When the King and Queen came to open City Hall
PUBLISHED: 09:35 23 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:35 23 October 2018
On October 29 1938, King George VI and the Queen Mother came to open one of Norwich’s grandest landmarks.
It was described as the largest gathering of citizens in the history of Norwich...and it happened at the end of this week 80 years ago when the King and Queen came to the open the new City Hall.
Thousands of proud men, women and children put on their Sunday best or uniforms, and made their way into the heart of Norwich for this special ceremony and celebration on Saturday, October 29 1938.
It was built at a time of great depression and the bold decision to go ahead with the huge development provided work for hundreds of people in Norwich and across Norfolk.
It also changed the shape of the city centre.
The hall was later described by the world famous architect Nikolaus Pevsner as the foremost English public building built between the wars.
Norwich had a new national monument.
Crowds packed the city both in front of the hall and along the route to get a glimpse of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and cheered and waved, as they arrived to open the City Hall amid much pomp and circumstance and perform a number of other duties.
It is a building which survived the Second World War bombing even through the Nazi propaganda broadcaster Lord Haw Haw was reported as saying that people of Norwich had a new City Hall adding: “They haven’t paid for it yet but the Luftwaffe will soon put paid to it.”
Many of us rarely take a second look at the grand building but next time you are passing pause and be impressed by the magnificent lions guarding the entrance and the bronze doors with fantastic plaques telling the story of Norwich.
It is quite extraordinary to think that 110 years ago, in 1908, there were calls to demolish the nearby Guildhall which was the largest medieval “city hall” in the land. Built between 1407 and 1424, it is a treasure house...but not then.
The moves to smash it to pieces was lost by just one vote...the casting one from the mayor of the day who saved our Guildhall.
But, as the years rolled on it became obvious a new city hall was needed to replace the rat-infested municipal buildings which had been condemned and the police operated from what was known as the “tin hut.”
It was 90 years ago when there was serious talk of a new hall which turned into a whole new civic centre. In his report of January 1930 architect Robert Atkinson described it as the biggest single planning scheme in the city’s history.
Through a competition architects Charles Holloway James and Stephen Rowland Pierce also helped lead this huge undertaking which changed the shape of Norwich.
The controversial scheme, costing approaching £400,000, infuriated many people, mostly living outside the city, – who wrote a stream of “disgusted” letters to the Eastern Daily Press and Eastern Evening News.
After years of debate, government loans, grants and the like, the project to built the hall, and all that went with it, along with the creation of the Garden of Remembrance, the redevelopment of the market, and the widening of Bethel Street, St Peter’s Street, St Giles and Gentleman’s Walk started to take shape.
Norwich became a building site which provided most needed work for so many people. No corners were cut on building the hall with Clipsham stone from Rutland and Ketton stone from Stamford.
It was councillor Sir Ernest White who worked day and night to get the scheme off the ground and the foundation stone was laid in 1936 so the work could begin.
At the end of 1937 the King and Queen were invited to Norwich to open the city hall in October of the following year and they agreed so it was full speed ahead.
Then a squatter arrived, the first resident before the work was finished. A stray black cat moved in to have her kittens in May of 1938. Kindly Lord Mayor Charles Watling had them moved to his parlour, adopting one and finding homes for the others.
The work carried on night and day until the day itself arrived when corporation announced it was their aim that the market would lose nothing of its previous picturesque appearance and that it would form part of a civic centre worthy of a city famous for its open spaces.
It was a grand day but the following year the fun stopped...we were at war and life would never be the same again.
Click here to see how the day unfolded and the Royal itinerary.