Godwick: A Deserted Village

Overview:
It is possible to take the story of roofless buildings, grass-covered streets and redundant houses back to the decline of Roman cities and villas in Britain during the fourth and fifth centuries; or, indeed, the abandonment of the farms founded to replace them in the countryside during the Anglo-Saxon period. However, those that were deserted from around 1300 until fairly recent times hold more interest, if only because a few have left traces of their existence in the modern landscape, and some can be visited. A good example is the lost village of Godwick in Norfolk.

Godwick1
The ruins of All Saints; Church at Godwick, which was abandoned when the village died. Apart from the 13th Century tower which was retained as a folly, the church was demolished early in the 17th Century, leaving Godwick’s medieval inhabitants to remain buried beneath the churchyard. Picture: COURTESY CROMER MUSEUM

By the year 1100, Whilst concentrations of houses and people in villages with between 12 and 50 dwellings had developed in many parts of Britain by the year 1100, here in East Anglia most people lived in hamlets or scattered farms. Generally, villages such as these thrived through the cultivation of grain in open fields, and gradually grew in size until about 1300. Then, they began to run into trouble when the rural population fell in the 14th century. This meant that less grain was needed whilst at the same time prices dropped. This problem was made worst when the peasant occupiers tried to adjust their farming by bringing in more animals which, in turn, lead to disputes with neighbours over so called grazing rights. As a result, some families moved out and their heirs failed to take over their parents’ holdings of land. Sometimes, the balance tipped completely over to pasture, making the cultivators redundant.

Godwick2
A plan of the lost medieval village of Godwick, which is between Fakenham and Swaffham. Picture: COURTESY CROMER MUSEUM

It must have been from around 1380 and until the early 16th century when many villages were either deserted or reduced to a survivable level. Here, many reasons came into play. Sometimes the problems were internal, from maybe ambitious peasants who took over their neighbours’ land, drove hundreds of sheep over the common fields, and discouraged newcomers from moving in. All this made for communities to become quarrelsome and fractious, often dooming them to failure. Then there were lords of the village, or their agents such as the farmers who managed the lord’s own share of the village fields; they killed off some villages by expanding their own flocks and herds, forcing tenants out, or buying up land. In many cases, after a period of decay, the landlord removed the remaining vestiges of a once-thriving community in order to profit from the wool and meat that could be reared on the site.

Godwick (Drawing of Manor)
Reconstruction of the old Godwick Manor as it looked in the late 16th Century. Image: Copyright of Sylvanus.

The problems of outward migration, land being concentrated in fewer hands and lords pursuing higher profits only made matters worse for villages. Then, to cap it all, along came the owners of stately homes who launched their own attacks on villages which they considered to be in the wrong place. Here, the gentry were often blamed for removing villages that ‘spoilt the view’ when creating their landscape parks. However, in their defence, some of the villages that were removed were often in poor health by the time this landscaping was taking place.

Godwick (Goldsmith)
Oliver Goldsmith (1728 – 1774) was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet, who is known for his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770). Image: Wikipedia

Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, “The Deserted Village” published in 1770, condemned rural depopulation, the enclosure of common land and the pursuit of excessive wealth. After describing a nameless deserted village as ‘Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain”, Goldsmith then decries its current parlous state, abandoned by villagers, its buildings ruined:

“Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all,
And the long grass o’ertops the mouldering wall;
And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,
Far, far away thy children leave the land
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.’

So, what remains of these deserted villages? Occasionally a ruined building marks the site. Yet these are usually part of a castle, manor house or church as they would have been the only stone structures in the village. A typical peasant house may have had a low, stone foundation wall, but was built mainly of timber and wattle and daub, with a thatched roof, which either decayed or was carried away to be recycled when the village was abandoned. Yet today all is not lost. The sites of houses are usually visible as grassed-over foundations or platforms on which the building stood. Roads and lanes as sunken hollow ways can sometimes be seen, while the boundaries of the enclosures (tofts) in which the houses stood are sometimes marked by banks and ditches.

Godwick8
The church tower remained almost complete until 1981, when its eastern wall collapsed. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

Once the village had gone, the lord often built a mansion on or near the site. It is in the fields surrounding these mansions that you can sometimes identify the grassed-over banks and hollows of walkways, flower beds and water features which formed part of the garden that occupied the site of the village. Look closely and you might see the prospect mounds (for visitors to view the garden) or the pillow mounds for rabbit warrens. Reminds one of Godwick.

The History of Godwick:
Godwick today is a deserted village in the county of Norfolk. Its location is south of Fakenham between the villages of Tittleshall and Whissonsett. There are several hundred deserted or ‘shrunken’ medieval villages in Norfolk, but most sites have long been destroyed by ploughing, the pressures of two world wars or other agricultural uses. Only a few still have impressive surface remains; the earthworks at Godwick being one of the best preserved. It can be found in an area that became pasture in the 16th Century, not long after the last few villagers departed, and remained being grazed by sheep ever since; this has meant that the ground has never been disturbed from deep ploughing or flattened for cultivation. Today it is one of the best surviving examples in the county and the only one open to the public.

