Have you ever noticed it? Five things about a hidden Norwich gem
PUBLISHED: 12:56 19 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:56 19 September 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
You've probably driven past it countless times without noticing it was there let alone realised how old it is.
But located just off Sprowston Road in Norwich is an unassuming flint building, which is as old as Norwich Cathedral and which has a remarkable history.
Here are five notable things to know about Lazar House:
It was originally a leper hospital
Lazar House was built in 1101 by Bishop Herbert de Losinga and originally called Magdalen Hospital.
It was designed to provide a simple level of physical care to lepers while also caring for their souls by allowing them to see mass being celebrated in the hospital's chapel up to six times as day.
A second aim of the hospital was to remind passers by of Bishop de Losinga's charity and ensure his soul a safe passage through purgatory and into heaven when he died.
It fell victim to the dissolution and narrowly survived Kett's Rebellion
In 1547 Magdalen Hospital, then known as Magdalen Chapel, was put up for sale and sold to John Corbett for £216 12s - roughly £60,000 in today's money. Mr Corbett converted the building into a dovecote, a move which proved unpopular with nearby farmers after the birds frequently spoilt crops. In 1549 Robert Kett and his rebels arrived at Mr Corbett's house with the intention of burning it down on their way to Mousehold but were dissuaded from doing so and instead defaced the dovecote and spoiled his goods.
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It might have a ghost
From the mid 1550s until the late 18th century Magdalen Chapel was mainly used as a barn before being converted into cottages in the early 1880s. Towards the end of the 19th century, five-year-old William Hubbard was living in the cottages with his grandparents. One night he went into the barn alone and reportedly saw a woman in white descending down a ladder from the loft. The spooky moment caused him to "scream his guts out".
It was Norwich's first branch library
In 1902 Magdalen Chapel was saved from demolition by Walter Rye who bought the building for £500, in the following years it was renovated and became known as Lazar House - the 15th century term for leper hospital. In 1923, Norwich City Council authorised for the building to be turned into Norwich's first branch library in a bid to ease pressure on the city's central library.
It served as a library through the Second World War and until 2003.
Today it is home to the Assist Trust
Today, Lazar House is home to the Assist Trust, which helps people with learning disabilities to progress in life and uses the building to hold workshops and social events for its 125-plus members.
Poppy Mathews, support co-ordinator for the Assist Trust, said: "We all feel really privileged to be able to use this building and when it's full of people it just looks fit for purpose and being used as it should. A lot of people say it's like a church, but it's perfect for us.
"Something which is really nice is that adults with learning difficulties don't often get to spend a lot of time in old buildings like this, so we all feel a real sense of pride about the building and being able to use it."
■ Lazar House will be open to the public on Sunday September 22, as part of Heritage Open Days 2019. The event is pre-book only.