The decline of the Assembly

By the time the 1830s had arrived, changes in economic circumstances in Norfolk were changing as the whole country moved further and further into industrialisation it impacted on the local cloth and textiles industries. The growth of the railways also had an effect on the ease with which people could travel with London became much more of a focus for society families combined with Sessions Week started to lessen in importance. Norwich started to lose its central importance to the area and with it came a fall in income for the Assembly House as a venue.

Fanny_KembleDespite this decline, concerts, performances and dinners continued, but the guilds and political dinners were as often at St Andrew’s Hall or at popular inns in the city as they were at The Assembly House. Ticket prices for subscription dances were increased due falling attendance to cover the costs of subscription dances which gradually led to inevitable fall in demand.

Performances received a mixed reception. A Liszt concert in 1840 received very poor reviews across the country. While in January 1847 Fanny Kemble; the famous actress, diarist and abolitionist, latterly a friend of Amelia Opie; received some adulation for her performances of Shakespeares King John and Much ado about nothing. She appeared again in 1854 and April 1855.

In September 1851 The opening of the Norwich Waterworks was publicly celebrated.  The band of the Coldstream Guards played in the Market Place, 220 guests dined at the Assembly Rooms under the presidency of Mr. Samuel Bignold, the evening finished with Fireworks over the city with an estimate of 22,000 people attending.

Other performances included Walter Montgomery, ‘the son of a local man who repeated from memory his recital of Othello.’ In March 1856 a Peace Ball was held to celebrate the end of the war in the Crimea with a firework display in the Market Place and Castle Meadow. While in June ‘A panorama, with the present form of variety entertainment, was exhibited for the first time at the Assembly Rooms, Norwich, by Mr. J. Batchelder.’ The German Reeds also appeared regularly, favourite well known performers with shows such as  ‘After the Ball’ and ‘The Unfinished Opera’ and ‘Seaside studies’.

A-dream-of-venice

The rooms also continued to be used for meetings. There are various recorded examples. In 1851 there was a fiery Protestant meeting under the presidency of Mr. Samuel Bignold, ‘at which were adopted addresses to the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury, protesting against the aggression of the Pope, and condemning the Tractarian movement in the Church of England.’ another in 1858 was to determine ‘the advantages afforded by the Cambridge Middle Class examinations.  Sir J. P. Boileau presided.  The first examination was held at the Free Library, on December 14th, by Mr. H. M. Butler, when 31 boys were presented.’

Whilst the performances continued things were changing behind the scenes. In December 1855 the proprietors appointed new trustees to fill holes in the board. The property was transferred to a new Trust including Sir Robert John Harvey, Sir William Foster and Samuel Dalton. They were given the power to sell if required or to buy the freehold and hold it. And if it were sold the proceeds were to be divided between the proprietors.

William Schomberg Robert Kerr, the Marquess of Lothian owned many properties as part of various hereditary titles including Blickling Hall held the freehold. In June 1856  he sold this to the Trustees for £200. In September the Chapel Field Estate was put up for sale at a public auction in the Royal Hotel in Norwich Market Place. It did not immediately sell, so in 1857 the estate was broken up and sold in more manageable lots. The west wing with the garden to the west and north were sold to Frank Noverre. He in turn sold the garden to the north a year later. The Assembly Rooms and east wing were sold to Benjamin Bond Cabell. The documents dated June 22nd 1861 is the first which uses the name ‘Assembly House’. The Noverre family story is a particularly remarkable one which deserves a blog of its own.

Cabell was eighty years old when he bought the property. An interesting man educated at Westminster and Oxford, called to the Bar. He bcame deputy Lieutenant for Middlesex and Norfolk, represented St Albans and Boston as an MP a fellow of the Royal Society and was an acknowledged philanthropist and Freemason. All the Norwich lodges, except ironically the Union which had previously used Chapply Field House, met in these new rooms for free, And for the next 15 years the Assembly House was referred to as the Masonic hall or occasionally Freemasons’ Hall. Cabell lived in Cromer Hall and was qute well known for his local good works which included financing the building of Cromer lifeboat station and the building of a new lifeboat. As a result he has the distinction of having both the fourth and fifth lifeboats named after him.

