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From engineering to gin - How much do you know about Crystal House?

PUBLISHED: 15:30 08 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:58 08 March 2019

The Crystal House in Norwich pictured in the 19th century when it was owned by Holmes & Sons.
Picture: Collect.

The Crystal House in Norwich pictured in the 19th century when it was owned by Holmes & Sons. Picture: Collect.

Eastern Daily Press © 2003

It is an unusual building with a weird and wonderful history, but how much do you know about the Crystal House?

Engraving of the Crystal House and surrounding area in Prospect Place, Norwich, when it was owned by Holmes & Sons in the 19th century. 
Picture: Collect
.Engraving of the Crystal House and surrounding area in Prospect Place, Norwich, when it was owned by Holmes & Sons in the 19th century. Picture: Collect .

Built in 1862, the Grade II listed building based on Cattle Market Street was inspired by the Crystal Palace in London, which was built to house The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

The unusual front of the building uses metal columns and metal-framed windows, making for very well lit rooms.

This design comes from the Victorian industrial age.

The Crystal House in Norwich as it is today.
Picture: Bill SmithThe Crystal House in Norwich as it is today. Picture: Bill Smith

It was built for Holmes and Sons, a firm of machine engineers which stayed in the building until the company ceased trading in 1905.

During its time in Crystal House, the company made its first traction engine, exhibited in the Norwich Show and supplied a steam engine to drive a scoop wheel at Chettisham, Ely.

The building was later taken over by A Pank and Son, another engineering and electrical company which occupied it until 1983.

Crystal House, Cattle Market Street, Norwich


 on 25 April 1995
. Photo: Archant LibraryCrystal House, Cattle Market Street, Norwich on 25 April 1995 . Photo: Archant Library

Crystal House was damaged by wartime bombing and suffered further problems when trees fell onto it, but it was repaired on both occasions.

By the 1990s, the building was being used as a toy and model shop and later became Warings furniture shop and café.

Warings, a bespoke furniture shop selling hand made goods, left Crystal House in 2016 after worries over the building’s future began to surface.

[Left] Craig Allison; Director of Bullards, John Bullard; Director of Bullards, Richard Pratt; owner of Crystal House and [Right] Russell Evans; Chairman of Bullards. Photo credit: Heist Films[Left] Craig Allison; Director of Bullards, John Bullard; Director of Bullards, Richard Pratt; owner of Crystal House and [Right] Russell Evans; Chairman of Bullards. Photo credit: Heist Films

Before the company left, Norwich City Council refused planning permission to demolish the building at the rear as it claimed it would “result in the loss of historic fabric” of the building.

In 2018, the council approved plans for Crystal house to be used as a gin distillery, restaurant and bar by Bullards Spirits.

Bullards plans to refurbish the building and fit it with distilling equipment and a bottling plant, which once completed will create more than 20 jobs and allow the company to quadruple its production.

The historic Crystal House in Norwich. PHOTO: Sophie SmithThe historic Crystal House in Norwich. PHOTO: Sophie Smith

A spokesperson from Bullards said: “We want to preserve the building’s heritage for everyone in Norwich by restoring it to its former industrial use.

“We’ll create not only a home for our new still and a place to bottle our gin, but a new destination for visitors and residents, offering tours, tastings and a shop.”

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