Former House of Mercy built to the designs of Henry Woodyer in 1859.
Reasons for Designation
The former House of Mercy, built to the designs of Henry Woodyer in 1859, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* it is a significant and early example of a purpose-built House of Mercy, and is unusual in originating as an integrated home for women with a convent for an Anglican order of nuns to care for them and manage the institution;
* it is by an eminent ecclesiastical architect with many listed buildings to his name, whose work within the Gothic Revival is a dynamic and imaginative interpretation of the medieval style;
* the House of Mercy has bold massing, finely conceived elevations and a vigorous architectural character, aptly demonstrating how a highly skilled architect can create a distinctive building even on a tight budget;
* within the typically simple interior, the chapel is a space of unexpected vernacular opulence cleverly created from decorative timber framing;
* the building has retained its original plan form, along with the vast majority of its fixtures and fittings, overall representing a very well-preserved example of this building type.
* it survives in a form that directly illustrates and preserves its original function, providing important evidence of how the convent was run;
* it has historic significance as part of a group of buildings bearing testimony to religious and female emancipation in the C19.
* it has strong group value with Community House and the entrance arch, walled garden and glasshouse which are both listed at Grade II.
All Hallows Convent was designed by Henry Woodyer and opened in 1859 as a House of Mercy – an institution to reclaim young women. It was the initiative of the Norwich Penitentiary Association and was strongly promoted by two local landed families, the Sucklings and the Crosses. The founder of the community was one of the Crosse daughters, Lavinia Crosse. A house had initially been established nearby at Shipmeadow on the Norfolk/ Suffolk border in 1854, but the location proved to be unhealthy and a new site was acquired at Ditchingham on the main Norwich to Bungay road.
Homes to care for and rehabilitate fallen or unfortunate women - prostitutes, unmarried mothers, victims of incest and rape, and others - had existed since the C18. The first was the Magdalen Hospital in London which opened in 1758, and by the 1830s establishments existed in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and other provincial cities. In the 1840s a movement arose in the Anglican Church to provide for such unfortunate/ penitent women but with the additional feature of attached orders of nuns who would run the establishments and provide Christian care. It was spearheaded from 1848 by the Reverend John Armstrong and was supported by the parallel movement for Anglican religious sisterhoods - the first was established in London in 1845 in a convent designed by Butterfield.
Henry Woodyer (1816-1896) was a Victorian architect of power and originality, working largely on churches or other religious buildings. His early training is not clear: he may have been a pupil of Butterfield, and he may have worked with Pugin, whose writings inspired him. He set up his own office in 1845 and quickly attracted commissions, particularly from High Church Anglicans inspired by the recent Oxford Movement and the architectural developments of the Gothic Revival. Woodyer himself had Anglican High Church sympathies. Unusually for an architect he was also a person of private means and thus could choose his commissions. A search on the National Heritage List for England (the List) shows that he designed or worked on over 90 listed buildings, including the Grade I listed Holy Innocents at Highnam, Gloucestershire.
Woodyer was possibly approached for the Ditchingham commission on the strength of his House of Mercy at Clewer in Windsor (1854-1858) which he had designed for his friend the rector there. In effect, Woodyer created a new building type: an asylum for women combined with a convent, requiring both integration and separation for the two functions. He was successful in his endeavour at Clewer, and after Ditchingham, Woodyer designed a further four Houses of Mercy: St Peter's Convent in Horbury, Yorkshire (1862-1864); the Devon House of Mercy in Bovey Tracey (1865-1868); Great Maplestead House of Mercy (1866-8; demolished 1964); and St Thomas House, Basingstoke (1884-1885). All the surviving sites are listed at Grade II with the chapels at Clewer and Basingstoke listed at Grade II*.
At Ditchingham, Woodyer was commissioned to design a House of Mercy and integrated chapel for thirty penitents. The plans had to be simplified to keep costs down to £1,823. The foundation stone was laid on 5 November 1856 and the building was opened on St Michael's Day, 29 September 1859, although the east and south wings were later added in 1864. A gatehouse, Gothic entrance arch, walled garden and glasshouse were built in 1859 (the arch, walled garden and glasshouse are listed at Grade II), and an orphanage and school for parentless girls of the middle classes was built in 1862, also by Woodyer. A separate house, known as Community House (listed at Grade II), was built for the Sisters of Mercy in 1876. It is not known if Woodyer was asked to design this building or if another architect was responsible. The Sisters provided work for women who would have otherwise gone to prison or the workhouse, establishing a laundry facility for a large area in the Waveney Valley and an embroidery school. Women came in from the surrounding villages to be taught 'white work' and ecclesiastical embroidery which was sold throughout the country and even as far as Canada.
The first map to show the site is the first edition Ordnance Survey (OS) map of 1885. It depicts the gatehouse on Belsey Bridge Road and to the east a walled garden divided into four sections with a glasshouse. Behind the walled garden to the south is the House of Mercy (Female Reformatory) with a small outbuilding to the north-west and a garden to the south. To the east is Community House, the convent building occupied by the Sisters of Mercy, and further to the north-east is the Female Orphanage with gardens to the south.
In 1965 All Hallows became a community home for young people until government funding was withdrawn in 1980. In 2018 the remaining seven sisters left to become a dispersed community, making the House of Mercy (along with the chapel attached to the former convent building) available to a new group called With (Be With Community) to create an on-site community and retreat space for young people aged 10-25. The House of Mercy is now called St Michael’s House (2022).
