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Visiting the Great Hospital, Bishopgate, Norwich: a senior home since 1249

Updated on August 12, 2013
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Great Hospital Cloisters, Norwich
Great Hospital Cloisters, Norwich | Source
St Helen's, Bishopgate, Norwich
St Helen's, Bishopgate, Norwich | Source
St Helen's, Bishopgate, Norwich
St Helen's, Bishopgate, Norwich | Source

Some sort of continuity in stone

In 1249 at Bishopgate, Norwich, Norfolk, this facility was started and it has been a senior home more or less ever since.

This is, of course, an over-simplification, but there is some truth to it.

The fortunes of the Great Hospital have since the 13th century revolved around the church of St Helen, Bishopgate. Both the Great Hospital's cloisters and the main body of the church building are executed in flint: which traditionally has been a common building material in Norfolk.

The square tower, with prominent flying buttresses, is a conspicuous feature of St Helen's church; this dates from circa 1375.

At the Reformation, during which period the institution came into the possession of Norwich City Corporation, the interior of the church building underwent modification; and the Hospital went into abeyance for while, before being reconstituted. The chancel dates from the 14th century and features a painted ceiling depicting hundreds of eagles. The ornate interior of the church building includes a 15th century vault, and some prominent box pews, hundreds of years old.

Centuries back, the mission of what is now known as the Great Hospital was described as to serve 'decrepit priests'. (Well, I get the impression, at any rate, that in those days people were far more accustomed to stating things as they saw them, rather than engaging in the contemporary habit of tiptoeing around issues and using the cunning of politicians to avoid saying things outright, in case someone is offended.)

The Great Hospital and St Helen's Church would thus seem to represent old England; and provide yet another reminder of the formerly pervasive influence of the Medieval church. This does beg the question: what sort of old England was it? In considering this ancient care facility for retired clergy, it would be a mistake to see Medieval and early modern times in Norwich as uniformly benevolent eras: while retired clergy were being cared for at the Great Hospital in the early 16th century, a few hundred metres away some of their more able bodied colleagues were busy executing women at Bishop's Bridge for allegedly having read the New Testament in an 'incorrect' manner (these macabre scenes I have described separately).

The Lodge, which is a heritage information room, is open weekly at the Great Hospital during the summer months (1). Function rooms at the Great Hospital are sometimes available for hire.

This historic facilty is situated at The Great Hospital, Bishopgate, Norwich, Norfolk.

August 12, 2013


(1) For further information see:

Map location of Norwich, Norfolk
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk | Source

Also worth seeing

In Norwich itself, other visitor attractions include: the nearby Medieval Norwich Cathedral, the Medieval structures Pull's Ferry and Cow Tower, both situated not far from Bishop Bridge; and Norwich Castle and Norwich Guildhall also attract many visitors.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Norwich is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. Norwich is 233 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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