Dragon Hall, Norwich
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The Great Hall was built between 1427 and 1430, but some parts of the site, such as the undercroft, are older. Archaeological research has shown evidence of 1,000 years of human habitation on the site. Dragon Hall was built by a merchant called Robert Toppes as the hub of his international trading empire. The building stands close to the River Wensum on King Street, the main road through the city in the fifteenth century, with excellent road and river transport links.
The Great Hall is the centre piece of the site with its magnificent crown post roof which contains an intricately carved dragon on one of the spandrels, which gives the building its name. This was where Toppes displayed goods from home and abroad to other English and European merchants. Dragon Hall is unique because it is the only known surviving building of its type built by one man for his own use rather than by a Guild. The building operated as a showroom and warehouse for about 30 years.
After Toppes' death it was sold and over the centuries was gradually adapted and divided to become a row of individual houses and businesses. The building was converted for domestic use and then, in the 19th century, subdivided into shops, a pub and tenements. The great crown post roof was hidden from view for many years and only rediscovered in the 1980s.
It was bought by Norwich City Council in the 1970s and then a group of volunteers created a charity, The Norfolk & Norwich Heritage Trust which leased the building and took over the management of it. Gradually funds were raised to repair and restore the building and in 2006 a major £1.8 million programme of restoration and development took place, primarily with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Great Hall has been restored to its original state, with the addition of a new floor and central heating, a modern wing contains toilets, a kitchen and a lift for access to the first floor hall. A contemporary glass extension has opened up the architecture and displays now tell the history of this unique site. Dragon Hall is managed by a small team of staff and relies on the support of a large body of volunteers. It operates as a heritage museum and is also a venue for all sorts of community, cultural, and learning activities such as weddings, parties, theatre and music, markets, school visits and workshops.
In 2010 The Norfolk & Norwich Heritage Trust was awarded a grant of £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a two-year project to record the memories of people who have lived and worked in the area in more recent times.
Dragon Hall is one of the Norwich 12 heritage sites.
- www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk. "Dragon Hall in Norwich gains £50,000 research funding". BBC Norfolk. Retrieved 2010-02-24.