Norwich Civic Centre

Site cleared before building view SE [0497] 1935-04-22
Site cleared before building view east [0498] 1935-04-22
The location of the City Hall was settled many years before it was built and the various properties on the site were gradually acquired by the Corporation. An architectural competition for the design of the new building was held in 1930. After a delay of some three years, due to Government policy, constructional work was started in 1935 and the major portion of the building was opened by King George VI in October 1938. Plans for the completion of the building were in the course of preparation and had received the Minister of Health's approval in 1939, but construction work had not commenced when war broke out.
Castle battlements view west to City Hall [2352] 1938-04-18
Tower under construction.
Tower corner masts before erection [2410] 1938-05-15
Foundation stone architect names [2417] 1938-05-21
Laid 24th September 1936, on behalf of the architects Charles Holloway James and Stephen Rowland Pierce, by Sir Ernest White.
Foundation stone Lord Mayor name [2418] 1938-05-21
Laid 24th September 1936, by the Lord Mayor Councillor Walter Riley.
Clock tower bell on lorry [2491] 1938-06-20
The clock bell did not escape its share of the criticism when the City Hall was built, being referred to as "death knelly" because of its deep sound. I was fortunate in being able to photograph it immediately on its arrival in Norwich on 20th June 1938, before it was unloaded and hoisted 185 feet up to its belfry. It weighs 55 cwt 25 lb (2.8 tons) and has a diameter of 65.5 inches. The inscription reads "Gillett and Johnston Ltd., Founders, Croydon. City of Norwich, 1937".
Clock tower bell on lorry rear [2492] 1938-06-20
Bethel St view of Clock tower illuminated [2819] 1938-10-27
Bethel St view of Clock tower illuminated [2820] 1938-10-27
St Peter's St facade illuminated [2821] 1938-10-27
The Guildhall for over 500 years was the seat of local government in Norwich. Until the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 this had been sufficient for the purpose, but from that time onwards the duties and responsibilities of the Corporation began to grow. Order was kept by the new police, who first appeared in public on lst March 1836. Ten years later powers were delegated to the Watch Committee to appoint a fire brigade of six men, whose business it was to attend all fires in Norwich with the Corporation engine; this came to be housed in the old felons' room of the Guildhall, requiring a doorway of suitable width to be constructed on the north side, leading to Guildhall Hill.
The flint-faced wing adjoining to the south of the Guildhall was built in 1861 a cost of £800 in place of the 18c brick porch and other outbuildings. Designed by Thomas Barry, the city architect, the new wing provided offices for the Town Clerk and Chief Constable, as well as a waiting room and two cells.
This accommodation did not long suffice, and in 1876 the Oxford Hotel on the west side of the market opposite the Guildhall was purchased. By degrees the entire block was absorbed, and as Corporation business grew still more, mansions in St Giles' St and elsewhere were adapted and a "tin hut" for the police was provided on the site of the old Butchery.
In the meantime, in 1898, the fire engine had been moved to new headquarters in Pottergate.
Although in that same year the council passed a resolution recognising that something more would have to be done, and plans were even drawn up for new offices on the east side of St Peter's St, time and again the decision to build was deferred. Nevertheless, bit-by-bit property was acquired on a site opposite to that originally proposed, between St Giles' and Bethel St, and plans were drawn up for a range of new buildings on this large site to accommodate all the Corporation's many services. The new fire station in Bethel St was completed in 1934, and four years later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to Norwich to open the City Hall.
At the time the design of the latter did not meet with unqualified approval - the comedian Norman Long likened it to a marmalade factory. (A year or so previously somebody else had compared the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon to a jam factory.) The clock tower was picked out for particular criticism partly because of its estimated cost and also because of fears that it would dwarf the Guildhall. Nevertheless, nowadays the building has come to be accepted as a worthy enhancement to the municipal centre of Norwich.
Castle mound view west illuminated [2825] 1938-10-27
For Civic Week, October 1938.
Civic Week crowds at opening of City Hall [2829] 1938-10-29
The culmination of the week's events was a visit by Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in order to open the newly completed City Hall (Saturday 29th October 1938).
