Dig could reveal secrets of Norwich’s lost 16th century palace

PUBLISHED: 12:09 31 March 2015 | UPDATED: 12:09 31 March 2015

The complex of former Eastern Electricity buildings on Duke Street in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

The complex of former Eastern Electricity buildings on Duke Street in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2013

Fresh light could be shed on a lost 16th century palace which once graced the centre of Norwich, when archaeologists get a rare chance to dig in the heart of the city.

The south side of the Duke's Palace, Norwich, Kirkpatrick's 1710 drawing. Picture: Norfolk County Council Library & Information ServiceThe south side of the Duke's Palace, Norwich, Kirkpatrick's 1710 drawing. Picture: Norfolk County Council Library & Information Service

The opportunity to uncover further secrets about Norwich’s past has come about because of a £30m scheme to create 154 homes at a riverside site which stood empty for more than a decade.

Property investment and development company Targetfollow last year obtained permission from Norwich City Council to develop the former Eastern Electricity Board site, off Duke Street.

But one of the conditions which the city council attached to that permission was for an archaeological investigation before work starts on the 2.2 acre site.

That presents the opportunity for archaeologists to investigate an area just a stone’s throw away from the site of a huge post-medieval palace which belonged to the Dukes of Norfolk.

That palace, believed to have been built in 1561, included courtyards, a fountain, a tower, a bowling alley and covered tennis courts. It almost certainly occupied the land where St Andrews Car Park now stands.

It was extensively rebuilt and remodelled in 1671, but in 1711, a mere forty years later, demolition work had started. That was possibly because of subsidence caused by flooding, but some historians have suggested it was because of a row between the Duke of Norfolk and the Mayor of Norwich.

Following the demolition, part of the palace’s former bowling alley became a workhouse, while the Duke’s Palace Inn - a pub - was created. That was demolished in 1974.

But archaeologists from NPS Archaeology, tasked with the investigation at the Eastern Electricity Board site, hope their study will reveal new details about the palace complex on the other side of what is now Duke’s Street.

Previous archaeological studies took place at the Eastern Electricity Board site in 2007, when six trial trenches were dug.

Those excavations suggested the earliest activity at the site was chalk quarrying in the Saxo-Norman period, while a well-preserved timber structure has been interpreted as a possible walkway close to the river.

Numerous well preserved leather off-cuts were collected, along with food waste which suggested somebody of high status dined there.

The finds included a bone from a porpoise or dolphin - food which would have been among the most expensive in medieval times.

A number of medieval stone buildings and pits associated with industrial activity - probably the textile industry - were also found.

But, David Adams, a project manager at NPS Archaeology, said, in documents lodged with Norwich City Council, the site could yield vital information about the Duke’s Palace.

He said: “While the site is thought to lie west of the substantial post-medieval palace of the Dukes of Norfolk, the possible presence at the site of archaeological remains associated with the palace complex cannot be discounted. Any remains associated with the palace would be informative in understanding the phasing, construction, form, use and disuse of the palace complex.”

The development will see the former Eastern Electricity Board building converted into 69 apartments, three blocks of 56 flats built in the centre of the complex and a further 29 homes created through alterations and extensions at the site.

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