Our History

The Maids Head Hotel claims to be the oldest hotel in the UK. The first Norman Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga had his original palace here, so we base our claim on the site’s continuous use for hospitality since the middle of the 1090s.

Just over the road from Norwich Cathedral and located in one of the oldest parts of the city – Wensum Street is thought to date from Roman times – the hotel is the perfect base for a city break or an exploration of the county. The Norfolk Broads are close by – take the train Wroxham, the ‘capital’ of the Broads or stay on board and visit the coastal resorts of Cromer and Sheringham.

The oldest parts of the Maids Head, above ground, date from the 15th century. So when you dine or take breakfast in our AA two star Wine Press Restaurant, you will be sitting in the courtyard of a 15th century inn. The fabulous wood-panelled Oak Room, the perfect place to enjoy our luxurious afternoon tea, is also believed to date from the same era.

The bar and snug are slightly ‘younger’, added in the late 16th century. Relax in the bar with a local beer or glass of wine and imagine the comings and goings when the Maids Head was a busy coaching in during the 18th century.

Today, we are a proudly independent hotel. Our owners have carried out a range of sympathetic refurbishment and renovation projects, to ensure that our historic building meets the expectations of our 21st century guests.

The Timeline

c.1094

Herbert de Losinga first Norman Bishop of Norwich has his first Palace here and uses St Simon and St Jude Church (across the road on Wensum Street) as his chapel.

1287

Mention of the first inn here in Norwich court records – Murtle Fish Tavern. “Robert the fowler stole goods from the said innkeeper at Cook Rowe.”

1359

Edward the Black Prince (eldest son of King Edward III) entertained here after a jousting competition. He also goes to mass at St Simon and St Jude Church.

1472

John Paston confirms the name change to Maids Head in a letter, recommending the inn as a good place to stable your horse: “if he tery at norwyche ther whyls, it were best to sette hys horse at the Maydes Hedde.”

1520

Queen Catherine of Aragon (King Henry VIII’s first wife) is entertained here.

1549

During Kett’s Rebellion both the rebel and royal armies occupied the Maids Head.

1578

Queen Elizabeth I visits Norwich; one of the bedrooms is associated with her, although she stayed across the road with the Bishop of Norwich.

1637

Anthony Mingay writes recommending the Maids Head as a safe place to stay during an outbreak of plague.

1642

During the Civil War the Maids Head was a popular meeting place for Royalists in a Parliamentary city.

1684

Thomas Berney (age 21), murdered Thomas Bedingfeld (age 27) after a lengthy drinking session in the Maids Head bar.

1724

Norwich’s first Masonic Lodge was established here.

1750s

Assembly Room built above the courtyard – now the Minstrel Suite.

1762

Maids Head is the Norwich terminus for the Norwich Machine, a coach that travelled every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to London.

1785

Maids Head up for sale: “Consisting an excellent large room, also a large dining room adjoining, 22 bed chambers, four parlours, convenient bar, larder and kitchens, a very good cellar, good stalled and other stables that will hold upwards of 100 horses.”

1789

Local radicals dined at the Maids Head to celebrate the French revolution and drank toasts to Thomas Paine, a Norfolk man and author of The Rights of Man.

1791

The diarist Parson Woodforde was a frequent visitor. Here is his diary note following a service at the Cathedral and attendance at the Bishop’s Court.

“After the Court was adjourned we walked to the Maid’s-Head Inn, where most of the Clergy of the Chancellor dined and spent the afternoon, about 34 Clergy dined together. For our dinner we each paid 0.3.0. The Bishop gave the Wine at and after Dinner one Bottle between two Clergymen.”

1851

Maids Head up for sale: “comprising large bar, eight sitting rooms, 20 bedrooms, three taps, large assembly room and convenient offices, with carriage and harness houses, stabling for 100 horses, yards and premises belonging thereto.”

1899

Walter Rye takes on the lease: “I had been myself a customer of the house for 20 years and more and some of the most pleasant parts of my life had been sent in and about it. It was rumoured that when Mr Webster left the Maids Head, the whole scope of the old Tory house – the nearest approach to the typical old hostel that I ever saw – was going to be spoiled and no longer to be a refuge for those who like peace and quiet and old surroundings. I heard what the new rent was to be and took upon myself the burden…I will try and keep on trying to make people as comfortable as I was myself.”

1890s

Walter Rye acquires property on Tombland and builds the Tombland frontage with the ‘Mock Tudor’ look. He keeps the Jacobean snug and bar.

1896

The Gentleman’s Journal: “Certainly the Norwich hotels are decidedly well conducted, and the chief of them, the Maids Head may vie in interest with any hostelry in the country.“

1899

The Norfolk Yeomanry uses the Maids Head courtyard (now the Wine Press Restaurant) as a recruiting station for The Boer War. 

1933

JB Priestley stayed here on the last leg of his ‘English Journey’. He described the hotel as a “fantastically rambling but comfortable old place.”

1940s

The Maids Head is a popular drinking establishment for United States airmen, before heading across the road to the Samson and Hercules dance hall.

1953

LP Hartley’s The Go Between is published. In the novel Marian Maudsley takes Leo into Norwich to buy him some summer clothes. They have lunch at the Maids Head.

1956

The Cavell Hotel and Eve’s Restaurant (formerly Cavell Home for District Nurses), next door on Tombland, is acquired by the Maids Head.

1957

New entrance created on Tombland followed by the building of the modern wing adding more than 40 bedrooms.

1971

The Maids Head appears in the film of The Go Between, with Marian and Leo having lunch in The Oak Room.

1984

The hotel expands further with the acquisition of a range of Tudor properties on Palace Street, which are converted into feature rooms, with function rooms on the ground floor.   

2012

The Maids Head is purchased by the Chaplin family. They have embarked on a range of sympathetic refurbishment and renovation projects, to ensure that the historic building meets the expectations of 21st century visitors.