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125-129 King Street - Dragon Hall

Dragon Hall received its present name during the 1980s, when, as a result of renovation work, an intricately carved dragon, the only one to have survived, was discovered. Before that time the building was known as the Old Barge, named after the Old Barge Inn, which had been accommodated at its southern end > LinkExternal link

Archaeological digs undertaken between 1980 and 2005 revealed remains of buildings on the site dating from between the 9th and 11th centuries. By the 13th century, Woburn Abbey (Bedfordshire) had established a smokehouse here, and by about 1330, an L-shaped hall-house, originally orientated towards the river, with a south block at right angles had been built here by the then owner, John Page.

The mercer, entrepreneur, and four-times mayor of Norwich, Robert Toppes, acquired the property in the 1420s. He exported Norfolk worsted cloth and imported fine textiles, ironware, wines and spices. It was he who built the timber-framed trading hall > Link with its magnificent crown post roof > Link at first floor level over the existing house. Recent tree ring dating revealed that the English oaks used in its construction were felled in the spring of 1427. The hall's own staithe on the River Wensum allowed the transport of goods by barge directly to and from the port of Yarmouth with its already established shipping routes to continental Europe and coastal routes to London and other ports in England. In his will, Toppes, whose coat-of-arms can be seen in one of the Guildhall's stained-glass panels, bequeathed money for the east window in the Jesus Chapel of St Peter Mancroft church. Much of this glass was, however, destroyed, and today the remaining panels, including the donor panel depicting Robert Toppes and his two wives > Link are incorporated in the chancel east window > Link. As none of the family members wished to continue the business after Toppes' death in 1467, the property was sold. Subsequent owners did not use it as a trading hall, and its features were hidden by later sub-divisions, and under alterations to adapt the building to other uses. Divided internally into a number of dwellings, externally it appeared to be a terrace of houses. By the 1950s, the northern end was occupied by a butchers shop, and the southern end was a public house, the Old Barge Inn.

Over time, all knowledge of the building's history became lost, until the 1970s, when a detailed survey was carried out by the University of East Anglia, during which its significance as an important part of the city's heritage came to light. Dragon Hall is thought to be unique in that it is the only such trading hall in Northern Europe owned by one man. In 1979, the city council bought the site from its then owners, the Norwich Brewery Company, and in 1986 the Norfolk and Norwich Heritage Trust was established to manage its restoration. During work to remove partition walls and attic floors an exquisitely carved dragon of Baltic oak > Link was discovered in one of the roof spandrels and it is from this discovery that the hall gained its present name. In his will, Robert Toppes had referred to it as 'Splytts'. He was buried in St Peter Mancroft church, but sadly, like much of his window, his tomb has also not survived.

In 2015, the tenancy of the hall was taken over by the Writers’ Centre Norwich, which three years previously had led the successful bid for Norwich to be recognised as a UNESCO City of Literature, the first in England. Further extensive renovation work and the construction of a new south wing commenced in 2017, and in the summer of 2018 Dragon Hall re-opened as the National Centre for Writing.

Tours of Dragon Hall, which is Grade I listed, are available on the first and third Monday of each month (donations towards the upkeep of Dragon Hall are requested) and additional tours are available during the Heritage Open Days in September each year.
by Evelyn Simak

Created: Thu, 6 Feb 2020, Updated: Sat, 8 Feb 2020


32 images use this description. Preview sample shown below:

TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the trading hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - Roman numeral on roof beam by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the dragon by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : The original entrance to Dragon Hall (detail) by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : The original entrance to Dragon Hall (detail) by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : National Centre of Writing - stained glass window by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - 15th century undercroft by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - crown post detail by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the dragon by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Carved door lintel on display in Dragon Hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall -  16th century chimney foundations by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : The original entrance to Dragon Hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the trading hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : 125-129 King Street - Dragon Hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the crown post roof by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the trading hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : The original entrance to Dragon Hall (detail) by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - window looking out over Conisford Street by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the trading hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : The enclosed yard east of Dragon Hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - 15th century undercroft by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the trading hall by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - staircase to the cellar by Evelyn Simak
TG2208 : St Peter Mancroft - east window (donor panel) by Evelyn Simak
TG2308 : Dragon Hall - the crown post roof by Evelyn Simak

... and 7 more images.

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