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Carrow Abbey

A Grade I Listed Building in Thorpe Hamlet, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.6179 / 52°37'4"N

Longitude: 1.3108 / 1°18'38"E

OS Eastings: 624217

OS Northings: 307382

OS Grid: TG242073

Mapcode National: GBR WCQ.62

Mapcode Global: WHMTN.3GGD

Plus Code: 9F43J896+58

Entry Name: Carrow Abbey

Listing Date: 26 May 1954

Last Amended: 20 December 2021

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1205742

English Heritage Legacy ID: 228839

Location: Lakenham, Norwich, Norfolk, NR1

County: Norfolk

District: Norwich

Electoral Ward/Division: Thorpe Hamlet

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Norwich

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Trowse St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

Tagged with: Architectural structure Human settlement

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The C16 prioress's residence of Carrow Priory, used as a gentry home from 1538 and restored and extended by Edward Boardman in the late-C19 and early C20 as a private home and later offices for the Colman family and their business.


The C16 prioress's residence of Carrow Priory, used as a gentry home from 1538 and restored and extended in the late-C19 and early C20.

MATERIALS: structural walls are a principally constructed of flint and brick with brick quoins, and the roofs are covered in plain tiles.

PLAN: the house has three north-south ranges slightly offset from each other, the southernmost joined by a canted stair hall. The northern ranges contain the C16 core, including the strangers' hall / C19 library, and the panelled prioress's parlour.

EXTERIOR: the long west elevation can be understood as three principal ranges, all of two storeys with uncoursed flint walling and brick dressings. To the left is a four bay range with two entrance doors, and an oriel window at first floor. It adjoins the taller open hall range of four bays, the first of which has a large two-storey oriel window. A wide, partially glazed porch stands to the right of the hall with a flushwork flint base and a timber framed roof. The third range of seven bays is set back on the right hand side and connects to the hall range by a canted stair hall. The stair hall incorporates older flintwork at the base, and diaper brick patterns into the flint at first floor. The diaperwork parapet has moulded brick finials. The first floor diaperwork continues around the 1899 range on the right hand side, where dormer windows run across the attic roof. The final bay on the right hand side has a projecting bay window and a curving copper roof.

The north elevation of the northern most range is a blank gable wall of flint, brick and clunch rubble with quoins, it may have been reconstructed. At ground floor there is a C20 entrance connecting to the Abbey Dining Rooms. Set back to the south the 1900 range connects to the more historic range by a single storey extension at ground floor, with an independent pitched roof. There is a doorway with carved spandrels, and a semi-circular oriel window. At first floor, behind the extension, the diaperwork continues across a pair of joined gables.

The long east elevation shows again three principal ranges. Notable features include the rendered stair turret connecting the prioress's parlour to the rooms above, the large window lighting the strangers' hall and the partially reconstructed brick chimney stack perpendicular to the entrance hall. To the left the late Victorian range is elaborately detailed, with highly decorative diaperwork. A pair of gabled cross wings stand either side of an entrance bay. On the right is a two-storey pentagonal bay window with bath stone dressings dated 1899 and marked with scallop shells and the letter "S" (for James Stuart). On the left at first floor is an oriel window with very finely cut and rubbed brickwork. Between the bay window and the glazed entrance surround is an ornate wrought iron Arts and Crafts bell.

The south elevation has a gable with diaper pattern brick set into flint walling, a canted bay window at first floor with a crenallated parapet, and a first floor doorway which formerly provided rooftop access to a first floor conservatory.

Attached to the southern elevation is 'the bungalow', latterly used as an occupational health clinic. It is made of narrow red bricklaid in Flemish bond. It has a pitched plain-tiled roof attached to the house via a flat-roofed link. It has Crittal windows and retains its original entrance doors.

External features of particular interest include: the varied range of chimney stacks, some highly decorative; the wide variety of flint and brickwork, including areas to the hall and parlour ranges where changes to the fabric are shown; oak entrance doors with carved spandrels; and timber windows with leaded (and sometimes stained) glass.

INTERIOR: the interiors retain high quality materials and detailing throughout, including joinery, plasterwork, ironwork, stonework and glass. Much of this dates to the 1870s remodelling carried out for Jeremiah James Colman, or to the 1899 extension of the house for James Stuart.

