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

Norfolk Museums Service has secured £9.2 million 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.

Artist's impression of Norwich Castle roof

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 café 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.

The announcement is the culmination of years of work by Norfolk Museums Service staff and partner organisations to realise a new vision for the Keep.

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.

New interpretation planned for Norwich Castle

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, 2 traineeships, 3 apprenticeships and 3 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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