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┬áby 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.

Where’s the dragon?

St George and the dragon
Icon of St. George. Greece early 19th century
Oil on panel
33 X 23.5 cm
St George is celebrated as the patron saint of England, but being of a somewhat contrary nature, I find the Eastern Orthodox icons of St George more interesting than the sentimental, overwrought English versions.

The fight: St George kills the dragon
The fight: St George kills the dragon VI – 1864
Edward Burne-Jones
Oil on canvas 105 x 131 cm
The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia

Also, I always feel sorry for the messy end of the dragon. So, when I was harvesting images from a beautiful calendar featuring excellent prints of Russian icons, I didn’t choose St George. Instead I cut out ‘Saint Boris and Saint Gleb on horseback’ which shows two beautiful, stylized horses, a couple of saints and no dragons in sight.

Saints Boris and Gleb
Russian icon with Saints Boris and Gleb circa 1377
Original –
Egg tempera on lime wood 115 x 92 cm
Novgorod Museum, Russia.
My small copy from a calendar of Russian Icons.