BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO AN ICONIC CITY BUILDING
An announcement is due imminently about the future of one of the city of Norwich’s most iconic buildings – following a competition which looked for new ideas to breathe new life into the Briton’s Arms.
Arnolds Keys launched the competition on behalf of Norwich Preservation Trust to find a new tenant for the 14th century building, following the retirement of two sisters who ran a well-known coffee shop and restaurant in the building for 44 years.
Situated at the top of the city’s historic Elm Hill, the Grade II* listed building has been used by many filmmakers, including Matthew Vaughn for his 2006 movie Stardust, which had an all-star cast including Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes and Sienna Miller. It was last seen on screen at Christmas 2020 as an integral part of the set for the Netflix Christmas film Jingle Jangle.
The competition sought to find someone to take on the building and operate a hospitality-based business from it – described as a ‘fantastic lifestyle business opportunity’.
Arnolds Keys managing partner Guy Gowing said, “The Briton’s Arm’s is not just one of Norwich’s most iconic historic buildings, it is nationally significant.
“Having been essentially saved by the Norwich Preservation Trust when they took on the building in 2011 and undertook and comprehensive renovation project, including completely rethatching the roof, this is now a fantastic lifestyle business opportunity for someone looking to run a hospitality operation.
“The Trust wants the right person to take over the building, so rather than holding a more conventional bidding process, we decided to seek ideas as to how the Briton’s Arms can be taken into the future. The aim was to identify an individual or small group of individuals who could demonstrate a real passion for breathing new life into this wonderful old building and ensuring that it remains an iconic part of Norwich for many years to come.”
Competition entries are currently being assessed, and an announcement about the future of the building is expected in the next few weeks.
The Briton’s Arms
Built in 1347, the Briton’s Arms, originally called ‘Ye Goddes House’, was connected to the nearby St Peter Hungate church (built 1254), and is believed to have been a beguinage, housing beguines, or beguines: lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world.
In 1507 it survived the destruction by fire of much of the historic centre of Norwich, including most of the medieval buildings on Elm Hill.
It was used for a variety of purposes over the centuries, including as a barber surgeon in the 15th century, and in connection with the wool trade in the 17th and 18th century.
It was first recorded as an ale house in 1760 and remained a public house until 1941. It reopened in 1960 as a coffee shop and restaurant, being taken over by sisters Sue Skipper and Gilly Mixer in 1976. They announced their intention to retire in 2020.
In 2011, with the ancient fabric of the building becoming increasingly unsound, the Briton’s Arms was put up for auction by Norwich City Council, who had owned the building since 1951. After a public outcry, the City Council withdrew the property from auction, and offered a lease to the Norwich Preservation Trust, which embarked on an extensive restoration project, with considerable funding from Historic England and The Architectural Heritage Fund.