Plans lodged to breathe new life into Norwich’s historic Earlham Hall
New life could be breathed into a historic Norwich hall, which has been home to some of the city's most influential families, after plans for a revamp were lodged with the council.
The University of East Anglia has submitted proposals to refurbish the Grade II* listed Earlham Hall, left, which is considered of national importance and has connections with locally important figures in politics and banking.
The university snapped up the hall, on the edge of Earlham Park, from Norwich City Council for �700,000 in 2010, to use as a new home for its School of Law. But it was soon discovered that the 430-year-old building was suffering from major structural problems, which led to it being closed.
However, the university plans to repair and stabilise the building so it can be brought back into use for the School of Law.
And the intention is also to make sure the hall is still accessible to the general public, given the fondness many families have for building.
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The hall, which dates back to 1580, has significant historic connections with the banking family the Gurneys, who leased the hall from 1786 to 1912, while the 19th century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, grew up there.
In the 1940s it was used as a maternity house and midwife teaching facility and, in the 1950s, it was an annex to Bluebell Girls School.
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Along with general repairs and redecoration, the plans, lodged with City Hall include the removal of the most recent 20th century extension to the east of the hall.
University bosses want to replace that extension with a new entrance and foyer, while also making changes to the nearby courtyard.
The plans will also see a new route created to link the north and east courtyards and the removal of an ugly fire escape to the west.
During December and January, the public were invited to exhibitions about the revamp of the hall, and planning consultants Bidwells reported that the majority of people were in favour of the refurbishment.
The main issues raised were that people were surprised and concerned at the state the hall had fallen into, that there was a need for public access to the hall and its grounds and that more should be done to interpret the history of the hall.
Among those who commented on the plans was Victoria Manthorpe, from civic watchdogs The Norwich Society. She welcomed the proposals as being sensitive to the buildings and their historic importance.
She said the work to the courtyard needed to be done soon, as the buildings there were in 'a shameful state'.
A report drawn up by Cambridge-based RH Partnership Architects states that: 'The diverse uses of the building associated with the local community during the middle part of the 20th century means that there are many people locally who have personal links to Earlham Hall through birth, schooling and high education.' They say that historic fabric and furnishings will be kept and that specialises will be brought on board to help with repairs.
But, while the hall is currently not used by students, it is not completely empty. A survey revealed bats are living in some of the lofts of the buildings on the site.
And that could mean roosts have to be preserved, bat-boxes installed and 'dark corridors' maintained for feeding bats.
The UEA has major plans for its campus over the next 20 years, with proposals for a flagship Enterprise Centre at the former CityCare depot, which would create 170 jobs.
The proposals for Earlham Hall will be considered at a future meeting of Norwich City Council's planning committee.
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