Look inside this boutique hotel renovated out of an Elizabethan townhouse

The Haberdashery, an opulent bedroom in The Irongmongers, Aylsham, which is now accepting guests

The Haberdashery is a good-sized family room, with hidden bunk beds in an adjoining bedroom - Credit: Tim Doyle Photography

Staying at a former ironmongers might not be at the top of everyone’s wish list – particularly when they think about visiting Norfolk. But a new hotel, renovated out of an historic Aylsham townhouse, is about to change all that. 

A prime location
The bright blue exterior is the first thing I notice about The Ironmongers, an Elizabethan townhouse which is bigger than it looks and sits on the edge of the town’s historic marketplace. It doesn’t quite blend in with the surrounding buildings, but it certainly isn’t garish or out of place. It’s just there to be noticed. 

The building has, for centuries, been used as both a house and a shop, sometimes even as two houses and two shops, with various owners including wine merchants, glass dealers, insurance brokers, even auctioneers.

It is so integral to the town that many locals still call it Clarke’s, after ironmonger Alan Clarke who ran it when it was still a shop. Customers said Mr Clarke could always find what they needed – even if it took a bit of time.

Blue painted sign for The Ironmongers, Aylsham, which opened in November 2021

The Ironmongers in Aylsham has been completely renovated - Credit: Tim Doyle Photography

Creating an experience
Local farmer Tim Briscoe bought the building at auction in 2018. At the time, he says, “it was crying out to be loved”, and it’s clear that he and the team of tradespeople – all local to Norfolk – really have. 

They have converted the top two floors into eight boutique bedrooms and divided the ground floor into three separate retail spaces, including M’s, a newly opened fish deli, cocktail and tapas bar. Bread Source, a Norfolk favourite, will also be moving in soon, and the final unit will soon become an independent pizza place.  

M's on Red Lion Street in Aylsham

M's on Red Lion Street in Aylsham, which has opened in one of the retail units downstairs - Credit: Danielle Booden

Tim admits that it took a while to find the right businesses to fill the spaces, but only because he had a very clear vision of what he wanted that experience to be.  

His goal, he says, was to add to the fabric of the town, to encourage guests upstairs to get the full Aylsham experience.

No catering – apart from tea, coffee and a kettle – is provided in-house, which means that guests will have to source breakfast from the downstairs bakery and dinner at one of the town’s many restaurants or bars, perhaps after a gentle stroll to Blickling and around the estate, or a trip to the coast –just like the locals do. 

Buckinghamshire Arms, next to Blickling Estate in Aylsham

Owner Tim Briscoe wants to encourage guests to experience local life - which might mean a visit to the Buckinghamshire Arms, next to Blickling Estate in Aylsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

Living ‘like a local’ is actually part of the charm here. There is no reception or concierge, no restaurant or communal space, just the welcoming entrance hall and eight beautifully finished rooms that you access by a smart code sent to your phone on the morning of your arrival. It’s almost like owning your very own apartment with all the work done for you. 

A sustainable history
The project has indeed been hard work – but it’s been satisfying, too. Tim’s passion for the building, its history and even the process of doing the renovation, is clear. 

Derelict room with exposed roof timbers in The Ironmongers, Aylsham, which has been completely renovated

Inside The Irongmongers, before the renovation - Credit: Tim Briscoe

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The Ironmongers is Grade II listed, so great care and attention has gone into restoring and preserving it, including keeping the original shop front and windows facing the marketplace. Permission was granted to heighten the ceilings in the top two rooms, which meant work on the roof, and there were also inevitable delays due to Covid.

 But the building has also been future-proofed as much as it can, with air source heat pumps and high-quality insulation. Tim says he’s also sourced many of the decorative items from second-hand marketplaces such as eBay – which, he says, was “all part of the fun.” 

