Howard House is situated on the east side of King Street, on the corner of King St. and Mountergate, and takes its name from its owner from about 1663, Henry Howard (died 1684), brother of the Duke of Norfolk, who later succeeded his brother as 6th Duke of Norfolk. He bought "a piece of ground ...... by the waterside at Cunisford which he intends for a place of walking and recreation" and he planned a " bowling green ..... a wilderness.... (and) a garden" (Diary of Dr Edward Browne, son of Sir Thomas Browne, in Norfolk Archaeology Vol XXIV). The house is in the north west corner of the site, which was the site of the Augustinian Friary from about 1291 until it was dissolved at the Reformation in 1538 and later demolished. A photograph of the house can be seen on the English Heritage "Images of England" website. It shows the view looking south down King Street.
The house was first listed in 1954 and again in 1972; the 1972 listing report for English Heritage says that "the building is graded II* because of the undercroft", although the 1954 report doesn't mention the undercroft. It is not open to the public and is currently on the English Heritage "At Risk Register" because of its very poor state of repair. It is understood that the Norwich City Council are planning to undertake some emergency repairs. It is currently empty and owned by a developer who proposes including the house within the St. Anne's Wharf development which covers the whole area from Mountergate east to the river and south to just beyond Dragon Hall (which is not included). Planning permission for the scheme, which is for over 400 residential units but with some retail and leisure facilities, has been granted. The developer's plans (2003) say that there will be "sensitive repair of its (Howard House) fabric and retention in its current office use" and that there will be "a cut back to reveal the Garden Façade ..... from King Street". It is not known when work on the St. Anne's Wharf scheme will commence.
Pevsner and other sources say it was "built for Henry Howard". But an architect's report of 1997, part of a planning application, says that "in the 1660's a building on essentially the existing plan already existed" although it seems that the date of its construction is not known but may be late 16th century or early 17th century. However the report for the listing by English Heritage in 1972 says that the undercroft is 15th century and that there other remains from the 15th and 16th century, suggesting that Howard's house was built over an earlier undercroft.
The undercroft is of two bays in brick, with three side chambers and two end chambers, with remains of internal and external stair entrances. The house has a four bay brick-faced garden frontage on the south side which is probably a refacing of the original building. Inside there is a fine staircase "with open work panels instead of balusters... (with) strap and leaf motifs" (Pevsner) which is thought to date to the 1630's, i.e. before Henry Howard bought the house, although it is possible that he installed it. Some of the panels have been stolen. There is a drawing of the staircase in Tillett's Scrapbooks No. 27 (p.18). The architect's report of 1997 says that a first floor room has a 17th century egg and dart cornice. On the south façade there is a large sundial dating from 1840, when some internal alterations were made, such as the insertion of panelling and a new fireplace on the ground floor.
Henry Howard's garden became known as "My Lord's Garden" and some sources refer to the house as the Howard family's "garden house". Probably after he sold it, it was one of a number of commercial "leisure gardens" in Norwich, including the Ranelagh, the Vauxhall, the Wilderness and the Victoria, which competed for customers with rival attractions. Hochstetter's map of 1789 shows the whole site, from Mountergate, south to St. Anne's Lane and east to the river, still laid out as garden. The gardens were gradually built over in the 19th century and Morant's map of 1873 shows the site bisected by Synagogue Street, with just a small piece of garden remaining at the east end, called Hopsfield Pleasure Garden. Most of the site is now occupied by the empty Morgan's Brewery building.