KEEPING UP WITH THE Conquerers
One of the biggest transformations of Norwich Castle in its near thousandyear history will restore it to its palatial heyday
NORWICH CASTLE was once a royal palace as well as a formidable fortress and exquisite example of the very grandest of Norman architecture. William the Conqueror’s son feasted here when king himself, it was besieged and captured, and home to aristocrats, top government officials, soldiers and servants.
Over the next three years a project to re-imagine one of the most elaborate castles in Europe will transform it, colouring in its magnificent past and showing off its finest features.
Where previous projects have created much-needed extra back-room facilities, Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England, is focused on how
visitors will experience the castle.
Some parts of the Norman building will be open to the public for the first time, others will look completely different as time is rewound and floors replaced, doorways rediscovered and museum artefacts redisplayed to tell the story of the castle, Norwich and Norfolk.
The £13m project will be funded with grants including £9.2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund,
“Nothing like this has been done before. It’s huge for Norwich, Norfolk and the whole region,” said Dr John Davies, chief curator for Norfolk Museum Service and project leader. “The idea is to draw people’s attention to the importance of Norwich Castle nationally and the offer Norwich has as its city and Norfolk as its county.
“The whole of the interior of the keep has been lost and we want to reinstate the lost elements. It’s the biggest thing that any of us will ever be involved in. This is going to be leaving our legacy for generations.”
Preparatory work is already exciting historians. “We think there may be an earlier medieval great hall immediately outside the current keep. That’s a really spectacular discovery,” said John. “We are even questioning the dating of the castle.”
Missing floors will be rebuilt to recreate the royal place of Henry I with its magnificent Great Hall. The Norman archaeology and architecture will be brought to life with real stories from the time, and nationally important medieval treasures will go on show in a new British Museum partnership gallery. This will show off some of the castle’s remarkable medieval collections, revealing what daily life was like in the castle and its city and county nine centuries ago, charting the development of medieval science and engineering, and highlighting Norfolk’s connections with the rest of the world.
From the panoramic views from the top of the castle, through the fighting gallery, to deep below the Norman masterpiece, the project aims to restore the building with new insights into ancient history.
Next month visitors are invited to a free evening at the castle to try out some of the high-tech possibilities for the back-tothe-future project. They will be able to try virtual and augmented reality screens and headsets, plus their own smartphones, to see the castle keep in some of its 12th century glory, thronged with medieval merrymakers, soldiers and servants, its missing floors magically reinstated and its role as a royal palace, and besieged fortress, temporarily restored, as part of the consultation and evaluation for the Gateway to Medieval England project. The free drop-in evening, called Digital Takeover, runs from 5-10pm on Saturday, October 28.
Re-enactor Lee Warden as a medieval knight on the fighting gallery of Norwich Castle, which the public can access on the new fighting gallery tour
Above: John Davies, chief curator at Norwich Castle Museum
Left: The launch of the Norwich Castle keep project ‘Gateway to Medieval England’
Below: Norwich Castle as royal palace; an artist’s impression of the castle keep with the reinstated Norman layout