A look inside Norwich's historical jewel Strangers' Hall
PUBLISHED: 11:55 06 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:45 06 April 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
Norwich boasts of a city full of historical treasures but none quite as opulent as Strangers’ Hall.
Reporter EMILY PRINCE took a look inside to find out more...
Similar to Dr Who’s Tardis (smaller on the outside, bigger on the inside) Strangers’ Hall on Charing Cross is one of Norwich’s most historic buildings, filled to the brim with artefacts spanning an impressive 800 years.
The Grade 1 listed building can be traced back to the early 1300s and has been home to many of the city’s leading citizens including a number of mayors and wealthy merchants. In the late 19th century it was turned into a ‘folk museum’ and handed over to the city of Norwich in 1922.
The fascinating building was seen as a very prestigious dwelling and many of its residents invested a lot of money and time into extending and improving it. This is shown throughout the hall today as each room is decorated in the style of a different time period to reflect the changes, a Georgian dining-room and Victorian nursery for example.
During the 16th Century, the house was owned by Thomas Sotherton, a Norwich grocer and mayor who wanted to help Protestants fleeing persecution from the Spanish Catholics. After seeking special permission from Queen Elizabeth I, more than 300 Dutch, Flemish and Walloon (people from what is now modern-day Belgium) refugee weavers were invited by Mr Sotherton to the city to help revive the textile industry. Due to not being from Norwich the workers became known as ‘strangers’ and as some took up residence with the mayor the building was named Strangers’ Hall.
Strangers’ Hall has a strong affiliation with Norwich City Football Club. When the Flemish weavers came to the county, they brought with them their now-famous canary birds, remembered today as the nickname and emblem of the football club.
Hard to believe that by 1890 the hall stood completely empty, neglected, derelict and under threat of being demolished. In 1899 it was brought by local solicitor Leonard Bolingbroke who was a keen antique collector and furnished the house with his collections.
Among the many artefacts in each room are hidden treasures to search for.
Great Hall - Added in the mid-1500s, the Great Hall is the first room you enter. It was the epicentre of the house. A portrait of Elizabeth Buxton hangs in this room. Look out for an oak screen that has the mark of the Merchant Adventurers’ Company carved into it.
Walnut Room - This room was added in the 17th century by Mayor Francis Cook as a place for family members to be together privately. It is decorated head to toe in oak and walnut wood. A sculpture of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, one of Norfolk’s most celebrated naval captains is on display here.
Lady Paine’s Chamber - This room is an upper-level extension by Sir Joseph Pine for his wife Emma, their initials can be found on the fireplace. An original Turkeywork pillow, with all original embroidery, is found at the bottom of the bed.
Little Bed-Chamber - Junior members of the household or servants would sleep in small rooms near their mistress so they were close at hand. This room is very plain in comparison to the rest of the house as was in the local style of the 1600s. Little ones can have a go at making the beds in this room.
Toy Room - Strangers’ Hall has a fully stocked playroom which houses children’s book collections of national importance, some not represented in the British Library. An 18th-century dolls house and Noah’s ark, complete with hundreds of small wooden animals are a must-see.
Great Chamber - Set out as the private chamber of Sir Joseph Paine, this wing of the building was originally separate from the Great Hall. Wealthy citizens showed their taste in the form of imported good such as Flemish glass and personal cutlery. Some of Sir Joseph’s cutlery can be found on the table.
Georgian Dining-Room - In 1748 Strangers’ Hall became the official lodging of the Assize Judges. New deep sash, glass windows and mahogany furniture were added, which was the height of Georgian fashion. An Irish glass chandelier from 1765 is the centrepiece and an important status symbol.
Morning Room - A feminine space for attending personal business, writing, sewing and receiving callers. This room features a collection of papier-mâché furniture finished using a technique called ‘japanning’.
Regency Music Room - This room was added in the 1790s as music was considered an important accomplishment for young ladies. The piano, harp and harp-lute-guitars are all originals.
Parlour - Displayed as a 17th-century christening party, the parlour offered a more private and intimate space for families to use. A beaded layette basket for baby clothes, linens and gifts can be seen in this room.
Victorian Dining-room, nursery and parlour - Three adjourning rooms on an upper-level show the well-to-do Victorians who would live there. An embroidered bell is on the dining table as the employment of servants was at its peak.
Sotherton Room - This room is set out as a kitchen although it was probably never used as one. During the Tudor period, Norwich Mayor Nicholas Sotherton used the room as his counting house and office.
Undercroft - The oldest part of the building, built in the 1320s by Ralph de Middleton. It would have been the busy heart of the house used to store and display goods for sale.