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History of Castle Quarter

Previously known as Castle Mall

Photo © Castle Mall, Norwich - from Castle Meadow Elliott Brown (cc-by/2.0)

Castle Quarter Description

There are two underground tunnel sections running from that primary part, one from the primary entrance at White Lion Street and the other to the cinema, car park and restaurants on Farmers Avenue.

Castle Quarter opened to the public on the 23rd September 1993 after almost four years of construction and thirteen years of planning. The project had a total development cost of £145m, of which £75m was spent on the construction of the mall itself.

Before construction (1977-1990)

The planning process for Castle Mall has its roots back to 1977, when the architect Michael Innes was looking for suitable sites for a shopping centre.

After his plans for one at Timber Hill was rejected, because of concerns about the impact such a centre would have on the listed buildings located there, Michael Innes looked at alternative locations.

Soon afterwards he realised that the old Cattle Market, next to Norwich Castle, would make an ideal location for a new shopping centre.

The eureka moment came when Michael Innes realised that he could link Norwich Market and Castle Meadow with a underground tunnel. the discovery of an abandoned air raid shelter, reinforcing the idea that the new shopping centre could be built underground.

Even though Michael Innes had a good idea of what he wanted to build, the planning difficulties surrounding the idea of building a shopping mall on the grounds of a historic castle would mean it would be thirteen years before construction would begin on Castle Mall [19].

The archaeological digs (1987-1991)

As with most developments that take place on historically significant land, an archaeological excavation would take place before and during the construction of Castle Mall.

At the time this archaeological dig was one of the biggest in northern Europe and was designed to find out more about the history of not only the south bailey of the castle itself, but also the settlements of the areas surrounding medieval Norwich [20].

The construction of Castle Mall (1990-1993)

March to June 1990: The demolition of Castle Hotel

The Castle Hotel was a well-known 5-storied inn, located just across the road from Norwich Castle. The history of the Castle Hotel seems to go back a long time with the location being mentioned in the trial of `Royalist rioters' in 1648 [21].

In order to construct the White Lion Street entrance of Castle Mall (and the Virgin Megastore) and its connecting tunnel to the primary part of the shopping precinct, the hotel had to be demolished. This took place between March and June 1990.

Early to Late (Exact date unknown) 1991: Tunnel is excavated below Castle Meadow

Several months after the Castle Hotel was demolished, work began on digging the two story connecting tunnel below Castle Meadow. Castle Meadow remained open during this time, because of a temporary bridge being built to support the road above the tunnel.

November 1991: Opening of the new Castle Gardens

The grounds around Norwich Castle have seen a lot of change of uses over time, with a lot of surrounding area being unrecognisable from even a few centuries ago. The area to the south of Norwich Castle keep (Castell Dykes) is one such area.

That area was originally just part of the Castle mound, This was until 1738 when a part of the mound was converted to be the new location for the Norwich livestock market which had to move from the Mancroft market due to it becoming congested [22].

The Castell Dykes was pretty much in two parts from around the early 1900s until 1960, when the livestock market finally moved out of the centre of the city. After the livestock market left, it appears that a sizeable chunk of the Castell Dykes was used for special events.

As part of the construction of Castle Mall, the Castell Dykes would be redeveloped with the land being shared between a redeveloped Castle Gardens and the Castle Mall Food court/Skylight.

In November 1991, the redeveloped castle gardens part would open to the public.

The Opening of Castle Mall and its peak (1993-2005)

The signs of early success for Castle Mall can be further seen in some photographs of the interior areas of the mall, showing store fronts appearing to be completely filled with shops and enormous crowds of people shopping.

That is not to claim that every store front was consistently rented out as in 1999, an unoccupied section of Castle Mall on Golden Ball street was demolished to make way for a new cinema (Nowadays, the cinema is run by Vue).

The Chapelfield effect (2005-2006)

For the first twelve years of its existence, Castle Mall was the only large shopping mall in Norwich. This meant that Castle Mall had relatively little competition, which meant that the mall had no actual problems with floor space being vacant.

The easy times for Castle Mall would end in September 2005, when the much larger Chapelfield Shopping centre opened nearby [6]. This much more modern shopping centre would draw both shops and shoppers away from Castle Mall, leading to vacancy rates to jump from 3.60% in January 2005 to 8.60% just a year later.

Recovery before the storm (2007-2008)

About a year after Chapelfield opened, the vacancy rate at Castle Mall started to quickly trend downwards. By January 2008, Castle Mall had more than recovered from its pre-Chapelfield days with floor space vacancy rate standing at just 2.6%.

