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Abode's Building of the Week

Our forth offering from this feature is none other than The Great Hospital. Rich in history and memory, it has an architecture that not many buildings in the country can match.

A Brief History

Originally founded by Bishop Walter de Suffield in 1249, at the time, the medieval hospital served principally to care for the aged priests, as well as to help scholars with little money, and the sick and hungry paupers. 

The tower on the grounds was built as a bequest by John Derlington, (who was master of the hospital in 1375), and was completed by 1385, just in time for a visit from King Richard II, and his queen Anne of Bohemia.

This building has been in continuous use for the last 767 years! It is a staggering figure considering the events of history, such as war, floods, plagues and famine, and even revolution.  It even survived Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, as it was later restored by Edward VI after a successful petition by locals. 

Not only did the buildings survive the religious turmoil of Henry VIII, but so did the archives; the only one of its type to accomplish this. This vast archive of hospital documents are kept and protected in the county archive. This is one of the reasons this building is part of the Norwich 12 initiative. The Norwich 12 are a group of iconic buildings that showcase the historical development of England over the last 1,000 years.   

The complex of The Great Hospital is home to many different buildings, which collectively provide a level of care that defines its history. The Great Hospital medieval area site is centred around a small cloister. It comprises of buildings such as the Church of St Helens, which includes the famous Eagle Ward, a medieval refectory, along with 15th and 16th century buildings and a 19th century almshouse in addition to the 21st century apartments!

Birkbeck Hall

Birkbeck Hall at the Great Hospital is a beautiful, Grade II listed structure that is built on the site of the medieval kitchen and brewhouse.

The hall is architecturally typical of the Victorian/ Edwardian revival. Named after Sir Henry Birkbeck, who was the Chairman of Trustees in 1901, the building predates the architectural Victorian/ Edwardian characteristics that are so prominent.

If you look at the walls for example, they contain flint and red brick, with a red brick dressing and some stone details. On the east side, there is Mediaeval masonry. Also, the pantile roof and 2 brick end chimneys sit upon 5 bays. The South bay, defined by buttresses as all the bays are, adjoins to the passage arch of Chaplain’s House, with a Tudor-style arch that within the spandrels bears the date 1901.

The hall further includes fragments of medieval fabric, with the ability to journey through history by admiring the tapestry alone. 

The roof is described as a ‘Hammerbeam Roof’, which means it was intended for decoration. It is constructed of open timber truss which is representative of Gothic English Architecture. 

Even the interior is periodic, with a 15th Century oak serving table and extravagant inglenook fireplace at the North end of the hall, but also a smaller fireplace at the Southern end too.  


The monastic cloisters that feature as a central part of The Great Hospital are believed to be amongst the smallest in the country. Dating back to 1450, these beautifully preserved constructions provide a medieval focal point.

St Helen’s Church

Originally, the very first parish church of St Helen’s was located on south side of Holme Street (now Bishopgate). The establishment then saw Suffield, (the bishop at the time and founder of the Great Hospital), demolish this original building of and construct the hospital beyond the cathedral precinct on the north side which was then known as the Hospital of St Giles.

To benefit the local population, a nave was inserted to the western end and was used as the medieval infirmary and a church chancel built on the eastern side end. Roof timbers from both the nave were tracked by tree ring dating techniques (dendrochronology), to date somewhere between 1378 and 1403. 

The chancel, to the eastern end of the church, was constructed in 1383 by Bishop Despencer, which some argue was as an act of thanksgiving following the peasants’ revolt of 1381. The nave, also known as the infirmary ward, was completed by the 14th century and abutted to the church tower, accommodating 30 poor and sick people.

To support the hospital in these early stages and through these great expansions, lots of local people offered financial support, as well as land and monetary donations.

Very little remains of the original building... However, one architectural area of interest that remains is the simple southern porch, which is the main entrance to the church. Built in 1249, it is constructed of brick and flint and was raised to be a two-storey structure in the 15th century. Over time the structure has been modified slightly, mainly due to damage sustained during Kett’s Rebellion of 1549.

The porch is also known as Limbert’s Porch in honour of Steven Limbert, who at the time was Master if the Grammar School, (which is now known as the Norwich School). Records reveal that Limbert stood at the porch entrance and delivered a speech to Elizabeth 1st during her progress to East Anglia in 1578. The story goes that she described the speech as the best she had ever heard.

