Historic coffee house on Elm Hill, in Norwich, closes after 69 years
- Credit: Britons Arms
One of Norwich's oldest and best-loved coffee shops has said a fond farewell to its customers after 69 years of unbroken service.
Devoted sisters Gilly Mixer and Sue Skipper, 68 and 69, took over the historic Britons Arms on Elm Hill in 1975 from founder Molly Kent - who opened the restaurant back in 1951.
But after 45 years on their feet, the pair have decided to call it a day and permanently close the business.
Mrs Skipper said: "We're emotional about having to leave, as we've had the best time here. It's been such a rewarding experience getting to know our customers and the other traders on Elm Hill.
"We're retiring for a number of reasons. One of those was the pandemic. This place wasn't built for social distancing, and we lost 25pc of our seating immediately.
"After the first lockdown we were optimistic, and over summer St Peter Hungate and the Norwich Historic Churches Trust let us put tables and parasols in their garden.
"But by the end of September it was too cold, and we weren't making enough money relying on indoor trading alone."
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She added: "Rent was also a problem, and we never got the rent relief we were hoping for. Our numbers just stopped adding up, and what used to be a wonderful, thriving business was struggling.
"Things weren't the same."
But their decision to close isn't down to Covid alone.
Mrs Mixer said: "In all our 45 years, we've had about two weeks holiday each, per year. Suddenly we had three months off, and we felt liberated.
"We had time for our husbands, and ourselves, and we got used to that.
"We don't know what's going to happen to now, but we'd love the building to remain a restaurant."
The stunning building which houses the Britons Arms, thought to date back to the 14th century, was formerly a nunnery and then an ale house. It's iconic architecture led to its feature in the film Stardust, and more recently, Netflix's Jingle Jangle.
The building was bought by Norwich City Council in 1951 which, due to spiralling maintenance costs, put it up for auction in 2011.
The sisters then launched an "UP IN ARMS" campaign, and their fight to keep the building in public ownership was successful. It was taken off auction by the council, and offered as a 21-year-lease to the Norwich Preservation Trust.