City Hall and Market Place clear of stalls [2848] 1938-11-05
City Hall and Market Place [2891] 1939-03-12
Bethel St view of City Hall COLOUR [2960] 1939-04-13
Statues of Recreation Wisdom and Education [2442] 1938-06-10
Carved by Alfred Hardiman A.R.A.
Bethel St Rates Hall steel doors [2409] 1938-05-15
Steel doors and coloured roundels bearing the City Arms.
Bethel St regalia room window [2850] 1938-11-05
Bethel St regalia room window [2890] 1939-03-09
City Arms above it carved by Eric Aumonier.
Bethel St Police station entrance [3030] 1939-05-29
Decorative panels carved by H Wilson Parker.
St Peter's St bronze lion south [2407] 1938-05-15
St Peter's St bronze lion north [2408] 1938-05-15
Bronze lions sculpted by Alfred Hardiman A.R.A.
St Peter's St main entrance bronze doors [2406] 1938-05-15
Bronze plaques by James Woodford A.R.A.
Door 1 bottom plaque aeroplane building [2918] 1939-04-08
Door 1 centre plaque building City Hall [2914] 1939-04-08
Door 1 top plaque wine bottling [2404] 1938-05-15
Door 2 bottom plaque making wire netting [2919] 1939-04-08
Door 2 centre plaque brewing industry [2415] 1938-05-21
Door 2 top plaque soda water works [2414] 1938-05-21
Door 3 bottom plaque Black Death [2419] 1938-05-23
Door 3 centre plaque historical implements [2915] 1939-04-08
Door 3 top plaque castle building [2401] 1938-05-15
Door 4 bottom plaque Robert Kett execution [2420] 1938-05-23
Door 4 centre plaque historical implements [2916] 1939-04-08
Door 4 top plaque Viking landing [2413] 1938-05-21
Door 5 bottom plaque shoe making [2892] 1939-03-12
Door 5 centre plaque cattle market [2412] 1938-05-21
Door 5 top plaque chocolate making [2397] 1938-05-15
Door 6 bottom plaque weaving [2398] 1938-05-15
Door 6 centre plaque cattle market [2421] 1938-05-23
Door 6 top plaque mustard making [2411] 1938-05-21
Festival City Hall with banners [3998] 1951-06-21
Ambulance station excavation City Hall rear [4888] 1965-04-16
Bethel St Police station extension [5104] 1966-10-15
South wing extension.
City Hall from Malthouse Rd car park roof [6270] 1983-07-12
St Andrew St Free Library [4366] 1955-08-24
Opened 16th March 1857. Demolished after the new central library was opened 19th January 1963 by H.M the Queen Mother.
Bethel St Central Library construction [4643] 1961-09-03
Architect David Percival A.R.I.B.A.
Bethel St Central Library nearly complete [4715] 1962-09-09
Showing the entrance to the former Lady's Lane. Subsequently realigned and renamed Esperanto Way. Library destroyed by fire in 1994. Replaced by the Forum.
Theatre St view of Central Library [6537] 1989-03-25
Bethel St library site excavations [7612] 1999-03-04
Site of central library car park. Evidence of Viking occupation uncovered.
Bethel St library site view west [7681] 1999-09-10
Site for the Forum.
Bethel St library site view south [7682] 1999-09-10
Bethel St library site view west [7730] 2000-02-11
Bethel St library site from SE [7779] 2000-10-15
Bethel St library site from NE [7780] 2000-10-15
Bethel St Forum library from St Peter's St [7808] 2001-03-20
Built 1999-2000, architects Michael Hopkins and partners. Opened 1st November 2001.
Bethel St Forum library from Hay Hill [7859] 2001-10-28
Bethel St Forum library from Theatre St [7862] 2001-10-28
Bethel St Forum library interior view NW [7866] 2002-01-18
Incorporating the Millennium library.
Bethel St Forum library interior view SW [7867] 2002-01-18

Text and photographs copyright George Plunkett