Godwick9
The eastern side of Godwick Old Hall, photographed before it was destroyed in a 19th century fire. Photo: Johnson Family Album, Norfolk Museums Service/ Norfolk County Council.

The place-name ‘Godwick’ derives from Old English and probably means ‘Goda’s farm’ and objects found in the surrounding fields suggest that the village was founded in the Anglo-Saxon period. In 1086 Godwick was held by Ralph de Tosny and he granted it to West Acre Priory, in whose hands it remained until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. It then passed between families until it was bought by Sir Edward Coke in 1590 and remained in the Coke family until they sold it to the current owners in the 1950s. Throughout the Middle Ages Godwick was a stable community, but fell out of use in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods, being almost completely abandoned by 1586, when the Old Hall was built and gardens and a park laid out around it. The Great Barn was built in 1597 with the church tower converted into a folly soon afterwards. Both were an important part of a very early landscape park.

Godwick7
Sir Edward Coke  (1552 – 1634) was an English barrister, judge, and politician who is considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.Image: Wikipedia

All Saints church at Godwick was abandoned when the village died but Godwick remained a distinct parish in its own right until absorbed into that of Tittleshall.  To be exact, Wellingham, Tittleshall and Godwick were consolidated into one parish in 1630 and in 1845 the combined parish of Tittleshall-Cum-Godwick contained 615 inhabitants, 124 houses and 3360 acres of land – about 300 acres of which was woods and wastes – nearly all of which belonged to the Earl of Leicester (Coke). The joint benefices were valued, at that time, at £871 per annum. Godwick itself consisted of only two farms. St Mary’s church at Tittleshall sheds light on a dark history as it contains monuments to Norfolk’s famous Coke family. Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice under James I and originator of the Coke family fortune, enshrined into law in 1628 the dictum that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’.

Godwick’s decline and fall:
Whilst the 12th and 13th centuries saw a gradual increase in Norfolk’s population, with people seeking new areas to settle, Godwick’s population was never to become large, mainly because the heavy clay soils thereabout were difficult to cultivate. Then the Black Death reached Norfolk in 1349 and may have killed over a third of the County’s population. However, this epidemic was not solely to blame for the fall in numbers, either throughout Norfolk or in Godwick itself; that began in previous decades with poor harvests, agricultural problems, and a colder, wetter climate. Many village abandonments – although not Godwick – were the result of clearance of depleted villages by greedy landowners who wanted land put to grass. Others just faded slowly away, which seems to have been the case with Godwick.

Godwick (Wikipedia)1a
The mounds of the lost village of Godwick. Photo: Wikipedia

It had always been a small place and, although a relatively stable community, was never a prosperous one. In 1086, only 14 peasants were recorded in the Domesday Book and the village paid a modest amount of taxation in 1334, which declined as the community continued to shrink in the 15th century. In 1428 there were less than 10 households in Godwick and by 1508 a survey showed that of 18 properties on the north side of the main street, 11 were empty and three had no land holdings attached. The same survey showed that a church lay to the south and there was also a watermill with a millpond. By 1525 only five households paid tax when the village was, in reality, already ceasing to exist. By 1595 further decay left Godwick virtually deserted. Its final stages of decay were recorded in an estate map of 1596 when only three or four houses remained and the church tower had collapsed.

The land had been bought in the 1580s by Edward Coke. By 1585 he had built a large manor house in Godwick, as shown on a map of the village in 1596; by this time there was almost nothing left of the original village. The manor house was adjoined by a huge brick barn. The barn still stands, although the manor house was demolished in 1962, but can still be seen in outline. The barn was restored and is now used for wedding receptions.

Godwick6
Looking across the rapeseed fields to the former village of Godwick. Picture: LIZ MURTON

The Church of All Saints was demolished early in the 17th Century, apart from the 13th Century tower which was retained by Coke as a folly – it is the only original building left. The churchyard looks a little raised now with the village’s medieval inhabitants still buried beneath.

Again, Goldsmith words are a suitable epitaph for the demise of a once vibrant village:

‘No more the farmer’s news, the barber’s tale,
No more the woodman’s ballad shall prevail;
No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,
Relax his ponderous strength, and lean to hear;
The host himself no longer shall be found
Careful to see the mantling bliss go round;
Nor the coy maid, half willing to be prest,
Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.’

Present Site Description:
What remains of the medieval village today, consists of a long sunken hollow way running east to west with two other roads running off to the south. This defines the main village street, with the banks and ditches defining the closes in which houses stood. These well-preserved earthworks are not often seen in Norfolk, mainly because so many sites have been ploughed up in modern times. Along both sides of the street can be seen banks and ditches separating individual house plots. About ten of these still remain to be seen. The long street itself indicates that the elongated plan – the one-street village – was an established feature in East Anglia. Another recurring feature is the early modern garden visible around the existing house, with a deep hollow way and a series of rectangular enclosures. This reflects the effects of the wealthy landowner on the landscape after the village had gone.

