There is some speculation about the possible age and use of this iconic Grade II* listed building. For many years it was dated at 1420, however, ongoing research, sponsored by English Heritage, puts the date back to 1347. Whichever date is correct it is probable that the Britons Arms, or ‘Ye Goddes House’ as it then was, fulfilled a semi religious role in relation to the church of St. Peter Hungate which sits directly to the south.
The plan and layout of the building are untypical of the age; the style relates more closely to the buildings of the Netherlands or Low Countries and reflects the strong links which Norwich had with the continent. It is one of the few remaining timber framed thatched buildings to survive in the city, and the only building to survive the great fire of 1507.
From this time the inhabitants of the building were many and various; in the late 15th century ‘barbour surgeons’ occupied the property, later it was associated with the wool trade. It is first recorded as an Ale House in1760…known then as ‘The Kings Arms.’ Not until 1845 does it become ‘The Britons Arms’…possibly reflecting the anti-royalist sympathies of the age….
From the mid eighteenth century until 1941 the Britons Arms traded as an Ale House. It was closed during WW2 and used by fire watchers.
In 1951 the brewers Stewart and Patteson sold the property to Norwich City Council for the nominal sum of £10 and the lease was taken by Molly Kent (nee Drury) who founded the business which successfully trades to this day as The Britons Arms Coffee House and Restaurant.
In the early 1970s Norfolk born and educated sisters Sue Skipper and Gilly Mixer went into partnership with Molly Kent who eventually retired. The business flourished, but the ancient fabric of the building became increasingly unsound. Unable to meet the cost of repair, in 2011 Norwich City Council put the property up for auction.
Under the banner ‘UP IN ARMS’ the sisters mounted a vigorous campaign aimed at keeping the well- loved building in public ownership and accessible to all. At the very last moment the City Council agreed to withdraw the property from auction and offered a 21yr lease to The Norwich Preservation Trust.
The Trust has been successful in raising substantial funds, largely from English Heritage, to initiate a comprehensive programme of repairs starting with re-thatching.