2880px-Cromer_Lifeboat_Benjamin_Bond_Cabbell_ON12

In the autumn of 1872 the building was closed for repairs for nearly a year, these were apparently quite extensive and were probably due to lack of general upkeep over the previous decades. Cabell died in 1874 at the age of 92. He left the building to his cousin John Bond Cabell. Who in 1876 sold it, this time to the Girls Public Day Schools Trust. A new phase in the building’s history had begun.

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References:
Andrew Stephenson
Norfolk Annals , A Chronological Record of Remarkable Events in the Nineteeth Century, Vol. 2 , Charles Mackie

The Cromer Lifeboats, by Bob Malster & Peter Stibbons: Poppyland Publishing
The Peerage.

Images:
1.Feature image (and above): Print, ‘The Assembly House, Norwich’ by Mary Lyle, etching on paper, undated (assumed first quarter 20th century) Artist: Mary Lyle (NWHCM : 1971.700.2 – Norfolk Museums Collections)
2. Fanny Kemble, Portrait – Library of Congress collection
3. German Reed (in top hat) with his wife and John Parry and Susan Galton in A Dream in Venice at the Royal Gallery of Illustration, April 1867
4. The Benjamin Bond Cabell II Lifeboat

 

 

By | March 9th, 2017|heritage blogs|0 Comments

Dementia UK: Time for a Cuppa

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The Assembly House Trust was recently contacted by Dementia UK about getting involved in their ‘Time for a Cuppa’ event.

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The Trust was extremely happy to support such a great cause, raising awareness and raising money for people with dementia and their carers.

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The event featured a display of over 18,000 crocheted forget-me-not flowers, each representing one person in Norfolk facing dementia.

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The Assembly House Trust worked with Richard Hughes and his team to provide tea, coffee and cake for the event.

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The event also featured an Admiral Nurse Clinic, providing help and support to those with dementia and their carers.

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Over the next few months The Assembly House Trust will be working with Dementia UK and other organisations to improve our accessibility to those with dementia.

For more information on ‘Time for a Cuppa’ visit www.dementiauk.org

By | March 7th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Moving on: The early Assembly House

The late seventeenth and early eighteenth century saw an increased desire for a real venue in the heart of the city. Various establishments were used mostly inns including the White Swan in St Peter’s Street and other public houses around Castle Ditches and St Stephens, now Castle Meadow. Nothing was really suitable, either too small, too cramped or just inadequate.

Chapply Field house continued to be let both as rooms and the croft. In 1753 seven Aldermen of the City; William Crowe, William Flemming, Daniel Ganning, John Gay, Jeremiah Ives, Robert Rogers and Samuel Harvey took a lease out for 500 years from the then owner Sir John Hobart III, They had their eye firmly on the prize. A year later with 24 other local notaries they signed a deed of covenant to run a venue for entertainment; a place for assemblies, cards and bowls and balls. These people included Sir John Hobart, Sir William Harbord, The Honourable George Townsend and Sir Randall Ward plus notable local business owners such as Ralph Smith, a Dyer, John Ives and John Woodrow, Worsted weavers, and Joseph Chamberlin, a Grocer. And so the rebuilding began.

The Assembly House is at its heart the work of Thomas Ivory with the interiors additionally credited to James Burroughs of Cambridge. Ivory was a busy man; in 1756 he was working on the Neo-Palladian Octagon Chapel in Colegate. He was also responsible for building the Norwich Theatre, The Methodist Meeting House in Bishopgate, Houses in Surrey Street and the Artillery Barracks, now Ivory House. Forming an impressive portfolio of buildings in the city in addition to his work on extending and developing parts of Blickling Hall.

The Assembly House - Glass Plates

The central part of the building had been the Hobart’s house. This was believed to have largely been pulled down and rebuilt ‘with elegant bricks in a very grand and polite taste’, with the wings remaining but redeveloped. During some renovations in 1901 when the building was the Girls High School windows were added to the music room and a discovery was made; behind the Georgian brick and stucco plasterwork some of the core of Hobart’s house remained with parts of the main walls which were part of the College still in-situ although heavily masked by these later works. Further evidence was uncovered in the works of the late 1940s.

