Record Details

NHER Number:588
Type of record:Building
Name:St Helen's Church and the Infirmary Hall at the Great Hospital, Norwich


The Church of St Helen forms a large part of the Great Hospital. It was founded in 1249 by Bishop Waler de Suffield as a house for decrepid chaplains and poor sick people. The current buildings shows work of the 13th, 14th, and a major rebuild in 1480 by Bishop Goldwell, with further extensive 16th century and later alterations.

The building itself is of flint and brick rubble with stone dressings and a slate roof, which replaced lead roofs which were stripped in 1809-10. From the beginning the building was both parish church and hospital, constructed as a long aisled infirmary with a chancel, the later built around 1380 by Bishop Despenser. The south porch is all that remains of the 13th century building.

Inside, the long aisle was cut in half after the Reformation, when the hospital passed into the city's hands, and the western end of the ailse forming the men's wards, the eastern end remaining a church, and the chancel becoming the women's wards. On the first-floor, the Eagle Ward retains the original ribbed chancel waggon roof with bosses and 252 painted spread eagles, built in honour of Anne of Bohemia in 1383.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TG 23731 09016
Map Sheet:TG20NW

Full description

Medieval hospital and parish church.

February 1954. Listed, Grade I.
Listing Description Excerpt:
"Church of St Helen.
Medieval hospital and parish church. 13th, 14th, and 15th century with major 16th-century and later alterations. Flint and brick rubble; stone dressings; slate roof replacing lead roofs stripped in 1809-10; three red brick chimneys. Aisled infirmary hall, nave, chancel, south transept, south porch and south-west tower with additions, including first floor in chancel and infirmary hall and stair towers on the south side."
Information from (S1).
Please consult the National Heritage List for England (S1) for the current details.
Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 17 January 2018. Amended H. Hamilton (HES), 8 November 2019.

1970s or 1980s. Building Survey.
St Helen's Church examined as part of Norwich Survey.
See draft report (S2) for further details.
P. Watkins (HES), 17 January 2018.

1991. Watching Brief.
Monitoring of trial excavation in south churchyard.
Modern garden soils only disturbed. Footings uncovered.
No formal report produced. See notes (S3) for further details.
A. Shelley (NAU), 25 July 1991.

September-October 1992. Watching Brief.
Monitoring of excavation of trench along the exterior of St Helen's Church.
This trench was excavated through 0.85m of what appeared to be modern made ground.
See report (S4) for further details.
P. Watkins (HES), 15 February 2017.

S. Heywood (NCC) notes that one staircase tower includes part of the demolished aisle.

It is noted in (S5) that the pulpit is in front of the blocked chancel arch, the altar is in the south transept but the pews in the same transept face the pulpit not the altar, in pre-Ecclesiological practice.
E. Rose (NLA), 24 May 2002.

2001-2002. Dendrochronological Survey.
A dendrochronological date of 1403 was ascertained for timbers of Parker Ward (former nave of church), and 1378-99 for the relict south aisle truss (see note by S. Heywood above). Both timbers were from the same woodland source. Work was also carried out on the cloisters (see NHER 26113).
See report (S6) in file.
E. Rose (NLA), 27 February 2003.

2001. Building Survey.
Recording and analysis of the chancel east window.
The east window mixes decorated and perpendicular motifs in a way not seen anywhere else since AD 1400 and its most likely date based on the style is the 1430s. The window has clearly been inserted in an existing opening and was made for that opening rather than being imported from another building. The tracery is not contemporary with the window jambs as indicated by the differences in mouldings, the type of stone and the way the arch and window stonework is not fastened together. The flooring of the chancel is dated to AD 1579 and there are two phases of blocking of the eastern end, the first around the mid-16th century possible due to damage during the Ketts Rebellion of AD 1549 and the second at the time of structural modifications. The main east window has not been subject to a major Victorian overhaul which is unusual for a design of this size and importance.
See report (S14) and brief (S15) for further information.
S. Howard (HES), 26 October 2010.

January 2006. Field Observation.
Inspection of interior of tower indicated that it is all of around 1380; there is a bequest of 1375.
See short report (S7) for further details.
E. Rose (NLA), 14 January 2006.

March 2006. Dendrochronological Survey.
The tree-ring data for Derlyngham Tower was unsuccessful as the tree-ring sequence was too short for reliable analysis.
See report (S8) for further details.
S. Howard (HES), 26 October 2010.

See press cuttings (S9) and (S10) in file.
T. Sunley (NLA), 7 November 2007.

Norwich HEART:
An exceptional set of medieval hospital buildings, in continuous use for more than 750 years
The medieval hospital buildings and layout resemble those of a monastery or priory and are set around the smallest cloister in England. The Great Hospital is the only English medieval hospital whose archives and fabric together survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
See (S11) and (S12).
D. Gurney (NLA), 27 January 2009.

