Norwich Castle


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Castle Meadow, Norwich, Norfolk


Ordnance survey map of Norwich Castle
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Statutory Address:
Castle Meadow, Norwich, Norfolk

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Norwich (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Early C12 hall keep refaced in the 1830s, with attached former prison added in the early C19, converted into a museum and art gallery in the 1880s, with further C20 additions.

Reasons for Designation

Norwich Castle is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Proportion of original fabric: a significant proportion of the original fabric survives which shows the earliest configuration of the stone-built castle and provides valuable evidence of medieval warfare and defence, as well as social and domestic aspects of medieval society;

* Architectural interest: it is an outstanding example of a great tower erected under royal patronage, and was unique both in having a forebuilding and entrance of stone, and in its rich external architectural detailing which imposed an order and system of proportion on the irregular fenestration;

* Historic interest: it was built during a period of extraordinary flowering in the tradition of great tower architecture and, along with the White Tower and Corfe Castle, generated the architectural ideas that informed every major great tower of the C12 in England;

* Evolution: it has continued to evolve over almost a thousand years, retaining evidence of notable phases, including the medieval keep, and the radial plan form of the early C19 prison which in turn was transformed into elegant Victorian galleries, complete with their original fitted display cabinets;

* Architects: it is associated with William Wilkins, Anthony Salvin and the Norwich-based Edward Boardman, architects of national repute all of whom have many listed buildings to their name;

* Group value: it has strong group value with the scheduled elements of the castle, and with the bridge over the moat and two entrance lodges with their railings, all listed at Grade II.


By 1066 Norwich had become the fourth largest town in England and was a thriving mercantile centre within a rich agricultural area. The exact construction date of Norwich Castle is undocumented but it may have been established as early as 1067. Nothing remains of this early structure which probably consisted of a timber tower on a small motte, surrounded by a ditch, as it was replaced by a stone tower keep built between 1094 and 1121. It was constructed using Caen stone from France, except for the flint-facing of the ground floor which would have presented a stark contrast to the pale limestone of the upper levels. Its earliest use was as a royal residence for visiting Norman kings. Drum towers and a gatehouse were added in the C13, and from documentary sources it is known that the castle had a southern bailey with an inner barbican, a small bailey on the north-east side, and that the whole area was bounded by Castle Fees.

Norwich Castle is a classic example of a hall keep, a variation of a tower keep – a strongly defended fortified residence in which the keep is the principal component. The keep at Norwich consisted of a massive stone square tower with a main upper floor and a basement. It was entered at the level of the upper floor via a two-storey forebuilding, called Bigod’s Tower (after one of the residents), which had an external stone staircase running along the face of the wall. In a tower keep the accommodation is arranged vertically, in that the lord’s private chamber is above the hall; whereas in a hall keep, the chamber and hall are side by side, as at Norwich. The upper floor was bisected by a crosswall and contained the Great Chamber on the south side and the Great Hall on the north side, with the portal leading into the east end of the Hall. The Great Hall had winder staircases in the north-west and north-east corners, and a kitchen fireplace occupied the north-west corner. The Great Chamber had a number of subsidiary rooms, including the chapel in the south-east corner of the keep and a private chamber in the south-west corner. It had a fireplace in the south wall and a well near the crosswall. Both halls were served by two garderobe chutes on the west wall, and had wall passages along each side. The basement was also bisected by a wall into two compartments. The north room had a row of square piers in the centre supporting a stone vault, and the south room had two vaulted compartments at its east end. Norwich Castle had been used as a gaol since about 1220. It is not known when the first extension was made for this purpose but during repair work in 1747-9 it was described as being substantially of flint. The gaol was demolished and rebuilt by Sir John Soane 1789-93. He suggested that Bigod’s Tower be demolished as an aid to security but it was instead rebuilt. It is probable that the whole of the eastern side of the keep was also refaced at this time. The prison itself was then entirely rebuilt in 1825 in response both to a dramatic rise in the prison population after Waterloo and to the prison reforms advocated by Jeremy Bentham and John Howard. The new prison had an up-to-date radial plan built against the north and east sides of the keep which was used as the prison hospital. It was designed by William Wilkins, the eldest son of William Wilkins, a scholarly architect who was a leading protagonist of the Greek Revival. His commissions were principally for country houses and public buildings, such as University College London, the National Gallery and Downing College, Cambridge, many of which are listed at high grade. Francis Stone, the County Surveyor, may also have had a hand in the design of the prison.

