The Octagon Chapel is a Grade II* listed building located in Colegate, just across the River Wensum from the city centre, in an area once known as Norwich Over The Water. It stands on what was possibly the site of the earlier church of St John the Baptist, which was closed in 1226 and given to the Blackfriars, who used it as a chapel and hermitage until its demolition in the mid-sixteenth century.
In 1686 a meeting house for non-conformist religious worship was built on the site. This was at a time when church matters and politics were still closely linked. Restrictions which forbade worship which did not conform to the established practices of the Church of England were starting to become relaxed but it was by no means certain they would not be tightened again in the future. With this in mind the new building, which could house a congregation of around 1000, was built in a position set back from the road and hidden by other buildings, and in such a manner that it could be converted to a private dwelling should the need arise.
By the early 1750s the building had become unsafe, and a committee was set up to invite proposals to build a replacement. One of the applicants was local builder and architect Thomas Ivory, who was also building the Assembly House, half a mile or so to the south-west. His plans were accepted, the foundation stone was laid in 1754 and the new chapel was opened in May 1756. The interior retained the simplicity of earlier meeting houses, with none of the altars, statues or stained glass found in more traditional church design. The octagonal shape allowed all in the congregation to see and hear the preacher, while tall windows set high in the walls on all sides and a high domed ceiling ensured the interior was light and airy. John Wesley, after visiting the chapel in 1757, wrote that it was ‘perhaps the most elegant in all Europe.’
The chapel is acoustically excellent, and concerts are held from time to time, the proceeds from which go to charities and good causes, both local and national.
Since the early nineteenth century the congregation has been Unitarian, and welcomes open-minded people of all faiths and of none.
For information about times of services and other events please visit the Octagon Chapel website, here.
An elegant yet simple exterior, perfectly octagonal in shape, fronted by an imposing raised portico of Palladian design.
The burial ground of the chapel until 1821, this lovely sheltered garden catches the full sun from about midday onwards.
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