Situated on St Andrews Street, Suckling House has a long and fascinating history. The building was named after the Suckling family who owned the property in the 16th century but the oldest surviving parts of the house date back to the early 1300s and a ditch discovered during an archaeological excavation reveals that something had been there before the Norman invasion of 1066. Stuart Hall is the red brick building which lies to the east of Suckling House and was built in 1925. The buildings are currently used as an independent cinema, Cinema City.
Suckling House is the central building facing St Andrew's Street. Its walls are made of flint and a small amount of medieval brick. It has been added to and renovated many times over the last 600 years. It is estimated that the oldest parts of the house that survive today, the Great Hall and the vaulted bays, were built between 1325 and 1348. Features of this period include the two moulded doorways, the crown-post roof and the vaulted structure of the three bays. The arch of the bay window has perpendicular work which is thought to have been added around 1420. Norwich was a very prosperous city at this time, as Britain's second city it was the centre of the wool-weaving industry.
The front of the house that faces St Andrew's hill is Georgian in style following renovation in the 1700s into a six bay Georgian House. Old Tudor work is also evident inside this part of the house.
The buildings next to Suckling Hall were acquired by 1462 by it's then-owner John Cambridge. These building become the City Armes Pub in 1840. It was purchased by the Tramways company in 1899 and then demolished to make way for a new road.
The first name we have of someone living on the site was William De Rollesby in 1285 although we have no record of the type of property he had here. John Fairchild purchased it in 1331 so he is most likely to have been the person to build the oldest parts of the house that still survive today.
The house has a history of belonging to wealthy merchants who also held important civic offices in Norwich. In the 13th century 4 Bailiffs would be appointed to govern the city, in 1404 this was changed to one Mayor and two Sheriffs, it was then reduced to just one Sheriff.
John Fairchild was a Bailiff, as was his son Peter, who inherited the house in 1362. It was then purchased by John Parlet who was a Bailiff and a draper by trade, as was his son Thomas. The house was then divided into two. John Cambridge, a mercer who was Sheriff and then Mayor, purchased the southern side of the house, including the Great Hall in 1414 for £180 which was a vast amount of money for the time. He then bought the northern side in 1426. The reunited site was passed to his son Thomas, a mercer and Sheriff in 1457.
Out of the next five owners, four of them, Philip Curson, John Jowell, John Clerk and Thomas Necton were also Sheriffs in Norwich. John Clerk, a mercer by trade, was also the Mayor.
Robert Suckling, born in 1520, purchased the property sometime in the mid 1500s and gave it his family name. He was the Sheriff of Norwich in 1564, Mayor in 1572 and 1582 and a Burgess in the parliament of Elizabeth I. The house is likely to have been the Suckling's place of business as well as a home. It would have been a large household as all their workmen and apprentices would live there with the family. The Suckling family crest was a buck or a stag and a piece of honeysuckle was added in 1578 upon Queen Elizbaeth I's suggestion shortly after her visit to Norwich.
Robert Suckling's son Edmund was Dean of Norwich in 1614 and is buried in the cathedral. Another son, Sir John Suckling inherited Suckling House after his death in 1589. In 1595 Sir John sold the house to his half brother Christopher Barrett and moved to Twickenham. Knighted in 1616, he goes on to become Secretary of State for both James I and Charles I. He died in 1627.
Barrett chose to divide the house into two once more. He remained in the north part next to St Andrew's plain and sold the south part to Giles Cozen in 1608 (the father of John Cosin who become the Bishop of Durham).
After this time the house goes on to be divided up into further smaller residencies. There is some evidence that Horatio Nelson's great aunt, who was a Suckling, may have lived in one of the Georgian parts of the house in the 1700s. The main part of the house including the Great Hall and the vaulted bays was owned by several wine merchants, one of whom had the original level of the floor raised. It was last used as a residence in 1915.
By the turn of the 20th century the whole building was in disrepair. It was purchased by the Norfolk News Company Ltd in 1916. Some essential structural renovations took place between 1918 and 1921 because part of the building was declared unsafe for employees to work in. The wall on the south side (facing St Andrew's Hill) was completely rebuilt using old the old slate that was originally used. Essential repairs to the roof were also made and the floor lowered to its original level but further renovations are still needed.
Suckling House was bought by Ethel Mary and Helen Caroline Colman in 1923 with the intention of restoring it and opening it to the public. Renovations begin straight away and several original pieces that had been missing for centuries were bought back into the house. An oak door with 6 panels, one of which had the letter 'C' engraved into it which is thought to have stood for John Clerk, dating back to1510 had been removed but was donated back by Edmund Reeve who had acquired it. The beautiful medieval oak panel in the great hall which has 'Thynk and thank god' carved into it had also been missing and was given back in 1925 by an anonymous donor. The Elizabethan fireplace in the entrance hall and the carved oak spandrel with St Andrew's cross in the entrance porch were originally elsewhere in the house and had ended up in the Norwich Castle Museum. The museum gave the pieces back to the house in 1924.
Stuart Hall was built on the waste lands that lay to the east of Suckling House by the architect Edward Boardman in 1925 at the same time as Suckling House was being renovated. It was intended to be a public hall to hold around 450 people and was fitted with high tech modern apparatus including a cinema projector and screen.
Suckling House and the adjacent Stuart Hall was handed to the city of Norwich by the Colman sisters who intended it be used for, 'the advancement of education in it's widest and most comprehensive sense'. It was opened to the public by HRH The Duke of York on October 25th 1925. The memorial stone in the entrance hall which was erected at this time reads, 'In remembrance of Laura Elizabeth Stuart of Carrow Abbey, Norwich who greatly loving the true and beautiful and ever seeking after them found her highest joy in service this old and historic Suckling House and the new Stuart Hall are given by her sisters Ethel Mary and Helen Caroline Colman to the city in which she was proud to be a citizen- 1925'.
Cinema City first opened in Suckling House and Stuart Hall in April 1978. £33,000 had been spent on converting the building into an independent cinema that seated 230 people.
Some renovations took place in 1981 including extending a room out above the emergency stairs to make room for a new projection box. New stairs therefore had to be added. In addition, a box office was added to the foyer, a bar was put in the great hall and a kitchen installed into the vaulted bay nearest the hall.
Cinema City was temporarily moved to Norwich Playhouse in 2004 so that a multi-million pound revamp could take place. It re-opened in 2007 with 3 cinema screens that were powered by a new digital projection system. The Great Hall and the vaulted bays became a smart bar and restaurant known as 'The Dining Rooms At Cinema City'. Thanks to these continuous improvements, Suckling Hall and Stuart House continue to be an important building in Norwich.