Other areas date to the 14th and 15th centuries when other significant redevelopment took place. In the 16th century after the reformation, in order to create two individual wards, the chancel and infirmary were separated from the nave.

Eagle Ward

Arguably the most elaborate part of the former church is the grand chancel.

Anne of Bohemia in 1383 had great influence over many of the features of this ward. Her emblem of the eagle was honoured in decoration and architecture prior to her and King Richard II’s visit to The Great Hospital. The roof consists of 252 panels that are decorated with eagles, painted in Anne’s honour. 

Below this extravagant gesture, over 500 years ago, a ‘new’ floor was created and the upper floor  was known as Eagle Ward in view of the chancel ceiling.  In the early 1800s, the then Master Mordecai Rivers Drake, added cubicles to all four wards in the church buildings. The chancel and nave were divided with screens made of wood in order to create the sense of individual rooms. These cubicles included essential amenities such as a bed and cupboards with crockery. 

The cubicles in Eagle ward can still be viewed and and the last of the residents to leave Eagle Ward rooms moved out as recently as the 1970s! The residents were then relocated to new modern accommodation elsewhere in the site. In 1979, the Eagle Ward was eventually closed. The cubicles are kept in the Eagle Ward in the same manner as they could be found in during the 1950s. 

The Great Hospital Today

Many developments have taken place in the 20th century, but a significant project was completed in 2014, costing around £6.5 million. It involved a new build of 18 self-contained flats, coinciding with 6 additional flats in the existing assisted living block; with other significant improvements to the building also taking place.


The Masters Garden was completely redeveloped by well-known garden designer Tessa Hobbs to help create new gardens for the residents to enjoy. However, the the most impressive improvements undertaken in that project is the new community room on the site of the medieval chapter house. It borders the south cloister wall which is used as the western wall of the building. 

In the last two years, a further £350,000 has been invested into the older flats within the assisted living block and £250,000 has been spent refurbishing Birkbeck Hall.

One of the main purposes of the hospital in modern times is to provide sheltered housing as well and domiciliary care. To be eligible for a place in this accommodation, you must be over the age of 65, a Norwich resident and of course require the kind of home and care that the Great Hospital can provide.  The Great Hospital also runs a bespoke events business in our medieval buildings.

The Great Hospital runs tours on a regular basis which can be booked through their website:  Tours are also available as part of the Norwich Heritage Open Days.

Abode's Building of the week






St Giles House Hotel was never built for the purpose of entertaining guests. It was originally built as a Head Quarters for the London and Norwich Fire Insurance company between 1852-1856.


The building is a Grade II* listed building. It earns this accolade due to the 15th century undercroft in the cellar. The undercroft has faced flints on a visible wall, indicating that it was originally at street level during the 15th century. The original structure was rather ironically destroyed by a fire in 1900/1901.


The building was then constructed as we know it now by the renowned local architect George Skipper, who is also responsible for the designs of the iconic Royal Arcade and the Jarrolds building in Norwich.



The Walnut Suite


Norwich Union used the St Giles House building after George Skipper’s architectural plans were constructed. Towards the end of World War II however, it became regional to GPA and this is where the Walnut Suite was used. Using secret tunnels, government and military officials would negotiate underground tunnels from St Giles Church to the undercroft/cellar area in St Giles House. There they would hold meetings about wartimes affairs and discuss important affairs in the boardroom. These tunnels created a diversion as people would not suspect that these officials were doing anything but visiting the church for religious or social reasons. 



The walnut suite is now in modern times a very popular wedding venue. The room officially has its very own ceremonial license and it isn’t hard to see why it is such a popular choice of venue once you walk inside.

The interior consists of wooden paneling, as the name suggests, walnut in material, with a decadent corniced ceiling. The room has a central masterpiece of a chandelier. The area has its very own Kitchen, Toilets and Private Use Bar, all self-contained within the suite. Not only this but there is access to a balcony that overlooks the beautiful city of Norwich itself.


