Background Information

Background Information


This section will provide a quick history of The Halls, some basic information to the history of medieval Norwich, medieval religion, the order of friars, including the black friars, and the importance of education and preaching.


A Quick History of The Halls

  • The Friars Preachers or black friars settled in Norwich in 1226. The Norwich house was the third founded in England after their arrival in 1221, and ranked as one of the most important of the Dominican priories.
  • Their first site, given to them by Sir John Gelham, one of the Norfolk gentry, was that of the old parish church of ‘St John the Baptist over-the Water’ (north of the river Wensum and north of Colgate). They moved from this site to the present location on St Andrew’s lane in 1307.
  • Although much altered during the next 800 years, today The Halls represent the most complete English friary church and convent buildings to survive intact from the medieval period.

1796 Sewell Picture of Blackfriars Hall

  [Drawing dated 1796 by Benjamin Sewell (1774–1849) showing a reconstruction of the south front of the buildings as they might have appeared in late medieval times]


  • The layout of the present buildings is typical of a medieval English friary church, including a large nave (now St Andrew's Hall) used for preaching to large congregations and a smaller chancel (Blackfriars') Hall, where the friars held their own services. The nave and chancel were separated by a walkway, which would have allowed direct access to the cloisters on the north side.
  • After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Augustine Steward (three times Mayor of Norwich) sent a petition to Henry VIII in London, asking if the City of Norwich could buy the Dominican friary buildings. By pledging to use the Halls for the good of the citizens, for fairs and feasting, Steward ensured the friary's survival.
  • The Halls now hold the country's largest collection of civic portraits, totalling 127 late-sixteenth to nineteenth-century paintings of Norwich Mayors, Sheriffs and other dignitaries. Today both Halls host conferences, antique fairs, markets, weddings, concerts and even the largest provincial Beer Festival in the country.