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Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry

Designed by Hopkins Architects, The new building is placed on the site of the medieval Hostry and uses the archaeological remains of the former structure to create a new Visitors’ building for the Cathedral. It provides exhibition and education spaces and a new Song School for the Cathedral Choir. A large community room offers conference facilities for external groups and brings together those who live and work in The Cathedral Close.

The sister building to the originally developed Refectory, the new timber structure in the Hostry uses the same design principles to re-establish the West Entrance to the Cathedral’s cloister. Constructional Timber supplied & erected the laminated oak “trees” as well as the flitched cruciform columns and the associated stainless steel metalwork.

Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-02-Refectory-759x959 Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Refectory – © Hopkins Architects


The Hostry is a fusion of old and new, with cutting-edge design techniques and materials blending effortlessly with the tradition and history in which the 900 year old building is steeped. It offers stunning pieces of modern architecture and has been short-listed for a number of prestigious awards.

The modern Hostry matches exactly the footprint of the old monastic hostry and the principles behind its purpose echo the original use: to welcome visitors to the cathedral, whilst providing the cathedral with its own state-of-the-art AV facilities and creating a multipurpose space that can host conferences, lectures, presentations and events.

It was important to support the cathedral in its goal to meet the existing, changing and growing needs of visitors, whilst broadening access and increasing the quality and value of educational visits.

Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-04-RefectoryRefectory-Paul-Tyagi Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Refectory – © Paul Tyagi



  • Restoring the cathedral’s original look by replacing cast iron downpipes with lead, the material originally used by the Normans who constructed the building 950 years ago.
  • Scaffolding standing ten-storeys tall had to be erected to access the highest of the 36 water pipes. This work required the careful protection of the ancient lead roofing and stained glass windows against accidental damage. The new lead pipes exactly match existing lead guttering, as do the moulded ears that secure them to the walls.

New Build:

  • Construction of a library, reception, reading room and restaurant on the site of a former refectory used by Benedictine Monks.
  • This two-storey building features English oak, complemented by the exposed flint fabric of the existing cathedral building.
  • Focal points include 18 oak columns, each weighting about one tonne, that terminate in four finger props to support the roof and a glass elevator.
  • The new building is tucked into the shadow of the cathedral and is virtually hidden from view.
Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-08-Refectory-759x970 Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Refectory – © Hopkins Architects

There are six distinct areas plus the Japanese garden:

  • Central Atrium: Rising impressively to the full height of the building, the atrium offers views of the Cathedral spire through the rooflights. This is where all visitors now normally enter and are welcomed to the Cathedral.
  • Bowerbank Room: Situated on the ground floor this is a well-equipped, flexible space for use by schools during the day and community groups after school hours.
  • Exhibition Space: Leading off the Atrium opposite the Education Room is an open plan area equipped and lit to mount temporary exhibitions.
  • Locutory: Visitors enter the Locutory from the Exhibition Room, via a glazed link. This is the area where the monks were allowed to meet and talk to visitors. In the 21st century this space houses a digital Interpretative Exhibition focusing on the role of the Cathedral in the past and present, and preparing visitors for a tour of the complex. Visitors pass from here into the Cathedral.
  • Song School and Music Library: Situated on the first floor, this provides a rehearsal room for all the Cathedral choirs, a small recital space and purpose-built shelves to house the music library.
  • The Weston Room: This will comfortably accommodate 150 people seated and has been designed so that the room can adapted for many purposes. It has full modern conferencing facilities.
Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-10-1-Refectory-759x596 Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Refectory – © Hopkins Architects


  • the striking oak ’trees’ to support the roof from inside, and
  • large areas of glass to ensure the building is light and airy, and
  • striking window louvres similar to those in the Refectory.

The original medieval Hostry arch has been incorporated into the design so visitors enter the building, as in the days of the priory, through that original welcoming door. All daytime visitors, except those attending services, now enter the Cathedral through the Hostry, and the Upper Close has been landscaped to reflect the new importance of this approach.

Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-11-Refectory Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Refectory – © Hopkins Architects


Over a period of fourteen years, Hopkins Architects were responsible for the design and realization of the largest building project that Norwich Cathedral has seen since the Middle Ages.

Commissioned by the Dean and Chapter to cater to ever-increasing numbers of visitors, a new Refectory and Hostry were required. A site was identified beyond the cloister within Cathedral Close, away from a maze of existing medieval archaeology that included the foundations and porch of the original Hostry and the original Refectory wall.