Deep cracks had appeared in the walls of the keep by the end of the C18 and it was entirely refaced in 1835-8 by Anthony Salvin, an authority on English medieval military architecture who had worked on the Tower of London and various castles such as Rockingham, Warwick and Windsor. He also established a reputation as an architect of country houses, including Harlaxton Manor which is widely regarded as his masterpiece. At Norwich, Salvin was continuing works begun c.1829 by Francis Stone who had died in 1835. The east face is Stone’s work, and it was stipulated that the remaining sides be repaired and restored in a like manner, in imitation of the original design. The mason was James Watson.

By 1887 the castle was no longer used as a prison and it was converted into a museum and art gallery by Edward Boardman, a prominent Norwich-based architect who designed and restored country houses, public buildings and churches, including the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and the former Primitive Methodist Chapel and Sunday School in Queens Road (both listed at Grade II.) He gutted the castle’s interior and created top-lit galleries in the former cell blocks. Only a few cells remain in the top floor of one of the radial wings but these can only be accessed from the roof space. The new roof of the keep was supported by an arcade in the position of the former crosswall, and a gallery was installed at the level of the original floor of the upper halls. Subsequent additions to the museum include the Fitch Gallery, built in 1892 against the west end of the keep’s north wall to house the collection of the collector Robert Fitch; and the Colman Galleries built in the north-west and north-east courtyards. An additional radial wing was built in the south-east courtyard at some point between the publication of the 1907 and 1938 Ordnance Survey maps, and a gift shop was later added along its south side. A café has been added on the south side of the west radial wing, and the central courtyard was filled in by the Rotunda of 1969.


Early C12 hall keep, refaced in the 1830s, with attached former prison added in the early C19, converted into a museum and art gallery in the 1880s, with further C20 additions.

MATERIALS: the keep is faced in ashlared Bath stone laid to courses over a flint core and the former prison is constructed of Aberdeen granite. The Fitch Gallery is of rich red brick laid in English bond.

PLAN: the castle occupies the top of the Castle Mound and has an approximately octagonal plan with alternating short and long sides. The square keep is in the south-west corner, clasped on its north and east sides by the former prison. This has a radial plan with a central courtyard under the Rotunda from which extend north, east and west wings, and a C20 south-east wing, all housing galleries. Early C20 galleries occupy the north-east and north-west courtyards. On the south frontage, attached to the keep on its east side, is the Great Gatehouse containing the main entrance and private rooms. A high wall extends from the Gatehouse around the site, joining up to the north-east corner of the keep.

EXTERIOR: the castle is an immense, imposing structure that dominates its surroundings. The walls of the keep are articulated into four bays by wide Norman buttresses with set-back buttresses at the corners. Above an almost unbroken ground stage are three or four tiers of blind arcading differing in height and width, pierced irregularly by windows, and surmounted by battlements with nine pierced and capped merlons on each side. The battlements are supported by a modillion course. There are subtle differences in the decoration on each face but only the south and west faces are completely visible. The south face has four tiers of arcading, the lowest consisting of five round arches per bay with billet friezes and scalloped capitals on attached columns; and the second tier of approximately five elongated round arches per bay with scalloped capitals, and intermittent wider arches pierced by paired windows. The third tier has six arches per bay with billet friezes and plain capitals on square attached columns; and the fourth tier has seven arches per bay with a simple roll moulding and scalloped capitals on attached columns. On the west face, the two central bays at basement level are defined by blind round arched recesses with a modillion course and four blind arches above. The first and second tiers are similar to their counterparts on the south face; and the third tier consists of four arches with a roll moulding and scalloped capitals, filled with diapering.

Attached to the east side of the keep is Wilkins’ Great Gatehouse, a forbidding two-storey crenellated structure. To the left is the recessed entrance bay which has a moulded Tudor arch doorway with heavy double-leaf doors studded with nails and divided into many panels by applied fillets. Above, the first floor is lit by a four-light mullion window with cusped round arches under a Tudor hoodmould. The crenellated parapet above the entrance bay is supported by a corbel table, whilst the wider projection to the right is defined by corner bastions. This is lit at ground-floor level by a four-light mullion, similar to that already described, and a square crenellated bay window with a central transom dividing it into ten lights. The first floor is lit by three two-light mullions, regularly spaced. The surrounding high wall has a plinth and crenellations with saddle-back coping. It is almost unbroken except for intermittent Tudor arched, nail studded timber doors with vertical applied fillets.

