Built of costly Bath stone, classical with exuberant decoration, Hardwick House is a prominent feature at the top of the Prince of Wales Road, Norwich in the area known as Agricultural Hall Plain, its style unique in the locality. Said to resemble a tiered wedding cake, it began as the Crown Bank in 1866. By 1870 its image of solid respectability had been sullied by association with a financial crisis, but in 1875 it reclaimed that respectability by becoming a Post Office (as the carved lettering beneath the pediment still proclaims). One hundred years later it took on another aspect when it formed part of Anglia Television‘s offices and studios.
In 1865 a London architect, Philip Charles Hardwick, in partnership with his father, was commissioned to design the Harvey and Hudson Bank, which had become known as the Crown Bank when it took on the business of the failed Norwich bank around 1808.
Hardwick came from a family of successful architects. His work included several City banks and buildings in London and he was frequently engaged countrywide on stately homes and in churches. He was best known for the Great Hall of London‘s Euston railway station of 1849.
The Crown Bank, although more embellished than might have been expected of Hardwick, fulfilled his commission to create a structure that represented the solid reliability considered essential for a bank. Harvey & Hudson‘s Bank, then trading from an 18th century building at 17 Upper King Street (now The Norfolk Club), re-opened at the new building in January 1866. Only four years‘ later, when the business became insolvent, that solid reliable image collapsed for those who had entrusted their money to the Bank.
Built for Sir Robert Harvey at a cost of £13,000, the building is faced in ashlar with some rustication at ground level and at the quoins. The portico is supported by paired Ionic columns, the plinths of which are set into a wide array of steps. The side plinths form part of the supporting portico structure, the north-eastern side being deeper because of the lower ground level. Those plinths project to form platforms, originally carrying lamplights and edged by the low, spiky railings that remain.
Above the first storey is a terrace with balustrade sections, repeated over the second storey. The three upper storey windows are round-headed in contrast with those at ground level. The stonework for the crown, at the centre of the pediment, was created by Barnabas Barrett of Redwell Street who also produced the 12 apostles adorning the flying buttresses of Norwich Cathedral. The crown represents the crest of the Harvey family and rests upon a decorative swag.
Originally there were railings starting at the west side of the portico and continuing around the west side of the building, (Castle Meadow, later to become Crown Road), part of which remain. The portico and upper terraces were also surmounted at each corner by decorative stone urns.
Sir Robert Harvey, a director of the Bank, speculated unwisely with the Bank‘s money. The business failed in 1870 with Sir Robert Harvey‘s suicide, the bank being in debt. The Company had some 30 branches, of which 13 were spread across Norfolk with 12 in Suffolk and the remainder in Cambridgeshire. Prompt action was taken by the remaining Directors to protect the Bank‘s assets by filing a petition for bankruptcy. Negotiations began for the sale of the goodwill, business and premises to Messrs Gurney & Co (later to become Barclays). In the aftermath of the crisis, angry, bewildered creditors besieged the Bank. Gurney‘s offered creditors 10/6d.in the pound; thus avoiding further turmoil.
In 1875 the building became Norwich‘s General Post Office, though even at that time, there were newspaper comments about the inconvenience of the site. An extension to the south of the original building begun in1902 required the purchase from Youngs, Crawshay & Youngs by Her Majesty‘s Postmaster General of a number of dwellings and two public houses in Crown Road and King Street in 1898. In 1901 an agreement between the Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Norwich and His Majesty‘s Postmaster General with details of the existing buildings and plans for the extension, enabled the work to proceed.
By 1969 this building‘s location amid increasing traffic, led to the General Post Office being moved to another building in Bank Plain and in 1971 it was sold to a London-based property company.
After seven years of forlorn emptiness, the building was purchased in 1976 to form part of Anglia Television‘s office and studio accommodation. By 1982 the building became fully integrated into the Anglia complex when it was joined to the Agricultural Hall by a glass-fronted extension.
Its elegant façade became Anglia Television‘s main entrance after restoration work had been carried out and a modern, metal-framed glass door installed through which visitors stepped into the foyer where the famous silver Anglia Knight stood proudly on its plinth to the left of the reception desk
Changes and mergers across the Independent Television network have resulted in this striking listed building becoming redundant again. In 2003 Hardwick House was sold and parts of it were converted into residential apartments. Further internal conversion is taking place in the remaining areas; some intended for commercial use, with eight apartments for hotel style occupation, and the required service areas and a café/restaurant.