Look up and admire the work of a fine artist.
PUBLISHED: 12:55 28 December 2012 | UPDATED: 13:27 28 December 2012
A new booklet pays tribute to a great Norwich architect and looks at his magnificent buildings
Look up next time you are in the city centre and you will see some magnificent works of art high above you - magical buildings created by an architect with such vision and style.
Wonderful and inspiring buildings which deserve to be admired but, because they are above our heads, are mostly ignored.
Now David Bussey and Eleanor Martin have come up with a delightful booklet for the Norwich Society paying tribute to and honouring the extraordinary and wonderful work of architect George John Skipper.
This is a guide to ten remarkable commercial buildings which George designed in the city centre during a spectacularly creative decade from 1896 to 1906.
Hallmarks of these buildings include deeply cut facades, picturesque skylines and the rich use of columns, pilasters and mouldings.
His choice of materials is significant - decorative local moulded bricks, ceramic tiles to add colour and stone to express the solidity and wealth of a financial institution.
He had a way of transforming awkward and difficult sites to develop into picturesque parts of the cityscape which shape the way we look today. His buildings also show he had a great sense of humour.
So who was he?
George was born at Dereham in 1856 and was educated at the old Bracondale School. He went on to spent a year at the Norwich School of Art before training in London as an architect.
Practical experience with his builder father followed in Dereham and then Norwich and although busy locally he started winning competitions in other parts of the country.
But it was at Cromer where his flamboyant and exuberant ways emerged.
A competition win for a new town hall in 1889 was followed by three hotels - Grand Hotel (1890), Hotel Metropole (1893/4) and Hotel de Paris (1894/6) and the only one to survive.
They were aimed at tempting holidays makers to the resort now the railway was up and running.
George was a man in demand.
Two major commissions were for the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club in Lowestoft and the remodelling of Sennowe Park at Guist, started in 1905 for Thomas Cook, grandson of the travel agent.
In Norwich George designed homes in Colleges Road and Unthank Road but it is his amazing work in the city centre which the booklet is all about.
His own offices were in London Street, now part of Jarrold’s, where he was in his prime a century or so ago creating some stunning city centre buildings.
By the end of the First World War he was 62 but there were no thoughts of retirement. He had remarried in 1913 (his two previous wives had died) and he had a young family to support.
George became interested in town planning, he worked on local authority houses and received a commission from George V for cottages on the Sandringham Estate and for alterations to the house itself.
He opened a London office and received a substantial commission for work in Sackville Street off Piccadilly.
During the Second World War he kept the Norwich office open for his son Edward who had worked with him while studying architecture before the war. He later sold his office to Jarrold’s. He died in August 1948 and is buried at Earlham Road Cemetery.
During his career George had been very much the gentleman architect, proud of his talent and conscious of his status.
A workaholic and a perfectionist but one who made sure the artists and builders who carried out his work were allowed to express themselves and got the credit they deserved.
Look around Norwich - we have a lot to thank George Skipper for.
<t> For a copy of this booklet produced by David Bussey and Eleanor Martin for The Norwich Society email firstname.lastname@example.org
Skipper’s Top Ten:
<t> The Architect’s Offices, London Street (1896/1904).
Although on a small scale this is his first major Norwich design. Six moulded panels set between the first and second floors advertise the work of architects long before they were officially allowed to do so.
<t> The Royal Arcade (opened 1899).
According to a souvenir guidebook published at the time: “Dainty lady and robust manhood may dally over the delights of shopping, undisturbed by the vagaries of the weather.”
<t> The Norfolk Daily Standard Offices, 7 St Giles Street (1899-1900).
Two roundels set in front ground-floor window depict William Caxton, first English printer, and Daniel Defoe, first English journalist.
<t> Haymarket Chambers (1901/2).
Walking into the Haymarket from Gentlemen’s Walk you will see a medieval-style turret appearing just above the shop fronts. One of two belonging to the chambers built for grocer J H Rolfe. The offices were first occupied by the Norwich Stock Exchange.
<t>Commercial Chambers and the Norfolk and Norwich Savings Bank, 9011 Red Lion Street (1900/3). The street was widened when trams came to Norwich and the new south-eastern frontage was dominated by designs from Edward Boardman and George Skipper. Cross the road to get the best view of the grand buildings.
<t> Surrey House (1900/1912: opened for business 1904).
He won the national competition for Norwich Union Life Insurance Society’s lavish new headquarters on the site of the Earl of Surrey’s 16th century house on Surrey Street.
A masterpiece. Apart from the architecture he was responsible for the revolutionary central heating and air conditioning (the marble font in the general office) lighting, stained glass and murals.
<t> Jarrolds (1903-1923).
The company already occupied the premises when George was asked to remodel it in stages.
While the landmark building is somewhat restrained but still exhibits his flair for inventive use of traditional. They is so much to see - and enjoy.
<t> The Norwich and London Accident Insurance Association, 41-45 St Giles Street (1904/6).
A bold and imaginative building both inside and out. A true piece of art. Now restored to its former glory at St Giles House. Take a look for yourself.
<t> The London and Provincial Bank, 30 London Street (completed 1907).
Another stone-faced building featuring his favoured motifs with measured assurance - and a sense of mischief. George at his most playful.