Godwick5
A view of the lost village of Godwick from above. Picture: EDP ARCHANT.

The church ruin stands within a similar enclosure at an angle between the streets. At the eastern end of the site, the village street runs along what was a dam to hold back a millpond; a small watermill once stood at the far end. The line of the dam is now covered by farm buildings. The 13th-century church tower had been raised as a brick and flint folly when the church was pulled down in the 17th century. This folly may well have formed part of a scheme of landscape architecture for the later Godwick Manor. In 1981 a remaining part of the church tower survived a collapse and inspection of it found evidence of a Norman church amongst the rubble. Also, still to be seen on the site is a large 13th-century red-brick barn with an elaborate façade, built over the line of the street. During the reign of Charles II, 200 men were garrisoned there and although access is barred, it is possible to walk round it and enjoy its beautiful windows.

In 1585, in the middle of the deserted village, Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice and Attorney General to Elizabeth I, built a fine brick manor house. The ruins of that house, which was E-shaped with an impressive two-storey porch and windows, were pulled down in 1962. Its square outline can still just about be picked out as slight humps in the grass. It had a walled yard and entrance to the north, and around the Hall a pattern of formal gardens and enclosures was laid out. Admiral Sir William Hoste, whilst born at Ingoldisthorpe, lived as a very young child at Godwick Manor. The Manor had been leased from Thomas Coke, the eventual 1st Earl of Leicester of Holkham Hall by his father, the Reverend Dixon Hoste (1750–1805) who was rector of Tittleshall and Godwick at the time.

Godwick (Manor Ruin)
The porch in dangerous condition prior to demolition (Johnson family album, Norfolk Museums Service/Norfolk County Council)
Godwick (Manor Ruin)2
The ruins of the Old Hall in the late 19th Century. Photo: Johnson Family Album, Norfolk Museums Service/Norfolk County Council.
Godwick (Great Barn)
The Great Barn at the new visitor trail around the lost village of Godwick. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Godwick earthworks are a Scheduled Ancient Monument and there is an agreement between the present owner and English Heritage over the opening and the management of the site, which is open between April and September from 9:30 am until dusk and visitors are free to wander in the daytime, though dogs should be kept on leads and the Country Code observed. On site there are information panels with displays of aerial photographs, maps and interpretation plans of this lost village. Visitors are warned that it is an offence to disturb the site or use metal detectors without the written permission of English Heritage.

So, there you have it. Amateur historians and landscape enthusiasts can freely walk in the sunken remains of the Godwick village streets, trace outlines of medieval buildings, and marvel at the spectral ruins of the church still standing.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/in-case-you-missed-it-the-villages-that-disappeared/
https://www.fakenhamtimes.co.uk/news/exploring-norfolk-lost-village-of-godwick-1-6070927
https://www.fakenhamtimes.co.uk/news/lost-norfolk-village-of-godwick-1-6204377
https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM8Y1Z_Godwick_Deserted_Village_Norfolk
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/introduction/
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/godwick-old-hall/

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Elizabeth Rigby: A Scholarly and Perceptive Critic.

Number 54 today, is an inconspicuous house in St Giles, Norwich. It is possible that it has always been so – or maybe it hasn’t? Maybe, if one was to delve into the complete history of No. 54, there would be many uncovered stories laying in wait. But that is not the aim of this particular tale, which prefers to settle on its owners and occupants at the turn of the 18th century; in particular, one Elizabeth Rigby (17 November 1809 to 2 October 1893) who became a British author, art critic and art historian, and was the first woman to write regularly for the Quarterly Review. She was known not only for her writing but also for her significant role in the London art world.

Elizabeth-Rigby (Court)
54 St Giles Street, Norwich.
The Rigby family, of husband, wife and fourteen children shared this corner house with their country residence named Framingham Earl Hall. This St Giles address could well have been where Dr Rigby had his Practice and Apothecary’s shop, standing, as it does on the corner of Rigby Court (formerly Pitt Lane) and St Giles. Rigby Court linked  St Giles to Bethel Street. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak.

Elizabeth’s father was Dr Edward Rigby (1747-1821), a well-respected physician who, at the time of Elizabeth’s birth, owned both No. 54, St Giles, Norwich and also the neo-Georgian Framlingham Earl Hall which used to stand just five miles south of the City. He bought the Hall in 1786 along with about 34 acres of surrounding land on which, from about 1805, he laid out and planted what became a great collection of trees.

Framlingham Earl Hall (c1900)
Framlingham Earl Hall in 1900. It is not known if this represents the size and appearance of what had been Dr Rigby’s home of the early 19th century. He died in 1821 and the residence was to change hands several times thereafter – and may well have been altered by the time this photograph was taken. Photo: Attributed to R. Gooderham.

Dr. Edward Rigby was the son of John and Sarah (nee’ Taylor) and was born at Chowbent, Lancashire, on 27 December 1747. Educated at Warrington Academy and Norwich School, Rigby was apprenticed in 1762 to David Martineau, surgeon of Norwich. He then studied in London before being admitted as a member of the Corporation of Surgeons on 4 May 1769. In that same year he married for the first time, to a Sarah Dybal and settled in the Norwich area where the couple produced two daughters.