The strangers hall' and prioress's parlour are the principal spaces surviving from the C16. The hall is an open two-storey volume retaining heavily moulded C16 timber ceiling beams. The rest of the hall is of a late C19 character, with high quality Gothic bookcases and a minstrels gallery possibly designed by Edward Boardman, and a mural showing the Fruits of the Spirit on the south wall. The mural bears the signature 'G A R and F H H, 1906', and its subject is similar to that of the stained glass on the east elevation of Norwich's Royal Arcade (George Skipper, 1899). Beneath the minstrels gallery is a gothic fireplace with relief tiles. C19 wall decoration survives beneath later wallpaper.

The parlour has a variety of different panelling, some of which dates to the early C16, including the four-centred arch surrounding the fireplace which contains the rebus of Prioress Isobel Wygun in each spandrel (the letter 'Y' and a Gun indicating her surname). Other parts of the panelling have evidently been reused from elsewhere and are of C18 or C19 date. The spiral stairs in the turret at the north-east of the parlour were rebuilt in the late C19 and the walls retain their Victorian decoration. In the chambers above the parlour thick, heavily moulded C16 timbers support the ceilings.

Fireplaces survive well throughout the interior. These include a large French-Renaissance revival fire surround and overmantle in the entrance hall, with a strapwork cartouche dated 1900. The parlour range includes several finely detailed fireplaces possibly designed by Boardman in the 1870s.

Two elaborately detailed staircases survive. At the north end of the parlour range is a delicately detailed neo-Gothic staircase with a traceried balustrade and a carved lion newel post, possibly designed by Boardman in the 1870s. The (1900) stair compartment flowing from the entrance hall has a grand open-well staircase Jacobean inspired newel posts and strapwork.

Jacobean detailing is a recurring motif throughout the southern range constructed around 1900 for James Stuart (aptly). The dining room at ground floor and corresponding first floor chamber above feature wall and ceiling decoration in this style.

Stained glass from the medieval period through to the early C20 can be found incorporated into the glazing of most of the reception rooms.

The Edwardian service areas of the house survive well, often corresponding to a separate circulation pattern. These include the cellars, large ground floor kitchen, service stairs, and attic accommodation. The kitchen retains tiles and the large opening cooking stoves, as well as leaded glazing in the shape of game, livestock and fish.


'Carrow Abbey' now refers to the prioress's house that once formed part of a priory established in 1146. King Stephen granted the land for the site to two Benedictine nuns, Seyna and Lescelina, and the convent was dedicated to St Mary and St John of Norwich. Religious houses for women were unusual in medieval England, only around 153 are known to have existed, and very few enjoyed substantial endowments or royal patronage. Carrow was therefore unusual as a significant institution with a church second in size only to the city's cathedral during the Norman period.

The institution is relatively well documented in visitation records, which generally show between 10 and 20 nuns living at Carrow. The Prioresses of Carrow were powerful landowning women and, as such, they have an unusually high degree of visibility in the historic record, with figures such as Edith Wilton (d 1430) and Margaret Pygot (. 1474) featuring in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The C14 mystic Julian of Norwich, the first female author of a surviving book in the English language, may have been educated at Carrow. Under visitation in the early C16 the greatest complaints from amongst the sisterhood were the lack of a clock, the speedy recitation of offices, and the weakness of the beer.

The Prioress's House was an important feature of the monastic complex, providing a secular architectural focal point similar to the great hall of an aristocratic estate. It advertised the status of the prioress as a person of importance, and was a gateway between the secular world beyond, and the cloistered life within the heart of the convent. It was rebuilt between around 1502 and 1514 during the tenure of the penultimate prioress, Isobell Wygun. The foundation was suppressed under Henry VIII in 1538 and the estate given to Sir John Shelton.

Shelton, a courtier and Anne Boleyn's uncle by marriage, was a significant figure in Norwich. While he retained the prioress's residence, the rest of the complex was ultimately robbed of its materials and allowed to fall into ruin. Over the next three centuries the house and grounds passed through a series of owners.

During that time the site's prominent position above the River Wensum and the Romantic quality of its ruins attracted some local interest. The house was painted in a derelict condition in 1805 by John Crome, a founding figure of the ‘Norwich School’ of artists.

