Abode's Building of the Week
Our latest contribution to Building of the Week is the flagship of the Norwich City Council, City Hall. As one of the Norwich 12, this building has an individual place in Norwich’s history and culture.
Once the council outgrew The Guildhall in Norwich by 1931, they needed a new location. A competition was held for the design of City Hall and was eventually won by Charles Holloway James and Stephen Rowland. Actual construction was delayed as the Depression hit and it wasn’t until 1936 that the foundation stone was laid.
The building broke records on its opening alone as City Hall was officially opened by the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, seeing record breaking numbers attend on 29 October 1938. This celebration was short lived as those who are keen historians are aware, World War II began less than a year later.
Norwich did not avoid the bombing devastation, however Norwich City Hall remained intact. After war came austerity, ensuring that no building built for a long while afterwards could match the quality and innovation of City Hall. Still in all its original glory today, the building remains a statement of the architectural capabilities of its time.
The actual building has no steel framework, and is instead entirely built from solid bricks which reflects the council’s beliefs at the time it was built; that firm foundations were needed for a building that holds such importance. Even these bricks were especially crafted for the building itself; 2 inches longer than standard as to accommodate the size of the hall itself more proportionally.
The building is not just bricks; artistic statements are obvious from even an initial glance. Apart from the 6 polygonal columns, the first thing likely to grab your attention is the two dominating statues, stood proudly at the opening of the steps.
Stood on plinths guarding the entrance to City Hall are two heraldic lions. Their pose has ferocity, as they are built roaring, with a paw raised as if to halt those who enter. The statues are Assyrian-inspired, clear from their manes and their raised long necks which show an interest in the Assyrian sculpture with Earl Haig’s horse.
The artist was Alfred Hardiman, selected by the competition winning designers in order to create these stunning statues. The first design initially faced intense criticism and was therefore revised before the final statues were built, prior to their unveiling in November 1937. They were eventually installed on the 4th February 1938.
Largest Clock Bell in the UK
City Hall actually brags the largest clock bell in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is no wonder the building is so visible in the Norwich landscape, with the tower that holds this enormous bell standing at 206ft high, from ground level to the tip of the lighting conductor.
Not only is the bell the biggest in the UK, but the tone is the deepest within the whole of East Anglia, ensuring it is heard as well as seen! The tower contains 166 steps that lead to a small viewing platform that welcomes any brave visitors.
Longest Balcony in England
Another fact that the City Hall building brags is that it actually is home to the longest balcony in the whole of England. It measures an incredible 111m/365 ft. long. To enter this beautiful building and enjoy the balcony, you must first pass through on of the three pairs of bronze doors leading to the entrance hall. On these doors are 18 plaques that contain a story of Norwich’s history including trades that are iconic of this city.
Inside the entrance hall on the ground floor, and continuing to the first floor landing, you are greeted with a decadent Italian marble clad walls. The stairs are light due to a window that has painted glass. The ceiling is also painted elegantly with a design from Eric Clarke which was then painted by James Michie. Also displayed in the entrance hall are the names of every city mayor Norwich has ever had.
The Lord Mayor’s Parlour
Once you move past the initial iconic entrance space, the hall above, also made with marble clad, leads to a long suite of committee and reception rooms. The interior resembles an art deco style. Timber features heavily as an architectural material, with many of the walls in the main rooms dressed in rich mahogany paneling.
None are as iconic as The Lord Mayor’s Parlour. The actual shape of the room is octagonal, which in itself makes it distinctive. The ceiling is shallow vaulted, which is entirely panelled in sycamore. The finish is extremely detailed with the effect of intensely rich dado figuring and lighter wall figuring that is cloud-like in nature.
The Council Chamber
Another room with a distinctive feel is the Council Chamber itself. The wooden theme is extended with mahogany seating that curves delicately. The edges of the seating are inlaid with brass, which breaks up the mahogany. This wooden theme continues to be a feature of the room as it is used for the entrance wall columns and paneling on half the height of the walls which are mixed in design.
Other surviving aspects include even the light fittings that were designed for the building by the original architects. Focal points of the chamber include the rear elevation, which projects into the courtyard. Also, the west façade incorporates 3 unique sculptures into the brickwork. Sculpted by Alfred Hardiman, they each have a distinct meaning: ‘Wisdom’, ‘Recreation’ and ‘Education’, with the central figure originally meaning ‘legislation’.
City Hall Today
As part of the Norwich 12, the building is open to Heritage Open Days. These are free tours of a chance to explore some of Norwich’s oldest and most iconic buildings. The next tours are scheduled for Thursday 8th September and Friday 9th September, both at 10am, and 11.30am. It is free and can be booked here: