Behind the scenes of F. J. Zelley

If you’re quick and manage to pre-book a ticket for the F.J. Zelley event this year, congratulations! Howard Zelley will take you on a tour of the 15th century undercroft beneath 35 St Giles Street, where the jewellery specialist has been based since 1982.

© Maggie Tan - F.J. Zelley in Norwich

There are an estimated 72 undercrofts throughout Norwich (probably the UK’s largest collection, but do tell me if you know better!) and most of them are not normally open to the public. This particular undercroft is in fairly original condition with the main part being open and preserved. It was most likely used as storage for medieval merchandise.

Having carried out much restoration work in the early 1980s, Howard knows quite a fair bit about the overall 18th century building. When he first saw the property, large portions of it were boarded up including the staircase. Some of the original 1750s coving still remains and during the 1940s, a lot of extension work was carried out. The area that the Amber Room currently occupies was once a tennis court!

A treasure treat

Heritage Open Days 2012 will be a little bit extra special at F.J. Zelley - Howard has a new display of Roman amber to share with visitors this year. Roughly estimated to date back to the 2nd or 3rd century, little is yet known of the small collection although some beads can be identified and compared with a lovely reproduction of a Roman beaded necklace in the Amber Room.

Trained as a gemmologist and currently running the family business, Howard’s lifelong passion for collecting amber led to the creation of a little museum at the back of the shop about ten years ago. The Amber Room houses a collection of amber from all over the world - some of the oldest pieces are 2,000 years old and sit beautifully alongside modern amber. As the Norwich School alumnus said, “There’s no point in leaving it in the vault, why not share it with the public?” Look out for the 5th-6th century amber beads found in Norwich in 1994!

Find out how to see the amber collection at F.J.Zelley.