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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

The Heigham House Private Lunatic Asylum – “The Retreat”

Engraving of the Heigham Private Lunatic Assylum by Henry Ninham
(Norfolk Records Office MC 279/6)

Heigham House Retreat was a purpose built asylum located in grounds bounded by Pembroke Road, Denbigh Road, Milford Road, Avenue Road School and The Avenues. Nothing at all remains of the asylum today, but the street pattern owes its existence to the asylum grounds.

The Norfolk Annals for 1829 record:


14.-Heigham House, Norwich, was opened under the management of Mr. Jollye, formerly of Loddon, as a retreat for insane persons.

Mr Jollye seems to have had a career in asylums, seven years previously the Annals record:

November 1822

29.-An inquest was held at Loddon by Mr. Pilgrim, coroner, on the body of James Dale, who was killed the preceding day by a patient in the private lunatic asylum kept by Mr. Jollye, surgeon.

Later, Drs Wright, Dalrympole and Crosse conducted practices at the Heigham Retreat.

The house is shown on the Tithe maps of around 1850 (Heigham Tithe Map DN/TA723). The Norfolk Historic Map Explorer website shows the location of the house and its grounds and allows the user to superimpose these old maps over a modern map of the same area. The tithe map overlaying the modern map can be seen here

This enhanced detail is taken from the Norfolk Historic Map site (with permission)

The house is shown red, pale green area shows the parkland garden of the asylum, the dark green areas of kitchen garden and courtyard, The approach drive is shown in yellow.

The location of the house today:  The junction of Milford Road and Swansea Road. The front door would have been close to the corner of the white painted house. This view is as close as it's possible to get to the engraving, it would be somewhere near the objects in the lawn at the centre of Henry Ninham's picture.

A survey of the property in 1859 - the year The Retreat was bought out and closed by the rival Heigham Hall Asylum - describes the house in some detail (Norfolk Records Office)

"The house which is built with brick and slates contains entrance hall with parlour, waiting room, good kitchens, scullery and other domestic offices.  Also corridor on the north side with day rooms and other sitting rooms for male patients with garden and courtyard attached. There to the south side of the building is similarly arranged for the female patients with garden adjoining the day and other visiting rooms. The upper floor of the house is approached by a good staircase adjoining which are the galleries (over the lower corridors) and communicating with these are the bedrooms for the male and female patients which are of a good heights and size. There are also good bathrooms and water closets fitted with self acting apparatus.

In the rear of the house is an excellent courtyard and (bleach?) with brick and slated washhouse, laundry, brewhouse, stable coach house and other offices". - Charles Honour, June 16th 1859 (Norfolk Records Office).

The description of the galleries over the lower corridors, coupled with the bars on the windows (which are visible in the full sized version of the engraving) perhaps give a flavour of the nature of the regime in the asylum.

The presence of a brewhouse in the above description is odd however, as in 1850 The Reading Pathological Society reported (1850 December 11; 14(25): 690 reviewed a pamphlet by the Heigham Retreat:

"There are many- sensible remarks distributed through his panphlet, particularly referring to the conduct of relatives, the importance of early admission, &c.; but there is one subject, that of drzunkenness, as a cause of insanity ... . We are persuaded that there is no single cause which produces so many idiots, and so much mental and bodily degeneration in children, as the drunken iniquity of their parents. No vice exhibits in so marked a manner the truth, that the iniquities of the father are visited upon the children; none shows more strongly the necessity of obedience to the great moral laws, which, implanted in our nature, suffer no violation without the certainty of bitter punishment".

The asylum and its grounds were sold in 1859 to Heigham Hall for £5,325 and the Retreat was closed down. The house was demolished shortly after and the grounds gradually sold off for development over the next 20 years or so. The first houses to be built on the site became what is now Pembroke Road (originally Garden Road), which included the pub at one end and a dairy at the other, together with two terrace style house on what is now Cardiff Road. Pembroke Road marks the eastern edge of the asylum grounds. The entrance drive became Avenue Road and the section from Park Lane to Pembroke Road still follows the original driveway.


Derek Williams

August 2012