House of Fun


﹛﹛he Assembly House in Norwich had its glory days in the mid-eighteenth century, when the Norwich smart set decided that they really needed an entertainment venue for assemblies, balls, bowls and cards. The architect, Thomas Ivory, did them proud, with a building made ※with elegant bricks in a very grand and polite taste§, on the site of a medieval chapel. It had card rooms, a music room, a ballroom, minstrels* galleries, high ceilings and fine stucco plasterwork. It saw any amount of fun, including a ball to celebrate Nelson*s victory at Trafalgar and Queen Charlotte*s birthday, polka balls and an exhibition of waxworks by Madam Tussaud*s. Happy days.

﹛﹛Things went downhill in the later nineteenth century, when the place was turned into a girls* school 每 lucky girls 每 and later it suffered fire damage, but what you*ve got now 每 restored and redone-? is a really charming venue and an excellent place to stay.

﹛﹛There are 11 bedrooms in one wing 每 mine was the family suite, which is spacious, with a huge bathroom and a little garden space outside. It*s furnished elegantly 每 pleasing prints on the walls and antique pieces in the room. And can I say how rare it is to have interesting antiques in an hotel room 每 I can see why hotels tend not to, human nature being what it is, but having two idiosyncratic china figures in the fireplace, and a fine clock on the mantelpiece and interesting lithographs as well as modern prints, makes a place like home 每 always supposing your home is quirkily appointed.

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﹛﹛The bedroom is light and comfortable, with a little proto-canopy above the bed, and the sofa bed for children is absolutely fine. The furnishings were Colefax and Fowler: classy but understated. Actually, the only thing I had against the room were the fiddly coathangers. There*s nice homemade biscuits, a Nespresso machine and a bottle of Prosecco to help you settle in.

﹛﹛The staff are charming and helpful. Breakfast is generous 每 after a Norfolk rarebit you feel very replete; ditto the Norfolk fry (ask for it to be well done). Start off with a fruit salad though, because it*s good, and gives the illusion of healthiness before you dig into the carbs.

﹛﹛The Assembly House Norwich

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﹛﹛The standout treat at the Assembly House is Afternoon Tea, which is Fortnum and Mason standard, only at Norfolk prices (㏒24.99), half price for child portions. This season it has a seaside theme, so you get sandcastles on display, a dear little chocolate starfish in biscuit sand, a tiny cheesecake made to look like ice cream, macrons like oysters with pearls and mini doughnuts in a stripy bag. There are sandwiches ad lib, cheese and fruit scones and a savoury selection of little sausage rolls, mini rarebits and cheese biscuits. The tea selection is interesting and thoughtful, including white, green and mildly smoked tea, as well as a good Assembly House blend. In other words, it*s lavish as well as tasteful.? There*s a well-regarded cookery school here too if you like to bake cakes as well as eat them.

﹛﹛The position couldn*t be more central 每 actually The Assembly House is signposted around the town; and practically everything in Norwich is in walking distance. You may know how fabulous the city is 每 once it had a church for every Sunday of the year and a pub for every day of the year. Even now there*s a fifteenth century church (some functioning) on every other street, and some very good pubs 每 the Adam and Eve suggests it may be the oldest in England, and it*s said to have been used by workers who built the cathedral. Norwich Castle Museum (good on Norwich School paintings) is an obvious must-see. The cathedral is sublime (check out the roof bosses); Sunday evensong is lovely.

﹛﹛The Assembly House Norwich

﹛﹛But it*s the retail side of things that will charm Londoners. There are scores of specialist independent shops throughout the city and beyond. If, like me, you have a weakness for hardware shops (all right; there are worse traits), you will have to be hauled out of Thorn*s in Exchange Street, which has everything, probably in a dozen variants. Opposite, there*s Wilkinson*s, a good coffee merchant. Jarrold*s is one of those traditional family department stores which London just doesn*t have any more. Elm Hill, which is charming and cobbled with a fifteenth century church at the corner, has one of the city*s several excellent second hand book shops. Magdalen Street has some of the best vintage shops 每 Norwich is charity shop Nirvana but the Oxfam one here is particularly good, and Loose*s Antiques Emporium is vast with a bewildering selection of items, with clothes and books besides.

﹛﹛The Assembly House Norwich

﹛﹛After all that, if you*re able to handle it, Norwich*s thriving arts scene is a walk away, along with a selection of good restaurants. No Uber needed. What more could you want?

﹛﹛Rooms from ㏒170-㏒270;