Norwich Castle Museum, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, was built by the Normans as a Royal Palace 900 years ago, it was later used as a county gaol and became a museum in 1894.
Norfolk County Council commissioned R G Carter to carry out extensive renovations to the Castle Museum, which now houses an art gallery, as well a museum that is home to some of the most outstanding collections of fine art, archaeology and natural history.
The refurbishment, costing more than £11m was carried out over 18 months, during which it was shut to the public. The extensive works saw the creation of new display areas, more of the building revealed and improved access for visitors to the once impregnable fortress, with the installation of two internal lifts.
Major re-roofing repairs were carried out prior to the extensive internal works, whilst internally, a split level floor was removed to make the gallery full height. A new cafeteria, shop and reception area was also incorporated into the project, as well as new display and shop areas and a lecture theatre.
The showpiece of the project is the glass housing into which the 13 person lift ascends.
Our success at the castle follows earlier work to convert the adjacent Shire Hall building into a museum resource centre and create an underground link between the two.
Access was opened up to previously unseen areas of the castle, including the garde-robe which contains five four-berth toilets, as well as revealing another fascination – a 900 year old stone spiral staircase that was rarely walked upon, as it was never completed.
It is on prestigious projects such as this that traditional craftsmen come into their own. Our bricklayers used their skills to construct walls using traditional flint and brick, in keeping with the existing construction, including building a new retaining wall at the foot of the castle mound. that leads visitors to an entrance from where they can take a lift to the top of the mound.
Complicated structures were created for an external panoramic lift which travels to the top of the lofty 16 metre castle mound. The site team had to resort to some original construction ideas using block and tackle to slide equipment down the surface of the mount. This created a platform for the piling and excavations works to form the lift shaft, an open cut and fill method, rather than tunnelling through the mound had to be used to ensure that safety was not compromised.
Conveying materials about the site proved a logistical challenge in itself, a 48 tonne crane was required, but had to be dismantled before it could be brought over the moat bridge, which has a weight restriction of 38 tonnes. In addition the restricted space around the keep meant not only was storage was a problem it was too far to use a crane to deposit materials. As a result the site team had to fall back on traditional labour intensive methods to move materials about.
The control of natural light to avoid damage to exhibits was an important consideration in the new design. The gallery now has a patented glazing system roof area, featuring sun louvres and automatic sensors. If it is very sunny the louvres close to reduce the intensive of light to a pre-set level, sensors measure the light and adjust the louvres automatically.
The Egyptian gallery houses a mummy thought to be over 2,000 years old, requiring temperature and humidity to be strictly controlled to prevent its deterioration.
The most valuable collections were removed from the museum but some objects were too fragile to move, the project team therefore had to take care not to disturb exhibits like the stuffed animals.
Extreme caution also had to be made with all works that involved digging the ground, both internally and externally by working in tandem with the Norfolk Archaeological units so that important findings were recorded.
Following the successful completion of the project, Her Majesty the Queen, visited the Castle Museum and Art Gallery as part of a tour of the county.