Norwich’s great survivor - the building that still stands proud in the city centre
- Credit: George Plunkett © 1934
The wrecking ball swings threw the air and the buildings collapse in clouds of dust. So much of our heritage has been smashed to pieces. Victims of civic vandalism in Norwich...and then there is Howard House. Derek James reports
It was a sign of the times....the Hippodrome where Oliver and Hardy appeared during the final tour of 1954 which is now the subject of the hit film starring our own Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) was reduced to rubble ten years later.
The theatre, opened as the Grand Opera House, was demolished to make way for....St Giles multi-storey car park.
Meanwhile churches, whole streets, and numerous buildings and communities were destroyed in the name of progress and to build roads across Norwich.
So what hope for dear old Howard House, rotting away on King Street, the former home of the Duke of Norfolk, bashed by traffic and attacked by thieves?
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Well, this is the story of the great survivor.
It is very sad that the one stunning pleasure gardens are long gone but the house is standing, looking good after all these years, and at long last has a future it so richly deserves.
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So, thanks to Norwich City Council, Norwich Society, Suffolk contractors R & J Hogg, and Orbit, the developers of St Anne's Quarter.
This is a new development which Howard House, steeped in history, will sit alongside. A companion to other surviving landmarks along the oldest and longest road in the city such as Dragon Hall and the Music House.
Five years ago Mary Ash became chairman of the Norwich Society and campaigned to save board-up-Howard House whose plight she described as 'one of the biggest heritage scandals in the city.'
In a new magazine published by the society called Aspects of Norwich Mary writes about Howard House and its grounds known as 'My Lord's Gardens.'
In more recent times it was used as offices by Morgan's Brewery. It was taken over by 1960s by Watney Mann. They closed in 1985 and when the site was cleared Howard House stood alone again.
Now Obit Homes have come along to build hundreds of apartments on what is now known as St Anne's Quarter. One of the conditions of planning permission was to restore Howard House which is being done so well by contractors R & J Hogg.
The 19th century post and boot scraps all help to bring HH to life again and during the restoration a 130-year-old letter and more than 60 wallpapers, giving vital clues as to how the house was used over the centuries found. The 1840 sundial sits proud on the house.
Mary writes about the extraordinary and unique history of the house – so called because it was created by Henry Howard, the sixth Duke of Norfolk, in 1664.
The powerful Howard family had the substantial Duke's Palace where St Andrew's car park now stands. Henry bought land once owned by the Augustinians or Austin Friars, in what is now King Street, and extensive waterside pleasure gardens were laid out.
'As the palace was so close, I can only assume that Howard House was created as an adjunct to the pleasure gardens, maybe a banqueting hall or belvedere to take advantage of the fine view,' writes Mary.
Sometime later a diarist of the day, Thomas Baskerville, wrote: 'Taking a boat for pleasure, to view the city, the boatman brought us to a fair garden belonging to the Duke of Norfolk, having handsome stairs leading to the water by which we ascended to the garden. Here the birdsong, walks, bowling green and liquid refreshment were the simple principal pleasures.'
'My Lord's Garden' remained a place of delight until the early 19th century, passing through the hands of several owners after the Howards left for Arundel Castle.
All that remains is a small patch....but Howard House stands proud and we have much to thank all those responsible for saving this import part of of our history.
<BLOB> Aspects of Norwich, featuring the story of Howard House among others, published by the Norwich Society costs £3.50 and is on sale in the City Book on Davey Place, Norwich..