Beautifully renovated bedroom at The Ironmongers, Aylsham, which is now accepting guests

Inside The Confectioners, one of eight renovated bedrooms at The Ironmongers in Aylsham - Credit: Tim Doyle Photography

The rooms all celebrate the history of the area, as well as the building, which has not only been an ironmongers but also a tailors and wine merchant. Each suite is individually styled and themed and named after a local trade.

The detail is phenomenal – right down to the timber beams which have been painstakingly restored and, in some cases, even added to. Looking around, everything is so well-finished, so well-thought out, with TV screens tucked away, out of view, and the charm and the character of the building taking centre stage. 

Close up of the bed on an exposed feature wall of a bedroom in The Ironmongers, Aylsham

Inside The Ostlers, which is believed to sit above the building's original stables - Credit: Tim Doyle Photography

Character and charm
The Haberdashery is one of the first rooms I see and certainly one of the highlights. It’s spacious yet cosy, complete with a four-poster bed and finished off with silks and satins. The walls are painted in a rich teal colour, and the space is both opulent and grand without being fussy. It even has fitted bunk beds in an adjoining room, so it’s great for those with kids, too.

That’s another thing about The Ironmongers: everyone feels welcome, even four-legged friends can stay, and it’s a testament to the surrounding area, too. There really is something for everyone close by. 

Huge vaulted bedroom with exposed beams in the eight-bedroom hotel The Ironmongers, Aylsham

The Cobblers features original beams and a vaulted ceiling and is one of eight themed rooms at The Ironmongers in Aylsham - Credit: Tim Doyle Photography

The Florists offers arguably one of the best views in the house. It has three large sash windows and a lovely seating area which overlooks the marketplace. Sitting there, looking out, you really do feel part of the town. There’s an otherworldly quality to it, too, particularly on Mondays and Fridays, which are market days, a long-held tradition granted by Henry VIII. 

My favourite room of all is The Tailors, partly because of its detail. It is framed by 17th century timber beams and features an original wattle and daub wall, which has been beautifully preserved. The building’s original safe, once used to store the days’ earnings, peeks out from a wall in the bathroom, and an original Drapers poster, found during the renovations, is proudly displayed. 

Old commercial safe on a feature wall in one of the bathrooms of The Ironmongers, Aylsham

The building's original safe, which has been kept as a feature - Credit: Tim Doyle Photography

In fact, look closely and you will find history everywhere. A Victorian shoe found under a floorboard during the renovation work has become a main feature of The Cobblers – while The Ostlers, situated above what is thought to be the original stables, includes a stable-style door to the bathroom. 

Elsewhere, landscape gardener Humphry Repton – buried just a few minutes’ away, in the churchyard across the market square – is celebrated in The Landscapers, and other 17th century trades are showcased in two light and bright bedrooms at the very top – both perfect, Tim says, for soaking up the last fronds of sunshine. 

Huge vaulted bedroom with exposed beams in the eight-bedroom hotel The Ironmongers, Aylsham

The Cobblers features original beams and a vaulted ceiling and is one of eight themed rooms at The Ironmongers in Aylsham - Credit: Tim Doyle Photography

Ready for guests
Tim has not only had a hand in the renovations but tested them out, too. Since then, he’s added the finishing touches he thinks the spaces need and welcomed his first guests back in November last year. The reviews so far have been positive, he says, and even locals have booked in to stay.  

He says he’s happy with the outcome, despite how long it’s taken. Although he is no stranger to property renovations, having worked on his own home for years, this is the first time he has undertaken a project of this kind, and it has, it’s clear, been a real labour of love.  
“I sometimes look at it all and think ‘did we really do this?’” he says.

Luckily, he has the pictures to prove it. 

Entrance hall of The Ironmongers, Aylsham, an eight-bed boutique hotel

Inside there is no concierge - instead, guests are given a smart code to access the rooms - Credit: Tim Doyle Photography

For more information, or to book a stay, visit www.ironmongers-aylsham.co.uk

Do you have a renovation story, or have you recently moved to Norfolk? I'd love to hear from you! Email me at rebecca.macnaughton@archant.co.uk

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