Norwich Castle awarded £9.2m National Lottery boost which will see major transformation
- Credit: Simon Finlay Photography
An ambitious bid to revamp Norwich Castle's historic keep has secured £9.2m from lottery chiefs - and work could start in summer next year.
The project will see the 900-year-old castle's keep re-imagined as it was in its heyday as a palace for Norman kings, providing visitors and ensuring the castle is seen as a world class attraction.
Norfolk Museum Service bosses had been on tenterhooks to discover if months of work to secure the money needed from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Gateway to Medieval England scheme had been successful.
And today it was announced that the project has secured the lottery money which was so crucial to the revamp going ahead.
Combined with more than £3.5m raised through public and private sources, it will mean work on the £13m scheme can start early next summer - so long as planning permission is granted.
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That would mean the transformed keep could re-open in 2020, which museum bosses say would pull in more tourists by better telling the story of what was one of the most important buildings across Europe in medieval times.
The plans include re-instating the original Norman floor level in the keep, so that visitors could immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of King Henry I's lavish castle, by exporting the recreated Great Hall.
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Newly-exposed Norman archaeology and architecture will tell previously untold stories of the castle's past while a new viewing platform on the battlements will show medieval and present-day Norwich.
But it would also see the development of a new medieval gallery, designed in partnership with the British Museum, which will showcase national medieval treasures alongside objects from Norfolk's own internationally-significant collections.
There would be new visitor and school entrances and the development of new visitor facilities, such as the café and shop.
Ros Kerslake, chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: 'Thanks to National Lottery players, this major project is set to transform Norwich Castle, bringing it back to life in a way that recognises the important role it once played as one of the most important buildings in Europe and making a real difference to the region's heritage and tourism offer.'
A 'proud day' for Norfolk
The announcement was welcomed as a 'proud day' for Norfolk, while tributes were paid to the team of museum staff who have spent years putting the project together.
Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council said 'Norwich Castle has long been a cultural jewel in our fine city and one which deserves to be better known.
'This wonderful news will ensure that many hundreds of thousands more visitors will be able to explore and understand one of Europe's most important 12th century secular buildings in greater depth than ever before.
'With new learning spaces and a beautiful new medieval gallery created in partnership with the British Museum, the transformed keep will also provide our local communities with fantastic new opportunities for learning and engagement.
'Thanks to this tremendous support from the National Lottery, it's no exaggeration to say that our past has never had a brighter future.'
Margaret Dewsbury, Chair of Norfolk County Council communities cCommittee, said 'This is a proud day for Norfolk and a remarkable moment in the long history of Norwich Castle.
'In a hugely competitive field of applicants to the National Lottery, the Gateway to Medieval England project won through on the strength of its inspiring vision to transform Norwich Castle Keep back to its palatial origins as the residence of Norman kings. This welcome announcement will secure the future of this wonderful 900-year-old building and will bring enormous benefits – cultural, educational and economic – to the city, the county and the region.'
John Ward,chairman of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee, paid tribute to the team of dedicated museum staff, led by Dr John Davies, chief curator and project director, for 'working tirelessly over many years' on the project.
Link-up with The British Museum
The director of the British Museum in London also hailed the 'wonderful news'.
Hartwig Fischer said: 'This is wonderful news, the Norwich Castle project is exciting and ambitious and will deliver real benefit for the region.
'We are delighted to be working on the project and will lend around 60 important objects for The British Museum Gallery of the Medieval Period which will form part of the new displays in the Castle Keep.
'The British Museum is committed to working with partners across the country to share the collection and our partnership with Norfolk Museums Service is a greatly valued relationship. I much look forward to seeing the project progress.'
Tourism will bring economic boost
Museum bosses believe the revamp of the keep, and the lure of seeing the British Museum's objects, could attract 100,000 extra visitors a year.
And that would provide a massive boost for the local economy.
Doug Field, chair of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: 'This welcome news ensures Norwich Castle takes its rightful place on the national and international stage as a leading cultural destination.
'But this project also has wide and lasting benefits to our Visitor Economy, making a significant contribution to our offer to the world.
'The LEP recognised this in committing £500,000 to the Castle Keep in May 2018. We look forward to working with Norfolk Museums Service and other partners to realise the full potential of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.'
Thanks to the public
The project has attracted significant support from the public, who donated £22,500 to the Keep Giving campaign which aimed to raise money for the scheme.
That included £9,000 which was raised through the project's Adopt an Object scheme.
As well as the National Lottery money, the project was supported through significant grants from a number of key funders including: Arts Council England, Charles Littlewood Hill Trust, East Anglia Art Fund, The Educational Foundation of Alderman John Norman, Friends of the Norwich Museums, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Geoffrey Watling Charity, John Jarrold Trust, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Norwich Freemen's Charity (formerly the Town Close Estates Charity) and the Paul Bassham Charitable Trust, as well as other funders who wish to remain anonymous.
The project has also benefited from the invaluable support of English Heritage, HM Treasury, Historic England, Norfolk County Council, Norfolk Record Office, Norwich Access Group, Norwich BID, Norwich Cathedral, Norwich City Council, Norwich Heritage Alliance, The Norwich Society, and University of Leicester.