Hopkins, however, proposed a strategy based on the formal and functional recreation of the buildings in their original locations, not as replicas but as new spaces that could carry forward the memories of the originals and extend the Benedictine traditions of hospitality and education.

Through this, a masterplan was proposed that would use the integration of these newly revived functions to restore the coherence of the Cathedral cloister as the heart of the entire Cathedral precinct.

Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-18-Hostry Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Hostry – © Hopkins Architects

Building Among the Ruins:

Initially an elaborate and technically sophisticated solution was proposed to bridge over the original foundations, but detailed archaeological studies showed that a more low-tech solution was possible, with carefully positioned pad foundations and embedded steel reinforcement that would enable the reconstruction of the Hostry wall in its original location.

The choice of stone was key, since the architects wanted to communicate the public nature of these new buildings with a grain of masonry that would sit somewhere between the fine ashlar of the Cathedral and the flint more commonly associated with local domestic architecture.

Barnack ragstone was selected and used both for the new Hostry wall and to repair the Refectory wall, laid as it was pulled out of the field, in carefully selected but essentially random as-found shapes and sizes that would allow the existing archaeology to be clearly read.

Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-21-Hostry-759x531 Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Hostry – © Hopkins Architects

With the original foundations and walls unable to bear the additional load, both Hostry and Refectory have independent timber structures of laminated oak columns, capped with turned stainless-steel spherical bosses that branch out with four diagonal oak finger props.

These in turn support the rigid roof planes, which extend tie-free over the boundary walls without exerting any imposed loads. The architect then inserted oak-clad enclosures and steel mezzanines that provide additional structural stability and an enclosure for essential new services, expertly and ingeniously integrated into this sensitive setting.

Along with strategic improvements that include broader connections within the precinct, transformation of visitor facilities, and a new entrance to the existing library, these two new buildings do their job quietly without challenging the Cathedral in any way, repairing, reforming, and reconnecting the previously ruined south-west corner of the Cathedral precinct.

They also provide essential new facilities, with the Refectory elevating a 150-seat dining hall above a new kitchen and lavatory block, and the Hostry containing exhibition space, education room, Cathedral Song School and choir rehearsal spaces, and a large community room, all accessed through the original porch, physically and symbolically extending the Cathedral’s 915-year history.

  • The Norwich Cathedral Visitors Centre was unanimously chosen for the overall Gold Award at the 2004 Wood Awards. It was also the winner of the Best Commercial & Public Access project. Constructed from Laminated Oak columns supporting Oak Beams from Stainless steel connections.The frame of the building shows how the use of traditional and modern materials can be combined to produce stunning state-of-the-art structures.
Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-23-Hostry-759x503 Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Hostry – © Hopkins Architects

Hopkins Architects

Norwich Cathedral Refectory:

An insertion within the Cathedral’s cloister continues its centuries old evolution, with respectful yet contemporary design.

As the first of a two-phase project, the Refectory at Norwich Cathedral sets the standard for development plans currently proposed to help sustain the future life of this important ecclesiastical site.

The new building occupies the original refectory site next to the cloisters, replicating the scale of the original building. The main intervention is a freestanding, single story timber box. This isolated structure conceals all services – kitchen, plant and toilets – and its lid forms a mezzanine dining area. The roof structure is then supported from and braced by the box on 9 pairs of oak columns set out in a series of structural bays. Above this, the roof completes the enclosure, sitting lightly over the discretely re-levelled perimeter wall and abutting the existing library with a full-length lead gutter. Roof lights along the library edge also maintain daylight through original leaded windows.

At either end of the lofty enclosure, the inserted timber box stops short of the over sailing roof to leave triple height spaces that sit against the fully glazed gable ends. These spaces add to the light and airy atmosphere and contain entrances, stairs, and a lift, inserted as freestanding elements. Throughout The Refectory, the composition, disposition and juxtaposition of each new element has been carefully considered and co-ordinated.

Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-24-Hostry-759x504 Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Hostry – © public domain

Norwich Cathedral Hostry:

A new visitor and education facility sensitively re-establishes the medieval west entrance to the Cathedral’s cloister.

Built on the site of the original pilgrims’ guest hall, The Hostry completes the new accommodation at Norwich Cathedral, complementing The Refectory, and ‘re-animating’ the medieval cloister as the heart of the Cathedral precinct.

The Hostry has a unique brief in that, in addition to exhibition spaces and an education room, the building also houses the Cathedral’s Song School and choir rehearsal spaces. It provides a large community room, which can bring together those who live and work in The Cathedral Close, as well as offering conference facilities for external groups.

