House built in 1893 to designs by George John Skipper.
Reason for Listing
St Bennet’s and boundary wall, was built in 1893 to designs by George John Skipper, it is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
*Architect: it was designed by a nationally recognised architect, during the period when his reputation was firmly established, resulting in part from his reshaping of Cromer;
*Architectural interest: it has skilfully designed and richly ornamented elevations in which eclectic elements are orchestrated into a coherent composition;
*Quality of materials: integral to the success of the design is the masterful handling of the high quality materials. Knapped flint, which is characteristic of Skipper’s work, is combined with finely jointed warm red brick and moulded and carved brickwork to create a textural richness;
*Craftsmanship: a high standard of craftsmanship is evident in the building’s execution, particularly in the carved brickwork panels attributed to Minns who worked on other buildings by Skipper.
Cromer had some prosperity as a fishing town in the medieval period, as evidenced by the large and fine Church of St Peter and Paul (Grade I, listed in 1950) still dominant in the townscape. The fortunes of Cromer and its church diminished, however, and Cromer is said to have become little more than a village surrounding its crumbling church, until the late C18 fashion for sea bathing saw an upturn in its fortune. According to the Cromer Preservation Society, bathing machines were being advertised for use in Cromer by 1779. Cromer was for many years a small but exclusive resort, favoured by a circle of rich Norfolk families including the prominent banker, Quaker and philanthropist John Gurney. It was a watering place of some fashionable standing, being mentioned favourably in Jane Austen’s Emma in 1814.
Throughout most of the C19 the fashionable few in Cromer rejoiced in its isolation – according to a town guide from 1841, as quoted by the Cromer Preservation Society: “Its undisturbed quiet has rendered it a paradise for the clergy and old ladies whose never-failing theme of mutual congratulation is the difficult access which saves them from being over-run by excursionists.”
Cromer’s isolation was to end when the first railway station opened in 1877, but it was some way out of the town, so it was the opening of the second station, Cromer Beach Station, in 1887 which had the greatest influence on Cromer’s development. Following this, investment and development in the town soared, and a large number of buildings surviving in Cromer today date from this period, defining much of Cromer’s present day character. Some of Cromer’s most prominent buildings date from the period including the flamboyant “Hotel de Paris” on the seafront, (listed at Grade II in 1977) built in 1894 as a remodelling of some earlier buildings; one of many buildings in the town designed by architect George Skipper. The sea front was remodelled and the sea walls and promenade (both listed at Grade II in 2003) were built at the very end of the C19, by London engineers Douglass and Arnott. In 1899-1901 the pier was built (listed at Grade II in 1975), with the Pavilion Theatre added to it in 1905.
New buildings have continued to be built in Cromer throughout the C20, as it continued to be a popular resort in the summer months, though no period has seen a repeat of building on the same scale as the end of the C19.
St Bennet’s was built in 1893 to designs by George John Skipper for Samuel Soames Jarvis. The plans for the house do not survive as the planning regulation records for Cromer only began that year. The hand carved brick panels are attributed to the Norwich-based sculptor called Minns who regularly worked for Skipper on buildings, including the Town Hall Theatre and the new front for the Cliftonville Hotel, both listed at Grade II. The Jarvis family were instrumental in the development of Cromer in the late C19 and owned several hotels in the town, including Skipper’s Metropole Hotel of 1893, now demolished, and the Hotel de Paris which was re-fronted by Skipper in 1894 (listed at Grade II). It is said that Samuel Soames Jarvis built St Bennet’s to provide a home for a widowed relation and to offer hospitality to Christians visiting the area; and that the Bishop of Norwich used it as his summer residence during the late C19/ early C20. One of Jarvis’s relations who lived there took in the overflow of guests from Oliver Locker-Lampson, an MP and naval officer, who inherited Newhaven Court in Cromer in 1915. Amongst the famous people who stayed at St Bennet’s were Sir Ernest Shackleton and Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home’s family. The interior of the house is said to be almost intact, and, externally, the only alterations are the replacement of three small windows with uPVC. A historic photograph dated 1898-1900 shows that the boundary wall had iron railings which have since been removed.
Skipper (1856-1948) was one of the most flamboyant architects of the late Victorian/ Edwardian period. He spent three years as a pupil with John Thomas Lee of Bedford Row, London, and set up his own practice in East Dereham in 1879, moving to Norwich a year later. At first Skipper specialised in hospitals and schools, winning several competitions, and by the 1890s he was firmly established as one of the region’s major architects. He designed many hotels and commercial buildings, including the Royal Arcade in Norwich (1899) and the Yacht Club at Lowestoft (1902), both listed at Grade II*, and the headquarters of the Norwich Union (1906), which is listed at Grade I. Skipper has over forty buildings on the statutory List.