The Hotel Transformation


As previously mentioned, St Giles House has had many purposes, including hosting insurance businesses and hosting secret meeting. In 2000, Lana and Carleton Selman transformed the building into the old office building into the boutique hotel, bistro and spa. 


A lot of the wood paneling and white plasterwork seen throughout the hotel needed restoration and the building was left in a bad way when the couple first began. Many books were left behind, as well as paperwork, and the walls and ceilings were beginning to crumble. 



The project took 5 years in total to finish and opened as a hotel in October, 2005. The whole project was made into short documentary offerings, showing the difficulties of the renovation. 


The interior has a distinctive finish, with unique art deco and many original features; including the parquet flooring, geometric monochrome carpets, ornate coving, lavish antique furniture and of course stunning chandeliers.



The couple then sold the establishment in 2007 to Rachel Roofe. She took on the hotel and has spent the last 8 years building the excellent reputation and service standards that are so familiar today.


The Terrace


St Giles House Hotel also contains a beautiful, Parisian style outdoor terrace area, tucked away in the heart of Norwich. The bright golden walls, mixed with plenty of potted plants and flowers, give the terrace a summery, positive vibe all year round. The area is used for a classic British afternoon tea in the day time, whilst doubling as the perfect evening location to enjoy a cocktail with friends.



To carry on the cocktail theme, St Giles House also have a Cocktail Loyalty Club, in which they have scheme offering you a free cocktail for every 5 you buy. This runs from Sunday- Thursday, between 4pm- 8pm. Our favourite is the Strawberry-Lemon Mojito!


St Giles House Hotel also run regular promotions for their hotel accommodation and spa packages. Further details can be found at: 


The Red-Tape increase that is stinging Buy-To-Let investors


With a recent surge in buy-to-let purchases flooding the property market, experts are rightly worried that this, along with the existing house shortages and difficulties for first time buyers, could mean serious consequences for the property market. 



Sector Set for Crisis


This influx of buy-to-let buyers comes from a variety of different factors. Firstly, renting has become increasingly mainstream. 2 million people now own a buy-to-let property in the UK. There is no longer an elitist class of landlords, but instead many ordinary people looking for an investment with a high return.


This higher return on investment is now progressively hard to find in other ventures with such a turbulent market post-Brexit. Not only this, but there is much more freedom with regards to the use of pension savings, which is also contributing to the growing number of people choosing this avenue of investment.


As mentioned above, things have never been so difficult for a first time buyer, looking to take their first steps on the property ladder. This adds to the need for rental property, with those unable to afford a deposit or get a mortgage left with no other option. Further increasing the demand for the buy-to-let sector is immigration, as well as more people than ever moving for work, causing short term rentals to become an ever more appealing proposition. 


It is important to note that Brexit could have the opposite effect to rental demand. With immigrants being more than 3 times likelier than UK nationals to rent a property, and Brexit perhaps resulting in tighter border controls, demand could fall. This again hurts those investing in the buy-to-let market with less demand and increasing competition, rent rates could be forced to fall.



Stricter Regulations


Due to such a flood of buy-to-let investors in the current market, experts are now concerned that landlords could be overstretching themselves in order to purchase these properties. 





These concerns have now led to lenders looking to tighten the criteria. Lenders such as banks and building societies will use the tools available to them to steady the rapid growth of this sector. This could involve making money harder to borrow with tighter and more in-depth checks into an investor’s financial capabilities.


In a recent article from ELA News, they have given a more precise prediction on how these credit checks may change:


“Currently, investors have to prove they would earn enough from the rent to cover their repayments, but the new plan, [set out by the Prudential Regulation Authority], demands proof they would still be covered if rates soared by at least 2 per cent.”





In this Eastern Landlord Association article, they also raise the issue of how this increase in credit checks will mean investors will be able to borrow less and therefore have to produce larger deposits upfront:


“Most people will, in the future, have to put down a deposit of 30 per cent or 35 per cent instead of the 25 per cent which is typical today.”


“On average £211,000 property in England and Wales, the extra deposit needed would be at least £10,000. Many investors might need to put down even more.”



Increasing Requirements


Landlords are being asked to produce move and more information, as the red tape tightens. This includes a stricter approach to tenants’ immigration status, forcing the landlord to do further checks. This all comes under the new ‘Right to Rent Rules’ in which landlords have to check if their tenant has the right to be in the UK before they are able to let their property out to them. Local Authority licensing could further see these burdens hindering profit margins for landlords.





