Plans for a new luxury hotel in historic building in centre of Norwich
PUBLISHED: 12:31 15 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:52 16 November 2019
The owners of Primark are hoping to transform a huge building that was once dubbed the "Selfridges of Norwich" into a five star hotel.
But for some business owners leasing units in Chamberlain House, in Dove Street, once the home of the celebrated Chamberlin's store, the exciting plans mean they have to move out.
The large Victorian building runs from the Tesco Metro store in Guildhall Hill around the corner along Dove Street with modern units added beneath. For some years, much of the space above the retail units has been empty offices or used for storage.
Sonkai jewellers, in Dove Street, is having to relocate to the Royal Arcade because its modern corner unit is believed to be earmarked for demolition to make way for a grand entrance to the new hotel.
Other tenants in the same block such as the owners of Strangers coffee roastery are being invited to renew their lease and remain, to become part of the new project.
The boss of Number 12 Barber Shop next door in Dove Street, who preferred not to be named, said he had also been in talks with the owner landlord over relocating - but wants to remain.
The building is owned by the pensions division of London-based Associated British Foods, (ABF) and no planning application has yet been lodged with Norwich City Council. ABF's retail division is currently creating a massive new Primark store in Gentleman's Walk.
Asked about the proposal to create a hotel on the Chamberlain House site, a spokeswoman for ABF did not deny the claims but said they preferred not to comment.
It is believed ABF were at one stage considering developing the building into student accommodation.
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Alex Sargeant, a director at Strangers coffee, said their lease was coming up for renewal next May but they had been asked by the owners to sign up for another six years, with a break clause after three years.
"There is a level of uncertainty, we are excited but cautious," he said. "We, of course, plan to sign up. A hotel makes sense as this is a fashionable part of the city and the owners are looking for longevity and sustainability with their investment."
Sara Sweet, who runs Sonkai jewellers, said: "Our landlords, Associated British Foods, own Chamberlain House all the way back to us. I think the plan is that once they've finished work on the new Primark, they are going to focus on renovating the office space above Tesco here - I think a hotel. My little building on the end will be pulled down and re-built as part of this new development."
Chamberlin's department store in Guildhall Hill was renowned for offering an impeccable level of service.
It was founded in the late Victorian era by George Moore Chamberlin, a Norwich mayor three times, who created a business which went on to become a major department store.
In the post-war years, it offered drapery and house furnishings with their own factory producing men's sports clothing.
An article written at the turn of the century, said the building was red brick and four storeys high, extending along Dove Street, where it was three storeys.
The ground floor had lots of glass and there were five shop windows facing the market place and two entrances.
The article stated: "This fine shop is warmed throughout with hot air and lighted by chandeliers of artistic design and elegant appearance ... close to the main entrance is the millinery department - a richly decorated saloon ... the buyer for this section visits Paris and London bringing back the latest and most fashionable models which are reproduced in the workrooms of this firm."
It operated a strict recruitment programme in the 1930s and 1940s with female assistants apprenticed and living above the shop. However, they were not allowed to serve customers for their first year of training, acting as runners and only in their third year with the firm allowed to serve on the shop floor.
The store was finally taken over in the 1950s.