MATERIALS: knapped flint with quoins, bay windows, gable parapets and other dressings in finely jointed, rich red brick, under a roof covered with red clay plain tiles.
PLAN: the house is attached to the west end of a terrace built in 1891. It is oriented westwards and has a long, narrow plan with a rear two-storey projection.
EXTERIOR: the house has irregular elevations in an eclectic, Queen Anne-style. It consists of two storeys, a half-basement and attic under a steeply pitched roof with moulded kneelers and crow-stepped gables which are accentuated by moulded caps. In the north gable head, a small, corbelled, shaft rises through the apex and is surmounted by a ball finial. Rising through the apex on the south gable end is a wide chimney stack with circular pots and moulded banding, the upper band enriched with a dentilled course. A similar stack rises through the west pitch and is incorporated into the right hand side of the porch; and there is a plainer stack at the north end of the east pitch. There is a modillion course at eaves level, and also on the two-bay windows on the west elevation.
The principal, west-facing, three-bay façade is dominated by a projecting three-storey porch which rises through the eaves and gives the impression of a battlemented gatehouse. It has splayed corners with quoins; slim pilasters on the outer edges; and prominent moulded storey bands. A flight of steps leads up to the elaborate ground-floor entrance which has a central projecting section under a moulded triangular pediment enriched with egg-and-dart. The multi-panelled front door is recessed behind a depressed archway with a double roll moulding and small spandrels. Above this is a pair of stained glass windows with decorative glazing bars which have similar arched heads with a single roll moulding and spandrels. The projecting section is flanked by two narrow stained glass windows, one above the other, which have similar surrounds. This is repeated on the return walls. Above this is a frieze, enriched with egg-and-dart and incorporating the pediment, which is flanked by panels of carved brick depicting flowing foliage and two banners carved with ‘St Bennets’ and ‘1893’. The first floor of the porch is lit by a group of five leaded casements divided by mullions and a single transom which have ovolo mouldings and fillets. The lintel and transoms have shaped bricks which give the impression of keystones. Above the windows is a wide, moulded, triangular pediment. The second floor of the porch is lit by a group of four leaded casements divided by mullions; these and the lintel have the same treatment as the windows below. Above is a moulded and dentilled string course; and the final stage of the porch has a crenellated parapet with moulded caps. In the centre is the same motif found on the north gable head but here it rises through a brick arch which spans two merlons. The outer edges are also surmounted by ball finials. To the left of the projecting porch is a rectangular bay window under a hipped roof which rises from the basement to the first floor. It has slightly projecting brickwork at the edges and moulded storey bands, some dentilled. The large, horned, two-over-two pane sash windows have segmental arch heads at basement and first-floor level, whilst the ground-floor window has a cambered head, all with gauged brick arches. Between the basement and ground-floor are lozenge shapes in knapped flint, and between ground-floor and first-floor is a frieze of carved brick depicting crabs and fishes amidst intertwined foliage. The sides of the bay have narrow windows with the same dressings and panels of carved brickwork depicting fish and seaweed. To the right of the porch are similar sash windows set in wide brick surrounds, decorated with narrow panels of knapped flint, which is also used to form a panel between the ground and first-floor windows. To the right of this is a double-height rectangular bay window that breaks forward at an angle from the corner of the building which it therefore clasps, producing an M-shaped hipped roof. It has similar treatment to the bay window on the left of the porch, except that it has paired sashes. The frieze between the ground and first floor depicts deer framed by foliage with side panels depicting a rabbit and a fox.
The south elevation has two small windows at attic level, both uPVC, and a two-storey projection under a hipped roof. This, relatively plain, projection has the greatest expanse of knapped flint on the building, only interrupted by the red brick quoins and window dressings. The west face is lit by a one-over-one pane uPVC replacement window, positioned under the eaves. The south face has a C20 fire escape leading up to the first floor, and a single window on the ground floor. The single-bay north elevation is dominated by a canted bay window rising from the basement to the first floor. It is similar to the rectangular bay on the left of the porch, except it has a brick parapet and the carved frieze depicts a peacock and peahens framed by foliage with side panels showing partridges and pheasants. The attic is lit by a group of four leaded casements divided by mullions which have a wide lintel and a moulded triangular pediment.
INTERIOR: this has not been inspected but is said to survive with a high degree of intactness, including joinery, ceiling roses, and ten fireplaces.
Along the north boundary is a low wall of knapped flint and red brick with coping in vitrified brick. The pair of red brick gate piers have knapped flint panels and shallow, pyramidal stone caps.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.