George Osborne, little over a year ago, decreased potential buy-to-let profit further with the introduction of new tax regulations. Prior to this phased 4-year change, investors were able to eliminate mortgage interest costs from income before the planned tax was taken. 


Without tax benefits such as these, the returns on a buy-to-let investment will largely be down to capital growth and with a market currently as risky as the one we are experiencing post-Brexit currently, with the possibility of mortgage rate rises, makes the whole proposition less stable and therefore less appealing.


Other tax breaks ended by Osbourne include the ‘wear and tear’ cost for landlords letting furnished homes, which offered a 10% tax relief. That tax break was scrapped earlier in April of this year.


One extra cost to bear in mind is your Stamp Duty bill. It was introduced on April 1st that stamp duty was to rise by a 3% surplus if you are already own another property either in or outside of the UK. 


As an example of how much this translates to in terms of actual figures, if you were purchasing a second property at the value of £300,000, the new additional stamp duty equals 3% of the property value. This would therefore total £9,000 in this example. Combine this the existing stamp duty bill for a £300,000 property of £5,000 and you’re looking at £14,000! This is a very significant increase.





There is no doubt that the buy-to-let market will continue to grow, despite the amount of red tape increasing because the demand is fundamentally still there. The best time to invest is now. This is because with this growth it is not likely to slow, and with currently only small or no changes to tax on mortgages, results in profit are still able to be made on letting a second property.



As time continues, regulations will inevitably only get tighter and therefore profit margins will fall. It is still currently possible for investors to own one or two properties, as well as engaging in a full and separate other career, but with tax regulations ever creeping in, this is likely to become a lot more difficult. This again emphasises that now is the best time to invest in buy-to-let if you are financially able to. 

IMAGE CREDIT: Mark Ivan Benfield.

What are the GoGo Hares?


The GoGo Hares are sculptures that are part of a charity event which will arrive in Norwich in 2018. The event has been previously held with various different sculptures, including the GoGo Dragons and the GoGo Gorillas. It involves these sculptures forming a trail around the centre of Norwich which anyone is able to participate in.

The sculptures are being designed by Wild in Art and their creative director Chris Wilkinson. Other young artists can get involved in the decoration itself by contacting GoGo Hares via their website and the following link: 

What’s new for the GoGo Hares is that the project is aiming to get 150 local organisations involved in an education programme, which will include schools, nurseries and young clubs. You can also register for this on the GoGo Hares website, as well as further details on how you can sponsor the project.

The sculpture choice of a hare represents East Anglia perfectly, as a popular topic of interest for artists in Norfolk already. 50 of these beautiful sculptures will be dotted around Norwich and we can’t wait to see what the artists will do with the hares! 


IMAGE CREDIT: Mark Ivan Benfield.


Who is Behind the Project?

The charity project is a joint collaboration between Wild In Art and Break led by Martin Green. The GoGo Hares represent a celebration of 50 years for the Break charity.

Break are a charity that focus on helping young lives. With six children’s homes in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, they offer single placements to traumatised young people and a Therapeutic Fostering Service. 

Not only this but Break run schemes that help children with both physical and learning disabilities, providing not only support for the children, but for their families too.

Wild in Art is the UK’s leading arts and education company. They support local young creativity by producing public art through organising huge local events. They involve schools, artists and partners, engaging communities and tourists alike. 

Their latest offering is currently on display in Ipswich: Pigs Gone Wild 2016! 

Martin Green, Helen Vinsen and Michael Rooney with the hares! - IMAGE CREDIT: Mark Ivan Benfield.


Dates for Your Diary 

  • 27th June – 2nd September - Pigs Gone Wild! – You will be able to follow the trail, collect points with the Pigs Gone Wild App and of course take selfies with the sculptures and tweet them to @pigsgonewild16 

  • 10th and 11th September – The Ta Ta Trotters Event – This is your chance to say goodbye to the Pig sculptures at Ipswich Town Hall. 

Abode's Building of the Week

A Brief History

Holkham Hall has always been lived in, as well as loved. Currently calling the property home is the 8th Earl of Leicester and his family.

