My Top Four Favourite Historic Buildings in Norfolk
Written by Common Ground Leader, Ruby Pinner
A fun fact that most Norfolk newbies are greeted with is that Norwich is home to 365 pubs, one for every day of the year, and 52 churches, one for every Sunday of the week. Norfolk has fantastic architectural heritage. There are historic churches and buildings wherever you look, many of which serve entirely different purposes than they were originally intended. Below is just a snapshot of some of my favourites to visit.
Great Yarmouth Hippodrome
Great Yarmouth Hippodrome is one of only two purpose built permanent circus buildings in England still in operation, and one of only three on the planet with a circus floor that sinks into a pool.
Originally built by showman George Gilbert in 1903, and designed by architect Ralph Scott Cockrill, the building has played host to an eclectic variety of acts, from The Kooks to Lillie Langtry and even Houdini.
On entry you instantly become engulfed in the magic and mystery of the building (along with the delicious smell of popcorn!). The Hippodrome’s summer and Christmas productions are mesmerising and attract circus acts from around the globe; cultivating annual shows that are a tradition for many families in Norfolk. For city-dwellers, I would definitely recommend planning a trip to Great Yarmouth to see one of their shows, alongside a gorgeous coastline, a world exclusive evening out is only a 40 minute bus journey away.
The Norwich Guildhall is a beautiful mediaeval building with an incredibly rich history, and is currently being used as the box office and base for the 2022 Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
The building was commissioned after King Henry IV awarded a charter to the City of Norwich granting it autonomy from the county of Norfolk and was built between 1407 and 1415. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the Guildhall and were shown the Council Chamber on 29 October 1938. The Council Chamber ceased to be the local seat of government later that day, when the King and Queen opened the new City Hall.
In more recent years, the hall became a part of the Norwich 12 initiative in 2008, a project to develop heritage attractions in Norfolk. In 2014, the Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust began a 25-year lease on the building, aiming to improve its accessibility for the public.
The Empire Theatre in Great Yarmouth was built in 1908 and designed by architect A.S Hewitt, who also designed the Great Yarmouth Windmill Theatre (a close runner-up for this list which has now been converted into a retro cinema-inspired mini golf course) in the same year. The theatre was equipped with dressing rooms and a band room under the stage which was 40 foot wide by 48 foot deep, and had a proscenium opening of 25 foot, and a fly tower with grid and fly rails which are all still in existence although the building is no longer used as a Theatre.
For a while the space was used as a nightclub, until it closed down in 2009. Only in the last year has the building reopened as a fantastic street food and arts venue, notably playing host to Drag Race UK 2021 star Bimini Bon Boulash. The event featured in BBC documentary We Are England: My Hometown: Bimini Bon Boulash. Catch the documentary and take a closer look at The Empire as well as the iconic Great Yarmouth Hippodrome here.
St Swithins Church (Norwich Arts Centre)
Since 1980 Norwich Arts Centre has played host to some of the biggest names in music, theatre and visual arts. Nirvana, Oasis, Muse, Kae Tempest and Wet Leg are just a handful of acts that have performed in the historic church.
Before this however, the building was used for strikingly different purposes; it served as a Sunday school, men’s club, a social centre for the parish, the headquarters for the Home Guard during the Second World War, it is even believed to have been used as a morgue.
Looking to the future, the venue has taken large steps towards making the venue increasingly accessible. They have recently been awarded Gold as part of the Attitude is Everything Live Events Access Charter, which aims to improve D/deaf and disabled people’s access to live music.
Great Yarmouth Hippodrome: Ruby Pinner
The Empire: https://www.theempiregy.com/
St Swithins Church: Ruby Pinner