Norwich Castle: The Square Box on the Hill

If the old walls could speak, what moving tales of chivalry and crime, of right and wrong, could they not unfold to us!

Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery Guide Book, 1896

If the walls of Norwich Castle could talk, what would they say? They have 900 years of history to choose from! Perhaps they would describe what smells seeped from the kitchen into the Great Hall when King Henry I waited at the banqueting table for his Christmas feast in 1121; what it felt like to watch prisoners scrawl desperate messages into the stones; or maybe they would compare happy memories with visitors to the museum.

Norwich Castle has dominated the City’s skyline along with its sister building Norwich Cathedral since the 12th century; two symbols of Norman power and wealth which are now cherished landmarks. Today, it’s an established and popular museum, welcoming a whopping 200,000 visitors a year, including 20,000 schoolchildren (hands up – who remembers coming on a school trip and being terrified of the mummy?). The galleries are well-used, showcasing everything from textiles to teapots, but the Castle Keep itself can be a confusing space. Is it a gallery for displays? Is it a castle? Since the 1990s, there has been a consistent call for the Castle to be a castle again so that its medieval history and significance can shine through.

As a result, Norwich Castle is about to return to its medieval roots. A multi-million pound project will see the Castle Keep converted back into a royal palace. A new floor will be inserted at the level of the original Norman floor, allowing for the authentic recreation of the Great Hall, Kitchen, King’s Chamber and Chapel as they appeared in the 12th century. The magnificent stone Keep will be accessed via an external staircase leading to the Bigod Tower, just as it was 900 years ago, with visitors entering the building through the original Bigod Arch, which most visitors currently miss. A stunning new glass bridge will provide level access into the Keep, allowing all our visitors to experience the wonder of arriving directly into the Great Hall.

An artist's concept of what the Great Hall will look like after the reconstruction. The hall is richly decorated to look like a Medieval Great Hall, with visitors enjoying playing music, exploring the space, sitting at the feasting tables, juggling and many other medieval activities
Visualisation of the recreated Great Hall at Norwich Castle (Haley Sharpe Design)

The idea to reinstate the original floor at this level is not a new one. It was first suggested by Edward Boardman as early as the 1880s and has been attempted in every single decade since the 1960s, but never realised. We’re finally going to make this vision a reality!

The Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn project will make improvements throughout the Keep, enabling fully inclusive access to all five floors, from basement to battlements. The lavishly decorated interiors of the reinstated Norman floor will be complemented by a new medieval gallery, showcasing precious objects from Norwich Castle’s own collections alongside treasures from the British Museum. Now open to all, the battlements will provide stunning panoramic views across England’s most complete medieval city.

People exploring the battlements of the Keep, looking over the city of Norwich
Visualisation of the new roof platform at Norwich Castle (Feilden + Mawson)

Generations to come will be able to appreciate this great building and the colourful stories of its past. For the first time it will truly be a castle for the people!

Although the Castle Keep will be closed while the work takes place, the rest of the museum will remain open and there will still be plenty to see and enjoy. Through this blog and our social media feeds we’ll be sharing all the exciting developments from building work and archaeological excavations to beautiful objects and personal stories from the people making this long-held dream a reality. We’ll also be showcasing the many wonderful things that will still be on display while the work takes place.

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