During this period Edward Rigby’s interests, outside his medical profession, began to involve both community and political activities. In 1783, he joined the Corporation of Guardians of Norwich, only to find that when he attempted to promote ‘the economical administration of the Poor Laws’ he was met with so much opposition that by the following year he had resigned. Then by 1786 he was seen to be taking the lead in establishing the Norfolk Benevolent Society for the relief of the widows and orphans of medical men. In politics he was a Whig and a supporter of William Windham. However, in 1794 when Windham became Secretary at War and had to stand again for Norwich, Rigby was one of the disillusioned Whigs of the time who backed James Mingay against him.  Windham was re-elected, but Mingay’s reputation as a Whig was boosted.

Elizabeth-Rigby (Dr Edward Rigby)
Dr. Edward Rigby MD, (1747-1821) Physician by Joseph Clover – circa 1819. Portrait: (Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital) – Image: Edward Rigby Clover

As a widower, Rigby became an Alderman of the city of Norwich in 1802 in what turned out to be a very tight contest for the North Ward. He then became Sheriff the following year and Mayor of Norwich in 1805 when he presided over a meeting which addressed the issue of smallpox in the city. Rigby is said to have ‘made known the flying shuttle to Norwich manufacturers’ and to have introduced vaccination in the city. By then Rigby had married Anne Palgrave, the daughter of William Palgrave of Great Yarmouth. Their wedding had taken place in 1803 and the marriage thereafter produced a total of twelve children, amongst whom were a set of quads, three girls and a boy born on 15 August 1817. This was indeed a remarkable event. Unfortunately, the babies did not survive long; one lived just 18 days and the other three from between eight and ten weeks.

However, at a quarterly meeting of the Norwich Corporation on September 12th 1817, the Court of Aldermen resolved that a piece of plate be presented to Alderman and Mrs Rigby in commemoration of the births, to which the Commons “cordially acquiesced on the understanding that if the same event should happen in their own body they should put in a claim for a similar complimentary memento.” A violent personal dispute ensued between two members of the Common Council, “which so alarmed eight of the members for the Ward beyond the Water that they left the room without leave of the Speaker, the consequence being that the whole proceedings proved abortive.” Another meeting was held on the 27th, when the presentation was amicably agreed to, and on December 24th 1817 Dr. and Mrs. Rigby were given a silver bread basket, “with the names of the children and the arms of the family richly emblazoned thereon.” This must have been quite distressing, particularly to Mrs Rigby having, by then, lost all four of those children.

Over two marriages Edward Rigby sired fourteen children, some of whom found fame in their own right.

Elizabeth Rigby (Anne_Palgrave)2
Mrs Anne (Palgrave) Rigby, 1777 – 1872 by Robert Adamson & David Octavius Hill. This photograph bears a striking resemblance to Whistler’s famous portrait of his mother, which is not at all surprising given that the two ladies were friends. Mrs Whistler may have owned a copy of this calotype of Mrs Rigby. Photo: National Galleries of Scotland.

Alongside all this, Rigby was a notable physician and described as being a brilliant surgeon who was also instrumental in the founding of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital with which he was to be associated with for over 50 years. Outside of the medical profession, Rigby was a practicing agriculturist and a friend of Thomas William Coke of Holkham. He too experimented on his own farm at Framingham Earl. Edward was also a classical scholar and in later years, he further became distinguished when Pitt Lane, which ran between St. Giles and Bethel Street, was re-named Rigby’s Court.

Dr Edward Rigby died on 27 October 1821, aged 74 years. He was buried at St Andrew’s Church; Framingham and his tomb was inscribed with a fine epitaph to a man renowned locally as a tree planter:

‘A monument to Rigby do you seek?
On every side the whisp’ring woodlands speak.’

His wife, Anne, survived him by 51 years, dying at Slough, Buckinghamshire on 2 September 1872, aged 95 years.

Elizabeth Rigby, the main subject of this tale, was born on 17 November 1809, one of twelve children eventually produced by Edward Rigby and Anne (nee’ Palgrave) at their 18th century neo-Georgian Framingham Earl Hall. This was the family’s country home where her father planted many trees, turning a bleak heath into a pleasant wood.

Elizabeth-Rigby (Poringland Oak)
The Poringland Oak, circa. 1818–20
Here John Crome depicts the open heath at Poringland. His painting centres on a large oak tree that would have been familiar to locals. The warm glow of the setting sun and the carefree bathers give the scene an idyllic feeling. Crome may have painted this for nostalgic reasons, as by 1819 the Poringland heath had been enclosed for over a decade as a result of Dr. Edward Rigby’s tree planting scheme. John Crome’s painting of the Poringland Oak was to become the inspiration behind the present Poringland village sign. Image: Tate Gallery, Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Today, both the parkland and the site of the old Hall are mostly hidden by those trees, although in the winter glimpses may be seen through the hedge. Both parents were to include Elizabeth in their social life and conversations with prominent citizens and intellectuals of the time; this says much about their enlightened attitude where their children were not ‘pigeon-holed’ by being required ‘to be seen but not heard’ when in adult company. It also says much about Elizabeth’s own intellect.

