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