How the Royal Arcade angel nods to Norwich’s colourful history

PUBLISHED: 15:00 09 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:07 09 April 2019

Royal Arcade, Norwich. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Royal Arcade, Norwich. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Next time you wander past the Royal Arcade make sure to have your eyes to the heavens as the angel hints to the city’s history.

Royal Arcade, Norwich. Picture : ANTONY KELLYRoyal Arcade, Norwich. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

The site of the arcade, which runs from Gentleman’s Walk to Castle Street in Norwich, was the home of The Angel Inn from the 15th century until it was sold in 1840.

The inn regularly hosted unusual entertainment including a pair of elephants in 1685 and Monsieur du Pain who visited in 1825 and, according to legend, dipped his feet in boiling lead.

It also played its part in civil unrest when Lord Albemarle and TW Cooke, a Norfolk MP, were chased inside by an angry mob and the military were called in to help them leave.

The pub industry was thriving at the time and along Gentleman’s Walk was a number of coaching inns including the King’s Head, Star Inn and White Swan and the market area acted as a bus stop.

Each inn had its own yard which stretched to the street which is still named the Back of the Inns and would provide accommodation and entertainment. The Angel Inn was renamed The Royal when it was sold to mark the marriage of Victoria and Albert.

As the railways grew and old coaching routes disappeared the inns did too and the hotels needed to offer a more luxury experience which is evident in the grandeur of The Royal entrance in Gentleman’s Walk which is still intact.

The Royal moved to Prince of Wales Road in 1897 to be closer to the train station and Norwich architect George Skipper, the second son of a Dereham building contractor, was then commissioned with his brother to build the Royal Arcade.

Royal Arcade, Norwich. Picture : ANTONY KELLYRoyal Arcade, Norwich. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Skipper was inspired by the art nouveau movement which used the flowing lines from flowers and symbols from nature such as the peacock which was used in the arcade.

The green tiles were made by ceramic manufacturer Doulton and they were decorated by W.J Neatby whose other work includes the Harrods Food Hall.

The grand opening took place May 24 1899 and was well received by residents and visitors alike with the press at the time describing it as “a fragment from the Arabian Nights dropped into the heart of the old city”.

Skipper went on to design some of the city’s best known building including Jarrolds, the Commercial Chambers and the Norwich Union offices.

When he designed the Royal Arcade, Skipper gave a subtle nod to the city past with an angel figure in the new entrance he designed in Castle Street.

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