diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Yesterday, because I had four hours to spare, I hunted down the Norwich 12. That's twelve individually outstanding heritage buildings, constructed over a millennium, in Norwich. The twelve include cathedrals and castles and halls and houses and post-millennial library complexes, and there aren't many cities nationwide that can boast quite such a range. If you're the anti-provincial type then maybe you should switch off now and come back tomorrow. But if you're a tad more open-minded, or might actually be up Norfolk way occasionally, these are a grand dozen to explore. [12 photos]

1. Norwich Castle (1067-1075)
Architecturally the most ambitious secular Norman building in Europe.
William the Conqueror's big blocky tower is visible across much of Norwich. It sits on Britain's largest motte, rather close to the castle's namesake shopping mall (which is definitely not one of the Norwich 12). The castle was used for several centuries as the city jail, and its later extensions now house the city's museum and art gallery (and a cafe and a gift shop). You'd expect a grand view from the top of the mound, but not so, Norwich city planners have dumped some rather ugly modern buildings along the road opposite. But the interior's huge, and historic, and well worth a lengthy visit. [photo]
2. Norwich Cathedral (1096-1145)
An iconic Norman cathedral and one of the most complete Romanesque buildings in Europe.
And it's free to get in, which is excellent, although there is a nice lady at the 'five pounds please' donations desk on the way in. The cloisters are the largest in England, the spire is one of the tallest, and I'd say the volunteers are some of the friendliest. Look up and the medieval roof carvings are beyond compare, in a unique rather than a dazzling way, and you can take as many photos inside the building as you like. I'd rather here than Ely. [photo]
3. The Great Hospital (1249)
An exceptional set of medieval hospital buildings, in continuous use for more than 750 years.
Just don't expect to see them if you trek to the edge of town for a look. The medieval cloister is hidden behind newer buildings and several "private no public right of way" notices, and the single large courtyard you can see isn't so old. Unless it's a Friday morning, when the Lodge welcomes visitors, you can safely give this one a miss. [photo]
4. The Halls - St Andrew's and Blackfriars' (1307-1470)
The most complete medieval friary complex surviving in England.
These flint buildings, of which St Andrew's is the largest, were repurposed as a 'common hall' during the Reformation. They're still used for concerts and conferences, and are apparently open to the public daily, although I couldn't find an unlocked entrance. Not especially whelming, except in longevity. [photo]

5. The Guildhall (1407-1424)
England's largest and most elaborate provincial medieval city hall.
For several centuries, until the Industrial Revolution, Norwich (yes Norwich) was England's second city. Its wealth and power translated into this elaborate seat of government, the largest surviving medieval civic building in the country outside London. If you visit today you'll find much of the interior taken up by Caley's Cocoa Café, which is not quite of the period, but which I can heartily recommend for any liquid chocoholics. [photo]
6. Dragon Hall (1427-1430)
A magnificent medieval merchant's trading hall, unique in Europe.
This 27 metre long timber-framed building was used as Robert Toppes's showroom and warehouse for thirty years, and somehow still survives today. I spotted the dragon hanging outside which gives the building is name, but the museum within is closed on Mondays (and Fridays, and Saturdays, and November to Marches) so I couldn't look inside. I'll be going back. [photo]
7. The Assembly House (1754-1755)
One of the most glorious examples of Georgian assembly rooms architecture in the country.
Hang on, that's quite a chronological leap. Up until number 5, the Norwich 12 has been quite good at showcasing one building per century. Then the 15th century got two, and the 16th and 17th get missed out altogether. The Assembly House is sandwiched between a car park, a shopping mall and a theatre, and is more a posh wedding, conference and dining venue these days. There was a conference going on so I gave the interior a miss. [photo]
8. St James Mill (1836-1839)
The quintessential English Industrial Revolution mill.
It's not just Yorks and Lancs that have the monopoly on satanic mills. Norwich had its own textile trade beside the river Wensum, of which St James Mill was part until 1902 when local department store Jarrolds bought the place instead. Their main offices are still located here, and there's a bespoke printing museum out the back (except, damn, that's only open on Wednesday mornings). [photo]

9. The Cathedral of St John the Baptist (1884-1910)
One of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture in England.
By the time Roman Catholics wanted a cathedral, space in the town centre was limited. So this monster church had to be located outside the inner ring road, that's outside the former city walls, but only just. It's big. It's designed by George Gilbert Scott Junior. It has a lot of Frosterley marble, apparently. But best not arrive during mass if you fancy a look round. [photo]
10. Surrey House (1900-1912)
One of the most elegant and opulent Edwardian office buildings in Britain.
This imposing building near the bus station is the home of Norwich Union insurance, or would be if the company hadn't rebranded as Aviva a few years ago. Most of today's employees work in the modern complex nextdoor, but a few get to work behind the Palladian façade. According to the Norwich 12 leaflet visitors are welcome to go inside to view the Marble Hall and its skeleton clock. You'd never guess if you were merely walking past. [photo]
11. City Hall (1936-1938)
One of the finest municipal buildings of the inter-war period in England.
When the Guildhall got too small for government, between the wars, the city fathers built this mega civic building instead. It overlooks Norwich's covered market square, and boasts an "exceptional art deco interior", apparently. Unfortunately there's no admittance except on official business, or on a Heritage Open Days tour (thanks to which my Dad assures me there's an excellent view from the top of the tower). [photo]
12. The Forum (1999-2001)
The landmark Millennium building for the East of England and a stunning example of 21st-century design.
When Norwich Library burnt to the ground, the opportunity was taken to rebuild bigger and better. The new building is massive, horseshoe-shaped with broad glass frontage and a large open area within. Yesterday you could have visited an architecture exhibition, enjoyed elderly portraits and watched a 15 minute Dr Who audio-visual presentation in the digital gallery. And the library is now one of the busiest in Britain, which just goes to show how good design will always shine through. The Norwich 12 are still going strong. [photo]

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