Rich history of former pub in 16th century home

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

He is known as the Norwich Pub Detective due to his fascination with all things to do with the city's famous pub legacy.

In a new series, Jonathan Hooton, a member of the Norwich Society, will shine a light on a different pub which has since closed its doors.

This week he looks at the Dolphin, which used to trade on Heigham Street, in a 16th century former country home.

When the Dolphin ceased trading in July 1999 it brought to an end 284 years as a Norwich public house which allowed Norwich citizens entry into a building originally built in 1587, a year before the Armada and was another sad loss to the many fine buildings in Norwich which were used as hostelries.

It was built originally as a country residence, an Elizabethan second home for Richard Brown, who was the Sheriff of Norwich, in 1585, although he might have been altering an existing building.


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Interestingly enough, another Richard Browne (this time with an ‘e’) who was sheriff in 1449 (and mayor in 1454) also lived in a house that later became a well-known pub, the Boar’s Head, in St Stephen’s. The 16th century Richard Brown is commemorated over the doorway where you can find his initials, R.B., his merchant’s mark and the date 1585.

Like many surviving buildings the former Dolphin pub has been extensively altered during its lifetime.

The former Dolphin pub on Heigham Street, Norwich, which stopped trading in 1999. The building still remains.

The former Dolphin pub on Heigham Street, Norwich, which stopped trading in 1999. The building still remains. - Credit: Derek MacDonald

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A date of 1615 on the building probably commemorates some modification but later in the 17th century it became the home of Bishop Hall and acquired the name of Bishop Hall’s Palace. Bishop Hall was banished here from the cathedral after he fell out with the Archbishop of Canterbury as a result of the the Civil War.

The building was a pub by 1715 and remained like that until 1999, apart from about 20 years from 1942 to 1960 because of war damage.  Air raids from April 27-29, 1942, led to the destruction of the roof and the interior being gutted by fire.

The building was unusable until a very sympathetic reconstruction undertaken by Steward and Patteson (re-built faithfully by J Fletcher Watson, in the words of Pevsner and Wilson) which led to the building being reopened as a pub.

It is a great shame that a “faithful rebuilding” was not the fate of the Boar’s Head after bombing, instead of it being swept away to allow the widening of St Stephen’s to cope with and encourage more road traffic. Instead the Boar’s Head was transferred to a new building at the end of Surrey Street which was not a success and closed in 1974.

The Dolphin still retains evidence of its former use. There is an emblem of a dolphin on the wall above the door and the letters S & P, a reference to the former brewery to which it was tied in a plaque marking the re-building in 1960.

The 16th century building on Heigham Street, Norwich, which used to be home to the Dolphin pub until 1999.

The 16th century building on Heigham Street, Norwich, which used to be home to the Dolphin pub until 1999. It is now home to Norwich Spinal Health. - Credit: Jonathan Hooton

Also the former post of the pub sign remains, a very reliable indicator of a former pub, this time being used to advertise the present occupiers of the building Norwich Spinal Health. All of which now indicates that you have to have a back problem in order to see inside this Grade II* listed building, where as formerly you could have relaxed with a foaming pint of ale.

For the sharp eyed there is also a faded green plaque informing you that the building was the Dolphin Inn and a palace belonging to Bishop Hall.

Looking across the road from the front of the Dolphin is an end of terrace building that seems to have all the hall marks of a former pub. It has a bevelled corner frontage with a doorway, like many pubs and the blank corner wall above the doorway seems to call out for a sign board.

The former Baker's Arms on Heigham Street, which closed in 1964, opposite the former Dolphin.

The former Baker's Arms on Heigham Street, which closed in 1964, opposite the former Dolphin. - Credit: Jonathan Hooton

Indeed 213 Heigham Street was a pub, the Baker’s Arms, which was closed in 1964. It was one of six Baker’s Arms that existed in Norwich in 1883.

According to Norfolkpubs.co.uk in the 18th century there were three other Norwich Dolphins. The others were in the parish of St George Tombland, in St Giles Broadstreet and Oak Street in Coslany.

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