorpe itself, we want to examine one more change that has developed in consequence of The Bowthorpe Experiment. This time, rather than an alteration to transport infrastructure, it’s a socio-cultural shift. So I ask you now to lay your bikes upon the ground and gather over here.

The difficulty of moving about by car means we now spend much more time on the street: on foot, or bike, waiting for the bus. There’s a density of encounters and chance interactions. It breeds a different way of being in the street, a sinewy civic awareness. We’ve each become more accountable for our presence. Daily, we have to acknowledge those we share space with. We get stuck in conversations we’d've rather avoided. We develop new techniques for coping, ways of politely affirming our disagreement or our difference, ways of turning disagreement into a positive force.

So what happens when this building …

LB points behind to the squat windowless red-brick building, currently a church.

… comes under the implacable and acquisitive gaze of the Tesco empire?

In the recent past, Tesco always got the go ahead. If planning application for a new store was turned down, Tesco’s vast wealth ensured that this was not a permanent rejection, but simply a stage along the route towards the eventual and inevitable planning consent.

But we believe in The Bowthorpe Experiment and the new civic resourcefulness it has created. We believe in Norwich people’s capacity to self-organise and to determine their own future. We believe in their ability to resist unwelcome change imposed upon. We believe this so firmly that we want to put it to the test right now.

So we’d like you to form yourselves into a single large letter T across the car park.

Then when the chimes of destiny sound …

LB points to AT holding bamboo chimes.

… we’d like you to reorganise yourselves so that you spell a different letter. It could be any letter, whatever you decide amongst you, but it needs to symbolise the new civic awareness in some way. Ok, the hour of change is upon us!

AT plays bamboo chimes whilst participants respond in some way to the instruction to move.

When participants look like they’ve finished AT blows duck call.

Friends! Fellow cyclists! Our faith was justified!

LB continues with improvised response to the letter or shape that has been made.

Just at the end of this road you can see the hallowed 30 metre stretch of road, the vital cord that connects Bowthorpe to the rest of Norwich. It is only for the use of buses, bikes and taxis. Beyond it you can make out a continuous curving wall, for Bowthorpe, like Jerusalem, is ringed all about by a city wall.


Photo by Ryan Watts

Bike powered screening Photo by Ryan Watts

The Shopping Centre, Bowthorpe, by gable end of Roys Of Wroxham supermarket

PM & MF assemble Magnificent Revolution mobile bike-powered cinema.

AT & LB set out picnic.

LB & JPW put screen weight into projection screen & hold it against wall during screening.

Phil and Magda are assembling their fabulous cycle-powered cinema. They’re going to project a prophetic film directly onto the wall of the supermarket. While they’re doing this we’ll be serving refreshments from this low brick wall. There is tea brewed in Tuckswood, in a flask borrowed from Take 5 Cafe.

There are Norfolk Gala apples from Brands Grocers in Anglia Square. There are Anzac biscuits from Dozen Bakery in Newmarket Street. And the spoke lights on your wheels are from an independent Norfolk cycle retailer who gave us a small discount but said that they didn???t really need the advertising, so it would be unfair to mention their name.

We’d also like to acknowledge the support from Paul Lambert and Ray at Roys of Wroxham supermarket. Turning off the street lights and going off-grid was far from straightforward, so thanks for their persistence in arranging that. And finally thanks to Bowthorpe Heritage Group who will show us the Bowthorpe Community Garden after the screening.

LB & JPW put screen weight into projection screen & hold it against wall during screening.


After packing up the return journey ensued – spirits high and bodies sated with tea and biscuits.

Learnings from the Bowthorpe Experiment can be discovered on twitter by searching “twitter Bowthorpe learnings”.

The Bowthorpe Experiment continues; it’s physical manifestation soon to be realised in a yet to be identified location.

For more information about Townley and Brady