The main fabric of the building was then much as we see it today, the same detailing and splendour despite the changes and modification made by people over time; The Hobart and Ivory Rooms were card rooms, The Music Room; originally called the Long Room and the Grand Hall the Ball Room, the layout and detailing remains largely consistent with what we see today.

The Assembly Rooms opened in 1755 a year before the Octagon Chapel in Colegate. The newly built and refurbished property included bowling on a newly laid green, plenty of room for assemblies, meetings, cards, dancing, music and guild balls for the local gentry to present themselves.

V0049213 A country dance in a long hall; the elegance of the couple o Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A country dance in a long hall; the elegance of the couple on the left contrasts with the ridiculous poses of the more rustic figures beyond representing "unidealized" humanity; straight, angular and round shapes. Engraving by William Hogarth. By: William HogarthPublished: 5 March 1753 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Over the next 80 Years, the Assembly House became a buzzing centre for activity. There were events to celebrate The Peace in 1802, an evening to celebrate Queen Charlotte’ birthday, and perhaps most impressive of all a ball to celebrate Nelson’s Victory at Trafalgar. It was to become the place for civic entertainment and for the notables of the county; the mayors, sheriffs, aldermen and dignitaries, Clergy, MPs and important families from across Norfolk; the Walpoles, Wodehouses, Suffields, Windhams and Bacons graced the balls, danced and ate their fill, the building a social and economic heart for the county.

1800s smallerActivities were not confined to purely prestigious occasions; subscription dances and concerts took place from the mid 1780s. There were gymnastic displays, juggling, strongmen and in 1819 a display by Madame Tussaud’s of waxworks of ‘Princes, queens, princesses, heroes, statesmen, poets and divines’. There were Crape Balls to help raise funds for unemployed weavers in the city.

The building was also used by societies, in particular masons and guilds; One in particular The Union Lodge of Freemasons; was a fixture from 1818 for a period of 15 years. This would have seen the painters of the Norwich School John Sell Cotman and John Crome taking supper with members of the Gurney family and other brethren within the walls of the house. It was in the latter part of this period when the Assemblies were at their peak that Frank Noverre discovered the popularity of Polka Balls, a name which is synonymous with the area still today.

It was during this same period that Sir Thomas Churchman, Mayor of Norwich planted avenues of Elms in Chapelfield and Thomas Ivory took ownership and developed the New Theatre which soon received Royal Assent and become the Theatre Royal. The Theatre was originally nearer Chapelfield gardens but was rebuilt in 1825 on the site closer to the Assembly House we are familiar with. The elms in the parkland have also since been replaced with native limes. The Assembly House with the street line, park and theatre would be a familiar reflection of the streets we see today.

Main Image: Theatre Plaice, James Sillett 1828.

Inset 1: Wall cores of Hobart’s House revealed in 1948/1949 works.

Engraving: A country dance in a long hall; the elegance of the couple, Hogarth, 1753 (Wellcome Images CCBY4.0)

Inset 2: A handbill advertising events at The Assembly House, January 1825. (Assembly House Trust Collection – You can see this item framed next to the reception desk on the right)

 

By | March 6th, 2017|heritage blogs|0 Comments

Time of change: Chapply Field House

After the dissolution the destruction of chapels like St Mary de Campo across the country gained pace with an explosion in demolitions. As the church shifted so did how it viewed and managed properties. This resulted in the deconsecration and sale of various buildings. In Norwich St Mary was just one loss in a long list that included St Olaves, St Mary Unbrent, St Crouch, and St Vedast, along with Whitefriars and Greyfriars and a huge number other ecclesiastic buildings priories and friaries.

Subsequently as these were dismantled building work also started to take place; consolidation and expansion of other churches, such as St Andrew and St Clement, and development or rebuilding of notable properties such as Augustine Steward House, Suckling Hall, and Samson and Hercules House mortared these buildings so firmly into the street pattern of the city for centuries to come.

After Miles Spenser’s death in 1569 what remained of the property on the site was left to his nephew William Yaxley. He in turn sold the property to Thomas Cornwallis of Suffolk, the eldest son of Sir John Cornwallis a steward to the household of King Edward VI.