That meant the mall had less empty shops than it did back in 2001.

Painful decline and temporary bounce back of Castle Mall (2009-2014)

Even though the Great Recession had relatively little impact on the nearby Chapelfield Shopping centre, Castle Mall would not be so lucky.

The amount of vacant floor space at the shopping mall would massively jump from 2.6% in January 2008 to 24.5% by July 2009.

The largest store to close at Castle mall during this time was the three-floored Zavvi entertainment store. The space where Zavvi was located would remain empty for about one and a half years, with the unit eventually being split into two different units [10].

The now-split units would be occupied by two new tenets. The bottom floor was rented out to Hawkin's Bazaar (toy shop) that opened in September 2011, and the second floor became home to a British Heart Foundation charity shop in January 2012 [11].

Sale of Castle Mall to InfraRed (2012)

In July 2012, Castle Mall was sold to InfraRed Capital Partners for £77.3m [1]. The new owners said that they planned to add considerable value to the shopping centre by investing money into improvements.

InfraRed makes the local community angry (2014)

As part of the "multi-million pound" revamp that the owner of Castle Mall; InfraRed were planning for the mall, it was planned that a new restaurant quarter would be created. The problem was that this required that Timber Hill Health Centre move out of the storefront it occupied for nearly five years [7].

The owners of Castle Mall offered an alternative location for Timber Hill Health Centre to move into, but the owners of the health centre said the alternative location was unsuitable [8]. The storefront where Timber Hill Health Centre was located was originally chosen back in 2009, for a few different reasons which include [9];

  • Fast access for ambulances
  • Convenience and ease of access for pedestrians
  • Near to disabled parking and close by to the large Castle Mall underground car park

In November 2014, it was decided that Timber Hill Health Centre would move out of Castle Mall all together. Even though the owners of Castle Mall offered to pay £400k towards the moving costs, the tax-payer would have to fund the estimated remaining £700k of the moving costs [8].

In a twist of irony for Castle Mall, the Post Office would close the Castle Mall branch in August 2018. The irony is that the boss of Castle Mall at the time tried to get members of the public to convince the Post Office to keep that branch open [12], even though Castle Mall had pushed out a walk-in centre that members of the public relied on just two years previously.

Entrance Remodel (2015)

In 2013, the owners of Castle Mall decided that they wanted to re-model the entrance of the shopping mall [13]. Unfortunately, InfraRed had to submit three unique designs before the planning permission for the re-modelling of the entrance was approved [14].

The remodel of the entrance was completed in late 2015 [15].

Things get desperate for Castle Mall (mid-2018)

On a visit to Castle Mall in November 2018, it was very noticeable that the vacancy rate was so bad that large swaths of the mall were empty with many of the empty storefronts being turned into activity rooms. The activity rooms appeared to have been cheaply rushed together with the puzzle room still having the old wall images from the Norwich City Football Club merchandise store that had left Castle Mall a few months before the puzzle room was opened.

In April 2019, Castle Mall announced that it would offer shared office space out of former retail units that had been previously occupied by shops and then was converted to office use [4].

Timberhill Terrace, The New Restaurant Quarter (2018)

One of the investments that was planned for Castle Mall after it was taken over by InfraRed, was the building of a new "restaurant quarter". There was very little publicly visible progress made on that restaurant quarter until 2016 when hoardings were seen going up around the area planned for the redevelopment [16].

The new £3m restaurant quarter would be named Timberhill Terrace and was due to open in 2017. However, in August 2018, the Eastern Daily Press reported that only one restaurant of the four planned had opened [16].

By late 2018, the number of restaurants located at Timberhill Terrace grew to three with; Bourgee, Cocina and Veeno having branches there. This success would be short lived as Veeno would close less than four months after opening [18], with the premises remaining empty ever since.

Rebranding as Castle Quarter (late 2018 - 2019)

With 2018 proven to be a tough year for Castle Mall it was obvious that something had to be done. In response to this, Castle Mall has moved away from just being a shopping mall and has allowed more non-retail businesses.

In mid-2019, the owner of the Castle Mall changed the malls' name to Castle Quarter. This was to reflect on the "transformation" that Castle Mall was going through to pivot away from being just a normal shopping mall into being more of a place where you would go to not only do your shopping but also to do a variety of different activities [5].

Sources and Citations used in this article: