Acting as Architect and Lead Consultant, Purcell was commissioned to design a scheme to repair and refurbish St. Mary’s House and to provide access to the undercroft below the east of the Assembly House itself. Within the constraints and opportunities presented by a Grade 1 listed property and Scheduled Ancient Monument in Norwich city centre, the previously empty wing was adapted to provide eleven luxury Bed and Breakfast suites. The rooms would, in part, accommodate guests at weddings and events held at the Assembly House as well as wider visitors to the city.

Celebrated as one of Norwich’s 12 most significant buildings, The Assembly House is a popular tourist attraction and hosts many different functions and has a fine restaurant. These uses have been part of the building since it was modelled by Thomas Ivory in 1754 as a venue for assemblies and amusement. The commercial uses underpin the Trust’s support of the arts including gallery spaces and rented space for community groups.

While the main rooms of the Assembly House were in excellent order, the East Wing and St Mary’s House lacked purpose. The refurbishment was also a catalyst to initiate repairs identified in a long-term strategy and complete them using the revenue generated for the whole building’s on-going maintenance and repair.

At the start of the design process, the design team consulted a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) which Purcell had previously completed for the whole Assembly House site. A CMP identifies the areas of significance within the buildings. It includes references to Scheduled Ancient Monument status attributed to the site of a former 13th century chapel and college cloisters that was largely demolished at the Reformation, manifested below ground by substantial medieval work at basement level.

Externally, two first floor extensions were built to add a new bathroom to bedrooms without internal sub-division. These extensions reference the Georgian character of part of the existing building, including sliding sash windows, rendered walls and reconstituted stone copings. Throughout the scheme, traditional materials were used to match the behaviors of the historic fabric of the building. At ground floor, a 20th century red brick kitchen was replaced with a contemporary extension to house two additional fully-accessible suites. The modern style provides a contrast to the historic elements of the retained historic building fabric. This extension also created balconies for the first-floor suites on its roof, and provided ground floor amenity spaces as landscaped courtyard gardens.

Internal work, once modern interventions had been stripped out, was simple and focussed on repairs of historic features and the construction of new lightweight partitions. The interior designer worked to create a scheme that emphasized that historic fabric while adding a contemporary ambience.

The construction work was funded by the Assembly House Trust. The total construction cost was in excess of £1 million. The expenditure exceeded the original cost forecast but was agreed because the variations make better use of elements of the building resulting in a quality scheme that compliments the grandeur and historical significance of the Assembly House.


The Trustees of the Assembly House are delighted with the outcome of the project to convert a wing of the building to an eleven suite luxury Bed and Breakfast. The team, led by Purcell, have created an imaginative scheme which successfully blends the historic elements of the building with everything the discerning guest looks for in top quality accommodation. The result has rejuvenated this part of the iconic Assembly House and is a major boost to the City of Norwich.

Ian Shann, Trust Representative and Project Co-ordinator