Speed 1616 map

Thomas, an MP for Suffolk was directly involved in the suppression of Kett’s rebellion of 1549 on the side of the Crown. He was captured by the rebels and only released when the Earl of Warwick’s forces quashed the revolt. Cornwallis’ support for Queen Mary saw him appointed to the Privy Council and eventually he became Comptroller of the Household before being relieved of his post when Elizabeth I, whose sympathies lay elsewhere, came to the throne.

Between 1573 and 1586 a wealthy and now retired Sir Thomas set about converting and rebuilding what was now known as Chapel of the Field House He created a new hall and gallery, and added a kitchen stables, tennis court and formal gardens were laid out. The house passed to his son Charles for £1000 in 1603. Charles an ambassador in Madrid probably never lived here and in 1609 Chapply Field House was sold.

The property was bought by Sir Henry Hobart, Attorney General, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and also the MP for Norwich. Such was his influence and eminence nationally that the corporation saw fit to gift back parts of the site to him. They also leased the original croft and fields back to him too, forming the site into an impressive estate. Part of the croft now forms what we know as Chapelfield Gardens. It was a prudent move given his stature at the time. Henry is probably most famous for initiating the rebuilding of Blickling Hall on the original site of the Falstaff and the Boleyn house using the beautiful designs of Robert Lyminge.

On his death in 1625 the lease passed to his son Sir John Hobart the 2nd Baronet, who represented Norfolk in Parliament. He was also a member of the much vaunted Long Parliament of 1640 to 1660 and another eminent character in the human landscape of both the county and the country. Sir John married twice. He and his second wife Frances employed John Collinges a nonconformist theologian and had a Chapel created in the house for him.

After Sir John’s death Frances continued to live in and look after the house and grounds, Collinges continued to lecture in the chapel whilst being the vicar of St Stephens until being removed at the restoration in 1660 and was banned from using the Chapel at Chapply Field House when an act was passed restraining religious meetings. He continued to lecture independently from the old granary behind Blackfriars and a building in Colegate which was eventually replaced by the Octagon Chapel one of the earliest Methodist Chapels in the world.

The house passed to Sir John Hobart the third baronet on Frances death. Sir John was a staunch Parliamentarian and became High Sheriff of Norfolk, a much respected man under whom Chapply Field House became a headquarters for local Whig activity in the city. The Hobarts at this point moved themselves back to Blickling Hall.

Under John and his son Henry the house was leased out with an agreement that the Hobart’s could still enjoy a very limited use of two chambers when required. The site falls into historical silence. Animals grazing on the croft again and lodgers staying quietly within the walls.

Images:
Feature image: Detail from Cleer’s map of Norwich 1696.
Map: Speed’s map of 1616.

Inset portrait: Chief Justice, Sir Henry Hobart. Public Domain – Wikipedia/National Trust Collection.
Inset portrait:
John CollingesGustavus Ellinthorpe Sintzenich, Mansfield College, University of Oxford

 

By | February 28th, 2017|heritage blogs|0 Comments

The Noverre Cinema: Some Like It Hot

SOME LIKE IT HOT, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, 1959

This Spring the ballroom of The Assembly House will once again become the Noverre Cinema, holding a public screening for the first time in over twenty years.

The Assembly House Trust are teaming up with Cinema City Education to revive one of Norwich’s long-lost cinemas for a special screening of Hollywood classic ‘Some Like It Hot’ starring Marilyn Monroe.

The event also marks the opening of a new exhibition charting the history of The Assembly House, as part of a year of events celebrating the history of the building.

Audience members are encouraged to arrive early to browse the exhibition and enjoy a selection of local archive films.

 

Event information:

Some Like It Hot (PG)

Exhibition opens from 6pm

Archive Films from 7pm

Main Feature 7.30pm

Tickets £8

Tickets are available online or by calling 01603 625 145

 

Some Like It Hot (PG) 1959

Director Billy Wilder’s Hollywood classic, featuring an iconic performance from Marilyn Monroe.

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play jazz musicians on the run after witnessing the St Valentine’s Day massacre, masquerading in drag as members of an all-girl band to escape the clutches of Chicago mobster George Raft.