In 1811 Carrow Abbey was acquired by Philip Martineau, a local physician and landowner, who rented the house to a series of tenants. Images from Martineau's period of ownership suggest that the present hall (the original strangers' hall, where guests would be received) had two storeys in 1811. A single storey post-medieval projection to the rear of the C19 entrance hall is shown on historic maps and images, though by the late C19 it had been demolished.

In 1850, land immediately to the north of the Carrow Abbey estate was purchased by the successful mustard, flour and starch milling business of J and J Colman Ltd from the Norfolk Railway Company. The Colman’s business had begun in 1804 when Jeremiah Colman (1777-1851) milled flour and mustard at a smock mill outside Magdalen Gate. In 1814, the business moved to a larger mill at Stoke Holy Cross, four miles south of Norwich, with Jeremiah taking his nephew James Colman (1802-1854) into partnership in 1823, the firm becoming J and J Colman Ltd. James’s eldest son, Jeremiah James (1830-1898), joined the partnership in 1851, and went on to play a significant role in the expansion of the business at Carrow. Jeremiah James Colman was Martineau's last tenant and lived at the abbey whilst Carrow House was being enlarged as the family residence. By 1878 Colman and his firm owned most of the surrounding land and finally bought Carrow Abbey, originally using it to house Jeremiah's large library. The building underwent thorough restoration during this new ownership. Much of the work has been attributed to Norwich architect Edward Boardman, who also designed a range of ancillary buildings serving the abbey. The building's present (2021) configuration is largely Boardman's work.

Edward Boardman (1833-1910) was a prominent local architect whose lengthy career included civic, ecclesiastical and domestic projects, many of which are now listed. His varied output includes work to Norwich Castle (scheduled); additions to Earlham Hall and Whitlingham Hospital (both Grade II*); alterations to the United Reformed Church in Lowestoft, for which the foundation stone was laid by JJ Colman (Grade II); and the extension of Trowse Primary School, largely funded by JJ Colman (Grade II).

In 1890 Colman's son in law, Rt Hon James Stuart PC MP, moved into the Abbey. Between 1899 and 1909 they commissioned Boardman to extend and further restore the house, including the addition of the large southern wing. During their occupancy the the excavated (1881) ruins of the priory were conserved as a feature of the grounds.

The last resident family member was Helen Colman, who died in 1948. After that date the building was used entirely as company offices and as a conference facility. A single storey Edwardian extension with a rooftop conservatory was demolished between 1948 and 1956 and replaced with a building called 'the bungalow', latterly used as an occupational health centre. In 1968 a large single storey modernist canteen (the Abbey Dining Room) was built covering the west end of the nave of the priory church, linking to the north gable of the house.

The firm continued to expand in the C20, acquiring rival mustard maker Keen Robinson in 1903, and merging with Reckitt and Sons Ltd in 1938. The site grew to cover some 50 acres of land at Carrow, with a river frontage nearly a mile long. In 1995, the mustard and condiment side of Reckitt and Colman Ltd was sold to Unilever, while Robinson’s was acquired by Britvic. In 2017, Britvic announced it would close its Carrow Works factory in 2019, prompting Unilever to review its own future on the site, which led to a decision to cease production in 2020.

Reasons for Listing

Carrow Abbey, a multi-phased former C16 conventual building altered and extended in the late C19 and early C20 as the private home and later offices of the Colman family and their business, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for the remnants of the C16 prioresses accommodation which remain legible within the later fabric;
* for the high degree of survival found in the late-Victorian and Edwardian fabric and plan form;
* as the work of Edward Boardman, an important architect with strong associations to the Colman family and to the city of Norwich;
* for the very high quality of its craftsmanship and detail, including the brick and flint walling of the exterior, the joinery and carpentry internally, and the stained glass of the windows.

Historic interest:

* as a rare survival of a prioress’s house from a pre-Reformation Benedictine convent;
* for the later history of the house as the home and later offices of the Colman family and their business.

Group value:

* for its relationship with other designated heritage assets associated in close proximity, most especially Carrow Priory, the scheduled remains of the ruined portions of the priory.

External Links

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