Heritage Open Days at The Assembly House

HOD - Bunting 03

Heritage Open Days at The Assembly House


Early Bird Tour

Sunday 10th September, 8.30am and 10.30am

Join us for an early morning tour of the fascinating history of the Assembly House. A medieval college still visible in the crypt, Tudor spoils, Georgian arts, nineteenth century dancing, a school and top-secret war rooms. Brimming with personalities from the past and tangible architectural evidence enjoy the histories of this remarkable site with guide Roxanne Matthews.

Booking opens on 7th August

Visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk


Family Event: Top Secret Camouflage

Sunday 10th September, 12.30pm-4.30pm

Families are invited to join Oliver Messel, set decorator extraordinaire on a top-secret mission in memory of his efforts during the Second World War. Once home to government Camouflage Offices come and experience a tiny part of the Assembly House’s amazing history. Make your own sets to disguise buildings and landmarks.


For all the family age 3 +

Drop-in event.  

By | July 11th, 2017|Event, Heritage|0 Comments

Exhibition: Eliza Southwood


Exhibition: Eliza Southwood

Friday 16th June – Saturday 9th September


Eliza Southwood practiced as an architect for ten years before deciding to take up a career as an artist and illustrator full-time in 2011, although she has consistently drawn and painted throughout her life. Her first illustration commission was a Spanish children’s book, when she was aged 13.



From the age of ten she spent her childhood in a remote part of Spain, where she grew up drawing and painting scenes of local life in the mountains. Her creative streak was later channelled into architectural design, and she graduated from Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Architecture, later finishing her postgraduate architectural studies in London. She spent several years working as a designer for Eric Parry Architects in London and later Arup Associates. However, having realised that she enjoyed carrying out the ‘artist’s impression’ part of her job more than any other, she finally decided to give up architectural practice in order to work full time on her own art projects.


Eliza’s architectural training fostered a technical eye for detail and colour, which is apparent in her artwork. Her speciality is silk screen printing, but she also works in mixed media, watercolour and acrylic.


She is known particularly for her cycling themed artwork, but also produces work on a wide range of subjects such as cityscapes, dogs, sports and people.


This exhibition is supported by The Assembly House Trust

By | June 25th, 2017|Exhibition|0 Comments

NNF17: The Voice Project presents The Arms of Sleep


In May 2017 The Assembly House Trust was proud to support The Arms of Sleep, a unique production from The Voice Project as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Photographs courtesy of Phil Sayer and Jemma Mickleburgh


By | June 15th, 2017|Event|0 Comments

Norfolk and Norwich Festival: The Arms of Sleep

Voice Project

Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2017

The Voice Project: The Arms of Sleep

20th – 26th May

9.30pm – 8.30am

Over five nights, 200 audience members slept overnight in the Noverre Ballroom, experiencing choral performances and art installations.

The Voice Project have a reputation for producing truly unique experiences and this was no exception. The Assembly House Trust are proud to have supported such an exciting project in the City of Norwich.

A huge thank you to Richard Hughes and all The Assembly House staff for tremendous levels of help and support in making the event a huge success.

Here is an online review of the event from Outline Magazine: http://www.outlineonline.co.uk/content/the-arms-of-sleep/nnf-2017/120151/2515

By | June 5th, 2017|Event|0 Comments

Exhibition: Phoenix Heritage Project

AHT poster (2)

Phoenix Heritage Project Exhibition                   

April 21st to May 27th 2017

The Assembly House Trust is opening up the archive to uncover the story of our fascinating landmark building, from its earliest foundation to the present day.


Join us in commemorating the 20th anniversary of the building’s regeneration and reopening in 1997 following the devastating fire of 1995.


The Phoenix Heritage Project exhibition follows the story of The Assembly House.

From its beginnings in the 13th Century fields of Norman Norwich to its development by Thomas Ivory, The Assembly House has long been a focal point for people across the county of Norfolk.


A landmark Georgian building, the House has played host to a college, a school, a YWCA hostel and a war office camouflage unit. It has even been used as a warehouse for storing chocolate and bicycles. The building has survived the blitz, been ravaged by fire and been regenerated on more than on occasion.


