I’ve shopped in Fat Face on Haymarket many times and not realised that behind its modern facade lay parts of a perfectly preserved 16th century building called Curat House.
Before I go any further, I should say that this was a free tour that I did as part of the Heritage Open Days scheme and as far as I know this is the only way that you can get to see this.
There used to be a bar at this location called Backs which was very well known locally and is still remembered by people we know. The bar was situated in Curat House a part of Fat Face which is no longer open to the public because there was a fire there while it was a bar. Curat House was originally built in 1531 and runs perpendicular to Haymarket. If you look up Fat Face Norwich on Google Earth, you can see the red tiled roof of Curat House.
I only took a small number of photos here because time was limited and I wasn’t the only one wanting to take photos. It is also true that as well as being a very historic building it is very much a working building and we were walking through the shop’s stock rooms. I hope you can get a flavour of what I saw from what I took.
On arrival, the tour guide took us through a door and up some stairs. We found ourselves in a small chapel room which was the private place of worship of the Curat family that lived there. This led on to a room with a beautiful Delft tiled fireplace at one end. I’m not sure if this was another part of the chapel or if it was a reception room. The room seemed to be perfectly preserved with painted panelling, picture rails and other architectural features.
I have to confess that from this point onwards I got completely confused about where I was as each time we moved from room to room, we would go up or down some stairs, turn a corner etc. It was a labyrinth! At one point I even asked our guide what floor we were on as I had completely lost my bearings. We ended up in a oak panelled room on the first floor with a beautifully decorated ceiling. Most of the photos that I took were in this room. I understand that it was used as a restaurant in the past – it would certainly make a very beautiful restaurant!
We then went outside to a little courtyard where the original entrance to Curat House still exists.
Finally we went down to an ancient undercroft which is below the building. In here was a vaulted ceiling and a 50′ deep well (we didn’t see that as it was covered) – the well was on the course of the Cockey river which used to run underground through Norwich. This part of the tour was by torch light so there wasn’t enough light to take photos.
I was fascinated by Curat House, enough to want to find out more but there seems to be surprisingly little information on it. Unfortunately I can’t remember all of the facts that we were told on the day so I hope the information I have given you is correct. I found two blogs with more information here: The OldCity website and joemasonspage.
If you would like to have the opportunity to see Curat House, sign up on the The Forum Norwich mailing list. You will then have the opportunity to apply for a place on the tour once the dates are announced – places are limited though. This was our third year of applying for it and the first time we got offered a place. So you might have to wait a while! It was worth it though. A word of warning – because of the nature of the building, you can’t leave this tour half way through. Once you’re on it, you’re on it till the end – it took about 1 hour 15 minutes. You’ll understand the reasons for this better when you actually do the tour.
Finally, I’m very grateful to Fat Face and to The Forum Norwich for allowing us the opportunity to see it as part of the Heritage Open Days scheme. If anyone reading this has any memories of Back’s Bar that they’d like to share in a comment below, I’d love to read them!