Elizabeth-Rigby (Portrait 1831)
Elizabeth Rigby, portrait sketch, 1831, Victoria & Albert Museum

Elizabeth grew up being very fond of drawing and continued studying art well into her twenties. During this time, she may well have been influenced by John Crome (1768 – 1821), the famous painter, who was well known to the family; her father had first employed Crome as an errand boy in his youth and later gave him lodgings at his house at 54 St Giles, Norwich. Also, during this time Elizabeth was privately educated and learnt French and Italian; however, after an illness in 1827 when she was about 18 years of age, she was sent to convalesce in Germany and Switzerland. There she stayed for two years, during which time she began a lifetime of publication which included a translation of Johann David Passavant’s essay on English art. A second trip to Germany in 1835 led to her writing an article on Goethe. Then, after travelling to Russia and Estonia to visit a married sister, her letters of the time, plus her subsequent travel book, ‘A Residence on the Shores of the Baltic’ (1841) led to an invitation from John Gibson Lockhart for her to write for his Quarterly Review.

by James Faed, after  Sir Francis Grant, mezzotint, published 31 January 1856
John Gibson Lockhart (12 June 1794 – 25 November 1854) was a Scottish writer and editor. He is best known as the author of a biography of his father-in-law Sir Walter Scott, which has been called the second most admirable in the English language, after Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Photo: Wikipedia

In 1842, Elizabeth’s widowed mother, Anne Rigby, moved with her daughters to Edinburgh, where Elizabeth’s literary career brought entry to an intellectual social circle including prominent figures such as Lord Jeffrey, John Murray and David Octavius Hill, who photographed her in a series of about 20 early calotypes, assisted by Robert Adamson.

Elizabeth-Rigby (Hill)1
Elizabeth Rigby from a calotype by Hill and Adamson, circa 1847. An albumen print, date unknown, printer unidentified. Photo: Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service.

Hill and Adamson

David Hill and Robert Adamson were pioneering photographers, now acknowledged as masters of the art, working in Edinburgh, a city where they were not constrained by Henry Talbot’s English patent on his calotype process. They exploited their opportunity to the full, creating a magnificent series of photographic prints throughout their partnership (1843-1847). Their salted paper prints were made from calotypes [paper negatives] and have a soft, painterly appearance.

Despite writing in her diary in 1846 saying that there were many “compensations” for unmarried women, Elizabeth met and married Charles Eastlake, artist, connoisseur and Director of the National Gallery in London three years later; Elizabeth was aged 40. She joined Charles in an active working and social life, entertaining artists such as Landseer and mixing with a wide range of well-known people, from Macaulay to Lady Lovelace. In 1850 Charles Eastlake was both knighted and elected President of the Royal Academy. Then in 1853, he was appointed first President of the Photographic Society of London and, in 1855, Director of the National Gallery. Throughout the time following their wedding and into the 1860’s, Elizabeth Eastlake (now Lady Eastlake) continued her habit of continental travel as she and her husband toured several European countries in search of new acquisitions for the National Gallery. In addition to all this Elizabeth managed, and anonymously, to contributed a 26-page review titled ‘Photography’ in 1857. In this perceptive but much-scrutinised essay on early photography, she included a discussion on the position of photography in art.

Elizabeth-Rigby (Charles Eastlake)
Portrait of Sir Charles Eastlake, National Gallery,

In fact, Elizabeth wrote prolifically, helping to popularise German art history in England, both as critic and as translator; sometimes, she collaborated with her husband. She wrote a memoir of him after his death in 1865. Italian art also absorbed her attention. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael and Dürer were the subjects of her ‘Five Great Painters’ (1883), published ten years before she died in 1893. In 1895 her nephew Charles Eastlake Smith edited her Letters and Correspondence, the first volume of which at least was read by the late nineteenth century English novelist George Gissing in July of the following year.

Lady Elizabeth Eastlake’s reputation in the 20th century, quite apart from her photography, was mainly to be remembered for her scathing review of the book ‘Jane Eyre’, of which she strongly disapproved. She disputed the morality of this novel, writing that:

‘the popularity of Jane Eyre is a proof how deeply the love for illegitimate romance is implanted in our nature’………..It is a very remarkable book: we have no remembrance of another combining such genuine power with such horrid taste’.

She was also known for her attacks on John Ruskin, assumed to be linked to her role as confidante to his estranged wife, Effie Gray. According to historian Rosemary Mitchell, however, her work as art historian and writer was significant and original. Mitchell considered Elizabeth Eastlake to have been a scholarly and perceptive critic, and Marion Lochhead regarded Eastlake as a ‘pioneer of feminine journalism’, whereas Janice Schroeder decried her values supporting women’s subordinate place in the class structure within British imperialism.