The brief for both projects was to create buildings of such architectural merit that they would enhance and respect the Cathedral complex, increase visitor access across the precinct and resolve disabled access, all in a manner sensitive to existing and theoretical archaeological remains present on both sites.

Our work at Norwich has been about acknowledging the sacred and special nature of the surroundings, while creating contemporary buildings with their own integrity. With minimal alterations to the medieval fabric, we have managed to build two new structures, which replicate the location, function and form of their historic partners and in this way the new buildings enable a greater understanding of the Cathedral’s historical organisation. A bold modern architecture has emerged from the most sympathetic attitude to building these structures in such an intimate relationship with the historic ones.

As well as focusing on a palette of largely traditional materials, the design uses existing walls wherever possible, minimising cost and the impact of the new volumes on the Cathedral complex. Environmentally sustainable measures have been taken in the use of natural ventilation, insulation and underfloor heating, all of which have improved the energy efficiency of the new structures, thus the old has been reinvigorated by the new, to create buildings that will continue to stand the test of time.

Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-27-Hostry-759x531 Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

Hostry – © Hopkins Architects

Information to Norwich Cathedral:

Norwich Cathedral was founded in 1096 by Bishop Herbert de Losinga and built using Normandy stone shipped over from Caen. By 1145 the building had been completed, under the direction of Bishop Herbert’s successor, Eborard de Montgomery.

The Cathedral was established as a Benedictine monastery with its ‘rule’ based on worship, hospitality and learning, three principles which continue to underpin the work of the Cathedral today. An excerpt from the Rule of St. Benedict is read at Evensong each day and the Cathedral has three Residentiary Canons, one taking responsibility for each of the three principles.

In 1272 serious riots and fighting erupted, resulting in almost all the Norman monastic buildings, including the Cloister walkways, being destroyed by fire. In 1362 the timber spire fell in a hurricane and in 1463 it perished after a disastrous lightning strike. It was Bishop James Goldwell who commissioned the rebuilding of the spire, using brick encased in stone and raising it higher than any of its predecessors. This is essentially the same spire which dominates the city today.

Today the footprint of the original monastery has been recreated with the addition of the Refectory Restaurant and the Hostry Visitor & Education Centre, opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II in May 2010. The Cathedral itself is one of the finest complete Romanesque buildings in Europe, and boasts the highest Norman tower and largest monastic Cloister in England. It houses more than a thousand beautiful medieval roof boss sculptures.

Norwich Cathedral has survived riot, war, plague and fire to fulfil its mission. For over 900 years it has dominated the Norwich skyline bearing witness to the glory of God. It has always been greatly loved by the people of Norfolk and was voted the county’s favourite building.

Norwich-Cathedral-Refectory-and-Hostry-By-Hopkins-Architects-17-Paul-Tyagi-759x603 Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects

© Paul Tyagi

Project Data:

Project name: Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry
Location: Norwich, England, United Kingdom
Coordinates: 52.631223,1.301015
Type: Adaptive Reuse, Cathedral
Program: conference facilities, education room and an exhibition space
Materials: wood, steel, stone, concrete
Project Area: Totle 2069 sqm

  • Norwich Cathedral Hostry: 1,078 sqm
  • Norwich Cathedral Refectory: 991 sqm

Project Year: 1995 to 2009
Status: Built
Cost: 25 Million GBP (Hostry, Refectory & Upper Cloister)
Completion Year: Refectory – 2004 / Hostry – 2010
Visit Norwich Cathedral’s website: here


Norwich Cathedral Refectory:

  • 2013 Tripadvisor Awards – Ranked No.1 of 75 attractions in Norwich
  • 2005 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA Regional Award: East – Winner
  • 2005 Civic Trust Award
  • 2005 Royal Fine Art Commission Trust Award – Building of the Year
  • 2004 The Wood Awards – unanimously chosen for the overall Gold Award
  • 2004 BD Architect of the year Awards – Category: Leisure

Norwich Cathedral Hostry:

  • 2011 Civic Trust Awards – Michael Middleton Special Award
  • 2011 Civic Trust Awards
  • 2010 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA Regional Award: East
  • 2010 Natural Stone Awards – Category: New Build Modern Style Stone Cladding

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral
Architects: Hopkins Architects – 27 Broadley Terrace, London NW1 6LG, United Kingdom
Text Description: © Courtesy of Hopkins Architects, Norwich Cathedral, architectureweek
Images: © Hopkins Architects, Paul Tyagi


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Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry / Hopkins Architects
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