From a child welfare centre to a hostel: History of landmark building revealed

Maggie Vaughan and Dr Roger Polhill of the Aylsham Town Archive presented a talk about the Orchards building. 

Maggie Vaughan and Dr Roger Polhill of the Aylsham Town Archive presented a talk about the Orchards building. - Credit: Newman Associates PR

Residents living in a landmark Aylsham building were treated to a insight into the history of their homes.

Broadland Housing and the Aylsham Town Archive joined forces for a presentation about the Orchards on Norwich Road.

Many of the people living in the 15 households at the Orchards were at the presentation, at Aylsham Town Hall.

The Orchards in Aylsham.

The Orchards in Aylsham. - Credit: Newman Associates PR

Among them was Paul Gibson, who has lived at the Orchards since July.

He said: “What a fantastic insight into our home.

“It’s so interesting to hear its history, I will look on it with a new eye now. The Orchards is a wonderful place to live. It has got all sorts of nooks and crannies, it has soul as well as history, as well as spectacular gardens. 

"I keep waiting for some Victorian ghost to come wafting up.”

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Archivists and historians Dr Roger Polhill and Maggie Vaughan-Lewis led the presentation about the mock Tudor building, which was built in 1848 by William Repton - principal solicitor in the town - and son of the renowned landscape designer Humphrey Repton.

Repton, who lived on the Market Place, had bought two acres of a former nursery in 1828 and used it as an orchard.

Drawing on archive photographs, Mrs Vaughan-Lewis told a fascinating story of the fluctuating fortunes of the house, from its round-the-clock construction by three shifts of workers and through the different uses it has seen over the decades. 

Paula Strachan, from Broadland Housing, said: “Many residents at the Orchards know snippets about the history of the building, but it has been really interesting to hear a well-researched and authentic history from its construction right to the present day.”

In 1027, the Orchards was bought by First World War hero Captain James Sears, who built the Ian Sears Clinic - a child welfare centre - at the bottom of the garden.

He eventually sold the house to the Aylsham and District Labour Party to be used as a hostel.

In the following years the Orchards was converted into flats, fell into disrepair, partly taken over by squatters and damaged by fire. 

The housing associating took over the property in 2002.