From grand balls and performances to jugglers and acrobats, its fascinating story is peopled by a long cast of painters, philanthropists, lords and barons.


The exhibition is free and open daily with displays in the corridor gallery.

The Phoenix Heritage Project is a new programme of events celebrating the heritage of The Assembly House.

You can also follow the project on twitter: @AHHeritage

By | May 8th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Noverre Cinema: Some Like It Hot


On Friday 21st April the ballroom of The Assembly House once again became the Noverre Cinema, holding a public screening for the first time in over twenty years.


The Assembly House Trust worked in partnership 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.


Audience members were encouraged to arrive early to browse a small exhibition, with artefacts including original posters and brochures from the Noverre Cinema.


The main feature, along with a selection of local archive films, were introduced by local performer Simon Floyd. Audience members also treated themselves to popcorn and ice cream during the intermission.


It was a fantastic event with a great sense of nostalgia with attendees sharing their fondest memories.

Huge thanks to Elmulgraphic, who produced a stunning 360 image of the event:

Will there be more screenings in the Noverre Cinema? Watch this space!


By | May 2nd, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Take One Picture: Seething and Mundham Primary School


The Assembly House Trust is always excited to work in partnership with local community organisations, especially when it comes to interesting art projects.


This month we were happy to offer exhibition space to Seething & Mundham Primary School:

“Seething and Mundham Primary have been taking part in an exciting project called ‘Take 1 Picture‘, which is coordinated by the National Gallery in London.

Mrs Appleby, the head teacher, was very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a teachers’ training day at the gallery and subsequently organised a training session for the school’s teachers at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. The school has always used artists’ work to inspire children but this project gave the pupils greater depth of involvement with an artist’s work.

We were fortunate enough to use some exhibition space at the Assembly House Norwich; this was possible with the assistance of the Assembly House Trust who provided the necessary support.”


The exhibition ran until Friday the 14th of April and provided a great opportunity for the children of Seething and Mundham primary school to view their work in a “real life” exhibition space.

By | April 15th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Norwich Makers Market

IMG_7358On Saturday 8th April, The Assembly House Trust welcomed Norwich Makers Market to The Noverre Ballroom for the very first time.


The 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.


The ballroom was filled withbespoke homewares, gifts, jewellery, textiles, stationery, prints, clothing and many more individual products.


The Trust is extremely happy to be supporting independent designer makers, offering a twist away from the mass-produced high street, the market was very popular with something on offer for everybody.

Many thanks to the organisers, all who attended as well as the talented artists and designer-makers, we hope to host Norwich Makers Market again in the future.

By | April 12th, 2017|Event|0 Comments


The Assembly House - Glass Plates

The period saw the building in a poor state. No real upkeep having been completed since the 1930s. Of the original consortium Henry Sexton and Sir George Ernest White remained, but sadly Alan Rees Colman died in a flying accident while on active service. Despite the circumstances and the condition of the building Henry Sexton wasn’t put off, and whilst in discussion with another enthusiastic supporter Arnold Kent, they started to imagine a different future for the buildings. One where the Assembly House became a centre of the arts. A Committee was formed chaired by J.B. Hales, with Arnold Kent, Nugent Monck, Reginald Pareezer and Andrew Stephenson representing interested parties from theatre, arts, film, education and entertainment.

A preliminary report was presented in June 1943. The initial aims were to acquire and restore the Assembly Rooms, add a theatre and cinema, with the premises given to trustees for the use of the City of Norwich’s a centre for the arts. Part of the original plan was to transfer the Norwich Players from the Maddermarket Theatre to the Theatre in the centre, with the Maddermarket Theatre Trust running it  with the assistance of the council. The Theatre was planned for the Noverre Ballroom. The centre would also be made available for concerts, recitals and art exhibitions. One proposal was for a gallery for the collection of Norwich School paintings held by the Colman family.

