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Natwest will be leaving behind a building of great beauty in move from London Street to Gentleman's Walk

PUBLISHED: 14:43 27 January 2017 | UPDATED: 14:44 27 January 2017

Gentleman's Walk, the location of the new NatWest branch in the city centre. Picture: Denise Bradley

Gentleman's Walk, the location of the new NatWest branch in the city centre. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant

It was doubly pleasing to see that work has finally started on the new NatWest branch on Gentleman's Walk.

Firstly because the former shop front has been boarded up for some considerable time, and secondly because it is next door to the splendid new White Company building, which won the retail building Design Award from The Norwich Society in 2015.

We cringe every time we show, post or print an image of the winning shop, as the boarded-up neighbour dominates every photograph.

Sadly, as one door opens, another one shuts – or two doors in this case.

NatWest have announced that when their new bank opens on Gentleman’s Walk, the branches in Surrey Street and London Street will close, which introduces concern over the fate of the vacated buildings.

There is particular interest in the London Street site, a particularly fine and prominent building which dominates the junction at Bedford Street and St Andrews Hill. The buildings which formed 45–51 London Street were purchased in 1919 but the bank’s architect, F.C.R. Palmer, considered the position so good that he recommended a complete rebuild.

The new building, designed by Palmer and his assistant W.F.C. Holden, was completed in 1925 and received Grade II listing in June 1972.

It is described as: “Stone. Flat roof. Triangular corner site. Single storey with attic storey in London Street. Five bays in London Street, two bays plus rounded corner bay and five bay later 20th century extension in Bedford Street. Three bay entry facade:- classical detail with central door has moulded surround with keystone and pediment on consoles. Semi-circular steps up to door. Large sash windows each side of door with moulded surround and hood.

“Four composite columns supporting full-width pediment. Attic storey with turned balustrades and two urns. Central domed cupola surmounted by wind-vane. Fine interior detail with large central roof light.”

A less technical description of the building is “a very fine specimen of architecture of the period in an unusual Georgian style, the most noticeable feature no doubt being the clock which surmounts the building and with its blue face, the traditional colour of the bank, and gold hands is considered to be the most ‘looked at’ clock in the city.

“Inside, the pillars and carved, domed ceiling created a very impressive and spacious banking hall. Even the oval-shaped manager’s room was extremely elegant.”

The National Provincial Bank, as it was known for much of its existence, was formed in 1833 and opened its first branch in Norwich in June 1866.

It was an era of great uncertainty and instability in the banking industry, and three days before the bank took up residence at 36 London Street, the Consolidated Bank which had opened in Norwich two years earlier announced its suspension.

Norwich grew massively throughout the 19th century, when its population rose from 37,000 to 101,000 and its suburbs spread outwards as new industries such as shoemaking became established.

The National Provincial Bank outgrew its first premises in the city, and opted to move, rather than extend the original building, the site of which is now occupied by Boots The Chemist.

The National Provincial Bank, its subsidiary District Bank and the Westminster Bank merged to form the National Westminster Bank on January 1, 1970.

Westminster Bank’s Norwich branch opened in 1920 at 69 London Street (now the Co-operative Bank on the corner with Bank Plain).

That closed in 1973 and its business was transferred to the imposing London Street office which was renamed Norwich City Office in 1986. In 2000, NatWest was on the receiving end of a hostile takeover by the Royal Bank of Scotland, 81% of which was purchased by the government in 2008 during the “credit crunch” financial crisis.

In theory, therefore, the splendid building soon to be vacated at 45-51 London Street is owned by you and I, the taxpayers.

Do take the opportunity to walk up the well-worn semi-circular steps, through the vestibule and into the stunning banking hall, to admire its ornate cornicing and pillars, and impressive domed cupola.

I did that at 10am on Tuesday, and I was the only customer in the large public area.

On-line banking, like so many internet-based activities, has called time on bank branches such as this one, leaving us to wonder what will become of this beautiful 92-year-old building.

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