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Visiting Surrey House, Norwich, England: with a striking, Palladian frontage, completed in 1912

Updated on March 22, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Surrey House on Surrey Street, Norwich
Surrey House on Surrey Street, Norwich | Source
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk | Source

A crowning achievement of local architect George Skipper

Surrey House (1), Norwich, in England's Norfolk, has been known historically as former headquarters of Norwich Union, the insurance company, the name of which operated between 1797 and 2009.

Its architect was George Skipper (1856-1948)(2), who worked in Palladian, neo-Baroque style; the six pillars of the portico are among the most conspicuous features of its imposing frontage.

The building is sometimes referred to as Edwardian, named for the reign of King Edward VII, although work technically began in 1900 during the reign of Queen Victoria and was not actually completed until 1912, during the reign of King George V.

The interior of the building includes décor made of various varieties of marble, and an unusual, 19th century clock.

Norwich Union was started in 1797 by Thomas Bignold (1761-1835). Later added to the original fire insurance business was a life assurance specialism. In niches in single storey wings at the front elevation of the building there are statues. One statue depicts Sir Samuel Bignold (1791-1875), who served in a senior rôle in the business which his father, Thomas Bignold, had started; he also served as Mayor of, and a Member of Parliament for, Norwich. The other statue depicts The Right Reverend Dr. William Talbot (1658-1730), successively Bishop of Oxford, Salisbury and Durham, and Dean of the Chapel Royal, who, in addition to his clerical vocation, succeeded also in maintaining a profitable insurance business through the founding and development of his Amicable Society.

This element of blending of the ecclesiastical and the profitable is continued by the fact that the sumptuous marble in the interior of the building was first designed for installation in Westminster Cathedral. (I am somewhat reminded of the questionably pious blessing by the Reverend S. Parkes Cadman, whereby he pronounced New York City's Woolworth Building to be the 'Cathedral of Commerce' in 1913.)


(1) Surrey House, in Surrey Street, Norwich, is located on the site of the former residence of Henry Howard (1517-1547), Earl of Surrey.

(2) Other work for which Architect Skipper is known includes the Royal Arcade, and Jarrolds department store, Norwich.

Also worth seeing

In Norwich itself, other visitor attractions include: Norwich City Hall, Norwich Guildhall, the Royal Arcade; Norwich Castle; Norwich Cathedral; Pull's Ferry; Bishop Bridge; Cow Tower; Elm Hill; and many others.


How to get there: Continental Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Norwich is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. Norwich is 233 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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