18 of Norfolk's most fascinating buildings
- Credit: James Bass
As we stay local many of us have a renewed appreciation of our surroundings - here are 18 (plus) of Norfolk's fascinating buildings.
The 17th century Custom House beside the river in King’s Lynn was called: “One of the most perfect buildings ever built,” by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner.
The 200-year-old Nelson Monument in Yarmouth, is also known as the Norfolk Naval Pillar and Britannia Monument. Inside is a 217-step staircase to the top, where a statue of Britannia gazes out across Norfolk. Designer William Wilkins also designed the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, where an even taller monument to Nelson was built 24 years later.
When it opened, more than a century ago, the lavish Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth was called: "Undoubtedly the finest palace of entertainment in Great Britain.” Today it is still a wonder of the entertainment world, hosting world-class shows – and with an extraordinary extra trick of its own involving a transformation from circus ring to swimming pool.
The student accommodation ziggurats at the University of East Anglia, designed in the 1960s by Denys Lasdun are now listed buildings.
The ziggurat tower of St Mary’s church, Burgh St Peter, in the Waveney valley, is a mausoleum for the Boycott family. Instead of building themselves ornate tombs inside the church the Boycott family constructed a mausoleum in the ruined tower. The ziggurat-shaped tower was begun by Samuel Boycott in 1793 and his grandson gave the English language a new word. As a land agent in Ireland he tried to enforce rent rises in the 1880s and was shunned by the community – people refused to work for him, speak to him or serve him in shops. Their campaign was a success and Boycott, boycotted, returned home to Norfolk.
Norfolk has many more round-towered churches than anywhere else in the country, some dating back more than 1,000 years, like St Mary’s, Haddiscoe, near Loddon.
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Architect George Skipper was born in Dereham in 1856 and John Betjeman said of him: “He was to Norwich what Gaudi was to Barcelona.” His work includes the Royal Arcade, Aviva’s Marble Hall, Jarrold and the St Giles House Hotel in Norwich; Sennowe Hall in Guist near Fakenham and Hunstanton Town Hall. In Cromer his Hotel de Paris rises, topped with pinnacles and domes, from the seafront.
A dome at the former RAF Langham airfield, near Holt, was used to train anti-aircraft gunners during the Second World War and is a scheduled ancient monument.
Medieval Trinity Guildhall in King’s Lynn has a stunning chequerboard flintwork façade.
The spire of Norwich Cathedral is the second highest in England and soars from the Norman stonework of a 900-year-old tower.
The new council houses in Goldsmith Street, Norwich, were named the best new building in the UK in 2019, winning the Stirling Prize for architecture.
Houghton Hall, one of the most lavish homes in Britain, was built on a grand scale in the 1720s for its first prime minister, Robert Walpole. The west Norfolk mansion is still a family home.
Booton church rises like a fairytale palace from the rural landscape near Reepham. It was redesigned by its rector the Rev Whitwell Elwin, who arrived at his medieval parish church in 1850 and spent the next 50 years redesigning and rebuilding. Booton rebooted included copies of his favourite architectural features from the Palace of Westminster, Glastonbury Abbey and Oxford colleges.
Inside, angels fly overhead and cluster with vast feathered wings in jewel-coloured windows. Today St Michael the Archangel, Booton, is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and is the first in Norfolk to offer church camping – or champing. The Rev was a a friend of Charles Dickens, Walter Scott and William Thackery and a great letter writer, advising one correspondent, Charles Darwin, to stick to writing about pigeons. As well as redesigning his church, the Rev Whitwell Elwin designed Booton House, the childhood home of Stephen Fry.
The circular thatched Hermanus holiday homes at Winterton were inspired by the round houses of Hermanus Bay in South Africa.
In Hunstanton the 1960s glass and steel structure of Smithdon High School has Grade II listed status because it marks the arrival of the New Brutalist school of architecture in the UK.
The magnificent earthworks and stone Norman tower of Castle Rising Castle are among the finest surviving ruins of their kind. Astonishingly, the current owner is a descendant of the Norman knight who first owned the castle.
Norwich’s Plantation Garden was created in the 19th century in an old quarry and was engulfed by vegetation and almost lost before being rediscovered and restored by volunteers. Its spectacular gothic fountain, medieval-style wall and Italian terrace were built from a mixture of flint and beautifully patterned bricks, many of them from the Gunton brickworks of Costessey.
Any exploration of Norfolk architecture would not be complete without a windmill. Thurne Mill, in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, is regularly open to the public and linked to the nearby Wind Energy Museum at Repps with Bastwick, where Bob Morse, who restored the mill, collected wind-powered drainage pumps from around the world.
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