It was built by the very first Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke. A wealthy man, he met some friends whilst doing The Grand Tour during his youth between 1712 and 1718. One of these was the aristocratic architect Lord Burlington who aided the construction along with main architect William Kent. 

Holkham Hall took 30 years to build, from 1734, all the way up to 1764. The architectural style is distinctly Palladian, basing the design on the unbuilt villa of Palladio, as looks in I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, obviously with some changes. 

Holkham Hall is a member of the Treasure House Group, which consists of a select 10 buildings, including palaces, houses and castle, each shining light on historical English life. Not only this but Holkham Hall is also a member of the Historical Houses Association. This organisation seeks to protect our country’s heritage offering Holkham Hall advice and service assistance in order to help maintain the building. 


There is no doubt that the building itself is truly breathtaking. The grounds also add to the estate’s beauty, with its own lake and even a monument to the founder Thomas Coke; a 120ft column! 

When observing the hall, many might pick up on the lack of windows. This was intentional, as it is said Coke demanded ‘commodiousness’. Therefore, to light each room, one window was considered satisfactory. Not only this, but it also helped keep the rooms warm, preventing any additional draft. 

The South façade is composed of a central block, with flanking wings on each side. Each wing has an identical external appearance, consisting of three bays, each parted by a narrow break in the elevation. From the tip of one wing to the other, the building reaches 344ft, (104.9m), in length! The piano nobile level includes a central six-columned portico. 

The Marble Hall

Inside the building itself, many regard the grandest architecturally of all the rooms as the Marble Hall. This is the main entrance to this magnificent building. William Kent the Architect based the design of this room on Roman basilica. 

The actual room is composed of pink Derbyshire alabaster, not marble as the name suggests. It reaches over 50ft in height. The room however does feature some actual marble in the form of the enormous white marble staircase that leads into the gallery. 

The hall also features columns made from alabaster, which support the gold-plated ceiling. Roman influence is clear, with the design replicated from Inigo Jones, which was motivated from that of the Pantheon in Rome. 

The Roman influence continues in The Marble Hall in the shape of the plaster statues in niches within the hall wall. They replicated both Roman and Greek Gods and were originally sourced for the first Earl of Leicester from Italy from the son of the executive architect, Matthew Brettingham.

Other statues in the property, along with featured hanging paintings of Holkham Hall are loaned from museums all over the world and are featured throughout the property.

The Saloon

One of the rooms, leading on from The Marble Hall that features its own very impressive interior is The Saloon. The room has a distinct warmth with a bold crimson theme. The walls themselves are lined with decadent red caffoy, (a mixture of wool, linen and silk).

Built for the purpose of grand entertainment, the ceiling reflects the room’s extravagance. The ceiling is coffered and gilded. A Coffered ceiling is architecturally a ceiling with a series of sunken panels, purely constructed for decoration and aesthetic value. 

One of the most prominent features of The Saloon in Holkham Hall is the artwork. The room features many impressive paintings, including ones of notable significance. One painting called ‘The Return of Egypt’, by Peter Paul Ruben, features the holy family returning from Egypt with the unusual inclusion of Christ as a small boy as opposed to popular portrayals of him as a baby or an adult. 

This painting was likely acquired by the Earl on The Grand Tour. He also bought back a collection of replicate Roman and Greek sculptures, adding to those featured in The Marble Hall as previously mentioned. These are situated in a vast Statue Gallery, which covers the entire length of the building from North to South!

Holkham Hall Today

All of these beautiful sculptures can be seen, along with many other focal points of Holkham Hall, as it is open to visitors seasonally. The Main Season is currently open until October 31st this year. 

This season sees the celebration of special role food and farming plays on the Holkham estate with the brand new ‘Field to Fork’ exhibition. New to 2016, this interactive and permanent feature for the season includes activities such as displays about historical farming techniques, and how the produce grown on the Holkham Estate ends up in the supermarket!

The hall also hosts a wide range of events throughout the summer season. These include regular park runs, as well as Summer Tours of the Private Gardens. The next one opportunity for this is Sunday 17th July. 

Any further details about Holkham Hall, and its latest events can be found on their website:  

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