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Calls to 'save the jewel in Norwich's crown' as flagship store reveals it could quit Royal Arcade

PUBLISHED: 18:55 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 18:55 21 June 2019

MD of Langleys, Steve Scott. Pic; Archant.

MD of Langleys, Steve Scott. Pic; Archant.

Desperate calls for a rescue plan to save the "jewel in Norwich's crown" have been made to the owners of the Royal Arcade as it emerged it could lose its flagship store.

Langleys in the Royal Arcade. Pic: ArchantLangleys in the Royal Arcade. Pic: Archant

Arcade owner Legal & General is being urged by the city council to slash rents after losing half its retailers. And now the boss of Langleys toy store, which has been in the arcade since 1925 has revealed expansion plans which could mean the famous shop quits the struggling arcade.

Langleys' managing director Steve Scott said he had "raised his concerns" to legal giant Legal & General a year ago but was ignored and so began plans to develop another store, out of the arcade, scheduled to be open in September.

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The empty chocolate  shop in the Royal Arcade. Pic: ArchantThe empty chocolate shop in the Royal Arcade. Pic: Archant

He, like other tenants, is in talks with Legal & General for a drop in rent - and its decision will determine whether Langleys stays in the arcade or not.

"We still value our existing location," he said. "Now we will see whether Legal & General value us."

Paul Kendrick, city council cabinet member for resources, said: "It is a difficult time for the retail sector and we would urge Legal & General to drop its rents for the tenants and save the jewel in Norwich's crown."

The Royal Arcade at Christmas. Pic: citizenside.comThe Royal Arcade at Christmas. Pic: citizenside.com

The arcade, designed by famous architect George Skipper and a stunning example of Victorian design, was once considered among the city's biggest attractions.

But now half of the units are sitting empty. This month alone The English Chocolate Company and The Bedlinen Co have closed.

One empty unit - formerly occupied by Berrys & Grey interiors - is up for rent at £36,000 a year. On top of that firms have to meet a service charge and business rates.

Meanwhile it is understood the owners don't have to pay business rates to the council themselves - which could amount to hundreds of thousands - on the empty units because the arcade is a listed building.

MD of Langleys, Steve Scott and manager Chris Goulding, who has worked for the firm for nearly 40 years, pictured in 2017. Pic; ArchantMD of Langleys, Steve Scott and manager Chris Goulding, who has worked for the firm for nearly 40 years, pictured in 2017. Pic; Archant

Mr Kendrick said the council would be discussing the matter with Legal & General.

Mr Scott said: "Langleys is heavily invested in the Royal Arcade, and we have recently made Legal & General an offer to extend our occupation on terms that reflect the market as it is today.

"As the longest standing tenant we are obviously saddened by the challenges it faces but we are the definition of the destination shop, and that in tandem with the growth of our website, means that we still value our existing location.

"Now we will see whether Legal & General value us. We first wrote comprehensively to Legal & General almost a year ago to raise our concerns and were completely ignored. As a result we started to look for an additional location at the beginning of 2019 and are currently scheduled to open a brand new, large, high profile, flagship shop at the beginning of September."

Pic: Nadine GrayPic: Nadine Gray

A Legal & General spokeswoman said: "We are in continued open discussion with the tenants and will take a collaborative approach."

Built for a new age

The arcade was built for a new age of shopper. It was hailed as a 'fragment from the Arabian Nights dropped into the heart of the old city' at the time; something exotic and ultra modern in design. Built on the site of an old coaching inn, it boasts two storeys and is 247 feet (75 metres) in length with a glazed roof. Glazed tiles depict peacocks and flowers, very much a new trend, manufactured by Doulton and designed by the ceramic sculptor W J Neatby, best known for the tiles in Harrods foodhall in London. The hanging lanterns and flooring are, however, a new addition, dating from the extensive restoration of the arcade in the late 1980s.

The oldest tenant is Langleys toy shop. James Langley, a local businessman, opened the first Langley's toy shop in 1883 on Prince of Wales Road but bought out his competitor, Galpins, in the arcade in 1925 and it changed hands and moved premises within the arcade in 1971.

The Royal Arcade was designed by George Skipper and opened in 1899. It was built on the site of a centuries-old coaching inn. In September 1991,  there was a reopening after a six-year restoration programme which cost nearly £3 million. This picture is dated November 27, 1962. Pic: Archant archiveThe Royal Arcade was designed by George Skipper and opened in 1899. It was built on the site of a centuries-old coaching inn. In September 1991, there was a reopening after a six-year restoration programme which cost nearly £3 million. This picture is dated November 27, 1962. Pic: Archant archive

Arcade with a glittering past

It was May 24, 1899 when the great and the good from the city celebrated the opening of its new, and very fashionable, Royal Arcade.

Pic: ArchantPic: Archant

Designed by renowned architect George Skipper - responsible for creating the Jarrold building as well as the former Norwich Union HQ on Surrey Street - the arcade built in the art nouveau style was very much in vogue.

This was a shopping experience for a new age. The arcade was hailed as a "fragment from the Arabian Nights dropped into the heart of the old city". Built on the site of an old coaching inn, the newspapers reported on May 26, 1899 "the general view of it is pleasing in the extreme, and there can be no doubt it will prove a permanent attraction to visitors, no less than to the townsfolk".

The arcade has always been one of the pleasing crowd-pullers and listed as a must-see for tourists. And those "townsfolk" mentioned in the report also enjoy it as a pleasing cut-through.

Boasting two storeys and 247ft in length with a glazed roof, the shop fronts are all to an almost identical design with large windows. Glazed tiles depict peacocks and flowers manufactured by Doulton and designed by the ceramic sculptor WJ Neatby who is best known for the tiles in Harrods foodhall in London. The hanging lanterns and flooring are, however, a new addition, dating from the extensive restoration of the arcade in the late 1980s.

The Bedlinen Co store, another casualty, which closed earlier this month. Picture: ArchantThe Bedlinen Co store, another casualty, which closed earlier this month. Picture: Archant

At the far end of the arcade, and over the entrance from that end, is a large semicircular window, glazed with a mosaic in stained glass depicting trees and birds of particular note.

The oldest tenant in the arcade today is Langleys toy shop. James Langley, a local businessman, opened the first Langley's toy shop in 1883 on Prince of Wales Road but bought out his competitor, Galpins, in the arcade in 1925 and it changed hands and moved premises within the arcade in 1971.

Over the years, other shops linked with the city went into the arcade such as the Colman's Mustard Shop but this closed in 2017. Digby's chocolate shop, run by Digby Eddison, was another casualty along with more recently, Jamie's Italian and interiors store Berrys & Grey. The remaining include Artique galleries, Juels Ltd, a jewellers, Lady B Loves ladies fashion, Macarons & More, Marmalades tearoom and Scribbler, a card and gift shop. And of course who could forget the children's favourite character, the toy monkey that can still be seen going round and round in the window of children's shoe shop, Stompers.

The earliest photograph of the Royal Arcade held in the Archant archive which shows the Victorian building soon after openingThe earliest photograph of the Royal Arcade held in the Archant archive which shows the Victorian building soon after opening

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