When we at The Wedding Secret look at historical wedding venues, we are often looking at 18th century or later. However, today we have a special treat as we have found a medieval wedding venue. Dragon Hall in Norwich was built around 1430 by Robert Toppes and can now host your memorable wedding day.
Robert Toppes was born (probably) in around 1400. As this was the Dark Ages, and there was no internet, it is hard to verify all the facts we know. However, historians have done their best to piece together what happened in this period. Toppes was a mercer (merchant) and was awarded the right to trade in 1421. Quickly, he became very wealthy, and soon hundreds of people owed him money. He also owned at least 31 properties in Norwich and beyond. At one point, Toppes became mayor and lead Norwich to the second largest and richest city in England, behind London.
He built Dragon Hall, known then as Splytt’s, around 1430, on a plot that now sits just minutes from the city centre. This was a “medieval merchant’s trading complex”. Its position next to the River Wensum and King Street meant that traders could move their goods by horse or by boat through England and even Europe. He built a first floor trading hall with seven bays, and decorated the spandrels with carvings of dragons. He maintained a ground floor reception area and built a warehouse next to the river.
However, as old and as interesting as all of this is, the history of the site dates back even further. Excavation has discovered evidence of a hut beneath the hall, thought to date back to Saxon England. That is to say, it would have been built at the turn of the century. A domestic house, dating back to the 1300s, was found to the south of the site.
After Toppes’ death, the building was repurposed for residential use. Over the years, some of the original architecture was ripped away to make room for more and more tenants. An attic and cellar were added and the site got the new name “Old Barge Building”. Outside, more buildings sprang up holding yet more residents. Part of the hall became a pub, and in 1937 a programme removed all the tenants.
In the 1950s, the building was awarded Grade I-listed status. Norwich City Council bought the property in 1979 in order to restore it to glory with the help of a £1.8 million Heritage Lottery grant. It adopted the name “Dragon Hall” due to the dragon emblems in the ceiling and slowly received additions to bring it into the 21st century. Central heating, toilets, a lift and a kitchen mean it can be used for functions, performances and, of course, weddings.
Now, the building is owned by the National Centre for Writing who runs creative events inside and in the gardens. Clearly, this building has had a great deal of love and attention spent on it over the years, with considerable interest and money invested in its history, archaeology and preservation.
With easy links to central Norwich, and stunning architecture, Dragon Hall is a wonderful place to say “I do”. The venue has a civil ceremony licence so you can enjoy your whole day at the same place. Couples enjoy exclusive use of the venue when they hire, so they and their guests can make the most of the hall. Because the building used to house and showcase the wealthy merchant’s goods, space will never be an issue in this wedding venue.
Marry under the tall and ancient roof of the Great Hall, which can accommodate up to a whopping 120 guests. After the ceremony, your guests can filter out to the serene courtyard garden (British weather permitting). This is a fantastic place to unwind, keep the kids entertained, and maybe even host some live music! And, of course, take those all-important wedding photographs. Dragon Hall is one of very few centrally-located wedding or conference venues in Norwich that offers an outdoor space as picturesque and extensive as this.
Dine in the superb atmosphere of the Great Hall, which will accommodate up to 80 guests for this purpose. After the laughs and embarrassing tales from your reception dinner, you and your guests can unwind in the Foyle Gallery. This is a fantastic modern-yet-traditional room that juxtaposes the medieval exterior of the building with a 21stcentury glass structure. This room can comfortably contain the party entertainment, so dance to a band or a DJ until night falls.
This is a wedding venue that sparks the imagination into overdrive. Wander into the Great Hall and you will be awed by the towering oak crown-post roof. Look out for the carved wooden dragons that give the building its name.
Once you have the medieval building, you can embrace a fully medieval theme. Complement the lush gardens outside by bringing floral arrangements and centrepieces into the venue. Find a wedding dress with long, loose-fitting sleeves (think Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) and maybe even a cape. Treat your other half as a prince or princess, or a knight or damsel. Serve a large banquet with a roasted hog and plenty of earthy vegetables. The possibilities for this type of venue are limitless.
Dragon Hall isn’t just a fantastic venue. As home to the National Centre for Writing, you can give to a good cause while tying the knot. The centre is a registered charity which helps to support new writers and promote Norwich as a literary city. If you hold your wedding celebration at the hall you will be contributing to a charity which helps writers, and the preservation of the hall.
Dragon Hall is one of those truly stunning, bijou wedding venues that only crops up every now and then. It is unique, historically fascinating, structurally beautiful and simply oozing character. It would be a spectacular spot for your wedding day. However, if it doesn’t tick all of your boxes, you can check out other Norfolk wedding venues on our directory.
Images of the venue are from photographer Steven Beaumont.