The History of Cinema City, Norwich

This afternoon Stefanie will be conducting a tour of Cinema City in Norwich as part of the RIBA Love Architecture Festival.  The conversion to a three-screen cinema in a Listed Grade I building, Suckling House and Stuart Hall was completed in 2007.

The earliest known activity on the site of Suckling House and Stuart Hall is a ditch, discovered during archaeological excavations, below what is now the courtyard. This was cut before the Norman conquest in 1066 and probably represents a boundary ditch at the western edge of the Anglo-Scandinavian town, which was centred on a market place at Tombland.

Properties were recorded on the site as early as the 13th century but it is believed that the oldest surviving parts of the building date from the 14th Century. This was a period of great prosperity for Norwich as Queen Philippa, wife of Edward III, had established a colony of her fellow countrymen, Flemish weavers, in the city. Its role as the chief centre of the wool weaving industry led to Norwich being the second city of the kingdom for much of the medieval period.

c. 1926
In the mid 16th Century the property was purchased by Robert Suckling, Mayor, Sheriff and Burgess in Parliament. He made substantial alterations to the buildings and renamed it after himself. The centre of the house was, as it remains today, the Great Hall, with its scissor brace and crown post roof. Here apprentices would have lived with their masters, owners of the house, and eaten meals with the family in the hall. However such a building was as much for ostentatious display as for private living and provided almost a salon environment for the interaction of the principal members of the Suckling family with their Norwich peers. Music, dining and conversation were all possible, precursors of similar, but more democratic, 21st Century functions.

In the 18th Century there were further substantial alterations to the building, with the conversion of the St Andrew's Hill elevation to a six bay Georgian House, five of these bays survive today. Throughout this period the main house remained in use as a private residence.

Cinema City as a single screen
By the early part of the 20th Century, Suckling House had fallen into disrepair and was sold to Ethel Mary and Helen Caroline Colman. Under the guidance of the architect Edward Boardman, they restored the house and built Stuart Hall on the waste ground beside it. The combined properties were opened by the Duke of York (the future George VI) in 1925 and then bequeathed to the "Mayor, Alderman and Citizens of the City of Norwich" with the desire "that the place should be used for the advancement of education in its widest and most comprehensive sense".

In 1977 the building became a single-screen cinema and the Regional Film Theatre for Norfolk and Norwich.  The conversion to a three-screen cinema in 2007, under the direction of Burrell Foley Fischer secures it future.  It was presented with the 'Sir Bernard Feilden Award' for "excellence in alterations and restoration of a historical building" by the Norwich Society.  

Following redevelopment to a 3 screen cinema