Norfolk Museums Service secures £9.2m from National Lottery to transform Norwich Castle Keep

03 October 2018

Norfolk Museums Service has secured £9.2m from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England project.

This announcement includes an initial development grant of £462,400 approved by HLF in May 2016. Made possible by National Lottery players this latest major grant, combined with £3,593,500 raised from other public and private sources, will enable the multi-million pound plan to transform Norwich Castle’s iconic Keep to go ahead, subject to formal planning consent.

If the plans are approved, the work to make Norwich Castle one of the region’s premier heritage attractions can begin in earnest, with building work scheduled to commence in early Summer 2019 and the transformed Keep due to re-open in 2020.

In the medieval period Norwich Castle was one of the most important buildings across the whole of Europe and, architecturally, one of the most elaborate of the great Romanesque keeps. The project aims to re-present the historic Keep as it appeared during its heyday under the great Norman kings.

The plans include re-instating the original Norman floor level in the Keep, making all five levels of the Keep accessible for the first time; the development of a new medieval gallery, designed in partnership with the British Museum, that will showcase national medieval treasures alongside objects from Norfolk’s own internationally-significant collections; creating new visitor and school entrances; the development of new visitor facilities such as the cafe and shop and the creation of digital and learning spaces. These changes will enable visitors to engage fully with the building through greater access, exciting new displays and innovative learning and event programmes.

Visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of King Henry I’s lavish Castle by exploring the recreated Great Hall, complete with a banqueting table and minstrels’ gallery, King’s chamber and chapel. Newly-exposed Norman archaeology and architecture will tell previously untold stories of the Castle’s fascinating past and a unique viewing platform at battlement level will offer stunning views of medieval and present-day Norwich.

Today’s announcement is the culmination of years of work by Norfolk Museums Service staff and partner organisations to realise a new vision for the Keep. In addition to the National Lottery, they have been supported in their ambitions through significant grants from a number of key funders including: Arts Council England, Charles Littlewood Hill Trust, East Anglia Art Fund, The Educational Foundation of Alderman John Norman, Friends of the Norwich Museums, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Geoffrey Watling Charity, John Jarrold Trust, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Norwich Freemen’s Charity (previously the Norwich Town Close Estates Charity) and the Paul Bassham Charitable Trust, as well as other funders who wish to remain anonymous. Computer Service Centre and Expert Print Management have supported the project through the corporate appeal as a Corporate Benefactor and Corporate Member respectively.

Many organisations and individuals have provided advice and support to ensure the project achieves the highest standards of research, design and interpretation. The British Museum has been a lead partner through its role in developing proposals for the new medieval gallery. An Academic Advisory Board of distinguished specialists has been extremely generous with their time and expertise. The University of East Anglia has also provided expert advice and has recently becoming the project’s formal Academic Partner.

The project has also benefited from the invaluable support of English Heritage, HM Treasury, Historic England, Norfolk County Council, Norfolk Record Office, Norwich Access Group, Norwich BID, Norwich Cathedral, Norwich City Council, Norwich Heritage Alliance, The Norwich Society, and University of Leicester.

The project has attracted significant support from the public who have taken time to provide feedback through numerous focus groups and consultations and have donated £22,500 to the Keep Giving campaign, including £9,000 raised through the project’s Adopt an Object scheme.

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of HLF, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, this major project is set to transform Norwich Castle, bringing it back to life in a way that recognises the important role it once played as one of the most important buildings in Europe and making a real difference to the region’s heritage and tourism offer. We look forward to continuing to work with Norfolk Museums Service, its volunteers and others supporters as they put plans for Norwich Castle’s exciting future into action.”

Cllr Alan Waters, Leader of Norwich City Council said “Norwich Castle has long been a cultural jewel in our fine City and one which deserves to be better known. This wonderful news will ensure that many hundreds of thousands more visitors will be able to explore and understand one of Europe’s most important 12th century secular buildings in greater depth than ever before. With new learning spaces and a beautiful new medieval gallery created in partnership with the British Museum, the transformed Keep will also provide our local communities with fantastic new opportunities for learning and engagement. Thanks to this tremendous support from the National Lottery, it’s no exaggeration to say that our past has never had a brighter future.”

Commenting on the award, Margaret Dewsbury, Chair of Norfolk County Council Communities Committee, said “This is a proud day for Norfolk and a remarkable moment in the long history of Norwich Castle. In a hugely competitive field of applicants to the National Lottery, the Gateway to Medieval England project won through on the strength of its inspiring vision to transform Norwich Castle Keep back to its palatial origins as the residence of Norman kings. This welcome announcement will secure the future of this wonderful 900-year-old building and will bring enormous benefits – cultural, educational and economic – to the city, the county and the region.”

Cllr John Ward, Chairman of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee, said: “We are hugely grateful to the National Lottery for choosing to support this landmark project. This significant investment secures Norwich Castle’s future and will be a catalyst for the further development of heritage and the visitor economy right across the County.

“Alongside the National Lottery, so many partners and funders have supported us on our journey to reach this point and we’d like to thank all of them for their invaluable contribution – from major grant-giving foundations to hundreds of individual donors who’ve put their hands in their pockets through the Keep Giving campaign. This groundswell of support for the project demonstrates the special place Norwich Castle holds in the hearts of all those who care about our heritage.

“At the heart of this successful outcome is the small team of dedicated museum staff, led by Dr John Davies, Chief Curator and Project Director, who have worked tirelessly over many years to bring the project to fruition. We look forward to the next phase which will turn vision into reality.”

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum said “This is wonderful news, the Norwich Castle project is exciting and ambitious and will deliver real benefit for the region. We are delighted to be working on the project and will lend around 60 important objects for The British Museum Gallery of the Medieval Period which will form part of the new displays in the Castle Keep. The British Museum is committed to working with partners across the country to share the collection and our partnership with Norfolk Museums Service is a greatly valued relationship. I much look forward to seeing the project progress”.  

Doug Field, chair of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This welcome news ensures Norwich Castle takes its rightful place on the national and international stage as a leading cultural destination. But this project also has wide and lasting benefits to our Visitor Economy, making a significant contribution to our offer to the world. The LEP recognised this in committing £500,000 to the Castle Keep in May 2018. We look forward to working with Norfolk Museums Service and other partners to realise the full potential of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

The Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England project will enable the Keep to realise its full potential as a space for imaginative engagement. It will provide an inspirational experience for visitors, attracting an extra 100,000 visits a year to over 300,000 visits per annum, greatly enhancing Norwich’s profile regionally and internationally as a major cultural tourism destination. It will offer an inspirational learning resource for Norfolk’s schools with the capacity to welcome 30,000 school children per year. The project will also directly create 15 new jobs, two traineeships, three apprenticeships and three internships, while indirectly supporting many jobs in the wider tourism economy.

Norwich’s Grade 1 Listed stone Keep was constructed around 1100 during the reign of Henry I. By the 13th century the Castle had lost its importance as a military stronghold and its main function became that of the County Gaol. It continued in use as a prison for 600 years until 1887. The Keep and prison buildings were then purchased by the City and Norwich Castle Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time in 1894.

Today, Norwich Castle remains one of the most visually striking buildings in the City skyline. The range and quality of its Designated collections, together with its specialist staff, reinforce Norwich Castle’s status and role of regional and national pre-eminence. Yet while the impressive exterior views continue to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, the interior fails to convey its original splendour. Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England will address this issue, providing an unforgettable visitor experience worthy of the building’s fascinating 900-year history.

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