THE END

Principal Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Eastlake
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Rigby_(physician)

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

The Dancing Noverres’ and Assurance!

Prologue:
The 18th and 19th centuries were the golden age of the dancing master. Social dances of that period were not only changing constantly, but were also extraordinary complicated. Considerable investment of time and money was required in order to achieve complete competence before being ‘let loose’ at a Ball or a Dancing Assembly. It was an age when a good appearance in oneself was so important. The dancing master was, in fact, the important conduit and arbiter in matters of deportment, behaviour, etiquette and social instruction.

Such cultural refinement was not lost on the aspirations of most of Norwich’s well-heeled citizens. This could be gauged by the city’s long-standing connection with Noverre family, where the family’s first link with Norwich is to be found in 1765. This was the year when another of the city-based dancing masters, by the name of John Brown, returned from London having received dancing lessons from the ‘celebrated’ Augustin Noverre (1729-1805) who was the brother of Jean-George Noverre (1727- 1810), dancing master to Marie-Antoinette.

It was not until the outbreak of World War I did a popular rhyme celebrating the Noverre name finally fade on the lips of those living in and around Norwich:

Mr Noverre came from France
To teach the natives how to dance.

Jean-Georges and Augustin Noverre:
The Noverre family had Swiss ancestors who possibly migrated to France during the late 17th century or early 19th century. Jean Georges Noverre was born in Paris on 29 April 1727 to Marie Anne de la Grange and Jean Louys, a Swiss soldier who became an Adjutant in the French army of Louis XIV. The couple expected their son to pursue a military career but the boy chose dance, studying with M. Marcel and then with the famous Louis Dupré. In 1729, a brother arrived by the name of Augustin Noverre; he also was to choose dance, but his achievements in that field was not to match those of the internationally renowned Jean-Georges.

Noverre & Norwich Union (George Noverre)2
Jean-George Noverre. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In August of 1743, Jean Georges made his debut at Fontainebleau at the court of Louis XV. Following the marriage of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria to Princess Beatrice of Modena, he was created a ‘Chevalier’ – a member of the lowest rank of French nobility. Later, upon the nomination of Queen Marie Antoinette of France, he joined the Imperial Academy of Dance in Paris, working with such luminaries as Mozart and Voltaire.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (David Garrick)
David Garrick,

The Noverres’ brothers, Jean-Georges and Augustin, first came to England in late 1755 when David Garrick, a celebrated theatre impresario and actor, brought Jean-George’s ballet company from France to perform in his Chinese Festival ‘Les Fêtes Chinoises’ at the Drury Lane Theatre. Noverre had promised that in preparation for the upcoming winter in London he would “compose such dances as would surprise and captivate all ranks of people.” In fact, Noverre did surprise and captive the people, but not in the way he and Garrick would have liked. Somehow, “between the planning of this public diversion, and the representation of it, hostilities commenced between England and  France” with anti-French riots breaking out in the capital.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Dury Lane 1808_Wikipedia)
Dury Lane Theatre in 1808.

We are told that, on the back of anti-French feelings, a scuffle broke out on the stage of the Drury Lane Theatre where several men drew their swords and attacked both the cast and other social groups in the audience. One newspaper gave this account of the fray:

“On Tuesday Night there was a great Riot at Drury-Lane Theatre, on account of the French Dancers performing there, on which Occasion the Audience was divided into two Parties, and some Mischief was done on both Sides, tho’ not so much as might have been expected. The Advocates of the Dancers being the Strongest Side, drove a great Part of their Opponents out of the Pit, and the Performance was executed, but in great Confusion, and the Managers though proper to promise that it should never be repeated.”

Augustin Noverre, defending himself, thought he had run a man through and killed him. Presuming that the man was dead, he fled to Norfolk to live among the Huguenots who had, years previously, come to Norwich as silk weavers. Unfortunately, no record seems to exist as to where, exactly, Augustin hid during his first spell in the city; from this, one may be forgiven for doubting the authenticity of this part of the Noverre’s tale. Nevertheless, the facts seem to be that Augustin’s ‘victim’ was not dead, but making a full recovery. This allowed Augustin to return to London to carry on working on the Drury Lane stage as a dancing master, coupled with periods of being a ‘dancing-master in Norwich’.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (A_country_dance_Wellcome_V0049213-1200)
A country dance in a long hall; the elegance of the couple. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Eventually Augustine moved to Norwich permanently, but no one seems certain exactly when. It has been suggested that this was at the point when he retired – any time after 1776! The only firm reference to the Noverre’s permanent arrival in Norwich comes from the Norwich Mercury of 31st August, 1793 which was directed at Augustine introducing his son, Francis as a Norwich dancing-master in his own right. Here, one should understand that in the 18th century the most fashionable dancing masters were very visible members of society. Not only did they teach the ‘beau monde’, but they held and officiated at public balls and they advertised their services assiduously in the newspapers and elsewhere. Such was the case with Augustine, for it would appear from the reference to himself in the Notice (below) that he, Augustin, may also have been attempting to make himself appear ‘fashionable and important’ to the reader:

“Mr [Augustine] Noverre of London, wishing to establish his SON in Norwich, and having been greatly encouraged by his Friends to such an undertaking, begs leave to acquaint the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City and County that his son, Mr F Noverre, has just arrived from the Continent (where he has been for some time under the tuition of his uncle Sir [Jean-George] Noverre and intends opening an Academy for young Ladies and Gentlemen on or before Michaelmas next, of which timely notice will be given by Mr Noverre, whose present address is at Mrs Milligan’s in St Stephen’s. Mr Noverre has not a doubt but that his son’s assiduity in his profession will give perfect satisfaction to any Lady or Gentleman who may honour him with their support.”

