Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Norwich


Rich Nouveau... 

Many shopping arcades were built in English towns and cities in the last three decades of the 19th century. They provided elegant shopping for the prosperous middle classes of late-Victorian England and their sheltered indoor walks afforded a protected environment away from the mud and mess of the streets. Cities such as Manchester and Leeds acquired large arcades, but many smaller cities had at least one example to attract the well heeled.

Norwich, for example. The Royal Arcade was built in 1899 on ground previously occupied by the yard of the Royal Hotel. The front entrance is through the old hotel building, but for the rest of the arcade its architect, George Skipper, produced something dramatically different. This was a time when the curvaceous flair of Art Nouveau was adding something fresh to Victorian design, and arcades, with their ironwork and tiled decoration lent themselves well to this new style. So Skipper gave the Royal Arcade a strong, high-arched ‘rear’ entrance and a delicate glazed roof to flood the interior with light.


The true stroke of genius was in employing one of the best designers at Doulton’s, W J Neatby, to do the tilework. A mass of Art Nouveau patterning, foliate detail, and lettering greets the visitor at Skipper’s entrance. Lavish peacocks enliven the interior. An atmosphere combining lightness with richness is the result – there is jewel-like colour to make the shopper feel good, and plenty of light to show off the goods. No wonder it has lasted so well.

14 comments:

Betty Manousos:cutand-dry.blogspot.com said...

Came across your site by accident and I just loved your blog!Nice photos and writing:) Thank you!
Betty

Hels said...

Throughout 2009's blog, I was very interested in shopping arcades in different cities. You commented at the time :)
http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2009/09/burlington-arcade-is-covered-shopping.html

But I assumed that because they attracted a very high-end clientele, only the biggest and richest cities would bother building arcades. Melbourne, Sydney, Paris, Milan etc but Norwich is new to me. Did arcades in the smaller cities do well? Are they still used now for their original purpose?

I will create a link.

Vinogirl said...

I love that tile work, inside and out.

Jon Dudley said...

What a beautiful entrance. How much we have to learn when we develop shopping 'malls' with no attempt to make them relevant or sympathetic to their surroundings. I love Norwich, a city well worthy of your attentions. Coincidentally, the BBC news this morning reported on the sad decline of both independent and chainstore bookshops mentioning Waterstones which we can glimpse in your photograph.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all for your appreciative comments.

Hels: There were lots of arcades and they varied, I think, in their clientele. Certainly places like London's Burlington Arcade were high-end arcades, and it was with such places that the arcade fashion began in the early-19th century. But as the arcade fashion spread in the later Victorian period, it was adopted for more ordinary shops designed to appeal to a wider clientele. This would be the case, I believe, in the large arcades in big provincial cities such as Leeds. And also in Cardiff, which has several Victorian arcades. They were providing shopping with a touch of glamour, but were not as exclusive as the Burlington Arcade with its posh jewellers' shops and private police force. Most of them are still used for their original purpose.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: Bookshops find themselves in a tough position these days. I didn't hear the BBC item, but a combination of internet sales and big discounting in supermarkets has already taken a chunk out of their sales, and the rise of the ebook, when it really takes off, will do more. There's some evidence to show that good independent bookshops - the ones that offer personal service and a unique selection of books targeted at the local readership - are not doing too badly. But it's a patchy picture.

Jon Dudley said...

Exactly the tenor of the report. The editor of The Bookseller predicted a peak in e-book sales in the future (well you don't need a crystal ball for that) and a return to the conventional after the novelty wore off (although of course there will be converts along the way). I believe there's definitely room for small independents - we have a superb one in nearby Alfriston 'Much ado about books' - run by real enthusiasts, lots of stuff I like (Ravilious, Bawden Nash, etc), free bantam eggs, plus opinions and advice. For those that admire the nearby Bloomsbury mob (don't count me in that number) they have more titles than you could shake a spangled stick at.

Philip Wilkinson said...

I've heard about Much Ado... Sounds a fascinating place. They helped promote some books written by friends of mine in the Snake River Press series on Sussex topics. Shops like this get a strong following and will survive.

CarolineLD said...

Lovely photos of one of my very favourite places - and I have a sneaking fondness for the Colman's Mustard Shop inside, too.

Peter Ashley said...

Reminds me of the Turkey Cafe exterior on Granby Street in Leicester. Very 'easily wiped down' feel. If that makes sense.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Absolutely. Hygiene plus elegance.

Phil Beard said...

As someone who regularly refers to your splendid book, English Buildings (compendious, except for the curious absence of Huddersfield), I’ve just had the pleasure of discovering your blog and spent several happy hours exploring. Arcades are an abiding passion and I visit and photograph whenever I get the chance. There’s a selection on Flickr. Norwich is one that I haven’t visited so this is all fascinating stuff. One of my other passions is for architectural ceramics so Norwich ticks all boxes. I’m most impressed by your informed comments on such a wide range of buildings and I’ll be a regular visitor from now on. If you have time, please have a look at my blog – architecture does get a look in and we’ve both visited the Doulton drinking fountain in Clevedon!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Phil: Many thanks for your comments on both the book and the blog. And sorry about the omission of Huddersfield. Your blog looks fascinating and I will visit it again and have a longer look soon.

Eigon said...

I love the Norwich Royal Arcade. Before it moved, I used to spend quite a bit of time in Inanna's Festival, the Pagan shop, there.
Wrexham has a little Victorian arcade, too, not far from the church, which also had a bookshop (at least last time I visited, some years ago). Someone I met at a Star Trek Convention self-published a book of 'Klingon' poetry which was sold there - it included a Klingon love poem to me!