Established in 1249 as a hospital for the sick and poor clergy of Norwich (originally known as St Giles Hospital), the church of St Helen and the Great Hospital has seen its fair share of history!
Situated in one of the most historic areas of Norwich, the Great Hospital boasts the smallest cloisters in England whilst England’s largest monastic cloisters, at Norwich Cathedral, sit just a stone’s throw away!
Image: a c.1630 map of Norwich, with Great Hospital shown in insert
The Great Hospital is still a provision of shelter for many, yet this magnificent site with its immense history and architecture can still be visited, photographed and explored throughout the year. The layout of the hospital, and the buildings themselves, resemble those of a monastery - they’re set around the small cloister.
One of the best times to visit is during Heritage Open Days weekend (7-10 September 2017) where entrance is free and guides are on hand to fill you in on the building's historic stories.
Tours of The Great Hospital take place monthly depending on availability and opening times – the next scheduled tour is 5th April and tours cost £10 per person. View more details here.
Keep an eye on their Facebook page to stay up to date.
Image: The Great Hospital today
Founded in 1249 by Bishop Walter de Suffield, the site includes 15 listed buildings as well as; the only surviving ‘swan pit’ in the UK; a fine medieval refectory, St Helen’s House – with excellent examples of Georgian decorated ceilings; an 18th century swan pit and a large Victorian hall.
The hospital tower was built in 1375 and the chancel in the 1380’s, completed in time for a visit from King Richard II and his queen, Anne of Bohemia (the 252 roof panels are decorated with eagles which are said to be painted in Anne’s honour, and they now form the ceiling of the aptly-named Eagle ward).
Care was mainly provided by the Great Hospital for the people of Norwich, but those who most benefited were; older priests - because they were unmarried they tended not to have any family to look after them in their old age; poor scholars; and sick and hungry paupers. All were given meals, shelter and clothing. Some of the students who showed promise were selected from local schools and brought to the Great Hospital. Here they were fed and offered the chance to train as choristers, often going on to enter the priesthood.
Only 30 beds were allocated for the sick poor, and only 19 non-residents would be fed at the gates every day – so unfortunately there were many who no doubt would have needed the help, but couldn’t access it. Regulations later changed on how many people the Hospital would pledge to care for, and has continued changing throughout the years.
Greater Anglia have Advance fares from £9 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Abellio also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.