Each man has his own problems; one falls for another band member but can’t tell her his gender, and the other has a rich suitor who will not take “No,” for an answer.

By | February 28th, 2017|Event, Heritage|0 Comments

The early site: The Chapel and college of St Mary in the Fields

One of the most remarkable things about any landscape urban or rural isn’t so much what you can see as what you can’t, and how what is there covers up what was. The Assembly House sits in an area of the city which would have been just on the edge of the Norman settlement, and would have been crofts and fields on the edge of the as yet unwalled settlement of Norwich.

In 1248 the land was granted to John Le Brun, he was the founder of the hospital of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the site. His brothers gave the advowson or legal right to their churches; St Mary Unbrent, St George Tombland and St Andrew. In 1278 Le Brun became the Dean of what was now a secular college, it contained quite a large and community with a Chancellor and a Treasurer, a Precentor to lead the singing, Prebendaries who effectively administered it as an entity and drew a stipend from its endowments, plus lay-clerks who formed the choir.

The Assembly House - Glass Plates

The Chapel of St Mary in the Field was important, It grew out of a time of tension between the people of the growing city and the power of the cathedral; The dedication to Mary and the foundation of the Guild of Corpus Christi may relate to Le Brun’s possible involvement in the riots against the cathedral in Tombland, and his trying to curry favour with the Pope. As an entity the chapel and college provided a bridge with the cathedral associating with the people and the city. As a result it received civic funds, bequests and support from the city. In addition in 1388 the college acquired the advowson to St Peter Mancroft, then in a particularly poor state. It also held several other churches in Norfolk, bringing the total including the Chapel in the fields to nine.

The college chancel was rebuilt between 1425 and 1435, with other areas restored from 1444 a rood loft built in 1501. During this period before the Guildhall was built it had come to be used as a meeting place for the corporation, so there is a longer tradition of assemblies hidden within this previous use of the site.

The College ceased to be at the dissolution in 1544 under the last Dean,  Miles Spenser, when it was surrendered to Henry VIII. Two year later the site was granted back to Spenser now the Archdeacon of Norwich, the chapel was demolished as was his legal obligation. The remaining buildings were slowly demolished and sold while part of the college was turned into his residence.

The Assembly House - Glass Plates

The streets and places around it echo with memory of the site, Chapelfield Gardens was originally part of the precinct and close which originally stretched back to the city wall and the Chapply Fields or Chapelfield stretched almost as far as St Giles Gate, and the name Chapelfield is synonymous with the area still, Lady Lane, now under The Forum was the processional way to the Church. The Chantry and Chantry Road both remember an aspect of it too.

The Assembly House - Glass Plates

Bits of the building live on; some of the fabric of the building still exists in the current Assembly House, the footprint of the music room, tea room and ballroom match the original Great Hall and Parlour and some material exists in that building fabric including a Tudor window frames bricked into a wall. When you walk through the gates and cross to the steps you walk across the original Aisles and Nave of the church, walk past the tower of the chapel now buried under the gallery and theatre. Once inside you are standing in the the cloisters. The bells from the church now live in St Lawrence. Part of the crypt still exists under the east wing with an impressive vaulted ceiling and an area of floor which appear to be original tile and dates back to the foundation of the college. In the corridor you will find a stone plaque, the merchant’s mark of the Browne family of Norwich. It was excavated in 1901 from the North Aisle of the Church. It is also worth noting that Browne rebuilt the Nave of St Stephens in 1550, is it quite possible this was done using material from the College and Chapel. Two Brownes were mayors of Norwich and are both believed to be a descended from the original le Brun family.

The Assembly House - Glass Plates

Plates.

St Mary de Campo.

St Mary Conjectured drawings from 1950 based on 1902 archaeological dig, dissolution survey and earlier writing – S Rowland Pierce.

Remains of 12 light window found in North Wall of West Wing 1948/49 (Glass plate)

Inset: Stone shield with merchant’s mark found in the ruins of the Chapel in 1902 believed to belong to the Browne/le Brun family. (Glass plate)

Overlain plan of The Assembly House pre-1950 showing the position of the original college of the Chapel in the Fields – S Rowland Pierce.