There were negotiations due to the differing views on how the Trust should be comprised and whether it should be presented to and run by the city or if it would fair better as an Independent Trust. Sir Ernest sold his share to Henry Sexton. In March 1945 The H.J.Sexton Norwich Arts Trust was formed. The members were Henry Sand Eric Sexton, Herbert Gowen, Charles Hammond, Percy Jewson MP, Frederick Jex, Arnold Kent, Walter Nugent Monck, and Edward Williamson the Lord Mayor of Norwich. Architects Charles Holloway James and Sir Stephen Roland Pierce who had designed City Hall were appointed to prepare plans, although Pierce solely completed them.

The Assembly House - Glass Plates

boy fountain 1200pxThe state of the building was also a problem with Pierce commenting he had to ‘battle with decay, dry rot beetles, neglect and blitz’.  Rot appeared everywhere, foundations had been sliced into for previous alterations, there were areas that required underpinning, ceilings falling in and damp. On the plus side, the two story section added to the Noverre Ballroom to house classrooms made a perfect projection room at the exact height required for raked seating. The theatre had to be abandoned due to conversion costs, a disappointment give the original vision of it extending the work of the Maddermarket.

Some areas of the original Ivory house had vanished forever, the stairs in particular had been removed a century before. Caball had made few changes in his tenure and the High School had made a few but nothing dramatic; partitioning in the Music Room was removed. The organ gallery was altered, the school had added a few areas such as laboratories which were repurposed. The Steward’s house was demolished to make way for cloakrooms. The east wing which retains elements of its Elizabethan structure was repaired and renovated part of which now forming the managers house. Outside the drive was resurfaced and the thicket of shrubs removed, the ironwork cleaned and repaired with the details picked out in gilt.

Programme 1980sFinally the rooms were named, commemorating people connected with the building’s heritage and history. Ivory, Bacon, Pierce, Kent, Messel and Sexton, with the Noverre Cinema replacing the ballroom. On the 23rd of November 1950, the Assembly House was finally presented to the people of Norwich as a centre for the arts. The final piece of the puzzle was put in place in 1954, The pool in the forecourt was instated and completed with James Woodford’s sculpture of a boy, his work already visible across the road at City Hall showing a series of reliefs on the main doors unwittingly perhaps tying the relationship between the city’s crafts, guilds and trades; the people that make the city and their shared history to the Assembly House.

For the next 45 years, the Assembly House played host to events, films and performances, dinners and meetings. Local arts groups using the spaces, with regular exhibitions, The Assembly House had again cemented it’s place in the city as a place to meet and get involved. and then on April 12th 1995 something terrible happened.

Noverre cinema 1

Noverre cinema 2



By | March 20th, 2017|heritage blogs|0 Comments

A High School, a warehouse and the advent of war.

As the twentieth century began the building was now established as a the Norwich High School for Girls. It had undergone minimal changes. A few extra walls were established to divide large rooms for classrooms, some work had been done to add bring in some more light, but the basic fabric and detailing of the building remained intact. The west wing was still owned and lived in by Frank Noverre, this was bought by the school along with the relatively newly built Noverre Ballroom in 1901.

Scan 15

Theatre Square at the front of the building was open to the road, a busy thoroughfare with a newly built tram line. It also appear to have been the school play ground. After some legal to-and-fro between the school and the city, a concession of a small area was allocated to the highway and the area was fenced off with the railings and gates we see today. The only change is the original lamps which surmounted them were found after renovation work later in the century and fixed on the front of the building.

In 1933 the High School moved to more spacious grounds at Eaton Grove, Newmarket Road, formerly the house of John Harrison Yallop, Alderman and Mayor of Norwich.

The buildings again up for sale, it transpired that the School Trust had made an application to develop the site and a local company registered an interest in buying it, but only if it could be developed, the buildings did not sell. Despite being registered as an ancient monument it was felt further action was needed to ensure the property was adequately protected. A meeting between the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Trust and the Norwich Society in 1935 resulted in a resolution being passed to preserve the Assembly House for the city.

‘the buildings very fine examples of the style of the middle of the eighteenth century and of local (if not national) importance being the work of the architect Thomas Ivory and being connected since its erection in 1754 with the history of the city: also this site and the fourteenth century crypt beneath it preserve the memory of the meeting place of one of the earliest Civic Assemblies in the kingdom.’

