The grand opening of the Royal Arcade

On May 24th 1899 city dignitaries celebrated the opening of its new, prestigious, purpose-built shopping arcade “The Royal Arcade”.

Arcade shopping was very much in vogue and brought the fashionable, exotic and continentally influenced architecture of Art Nouveau for the first time.

The Royal Arcade was also hailed as ‘a fragment from the Arabian Nights dropped into the heart of the old City’.

Architecture and the Skipper family

George Skipper the second son of a Dereham building contractor, was Norwich’s best known and most original architect.  According to Sir John Betjaman ‘he was to Norwich what Gaudi was to Barcelona’.

Skipper was responsible for the designs of the city’s most notable commercial buildings as well as hotels, country residences and public buildings throughout East Anglia, Somerset and London.  His work is generally held by authorities on Victorian and Edwardian architecture to have been of national importance.

The Influence of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau which originated from Samuel Bing’s art-shop ‘Maison l’Art Nouveau’, this international movement aimed at bringing together the finest designers and craftsmen to unify the designs of buildings and their furnishings and the decorative arts within.

New methods and materials were combined to integrate the useful with the beautiful. Influences steamed from Japanese art and by the earlier arts and craft styles, the English Art Nouveau used flowing lines and symbols taken from nature.  The peacock, used in the Arcade frieze, was a particular favourite, with stained glass was also used widely.

The original design of the Arcade, and its decorative features in particular showed that Skipper was experimenting with ideas drawn from Art Nouveau.  He was clearly aware of the work of the leading architects of the day, examples include Victor Horta in Belgium and Hector Gimard in Paris.

George Skipper went on to create some the city’s finest buildings including The Daily Standard building, Jarrolds, the Commercial Chambers and the Norwich Union offices.