July 2010. Building Survey.
The southern doorway of the eastern wall of the cloister at the Great Hospital in Norwich was recorded ahead of an application to widen the existing entrance and to establish whether there was any evidence for an earlier doorway into which the current doorway may have been inserted. The survey suggest that this is unlikely that an earlier doorway existed to the south but it is possible that one may have existed to the north.
See report (S13) for further details.
The associated archive has been deposited with the Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2011.506).
S. Howard (NLA), 18 August 2010. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 22 July 2019.

Monument Types

  • CHURCH (Medieval to 21st Century - 1249 AD to 2100 AD)
  • HOSPITAL (Medieval to 21st Century - 1249 AD to 2100 AD)
  • INFIRMARY (Medieval to 21st Century - 1249 AD to 2100 AD)
  • INHUMATION (Medieval to 16th Century - 1249 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Finds

  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Unknown date)
  • CLAY PIPE (SMOKING) (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • POT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

  • Listed Building

Sources and further reading

---Article in Serial: Manning, C. R. 1864. Lost brasses. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol VI pp 3-26. p 16-17.
---Illustration: Various. Various. Architectural plans.
---Publication: Cox, J. C. 1911. Country Churches: Norfolk. Vol II. pp 177-178.
---Record Card: Ordnance Survey Staff. 1933-1979?. Ordnance Survey Record Cards. TG 20 NW 118 [5].
---Monograph: Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B. 1997. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. The Buildings of England. 2nd Edition. pp 276-278; Pl 43, Pl 55.
---Unpublished Contractor Report: Purcell Miller Tritton. 2002. The Great Hospital, Norwich. Condition Survey and Conservation Statement. Purcell Miller Tritton.
---Unpublished Contractor Report: Wilson Compton Associates. 2002. The Great Hospital, Bishopgate, Norwich. Record and Analysis Survey of the Buildings Constructed before 1902. Wilson Compton Associates.
---Publication: Messent, C. J. W. 1932. The City Churches of Norwich. pp 34-38.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. The Norwich 12. 2 February.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. Wander your way through 1,000 years of city history. 24 June.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Norwich - Post Roman.
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Slide: Various. Slide.
---Unpublished Document: Wearing Hastings and Norton. 2005. St Helens Church, The Great Hospital, Bishopgate, Norwich. Restoration of the Derlynton Tower.
---Unpublished Document: Wearing Hastings and Norton. 1991. Specification. 1156. 1/3 The Great Hospital. St Helen's Church & church wards restoration 1991.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. Public to get a closer look at old hospital's history. 2 September.
---Newspaper Article: Norwich Evening News. 2006. More cash needed to protect buildings. 11 July.
<S1>Designation: Historic England. National Heritage List for England. List Entry 1051367.
<S2>Unpublished Report: [Unknown]. [unknown]. St Helens [draft report]. Building Report.
<S3>Unpublished Document: Shelley, A. 1991. [Notes on watching brief at St Helen's Church, Great Hospital, Norwich].
<S4>Unpublished Contractor Report: Penn, K. 1992. Watching Brief at St Helen's Church, The Great Hospital, Norwich. Norfolk Archaeological Unit. 74.
<S5>Monograph: Yates, N.. 2000. Buildings, faith and worship: the liturgical arrangement of Anglican.. p 35.
<S6>Monograph: Bridge, M. C. 2003. Tree-ring Analysis of Timbers from the Great Hospital, Bishopgate, Norwich, Norfolk. English Heritage Research Department Report Series. 10/2003.
<S7>Unpublished Report: Rose, E. 2006. 588 NORWICH. The Great Hospital/St Helen's Church. Building Report.
<S8>Monograph: Bridge, M. C. 2010. Derlyngham Tower, The Great Hospital, Bishopgate, Norwich, Norfolk. Tree-ring Analysis of Timbers. English Heritage Research Department Report Series. 75-2010.
<S9>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999. Great Hospital has a long tradition of caring. 12 November.
<S10>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2006. Heights of roof ornament. 23 September.
<S11>Publication: Sheehan, B.. 2008. Norwich 12: A journey through the English city..
<S12>Moving Image: Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART). 2008. Norwich 12. A journey through the English city.. DVD.
<S13>Unpublished Contractor Report: Phelps, A. 2010. NAU Archaeology An Historic Building Recording Survey at The Great Hospital, Bishopgate, Norwich. NAU Archaeology. 2180.
<S14>Unpublished Contractor Report: Wilson Compton Associates. 2001. The Great Hospital (Hospital of St Giles), Bishopgate, Norwich. Recording and Analysis of the Chancel East Window in Advance of Restoration. Interim Report. Wilson Compton Associates.
<S15>Unpublished Contractor Report: Bond, R. and Robinson, D. M. 2000. The Chancel East Window in the Hospital of St Giles, Norwich. Historical Notes and a Brief for Building Analysis and Recording. English Heritage Historical Analysis & Research Team. Reports and Papers 39.

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