Thanks to Dr Nicholas Groves for his assistance with this post.

Sources: Blomfield, Groves and Stephenson.

By | February 22nd, 2017|heritage blogs|0 Comments

The Noverre Cinema returns to The Assembly House

Noverre Cinema 3

The Noverre Cinema returns to The Assembly House

On Friday 21st April the ballroom of The Assembly House will be once again become the Noverre Cinema and will hold a public screening for the first time in over twenty years.

The Assembly House Trust is teaming up with Cinema City Education to revive one of Norwich’s long-lost cinemas for one-night-only.

The much-missed cinema is returning as part of a year of activities celebrating the heritage of one of Norwich’s most beloved public buildings. The event will be accompanied by a special exhibition charting the history of The Assembly House.

Noverre Cinema

The title of the film and ticket details are still to be announced but we are keen to collect memories of the cinema for as part of the event.

What are your memories of the Noverre Cinema?

Get in touch by emailing info@assemblyhousetrust.org.uk or tweeting @AHHeritage

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About The Noverre Cinema

For more than 40 years, the Noverre served as a popular city cinema which screened a diverse range of films including non-commercial and arthouse releases.

Located in a former ballroom at the Assembly House in Norwich, the cinema took its name from the Noverre family who taught classical dance there during the 18th Century.

Prior to the Noverre’s opening, the Assembly House underwent extensive restoration work between 1948 and 1950 for a cost of £70,000. When it re-opened in November 1950 the building was complete with music rooms, a banquet room and exhibition room, in addition to the arts cinema.

A raked floor was installed which accommodated 272 seats. The cinema was well equipped with two 35mm projectors, two 16mm projectors and modern sound installation.

The Noverre is fondly remembered for its Saturday morning kids’ club, seating with plenty of leg room, showing no adverts before films and for not selling ice creams or popcorn. The most popular film it screened was Cabaret, which was shown on 11 different occasions.

The Norfolk & Norwich Film Theatre began showing films at the Noverre in 1966 before moving into their permanent venue, Cinema City on St Andrews Street, in 1978. The NNFT screened a variety of, sometimes controversial, foreign and arthouse pictures that were otherwise unavailable to view in Norfolk.

The Noverre closed its doors on 23 December 1992.

 

By | February 22nd, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Phoenix Heritage Project

Assembly House - George Plunkett 1935

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of The Assembly House’s re-opening following a devastating fire in 1995.

To celebrate this regeneration, The Assembly House Trust are organising an exciting programme of events exploring the heritage of this landmark building.

Keep an eye on our Heritage Project page for regular updates as we trawl through The Assembly House archive.

Do you have memories of The Assembly House?

Send your stories to info@assemblyhousetrust.org.uk or tweet @AHHeritage

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Exhibition: The Assembly House

Friday 21st April – Saturday 27th May

The Phoenix Heritage Project begins with an exhibition charting the history of The Assembly House and the thriving community that uses it.

Beginning on 21st April, the exhibition will share previously unseen archive material related to the heritage of the site and its place in the city; stories of the building, its history and people including previously unseen and archived photographs and documents.

By | February 22nd, 2017|Exhibition, Heritage|0 Comments

Coming Soon: Norwich Makers Market

NMM Flyer

Norwich Makers Market at The Assembly House

Saturday 8th April, 10am until 4pm

Norwich Makers Market is a unique event, dedicated to housing the very best hand-picked designers and illustrators in Norwich and surrounding fairytale wilds of the East.

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Expect to find bespoke homewares, gifts, jewellery, textiles, stationery, prints, clothing and many more individual products.

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Supporting independent designer makers, enjoy shopping with a twist away from the mass-produced high street, this ever-popular market has something for everybody! nipper_and_moo

With support from The Assembly House Trust, the Noverre Ballroom will play host to this event for the very first time.

By | January 26th, 2017|Event|0 Comments

The Noverre Cinema

Noverre Cinema

Do you remember the Noverre Cinema? We’re collecting your memories for an exciting new project.

Get in touch and send your memories to info@assemblyhousetrust.org.uk

Watch this space for more information!

By | January 24th, 2017|Heritage|0 Comments