Drenched in erratic showers of rain, chilled by the windy weather and then getting warmer under the bright summer sun UK’s Norwich a hub of activity has many stories to tell. DRAGON HALL on King Street is one such.
This is a beautiful medieval structure built in 1427, was carefully restored and retained in 2004-2005 with a 1.8 million pounds programme. It reopened in 2006 as a “heritage attraction” and “resource” for the local community.
Dragon Hall is a medieval trading centre built by Robert Toppes, a wealthy merchant. Located on the banks of River Wensum, this is the only surviving trading hall from those days in the whole of Western Europe built by an individual and not by a group of tradesmen, this connected Norwich with the trade from other parts of Europe.
The building has “underground cellars” from the 14th and 15th centuries. These cellars were used to store goods. On the 1st floor, which was very uncommon at that time, is a spacious “Great Hall”, a magnificent central hall of the building. It is 26 metres in length and 500 large oak timbers were used in its construction. One part of this long hall used to be a public space that displayed a whole range of foreign goods and the other end of the hall was more a private space used as a place to sign contracts with wealthy clients.
Dragon Hall was decorated with 14 dragon carvings in Baltic oak. Dragons were common symbols in medieval Norwich, and by placing them in his Great Hall, Toppes established his connection with the symbolic tradition of the city and exhibited his status, success and wealth. The restored original window sections of the building have beautiful tinted glass paintings. Here, Toppes displayed and stored imported goods from Europe and beyond. The entrance to the building opens into a hall where the visiting merchants were welcomed. They wined and dined there before they were shown up to the Great Hall
Robert Toppes was also a textile merchant exporting untreated cloth. Norwich became famous for its “Worstead” cloth, from the village of Worstead in the northeast of Norfolk. This yarn was spun from the sheep’s wool and made into black cloth for the monks’ robes and casual and luxurious wear for the common people and the rich in the town. Toppes is said to have been an important figure in the city’s politics and was elected four times as Mayor.
Many labourers might have been here. Merchants engaged with big and small business, might have sold their goods in this place. Ships and boats from far and wide sailed along the waters of River Wensum carrying loads and loads of goods.
DRAGON HALL, the amazing building from medieval times now shelters the famous Norwich Writers Centre.
—— Mamta Sagar