INTERIOR: the interior walls of the keep are constructed of rubble stone at basement level and ashlared blocks at hall level, with small areas of flint. The original floor level of the basement has been raised (dividing the basement in two), and the level of the upper floor is indicated by the Victorian gallery (added by Boardman) which has a balustrade of capitals linked by round arches, giving the impression of an arcade. This is accessed via a handsome quarter turn stair with turned balusters and ramped handrails, situated at the south end of the west wall. The location of the original east-west crosswall is indicated by Boardman’s massive arcade which has four round arches with a roll moulding, the central two higher and wider than the outer two, supported by square piers with corner shafts. This supports the elaborate parallel ranges of the roof, a variation of a crown post truss which has a crown post between the ridge and collar beam, which in turn is supported by two crown posts rising from the tie beam.

The upper floor of the basement is lit on the south side by four deeply splayed round arched windows, two in the centre and one at either end. All the apertures in the keep have round arches. There is a door opening at the east end of the north side, and a C19 moulded doorway with half columns at the south end of the east side. The west wall is blind but at the north end retains evidence of vaulting which supported the stone-flagged floor of the kitchen immediately above in the Great Hall. The deep stone-lined well is located approximately in the centre.

At the hall level, the inner and outer walls of the wall passages are pierced by windows and openings which mostly have a billet frieze around the arch, supported by half or three-quarter columns and plain scalloped capitals. The Great Hall, which occupied the north side, retains spiral staircases in both corners and the arch of the fireplace which is set at an angle in the north-west corner. In the centre of the west wall, spanning the Great Hall and the Great Chamber, is a projection embellished with a blind arcade which houses the four garderobes. The Great Chamber, which occupied the south side, retains a spiral staircase in the south west corner, probably serving a private chamber indicated by a respond and the springing of a vault. Halfway along the south side is the round arched alcove of the former fireplace. The size of the chapel in the south-east corner is suggested by the slight projection of masonry on the south wall. The arch of the corner apse is set at an angle and its irregular groined vault is preserved. There are brick repairs to some parts of the wall in the south-west corner. A C20 lift shaft rises through the east side of the gallery.

The round-arched portal, accessed via stairs replaced in 1978, is the most ornate piece of Norman carving in the keep. It has three orders of shafts, the inner one embellished with a modified beakhead motif which is continued around the arch. The arches have a roll moulding with panels in between carrying interlace, foliage and little animals, and the capitals are carved with figures and animals from hunting scenes. The whole portal is surrounded by a wider arch decorated with large four-petal flowers, and to the right is a smaller blank arch, possibly designed to imitate the pairing of large and small gateways into Roman cities. Although the forebuilding was later rebuilt, the vault survives beneath – a quadripartite rib-vault, with roll moulded ribs.

The other principal areas of interest in the castle are Wilkins’ Great Gatehouse in the Gothic style and Boardman’s Victorian galleries. In the former, the entrance hall has a straight flight stone staircase with a balustrade of cusped arches, lit by an elegant octagonal skylight and a ten-light mullion and transomed window with cinquefoil arches and painted motifs. A large room to the right (presumably the former Prison Master’s private quarters), which is lit by the square bay, has a ceiling decorated with a raised geometric pattern and a moulded stone Tudor arch fireplace with a crenellated timber surround of blind cinqufoil arches. A small adjoining room retains a C19 corner marble wash basin.

The Victorian galleries retain a high proportion of their good quality fixtures and fittings, notably the mosaic and parquet floors, the fitted display cupboards lining the gallery walls, the moulded Tudor arch doorcases and panelled doors, the ornate metal staircases, and the tiled floors and walls of the lavatories. The galleries have a crenellated cornice and ceilings with a pronounced cove and deep ribs forming squares filled with geometric patterns. The upper galleries are top-lit but follow a similar design. The small Fitch Gallery, added in 1892, is particularly ornate. The fitted display cupboards, embellished with delicate Gothic timber tracery, and the exquisite painted glass in the windows, all survive intact. The Colman Galleries, added in the 1920s, are plainer but elegant in their proportions and panelling.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the Rotunda, the café on the south side of the west radial wing, the gift shop along the south side of the south-east radial wing, and the lavatories in the basement are not of special architectural or historic interest.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Goodall, J, The English Castle, 1066-1650, (2011)
NAU Archaeology, , Norfolk Historic Environment, , Norwich Castle: Excavations and Historical Survey 1987-98, East Anglia Archaeology 132, 2 vols, (2009)
Pevsner, N, Wilson, B, The Buildings of England: Norfolk: 1 Norwich and North-East, (2002)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 23 Jul 2001
Reference: IOE01/03795/20
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Peter Smee. Source Historic England Archive
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