The building was saved from destruction, but that was all. But still it stood more of less empty, gradually declining. Being mortgaged it was important that the debt was serviced, parts were rented out. The Ivory Rooms became a warehouse for bicycles and other parts of the building were used as stores for Caleys, while the western wing was being used the YMCA as a hostel.

It was in 1938 that a consortium including H.J. Sexton, Sir George White and Alan Rees Colman bought the building with plans for expanding it’s use with the YMCA and YWCA. Boardman and Son were asked to prepare plans. A variety of options were looked at including building a Lecture Hall and Theatre on the car park and proposals to use the Noverre Ballroom and the Music Room as women’s and men’s gymnasiums. These were all promptly shelved as the Second World War loomed. The building remained partially empty and decaying.

Scan 12b

by Gordon Anthony, bromide print, 1937

by Gordon Anthony, bromide print, 1937

By good fortune whilst working for the War Office Oliver Messel, the eminent stage, film set designer, was posted to Norwich. He had a studio in 70 Bishopsgate and a workshop for the unit in the shed behind the former workshop of J Short near the cathedral which had already been requisitioned. He took to exploring the city, and at some time in 1940 chanced upon the Assembly Rooms in a then semi-derelict state. He was apparently rather taken with what he found. It would appear that on his advice the buildings were requisitioned that December and became the Eastern Command Camouflage Office and Camouflage factory. Roland Penrose the surrealist lectured to the officers and men at the Assembly House. It was at Messel’s insistence that Christopher Hussey visited and wrote about the building for Country Life and he also alerted his brother in law at the Georgian Society of the buildings historical importance.

The building changed suddenly under the command of Lieutenant Vivian De Sola Pinto, the poet, literary critic and historian who fought alongside Sassoon during the Great War. The rooms were cleared of bikes and furniture. Paint, canvas and hessian and plaster replaced dust and old school fittings. Camouflage patterns and models laid out on the huge floorspace and along the walls where festoons, drapes and portraits had hung over a century before.

On nights of the 27th/28th and the 19th/30th of April 1942, the Luftwaffe attacked Norwich in earnest. On the first night the Baedeker raids focused on transport, industry and residential properties. After a 24 hour lull the bombing started again, this time moving onto the commercial centre of the city. Dornier’s and Junkers swept in splitting roofs open with high explosives and then dumped incendiaries into the gaps starting a mini-firestorm that raged across the centre of the city. Buntings, Woolworths and Curls burnt out, Caley’s chocolate factory behind The Assembly House was reduced to heat distorted walls and smoking rubble, the smell of burnt sugar mixing with woodsmoke. Fires raged around the Assembly House.

Blitz Caleys 1942

Messel fortunately had noted the lack of any fire watch on the building and had instated one, the men dealt with several incendiaries which hit the main body of the building, there was some damage, but most of it was minor and reparable. Life and work went on.

Norwich blitz from castle 1942

In 1944 as the South and East of England filled with D-Day troops, Messel organised an event, the building was dressed appropriately using props created using the men’s camouflage skills, theatre design and lighting techniques. Local dignitaries and the military were invited so they may see the beauty and importance of it. By highlighting the building, Messel paved the way, and H. J. Sexton climbed into the driver’s seat and drove it into the post war period.


Scan 13d

Scan 13a

Feature image – The Girls High School, Banquet room 1922. (AHTPHP collection).
Image 2 –  The Girls High School, Banquet room 1922. (AHTPHP collection).
Images 3 – The Assembly House 1940s. (AHTPHP collection).
Image 4 – Oliver Messel by Yvonne Gregory (Wikipedia)

Image 5 – Caleys After the April 1942 attacks (IW collection, believed to be George Swain)
Image 6 – A view from the Castle Mound towards Caleys, the Assembly House and St Stephens across Orford Place, after the April 1942 attacks (IW collection, photographer unknown)

By | March 17th, 2017|heritage blogs|0 Comments