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130-year-old letter uncovered at historic Howard House

Howard House Letter envelopeA letter thought to be over 130 years old has been found during restoration works at one of Norwich’s oldest buildings, Howard House, on King Street.

Giving a glimpse into the history of the house, the letter was recovered from under the floorboards by building contractors renovating the house on behalf of Orbit Homes, developers of the neighbouring £70m St Anne’s Quarter.

Although the handwriting is difficult to decipher, the letter was thought by Orbit’s archaeological advisor Andy Shelley, from Ramboll, and confirmed by Norfolk Records Office, to be a message of condolence.

A close up of the Howard House letter

It is addressed in ink to a Miss Spencer, believed to be a family member of Dr Christopher Spencer, a surgeon who lived at Howard House in the mid 19th century.

Orbit donated the fragile letter to Norfolk Records Office for safekeeping, where it was carefully opened to reveal a faint pencil note signed by ‘G Dye’, dated 8 February 1884. It is hoped further analysis may help solve more of the mystery of the story behind the letter.

Now a Grade II* listed building, in the 17th century Howard House belonged to Henry Howard, the 6th sixth Duke of Norfolk.

Work to restore the building, which has stood empty for more than 20 years, began earlier this month as part of Orbit Homes’ plans to transform St Anne’s Quarter into a high-quality residential-led development of over 400 new homes.

The letter is the latest in a series of interesting discoveries made during the development of St Anne’s Quarter, with skeletons, treasure, and large parts of a medieval Augustinian friary having been unearthed during an archaeological excavation on the site last summer.

Opening the Howard House letter

Max Barnes, construction manager at Orbit Homes, said "Since beginning development at St Anne’s Quarter we have been working closely with our partners to ensure Norwich’s history is carefully preserved and recorded. The discovery of the letter is very exciting, and helps us shed more light on the site’s intriguing past

Mark Lusher, managing director of W.S Lusher & Son Ltd, the building contractors to find the letter, said: “Ray Groom and Kevin Childerhouse, who discovered the letter, have between them clocked up more than 60 years with us and, even though we specialise in period property renovation, a find like this is always a delight.”

Gary Tuson, county archivist at Norfolk Records Office, said: “It’s amazing what a rich part of our heritage is still hidden away and what can be discovered when, in this case quite literally, someone lifts the boards.”

Photo above: Representatives from W.S Lusher & Son Ltd and Orbit Homes meet with Norfolk Records Office to open the letter (L – R: Mark Lusher, manager director, Ray Groom, bricklayer, and Kevin Childerhouse, labourer, of W.S Lusher & Son Ltd; Max Barnes, construction manager at Orbit Homes; and Gary Tuson, county archivist at Norfolk Records Office). 

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