Great George! The Marvelous Heritage of Norwich City Hall
To the North of the Market, Norwich City Hall overlooks the center of Norwich with a clock tower that stands 185 feet high. A landmark of the City and visible from almost everywhere in the City center, the City Hall has a marvelous heritage that is easy to overlook whilst involved in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life.
King George VI opened Norwich City Hall in 1938. The opening was attended by the largest gathering of residents in Norwich’s 1500-year history. The Hall’s construction was in response to increasing local governmental duties, formerly carried out in the nearby Guildhall, but which had become dilapidated and unsuitable. Today it is still considered to be a definitive example of British inter-war architecture.
In the early 1930’s, the original intention was to create a National monument. Architect Robert Atkinson was appointed to oversee the build and drew up preliminary plans for the new ‘City Hall’. A competition was held to decide the architects that would implement the construction and of 143 entries, Charles H. James and Stephen Rowland-Pierce were chosen to assist in the project. Pierce went on to plan and supervise the restoration of the Assembly house in 1950, and throughout his career won numerous honours and awards for his architecture, both nationally and internationally.
Made from solid brick walls, with Clipsham stone from Rutland for the lowest storey and Keeton stone from Stamford for the majority of the exterior work, City Hall boasts a wealth of artistic and architectural details. It is said that Adolf Hitler admired the building’s architectural style so much that he had it earmarked as a potential seat of regional government should Germany be successful in occupying England.
The walls of the ground floor entrance hall are inscribed with a list of Norwich mayors dating back to 1403, and along with the main landing on the first floor are lined with Italian marble. Many of the art deco-styled rooms are panelled with mahogany and other rich woods. Among various imaginative details, two bronze heraldic lions, designed by Alfred Hardiman, flank the outside of the building. The three doors at the main entrance are also bronze. These were designed by James Woodward and feature eighteen plaques that illustrate the history of Norwich, including the hanging of Robert Kett in 1549. The outer two doors display trades connected with the city, including chocolate, mustard and shoes. One plaque marks the building of City Hall itself.
Perhaps the most notable features of the City Hall are the stately 365-foot long balcony – the longest in England, and the imposing clock tower. The clock tower houses ‘Great George’, the largest clock bell in the UK, which also has the deepest tone in East Anglia.
Public areas in City Hall are open on weekdays between 9am and 5pm. To see more and to experience some of the very best views in Norwich, the tourist information centre organises tours and excursions up the clock tower one morning a month.
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