Guild of St George Alderman builds Dragon Hall


Originally, a hall house in Old Barge Yard, Norwich, Dragon Hall was remodelled and extended during the 15th century by successful merchant, alderman and member of Norwich’s Guild of St George, Robert Toppes (c.1405-1467). Toppes wanted a building that was both a showroom and a warehouse with easy access to the River Wensum. This striking timber-framed building was known then as Splytts and the main showroom was the magnificent first floor hall (85ft by 21ft). Here merchant Toppes would have laid out his fine woollen cloth, the famous worsted wool, to be traded and exported to Europe. And, at the same time he would have set out his recent imports from the Continent to sell to his Norwich clients.

dragon hall model
Dragon Hall model showing how the main showroom/hall may have been used to display and trade woollen cloth during the 15th century.
crown post timbers
The crown-post roof of the main hall.
Dragon Hall, King Street, Norwich.

The showroom was made impressive by a high crown-post roof displaying arched braces and tie-beams. And, in the spandrel of one tie-beam we can still see the fearsome carved dragon (top photograph) showing traces of medieval coloured paint. Some of the roof timbers we see today are original 15th-century beams and these too would have been painted. The showroom/hall was lit by three projecting full-height windows on the west side and one similar large window on the east, river side, of the building. This would have been a bright, innovative, outstanding commercial space in its heyday.

Dragon Hall external east facade
East side of Dragon Hall, King St, Norwich showing the first floor full-height window.
Timber and brick 15th-century medieval trading hall originally known as Splytts.

Away from the showy hall the rib-vaulted, brick undercroft provided warehouse space.

brick built vaulted undercroft
The rib-vaulted undercroft provided a secure storage area.

Nowadays visiting Dragon Hall you can see the sensitive restoration (1979-1988) which has peeled back centuries of patchwork remodelling and, interestingly, at the same time leaves some very early reworking detail in place such as a three times altered doorway.

Ogee arch doorway, within rough segmental arch doorway now bricked up.
Ogee arch doorway, within rough segmental arch doorway now bricked up.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

10 thoughts on “Guild of St George Alderman builds Dragon Hall”

  1. What I love about that dragon is the way his tail has been elaborated to fill up the space of the spandrel. the whole composition has an interesting use of space, with the dragon’s triangular head and long tongue reaching up into the pointed apex. I also love to see evidence of historical remodelling and alterations, so I think that door with the ogee and flatter arch above is really wonderful.

    1. Yes, I’m in complete admiration for the skill of the craftsmen/designer working the dragon to fill the space with such style and great proportions. I didn’t want to join the wyvern/dragon debate as the dragon is a squashed 3D and so actually has fours legs and not two, but difficult to see in the picture.

  2. Splendid St. George’s Day post. We’re coming to East Anglia for a week soon (Norfolk though). It looks as though Dragon Hall should be on our ‘must see’ list.

    1. Dragon Hall has a special atmosphere, and Norwich Castle has some interesting parts, but it’s Norwich’s grand, elegant, Norman cathedral which is the city’s jewel in the crown. Beautiful architecture, roof bosses and some 12th to 14th wall paintings on the vault of the Treasury. Hope you enjoy your visit to the county.

  3. What a wonderful hall – I remember it from an earlier post because of that amazing dragon carving! Imagine how rich this merchant must have been to build such a magnificent showroom!

    1. Yes, it’s quite a special building, and it’s just become the home of the ‘National Centre for Writing’. Great atmosphere for those attending courses and workshops.

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