The earliest known record of a building on the Strangers Club site in Elm Hill is in 1303, when John Butt, a merchant, resided there. The Pastons, of Paston Letters fame followed in the 15th century. Elm Hill had become a popular residential street for wealthy Norwich Merchants. In later years the character of the area changed. Religious persecution on the Continent forced Flemish and French artisans to flee. Many settled in Norwich, bringing with them the art of weaving. The newcomers worked and lived in crowded tenements to the rear of the Merchant’s houses in Elm Hill. As a result, trade developed and other visitors came from the Continent to the area. They and the weavers were referred to as ‘the strangers’. Many remained and were integrated into the local populace. Elm Hill was where early ‘strangers’ to the City congregated!
In 1507 most of Elm Hill was burnt to the ground; the only remnant of the original building, predating the fire, is the arch above the door leading to the Club terrace.
The present building was erected around 1540 by Augustine Steward, a three times Mayor of Norwich. Over the centuries it has had a variety of uses and at the time of the First World War, it was a furniture store, though classified as a slum. In 1925, the City Corporation decided by one vote to renovate the property rather than demolish it.
In March 1927, six local businessmen met and agreed to form a Club for the purpose of entertaining Strangers. Their signed Statement of Intent, which hangs in the Bar, “was to promote social discourse amongst gentlemen who were born outside the County of Norfolk, the City of Norwich, and the County of the same City, but who shall, at the time of becoming members, be residing or have their place of profession or business in the City of Norwich”. They leased Augustine Steward’s house from the Corporation for that purpose. Appropriately the club was called ‘The Strangers’ Club’ and its Constitution called for membership to be divided, 49% local Norwich people and 51% who came from away. It adopted the Coat of Arms of Augustine Steward, as its badge, with his motto ‘Thank God of Thys’ which became the Club Grace. By the first AGM in March 1928, the membership was 40, it now averages 240, reflecting a cross-section of occupations and professions.
The Club retains strong links with the Lord Mayor, who is its landlord, and the Lord Bishop of Norwich, both of whom are honorary members. The City’s Civic Heads are invited once a year to lunch at the Club. Since its inception, the Club has and continues to entertain many male and female visitors including royalty, ambassadors, politicians, authors, artists, historians and sportsmen from all parts of the world. Many of whom have given talks at the Club.