Former House of Mercy built to the designs of Henry Woodyer in 1859.
MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond with brick dressings and roof covering of plain red clay tiles.
PLAN: the building has a cruciform plan in which the north and west wings were built in 1859 and the south and east wings, the latter containing the chapel, were added in 1864 in the same style. Two contemporary subsidiary ranges adjoin the building on the north-west side.
EXTERIOR: the former House of Mercy is a large building in the Gothic style with two storeys and an attic lit by rows of sharply angled gabled dormers, mostly of two lights, with plain bargeboards. The steeply pitched roofs have moulded brick cornices under the eaves and are surmounted by plain brick chimney stacks with circular pots. The fenestration mostly consists of narrow pointed arch windows with diamond leaded lights in a combination of lancets, pairs or groups of three with brick mullions. The windows have gauged brick arches, whilst those in pairs and groups also have relieving brick arches. The building has a plinth with a slight batter and a moulded brick band above, and is punctuated at irregular intervals by buttresses with off-sets. It also retains decorative cast-iron rainwater goods bearing the dates 1859 and 1863.
The two principal elevations are formed by the coherent handling of adjoining sides of the wings: the east side of the south wing with the south side of the east wing, and the south side of the west wing with the west side of the south wing. The former is dominated by a circular stair tower with a conical roof and bell-cote, positioned in the angle of the wings and providing access to the chapel. To the left is a plank and batten door with decorative strap hinges set within a brick Gothic arch, and to the right is a wide projecting chimney breast with tumbled in brickwork which rises through the verge of the roof. The ground floor is lit by pairs of windows and the first floor by lancets.
On the latter elevation the ground floor is lit by pairs or groups of windows, whilst the first floor is lit by a row of continuous gabled dormers in which the windows are positioned across the eaves. In the angle of the two wings at first-floor level is an asymmetrical corbelled mullioned window. At the far left (of the south side of the west wing) is a projecting, stepped chimney breast with tumbled in brickwork and a tall, square, angled stack. To the right of this is another door, similar to that already described.
Following the building clockwise from here, the gable end of the west wing is lit by two groups of three windows on the ground floor and three groups of windows above, the latter set within recessed Gothic arches. To the left is a plank and batten door under a Gothic relieving arch in which is set fleur de lys tiles.
Adjoining the gable end is a high wall enclosing a service yard behind the two subsidiary buildings. The two-storey building in the north-west corner has been considerably altered with the addition of a central gabled bay and large square windows without glazing bars, dating to the second half of the C20. The second two-storey, L-shaped building to the east, has also been refenestrated but the original Gothic openings remain. The north elevation of the west wing is obscured by these two buildings but it has the same treatment as the south elevation with the rows of dormers at first-floor and attic level, and the corbelled dormer in the angle.
Again moving clockwise round the building to the north wing, the east elevation has a single-storey lean-to projection, above which are a series of tall dormers with paired lancets. The east wing is lit on the ground floor partly by large, square multi-pane windows with flat brick arches. The gable end has diagonal buttresses and tall buttresses with off-sets. It is dominated by the trefoil-headed, three-light chapel window with straight-edged intersecting tracery, and the two side aisles under a lower roof are lit by lancet windows.
INTERIOR: this is fairly plain and, apart from some fire doors and modern kitchen facilities in the former service rooms in the north wing, has been little altered, retaining many plank doors, fireplaces and simple window furniture. The ground-floor corridors have exposed ceiling joists, arched wooden braces at intervals and matchboard cladding to dado height. The former refectory on the ground floor of the east wing is entered through a Gothic arch doorway and has exposed chamfered bridging beams and joists, matchboard cladding to dado height, and a substantial stone fireplace with a large hood.
Most of the other ground-floor rooms, which were likely to have been communal rooms and sitting rooms, have fireplaces in a variety of styles. Two are of stone with a trefoil-shaped opening and cast-iron grate: one is not accessible but the other bears the date 1858 and has a tiled back and cheeks with yellow and red fleur-de-lys tiles. Another stone fireplace has attached shafts and shaped brackets supporting the mantelshelf with recessed quatrefoils in the corner of the frieze. Others are small wooden fireplace surrounds. The internal treatment is increasingly simple on each floor with some of the first-floor rooms retaining plain wooden fireplace surrounds and cast-iron grates.
The most notable room is the chapel on the first floor of the east wing. This has arcades of dark wood, with arcaded screens separating the choir from the aisles on each side; these screens incorporate the collegiate-style stalls, and a two-seat sedilia at the east end. The screens and stalls are returned at the west end, with wooden gates; there is a small gallery above. The capitals of the arcades are painted and patterned, as are the cornices and top rails of the screens. Small trefoil lights, set in gablets, act as a clerestory. There is no reredos, but the three-light east window containing stained glass is set high above the altar with a painted arcade on either side containing figures of saints.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: to the north-west is a single-storey outbuilding with a rectangular plan and pitched roof, clad in plain tiles. The south gable end has wide double-leaf plank and batten doors under a timber lintel, opening into a large room. The long east elevation contains two plank and batten doors with ventilation grilles above, serving two smaller rooms which retain brick-lined floors. On the north gable end, a brick lean-to extension with a corrugated iron roof has been added at some point in the C20.