Historic Norwich coffee shop to reopen under new chef

The new tenant of the Britons Arms coffee shop in Norwich.

Chef Richard Ellis, centre, who will be taking on the Britons Arms, pictured with Hiedi Collis of Arnolds Keys, left, and Paul Watson, of the Norwich Preservation Trust, right. - Credit: Newman Associates PR

A Norwich chef is set to take on an historic city café which closed late last year.

Britons Arms, on Elm Hill in the city centre, closed in December after being run as a coffee shop and restaurant by sisters Gilly Mixer and Sue Skipper.

The coffee shop most recently closed in December 2020.

The coffee shop most recently closed in December 2020. - Credit: Britons Arms

A previous article on the Britons Arms.

A previous article on the Britons Arms. - Credit: Sarah Burgess

It has stayed shut since, but it has now been confirmed that Richard Ellis, who has worked in kitchens including the Ship at Brancaster and the Wells Crab House, will become its new tenant.

Mr Ellis hopes to reopen the Britons Arms in September, and is promising to retain the winning formula which has made the restaurant such a popular fixture for the last four decades.

“The Britons Arms is part of the city’s fabric, and I will be looking to build on the fantastic business which was run from the building previously,” he said.  “I’m looking forward to living in a whirl of cake and eclairs."

He said he plans to open for breakfast and throughout the day, with plans to offer pre-theatre meals in the longer-term.

“It will be a question of evolution not wholesale change,” he promised.

A view from the Britons Arms at a topping ceremony during work on the building in years past.

A view from the Britons Arms at a topping ceremony during work on the building in years past. - Credit: Steve Adams

The chef, who has lived in Norfolk since he was 10 days old, will be moving into a flat on the upper floors of the historic thatched building, which has featured in many feature films and TV dramas, including Stardust and Jingle Jangle.

The building is run by the Norwich Preservation Trust, which took it on in 2011 and launched a restoration project, including rethatching the roof.

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Paul Watson, vice-chairman of the trust, said: “We had a huge amount of interest in this unique building in the heart of the old city. It has been very important to find the right people to build on the heritage of what came before, and to keep the Britons Arms as both a destination and an important asset for Elm Hill.

“We chose Richard because of his extensive hospitality background, his sustainable business case, and not least because of the passion he demonstrated for the building and its heritage.”

The Britons Arms in Norwich.

The Britons Arms in Norwich. - Credit: Simon Finlay

Heidi Collis from Arnolds Keys said, “The Britons Arms is not just one of Norwich’s most iconic historic buildings, it is nationally significant.  We are delighted to have helped the Norwich Preservation Trust find a new tenant who has a real passion for breathing new life into this wonderful old building, and ensuring that it remains an iconic part of Norwich for many years to come.”

The Britons Arms coffee shop on Elm Hill, Norwich, which closed in 2020.

The Britons Arms in Norwich. - Credit: Paul Hewitt

Its history

Built in 1347, it was originally called ‘Ye Goddes House’ and was connected to the nearby St Peter Hungate church (built 1254), and is believed to have been a beguinage, housing beguines, or beguines: lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world.

The Britons Arms, pictured in 1977.

The Britons Arms, pictured in 1977. - Credit: Archant library

In 1507 it survived the destruction by fire of much of the historic centre of Norwich, including most of the medieval buildings on Elm Hill.

It was used for a variety of purposes over the centuries, including as a barber surgeon in the 15th century, and in connection with the wool trade in the 17th and 18th century.

The Britons Arms pictured in 1979.

The Britons Arms pictured in 1979. - Credit: Archant library

It was first recorded as an ale house in 1760 and remained a public house until 1941.  It reopened in 1960 as a coffee shop and restaurant, being taken over by the sisters in 1976.  They announced their intention to retire in 2020.

In 2011, with the ancient fabric of the building becoming increasingly unsound, the Britons Arms was put up for auction by Norwich City Council, who had owned the building since 1951.  After a public outcry, the city council withdrew the property from auction, and offered a lease to the Norwich Preservation Trust, which embarked on an extensive restoration project, with considerable funding from Historic England and The Architectural Heritage Fund.

A protest over previous plans to put the building up for auction.

A protest over previous plans to put the building up for auction. - Credit: Steve Adams

The building has been used by many filmmakers, including Matthew Vaughn for his 2006 movie Stardust, which had an all-star cast including Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes and Sienna Miller.  It was last seen on screen at Christmas 2020 as part of the set for the Netflix Christmas film Jingle Jangle.

Snow on rooftops and window sills as Elm Hill is transformed into a Victorian style winter setting f

Snow on rooftops and window sills as Elm Hill is transformed into a Victorian style winter setting for the filming of the musical Jingle Jangle being produced for Netflix by John Legend. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019


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