Norwich Guildhall
Norwich Guildhall
A Norwich landmark, this striking building of chequerboard flint and stone stands on the north side of the large market place in the centre of the old city.

The Guildhall was built in 1407 to provide space for civic government and administration of justice. The core of the building was completed by 1412, but a west tower and porch were added in 1435. Even then the windows remained unglazed, and it was not until 1453 that the final window received glass. in 1511 the tower collapsed, as well as the roof over the Council Chamber. The roof was repaired but the tower was never rebuilt.
In 1857 a Tudor door from a nearby Goldsmith's shop was inserted into the south west wall. This became known as the Bassingham Gate. The final change too place in 1861 when a police station was added to the west end, and many of the windows were renovated in Victorian Gothic style.

In addition to a court room, the original 15th century building had a small gaol and chapel, an accounting office, and a place for tax collection. There were offices for civic officials including a sheriff, and storage areas for civic regalia, official records, and a strongroom for money. The two main chambers were an Assembly Chamber, which also served as a Sheriff's Court, and a Council Chamber, or Mayor's Court.
The main entrance doorway
The main entrance doorway
The Assembly Chamber held meetings of the full Council in the medieval period, but it is now furnished as a Victorian courtroom. The loft space above this chamber was used for storing weapons, and for that reason it is also called the Sword Room. The Mayor's Court is the most ornately furnished room; it is panelled with oak, and topped by a tie-beam roof decorated with Renaissance carvings.
The most ornate part of the building is the east end, with the flint work so common in this part of Norfolk. The chequerboard pattern is made from alternating squares of flint and dressed ashlar stone. Under the east end is an undercroft, which actually predates the Guildhall. This storage area is thought to belong to a toll-booth which stood here before the Guildhall was erected. Despite its name, the toll-house was not concerned with collecting levies, but rather it was a prison for dangerous criminals, and the undercroft may have been used as a prison cell.

A Prisoner of Conscience
One famous prisoner was Thomas Bilney (c.1495 - 1531). Bilney was a Protestant priest and vociferous opponent of idolatry (such as the worship of saints and their relics). He was arrested in 1531 after giving an English translation of the New Testament to a Dominican anchoress. He was found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake at Lollard's Pit.
Visiting
Today the ground floor of the hall is let to a number of small businesses; the main area is a cafe at present, and the building is open during cafe hours. The administrative chambers on the upper floor are not usually open to visitors (which was quite a disappointment to me when we visited). Individuals and groups can pre-book tours through the Tourist Information Centre for a small fee.
Though the exterior of the building is extremely impressive, it seems a shame that it is not easier to explore the entire building rather than just peek inside the doors of the busy cafe! Lest that sound like sour grapes, let me make clear that the Guildhall is extremely impressive; its really an eye-catching building, and the decorative flintwork and carvings on the exterior are exceptional.

The Guildhall is a member of Norwich 12, a group of a dozen top heritage attractions in the city.

UPDATE: Great news as of 29 September 2014. Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART) have just signed a 25 year lease for the Guildhall and from 2015 will be making it much more user-friendly and easier to visit, with a series of open days, guided tours, and special events to make it easier and more enjoyable to explore this fascinatying historic building!

The west end
The west end and tower
The east end
The east end
The main south entrance
The main south entrance
The view from the market place
The view from the market place
Flintowk detail, north exterior
Flintwork exterior, north side

About Norwich Guildhall
Address: Gaol Hill, Norwich, Norfolk, England, NR2 1JS
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: On the north side of the market place, just downhill of the city hall
Website: Norwich Guildhall
Email: info@heritagecity.org
Location map
OS: TG229085
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Norwich, St Peter Mancroft - 0.1 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Norwich, St John Maddermarket Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Strangers Hall - 0.1 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Bridewell Museum - 0.1 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Norwich, St Stephen's Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

The Assembly House - 0.2 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Norwich Castle - 0.2 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Armada House - 0.2 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating



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Norwich
Tourist Information Centre
The Forum
Millennium Plain
Norwich
Norfolk
England
NR2 1TF
Tel: 01603 213 999
Email: tourism@norwich.gov.uk
Web: http://www.visitnorwich.co.uk/
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