Work starts on £13.5m revamp which will transform visits to Norwich Castle
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
Work on the ambitious £13.5m project to transform Norwich Castle Keep back to its origins as a Norman royal palace has begun - and has been hailed as a “cause for optimism” in difficult times.
The project is one of the largest and most ambitious schemes under way in the United Kingdom and will recreate the city landmark’s Keep back to its original 12th century lay-out.All five levels - from the basement to the battlements - will be made fully accessible for the first time, while a partnership with the British Museum will bring a new medieval gallery.
That 1,000 object gallery will showcase national medieval treasures alongside objects from Norfolk’s own internationally-significant collections.
The major National Lottery Heritage Fund-backed project will see Norman interior spaces of the Keep will recreated by reinstating the original principal floor level.
Museum bosses say that will enable the interpretation of the Keep as it appeared during its heyday under the great Norman kings, including the recreation of the Great Hall, King’s chamber and chapel.
The construction of a unique viewing platform at battlement level will offer views of medieval and present-day Norwich, while new visitor and school entrances, including a glass atrium, will mean clear views of the Keep’s beautiful East façade and Bigod Tower, from inside the museum, for the first time in 50 years.
There will also be a new café overlooking the atrium, with an internal glass bridge into the Keep, and a new shop.
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Margaret Dewsbury, cabinet member for communities and partnerships at Norfolk County Council, said: “This is one of the most exciting times in the 900 year history of the castle. We’re so pleased to announce that the construction project has begun.
“After such a testing time nationally and locally over the past few months, the Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn project is a cause for optimism and is a major investment in the future of the city and the county.
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“We look forward to seeing the results of this fantastic project which will secure Norwich Castle’s future as a jewel in Norfolk’s and the UK’s heritage crown.”
Morgan Sindall Construction, which has an office at Broadland Business Park has been appointed as project contractor and says it will host more than 100 apprentice weeks, five work experience placements, two workless job starts, two NVQ starts, and five STEM and school engagement sessions.
Alister Broadberry, area director for Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “We are extremely proud to have secured the Norwich Castle project. It is one of the most prestigious buildings in the East of England and our team is excited to create an environment that will inspire each and every museum visitor.”
Museum bosses believe the transformation has the potential to attract 100,000 extra visitors a year to the castle - bringing an economic boost to the city and county.
And Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council, said the transformation would be a new phase in the “long, rich and eventful history of the castle”.
He said: “The planned changes to the Keep will provide a completely new way for people to explore its history as a castle and still enjoy the collections we’ve come to know and love.
“This project will also make Norwich Castle more accessible and inclusive to local communities as well as attracting new visitors to the city.”
Norfolk County Council says that working conditions during the construction phase will adhere strictly to the government’s COVID-19 safety protocols relating to construction sites, with extensive measures in place to ensure safety.
Although the Keep will be shut during the work, the rest of the Norwich Castle site, including the museum and galleries, is due to reopen to the public next month, with a new temporary entrance and safety measures.
That will include one-way systems through the galleries, hand sanitizer stations, while social distancing guidelines will be in place and entrance to Norwich Castle will be by pre-booked tickets only.
Once reopened, the museum and galleries will remain open throughout the construction phase.
The construction work will be undertaken in two phases with the new entrance spaces completed first, followed by the work on the Keep itself.
It is hoped the Keep will reopen in 2022.