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Robert Toppes - Mayor of Norwich, builder of Dragon Hall

Location: Dragon Hall, 115-123 King Street, Norwich, NR1 1QE

Map showing location of Dragon Hall

Robert Toppes was a rich merchant who built Dragon Hall. He made his money from the textile industry, and he was Mayor of Norwich four times.

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Read the poem

The dragon breathes, expanding his rib cage, 
which creaks like a thousand oak beams settling. 
His hot breath pushes the smell of dust and beer
and wet wool out over the river, and, when it’s dark, 
his eyes glow like candles in high windows, 
reflected in the glossy water. 

His flinty talons clack on the hard earth floor,
and send sparks flying from the steps he takes
to the undercroft. It was expensive, this lair, 
but worth it; here, he hoards, but not because
he is a dragon; he is a merchant. He holds the city’s 
wealth in his scaled hands.

In time, the dragon will join the fish in the mayoral ranks, 
but for now he oversees the lifting, knapping,
daubing, joining of this hall.
The dragon’s fortune is warehoused
underground: rolls of worsted cloth, piled high and glinting
the colour of precious gems; soft gold. The dragon smiles.

He used his gold to build a place that would outlast him, 
and it will, but the calls and cries of this indoor
market will go quiet. Families will sleep here
for centuries and then, for decades, the building 
itself will sleep, above the empty vaults, 
the dragon shrunk and hidden in a corner. 

The dragon’s name is forgotten and remembered
and forgotten and no one is sure
when he built the hall or why, for a time. But the scaled
walls peel back in layers and the city recalls, 
eventually, the dragon’s wool, his precious vaults, 
his eyes glowing like candles in the windows

that still stare out over the dark river.

Follow the trail

Go to St Julian's Church for poem 16: Julian of Norwich as three birds