The art of architecture

Victorian and Edwardian architect George John Skipper (1856-1948) was responsible for many of the buildings in Norwich city centre. Famously described by Sir John Betjeman as “to Norwich rather what Gaudi was to Barcelona,” he was born in Dereham and educated in Norwich. Skipper considered architecture to be an art, often employing decorative artists and enjoying using great detail. He liked to emphasise corners where façades met and place turrets on entrance bays. One of his best-known creations in Norwich was Royal Arcade, linking Gentleman’s Walk with Castle Street to provide the elegant Art Nouveau-inspired shopping area which still exists today. Skipper also designed offices with decorative terracotta panels on London Street; some of these now form part of Jarrold’s department store. Also worth looking out for are the former Norfolk Daily Standard offices on St Giles Street. These still feature two roundels depicting the country’s first printer, William Caxton, and writer and journalist Daniel Defoe. Skipper designed hotels in Cromer, Sheringham and many other locations, as well as buildings in the centre of London and country houses. Many enthusiasts, however, consider his greatest masterpiece to be Surrey House, on Surrey Street in Norwich (opened 1904). This was originally the new headquarters for the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. Externally, it has striking Palladian features; internally there are 15 different types of marble. Today it is still owned by Aviva and its magnificent marble hall is as impressive as it was when Skipper first designed it.