By 1797, both father and son were living in a house in the Chantry – a street close to the Assembly House in Norwich. As for ‘Sir Jean-George Noverre’ of the above newspaper entry, (here given the British version of the title ‘Chevalier’ awarded him in France), he returned to France and was later ruined by the Revolution. Jean-George died there in poverty in 1810. As for Augustine, his daughter, Jane Louisa, married into the family that owned the Norwich Mercury newspaper, itself one of the first provincial newspapers in the land; Augustine’s son, Francis, built up his own dancing business whilst the father settled firmly into retirement. Augustine died in 1805 when his obituary stated that ‘he was considered the most finished elegant and most gentlemanly minuet. dancer that ever appeared’. He was buried in St Stephens Church, Norwich.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Francis_Noverre)
Francis Noverre (1773 – 1840)

Francis Noverre (1773 – 1840) carried on the family tradition of working as a dancing master; and in his case, at the Assembly Rooms in Norwich. He, above his predecessors, became a very prominent citizen in the local social scene, where he taught dancing to the wealthy young men and women and married the daughter of the Manager of the city’s Theatre Royal. The Noverre family did so well that they added a large wing to the original Assembly House in 1840. This was where they held Balls, as well as the Noverre Academy where they taught dancing. In the 20th century, this wing was to become a cinema and is now a gallery, shop and exhibition space -but still carrying the Noverre name.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Assembly-House)1
The Assembly House with what use to be the Noverre Dancing Academy in the right wing of the building. Photo: George Plunkett.

It is at this point where our Noverre tale moves somewhat on to Francis’s other preoccupation – Assurance/Insurance and Norwich Union Fire Society in particular. Although Francis Noverre is not listed on the original deed of settlement for the Norwich Union, he certainly joined the Board fairly soon after its establishment and is listed as a Director in the supplementary deed of 1805 – can you spot his name, towards centre on the third line?

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Francis_deed)

(Thought not – so here is a close-up).

Noverre & Norwich Union (Signature)

Noverre & Norwich Union (Metal Plaque)2
A Fire Mark

In 1818 a pamphlet was targeted at the homes of those insured with Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society; those homes would have been identifiable through the fire marks attached to the outside of every home. The pamphlet gave details of a meeting in the July of that year about perceived irregularities in the way the Society was being run. One of the main thrusts of the argument was that those listed as Trustees, illustrious names such as The Dukes of Somerset, Beaufort and Argyll, whose involvement was intended to inspire confidence in the society, were actually not engaged in running the business at all. What would catch the eye is that the Earl of Craven had allowed his name to be used at the request of his family dancing master, none other than Francis Noverre who was one of the Directors of the Society. On the following page, listed under the heading ‘directors’, Francis Noverre of Norwich, Gentleman has a little asterisk by his name which identifies him as the dancing master in question.  The relationship between Noverre and the Earl of Craven was that the two were in fact brothers-in-law.

Noverre & Norwich Union1
The front cover of the pamphlet issued to members.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Public Notice)3

Noverre & Norwich Unin (francais-novere-director)4
Francis Noverre of Norwich, Gentleman has a little asterisk by his name which identifies him as the dancing master in question.

Research into the early records of the Norwich Union Fire Society also revealed that Noverre was also a ‘Member’ of the society, in other words a person whose property was insured against fire by Norwich Union – his employer. The list of members (below) dates from around 1802.

This next list of members, from 1806, shows increasing sophistication of presentation and demonstrates the growth of the business even over a few years. Among Noverre’s fellow ‘Ns’ now appear members from as far afield as Yorkshire and Leicestershire.

Sadly, the early records of the fire society are sparse and there are no surviving board minutes to show evidence of Francis having attended meetings and no policy registers to provide details about the property he insured. There is, however, one surviving early fire policy which was actually signed by Francis.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Policy)

Noverre & Norwich Union (Policy)2

As can be seen from a close-up of the policyholder’s details, by the time Policy 46349 was issued in 1814 the business of Norwich Union Fire had continued to spread far beyond the predominantly local members listed a decade earlier. By this date, Francis and his fellow directors were considering insurance on property as far afield as Blackburn and beyond. Indeed, by 1817 the society boasted 80,000 members (whom they could presumably no longer afford to list), 500 agents across the country and annual premium income of £78,800.

