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The Norfolk Club - A Short History

On 30th June 1770 it was resolved that ‘a Select Number of intimate friends in the County of Norfolk (not exceeding fourteen) do dine together at The Bell Tavern in the Market Place, Norwich upon the last Saturday in the months of June, July, August 1770 and in the months of April, May, June, July and August in the next insuing (sic) years for ten years to come’.

One of the proposed Standing Orders of what became The Norfolk Society was that ‘...members who have Parks do provide Venison in the proper season’; although this, and the proposed Standing Order that ‘Ladies be admitted without reserve’, was not implemented.

That the Norfolk Society flourished is evident from an 1805 receipt for £120 in which ‘the Noblemen and Gentlemen of The Norfolk Society’ are thanked ‘for managing the Ball and supper’ (at The Assembly Rooms) ‘in honor (sic) of Lord Nelson’s Victory’; this event being described in an 1806 letter to ‘the Honourable Committee appointed by the Noblemen and Gentlemen of The Norfolk Society’ as ‘the late Elegant Ball and supper which your munificence and attention produced’.

50 years after the founding of The Norfolk Society an invoice was submitted for a Jubilee Dinner enjoyed by 40 members (at £1 per head) at which 14 bottles of champagne @ 9/6 a bottle; 12 bottles Madeira @ 6/6 a bottle; 18 bottles port@ 5/8 a bottle and 28 bottles of claret at 16/6 a bottle; (in all 72 bottles) were consumed. A £1 charge was made for broken glasses.

The Norfolk Society became The Norfolk Club in 1864. There were 103 Members in the first year (as may be seen in the Membership List displayed in the Library).

In 1867 ‘the Committee, in presenting their third Annual Report, are glad to say that the Norfolk Club continues to maintain its position in the County’. (Members then 120).

So popular was the Club that at the 1882 AGM it was recorded that ‘All Members of the Club must agree that it is desirable that our present building and arrangements are not worthy of a County Club; all must agree that we should have a good House of our own, but it is vain to think that such hopes can be realised unless Members are prepared to pronounce a strong opinion on the subject’.

In the following year there were 220 Members and the Prince of Wales became an Honorary Member. (The Prince of Wales and The Duke and Duchess of York visited in 1896, HM Queen Mary in 1932 and The Duke of  Edinburgh in 2008).

In 1886 it was resolved to purchase Club premises; the Club then renting accommodation in Guildhall Hill. In 1887 a sum well in excess of the £3300 purchase price had been raised for the premises in Upper King Street; the excess enabling the building of the Dining Room extension at the back.

The Club took up residence in its current premises in about Christmas 1887.

Shortly after moving in, the Smoking Room (now the Library), was created out of two separate rooms. A racquets court was built in 1901, to be replaced by the present Squash Court in 1937.  A bowling green and garden remained at the back until replaced by the car park. The Backs’ Terrace was installed in 2012.

The Georgian front of the building could well be contemporary with the foundation of The Norfolk Society in 1770, as it is known that the house was built in the eighteenth century on land which once formed part of the Greyfriars precinct. The old wall in St Faith’s Lane, behind the Club, was the boundary between the Cathedral Quarter and Greyfriars. At the time the house was built, or not long after, it was the premises of Harvey and Hudson’s Bank, and it remained so until 1866 when the Bank transferred to the new Crown Bank; now Hardwick House. The old Bank vaults remain in the cellars.

The Club has seen various innovations over the years.

A telephone was installed in 1893, it being resolved that ‘the details of management be placed in the hands of the House Committee but that an extra servant be employed for this purpose’.

In 1895 an incandescent gas light was installed in the Billiard Room and electric light was provided in the basement in 1896.

In 1926 it was agreed that a wireless set be bought ‘for a sum not exceeding £20’, and the 1930 Minutes record that a ‘Hoover’ was demonstrated in the Morning Room (and subsequently purchased) .

Ladies were admitted to the Smoking Room in 1933; some 60 years before it was agreed at the 1993 AGM, (28 votes for and 12 against) that Ladies be admitted to full membership. The resolution followed what the AGM Minutes describe as  ‘a very lively but friendly debate when as many members spoke for the resolution as against, those against mainly trying to preserve the Smoking Room as a haven where men could read the papers and snooze after lunch without being obliged to talk to women’.

An Eastern Daily Press cartoon marking the 1993 resolution is displayed in the Library and an EDP Leader on 22nd January 1993 headed ‘Claiming Citadel’ read that

‘Women have taken the smoking –room, the last redoubt of male exclusiveness at the Norfolk Club in Norwich.

No doubt this is an act of self-interested enlightenment, but it could also be seen as a tactical withdrawal, whose effect is chiefly presentational.

Stalin once enquired as to the number of divisions available to the Pope. In yielding to the unstoppable tides, club hardliners may console themselves and ask how many women will claim their new right to the fallen, somnolent, smoke-filled citadel’.

There have been 4 Lady Presidents since 1993.

The Norfolk Club can no longer be described as a Gentlemen’s Club.

There are currently (2013)  565 Members of the Club, including 73 Ladies and 3 members of the Royal Family.