Surrey House
Surrey House in Norwich is situated on Surrey Street, near the junction with St Stephen’s Street. It was originally the home of the Norwich Union but now belongs to Aviva. Built on the site of the house of Henry, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), the present building was started in 1900 and opened for business in 1904. According to the first paragraph of the leaflet available at the entrance ‘It is almost impossible to prepare yourself for your first sight of Surrey House and its astonishing interior, where the beauty of marble and the skills of the architect have combined to create a unique spectacle.’ The building was the inspiration of the local architect, George Skipper, who ‘incorporated various Greek and Masonic symbols, evidence of the influence of Charles Arthur Bathurst Bignold, descendent of the original founder of Norwich Union’16 (Plate 8.77).

The quantity and variety of the marble decoration in the Marble Hall is certainly impressive. ‘The lighter coloured columns are Cipollino, while the darker green are Verde Antico. The reddish marble at the bottom of the walls is Skyros Rosso and the variety above is another type of Skyros. They are separated by a type of Carrara. Above the columns the dark red panels are Rosso Antico. They blend superbly with the alabaster which forms the arches and entablature. The steps of the staircase are Piastraccia and the handrail is Pavanazzo. The newels, columns, and window pilasters are Breccia. Cipollino lines the walls, the panels being separated by insets of grey Istrian marble. These types of marble, together with the Belgium blue marble architrave around the doors on the first floor and the Sienna marble around the fountain of air, add up to fifteen different examples.’17

References to the Norwich Union headquarters are of 16 columns of cipollino, which arrived in the country at the same time as the large amounts of marble brought for Westminster Cathedral and other buildings in London. In fact the Wikepedia notes on the Norwich building say that ‘the marble for the forty columns of the Main Hall, known as the ‘Marble Hall’ was originally imported from Italy for Westminster Cathedral, but owing to logistic problems it had to be sold on at a discount.’18 ‘The green marble columns in the main hall are of two types. The lighter green cipollino columns are used in the centre of each wall of the hall. Within each row of four columns, pairs with very strong, swirling veining have been placed between another pair with more linear markings’.19

There are in fact 24 Karystian cipollino columns in the Marble Hall, eight at the entrance (Plate 8.78), eight at the exit opposite (north eastern side) (Plate 8.79) and four on each side of the walls (Plate 8.80, 8.81 & 8.82). They are arranged, as is mentioned above, in pairs of one of the linear pattern and one of the swirling, wavy pattern of the marble. They measure 3.54 m. in height and .46 m. in diameter at the base. They have white marble bases and capitals. Above the tops of the marble columns there are 11 panels of cipollino, three on each side of the hall, two over the entrance porch and three over the opposite exit. They are interspersed with strips of verde antico and they have an estimated width of 2.65 m. and a depth of .32 m. (Plate 8.83). Above the cipollino panels, on each wall, there are three arches of a dark green marble, surrounded by a curved band of alabaster and with curved bands of cipollino surrounding the alabaster (Plate 8.84). Above the curved band of cipollino is a straight horizontal strip, running the length of the wall. The strips are estimated at .17 m. in depth. In between the arches, on each side, are six rectangular panels of dark red marble (a type of Rosso) surrounded by bands of a light marble and then bands of cipollino (Plate 8.85).

The staircase, landing and gallery contain more cipollino. Above the stairs the walls are clad in panels of cipollino. On the left hand side going up the first flight of stairs, on the lower level there are two irregular sized panels of cipollino in four sections, the tallest side of each section measuring 1.57 m. high and .54 m. wide. Under the first flight of stairs there are also two smaller panels, the triangular one measuring .57 m. x .64 m. x 29 m., and the four sided one measuring 1.32 m. x 1.04 m. x 1.47 x .37 m. (Plate 8.86).

On the right hand side of the first flight of stairs, on the lower level there are three panels of cipollino of four sections each. They vary in size to fit in with the slope of the steps, each section measuring .66 m. wide and varying in height from 1.97 m. to 2.05 m. (Plate 8.87). The top level has three panels of cipollino in four sections. They are of approximately the same size, each section .66 m. in width and approximately 1.52 in height (Plate 8.88). They contain portraits of Norwich Union officials.
Under the window there are three cipollino panels of two sections each, two sections measuring .52 m. x 1.97 m., two measuring .88 m. x 1.57 m. and two measuring .52 m x 1.09 m. (
Plate 8.89).

On the upper staircase wall, the two sets of three wall panels are similar in size to the lower staircase wall panels. The upper row also contains portraits.The landing has cipollino on the floor. There is one oval panel measuring .74 m. x 1.23, cut in 4 pieces not quite matching. It has a border of lighter marble surrounded by dark red rosso and then black (Plate 8.90). In the gallery there is star shaped piece of 16 sided cipollino on the floor. The eight pieces are cut in pairs but not all are exactly matching. It measures .74 m. x 1.23 m. and each small piece measures .08 m. (Plate 8.91). There are two sets of wall panelling in the landing, one at each end. They measure 2.34 m. high and .70 m. wide and here the cladding can be seen and varies in thickness from 2 to 2.5 cms. (Plate 8.92).

16 The leaflet provided by Aviva at the entrance to the Marble Hall, first page.
17 The Aviva leaflet third page.
18 Skipper, George, Marble Hall in Surrey House, Norwich,, Norwich, by George SkipperH

19 Skipper, George, as above.

Maps and Plates

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Plate 8.77 Surrey House, Norwich, formerly the old Norwich Union building, Surrey Street, Norwich.

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Plate 8.78 Eight cipollino columns in the main entrance, the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.79 Eight cipollino columns at the north east entrance, (opposite main entrance) the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.80 Four cipollino columns, the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.81 Four cipollino columns at the south east side of the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.82 Four cipollino marble columns at the north west side of the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.83 Panels of cipollino above the marble columns, the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.84 Bands of cipollino above the marble columns, the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.85 Panels of red Rosso marble with borders of cipollino, the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.86 Two smaller cipollino panels on the higher level of the left hand side of staircase, Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.87 Three cipollino panels of 4 sections each on the right hand side of the first flight of stairs, the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.88 Three cipollino panels in four sections on the right hand side of the staircase, higher level, containing portraits, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.89 One of three cipollino panels of two sections each, under the window on the staircase, the Marble Hall, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.90 Oval panel of cipollino on the floor of the landing, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.91 Star shaped, 16 sided cipollino panel on the floor of the landing, Surrey House, Norwich.

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Plate 8.92 Cipollino wall panel (one at each end) at the end of the landing, Surrey House, Norwich.