Strangers Hall in Norwich.

Today, 4 July 2023, the beautiful medieval merchant’s house, Strangers’ Hall in Norwich, celebrates 100 years as a museum in public ownership.

It was on this day in 1923 that Strangers’ Hall – one of the oldest folk museums in the UK – opened its doors for the first time as a City of Norwich Museum, the building and its collections having been gifted to the City Council by local lawyer, Leonard Bolingbroke, the previous year.

This generous gift secured this important building and its wonderful collections for the people of Norwich and visitors to the City, who’ve been able to enjoy them ever since.

To mark Leonard Bolingbroke’s gift and the vision of the City councillors in accepting it, Strangers’ Hall is celebrating this summer and autumn with a special centenary programme – Strangers’ Hall 100 – which includes events, new displays and interpretation and a number of free entry days.

The programme launches with an afternoon of free entry to Strangers’ Hall on Sunday 9 July as part of the Norwich Lanes Summer Fayre festival.

The centenary programme as a whole is generously funded by the Norwich Freemen’s Charity. The Friends of the Norwich Museums have supported additional interpretation about the history of the museum and new permanent displays.

All change in the window of Strangers' Hall.

The new interpretation elements celebrating the centenary include the installation of striking new street frontage window displays designed by illustrator and designer, Hannah Broadway. These highlight Strangers’ Hall’s long history, with colourful cut outs showcasing some of the people and objects associated with the museum’s past, including some of the building’s occupants and museum curators, interspersed with some real objects from the collections.

The resulting displays reflect the museum’s eclectic appeal and are sure to attract the attention of passers-by who it’s hoped will be inspired to visit.

Hannah also designed the centenary logo which features Leonard Bolingbroke proudly riding a penny farthing bicycle, a Coventry Machinists Roadster. The inspiration came from a cycling journal which Bolingbroke kept from the 1870s documenting some of his rides around the county.

Stepping inside the museum, high quality interpretation panels are being installed in the atmospheric period room settings using fascinating images of archive photos and documents from the early days of the museum, with each story matched to the particular room. Folders containing a selection of the archive photographs and document copies recently scanned and recorded by a volunteer Archive research group will also be on show for visitors to browse.

Elsewhere in the museum we’re displaying for the first time stunning recent acquisitions to the museum’s collection, including Mr & Mrs Taylor’s Dolls House and a remarkable Victorian Bazaar Doll and her wares.

Fittingly, given Strangers’ status as a City museum, members of the local community have been involved in projects to celebrate the milestone.

Young people from Norfolk Museum Service’s Kick the Dust youth engagement programme have created colourful, eye-catching portraits for the new window displays, using designs created by Hannah Broadway and Rachel Duffield. These portraits celebrate some of the famous names from history that have contributed to making Norwich ‘a fine city’ including Robert Kett, Thomas Sotherton, Elizabeth Fry, Beryl Colman, Justin Fashanu and, of course, Alan Partridge.

Meanwhile, in the Parlour a refurbished original display case juxtaposes collections from 1922 with those especially chosen by local young people to reflect home life a hundred years later.

Inspired by the Museum’s collections of hand-made dolls from a post World War II resettlement camp in Poland, members of the local English Plus group have worked with curators to create their own peg dolls dressed in ways that remind them of their own homes. These will be on display as part of the celebration programme.

As well as new objects and displays, a programme of events and free entry days will spread the celebration over the coming months. Highlights include:

  • Free entry to the museum on Sunday 9 July as part of the Lanes Fayre (1-4.30pm)
  • Free entry days in August, funded by The Norwich Freemen’s Charity (details) with the chance to meet a ‘curator’ from the past, Frank Leney, and help him get Strangers’ Hall ready for The Grand Reopening in 1923 (Wednesday 23, Thursday 24 and Friday 25 August 10am-4pm; Sunday 27 August 1-4.30pm)
  • Free entry days in September for Heritage Open Days (Sunday 10 September 1-4.30pm; Wednesday 13 September 10am-4pm; Sunday 17 September 1-4.30pm)
  • Autumn workshops with the Norfolk Record Office looking at Leonard Bolingbroke’s cycling journal and ‘Treasures under your bed’ – an introduction to caring for your own family history material (dates to be announced).

Strangers’ Hall has long been a favourite destination for Norwich residents and visitors to the City alike – we hope to welcome fans of the museum, old and new, this year to help us celebrate this important milestone in its long and remarkable history.

Visit the website for Strangers’ Hall in Norwich for more information, timings and details.

‘Strangers’ Hall 100’ Funding from Freemen of Norwich, and FNM for new displays to celebrate a hundred years of Strangers’ Hall as a City of Norwich Museum.

Want to discover more about the Strangers in Norwich?

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