New drive to safeguard future of Norwich’s neglected gem Bethel Hospital

At risk - parts of the former Bethel Hospital in the heart of Norwich that the council are hoping to

At risk - parts of the former Bethel Hospital in the heart of Norwich that the council are hoping to save. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

It is one of Norwich's forgotten architectural gems, which blazed an important trail when it opened in the 18th century.

Yet thousands of people pass the former Bethel Hospital - believed to be the first purpose built asylum in the country – every day without giving it a second glance.

The march of time has not been kind to the decaying Grade II* listed complex of buildings. which have been placed on Historic England's register of buildings at risk.

Heritage experts say the 19th century wing is in poor condition, needing 'substantial repairs', while part of the hospital's former boardroom is in need of 'structural reinforcement'.

But Norwich City Council is hoping a new drive will breathe new life into the site, off Bethel Street, after years of neglect.


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The majority of the Bethel Hospital site, which was founded by Mary Chapman in the early 18th century, is currently unused.

It was acquired many years ago for conversion by an investment company.

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A scheme which got planning permission to convert it into homes was partly implemented, and some buildings, furthest away from the Forum have successfully been turned into homes.

However, the broader project was abandoned, and the conservationists' concern is focused on the rest of the complex.

Council officers say 'substantial areas of the building have now fallen into disrepair after an extended period of neglect.'

The planning brief, part of a new Local Development Scheme being put together at City Hall, will set out planning and design principles on what could be done at the site.

Officers say that will help guide the future development of the site, while securing its repair, re-use and regeneration.

Bert Bremner, cabinet member for environment and sustainable development, said: 'Norwich is blessed with a legacy of important historic buildings and Bethel Hospital is a great example.

'It is essential that we take action to protect these buildings and one of the ways we're trying to do this is by putting in place briefs to guide future development and regeneration.'

Victoria Manthorpe, administrator for civic watchdogs The Norwich Society, said: 'It is a very delicate site and we would want to look very carefully at what this planning brief would or would not allow.'

Do you think Bethel Hospital is worth saving? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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