Another unexpected find in the archive collection was this receipt, for Noverre’s own fire policy in 1820…. which had been stuck into a scrapbook of sundry, odd Norwich Union material.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Receipt)

Also, in the same scrapbook was another reference to Noverre. Can you identify him in the poster below? His name is carefully hidden but with, appropriately enough, a dancing link.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Show Bill)

Noverre & Norwich Union (Show Bill)2
‘Nowhere’, ‘Starling’ and ‘Crow’ are billed as performing a ‘pas de trios’, in what, initially, one could assume is a nice piece of entertainment for the Norwich Union Life Society staff. Just think, three respectable members of the board (Francis Noverre, John Starling Day and John Crowe) putting together the dance – obviously choreographed by Noverre – to the delight of those who had been working hard writing policies and keeping the books. Sadly, this was only a fantasy; a closer look reveals that the document was another piece of ingenious propaganda made to look like a contemporary theatre handbill.

A further search of the archive was made for an explanation as to some of the references in the handbill – in which no individual is specifically referred to by name. It would appear that the gist of the document is that at an upcoming general meeting of the Norwich Union Life Society, master Sammy (Samuel Bignold) would perform ‘hocus pocus’ to make the Society appear solid, successful and well run – a view with which the writer of the handbill evidently disagreed!

Corsbie2
Samuel Bignold.

The major thrust of his complaint seems to be to do with the board and how the Society was effectively being run by three directors rather than the twelve specified in the deed of settlement. Furthermore, the three ‘dancers’ Noverre, Starling Day and Crowe who were making all the decisions were all under Bignold’s control or, in the words of the anonymous writer:

“live, move and have their being at the command of Sammy”.

Frustratingly, the minutes of the board for 1835 make no reference to any discontent within the Society or to protests by outside forces so it is not possible to discover who produced the handbill. It is, however, possible that there were links to local political divisions as Bignold was a prominent member of the local conservative Orange and Purple Party. Records of board meetings that year certainly support the view that attendance of all 12 directors at meetings was rare and that Noverre, Day and Crowe were overseeing the bulk of the society’s business.

On the question of Life Policies for Directors, it is clearly the case that Francis Noverre took one out – Policy Number 8 (which paid out a total of £1280 18 shillings, including bonuses after his death in January 1840)Now, a policy number is the key to unlocking fascinating life policy records from which it is possible to find the original proposal document. This was the case with Policy Number 8 which was completed by Francis when he took out his policy in 1808. Although listed, for appearances sake, as a ‘Gentleman’ in company literature, he completed his proposal giving his occupation as ‘dancing master’. Other details given include his place, month and year of birth and confirmation of his physical fitness declaring that he had had ‘measles and whooping cough and not suffered with spitting of blood or gout’. The proposal also required him to give the names of a doctor and two friends who could further vouch for his temperance and suitability as a life assurance candidate. In the case of Francis’s Policy Number 8, we find the original enquiries sent out to James Nosworthy (fellow director and Norwich silversmith)……R M Bacon (husband of Noverre’s sister Louisa and editor of the Norwich Mercury ),……and Edward Rigby (Noverre’s family doctor).

The information required to assess the health of an individual in 1808 was fairly basic compared with what would be needed today, and it would be interesting to see the difference between the letter sent to the ‘medical person’ and that sent to Noverre’s friends. Interestingly, the last paragraph carried the following: “should you return this letter without any answer we shall understand the hint and decline the insurance.” Fortunately, Francis Noverre was considered a suitable candidate for life assurance and his details duly appeared in the first ever policy register.

As with all other policy registers held by the then Norwich Union, one column listed an individual’s occupation; Noverre’s ‘dancing master’ stands out among the more sober bankers, wool factors, linen drapers and clergymen. To establish evidence of Noverre as being a customer of Norwich Union is one thing, but to also unearthed an unexpected ‘treasure’ was a bonus – namely Francis’s own policy! Issued on the second of August 1808 and signed by fellow directors James Roper (Woollen Draper), William Bacon (Coach Maker) and James Nosworthy, the policy is the final piece in the paper trail of Francis Noverre the customer.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Francis's Policy)
Francis Noverre’s Life Policy

The collection of life policies and board minutes, shows that Francis Noverre was closely involved in the business of the Life Society. His attendance at board meetings meant he regularly helped make decisions on which proposals should be accepted and on the payment of claims. Francis was indeed a member of the board which declined to pay out after the suspicious death of poet Percy Shelley (whose links with the society may be the subject of another blog).

As for Francis, he continued his involvement with Norwich Union Life Society even after his retirement, in 1837, from his dancing school. The last policy signed by him is dated April 1839, less than a year before he died. Listed among the directors on that policy is one Frank Noverre, his son.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Frank Noverre_Director)

Frank Noverre (1807 – 1878): He too became a Director of Norwich Union Life insurance, but also further enriched the cultural life of Norwich as a founder member and honorary secretary of the Norwich Philharmonic Society (1841-1878), honorary treasurer of the Norwich Choral Society and a prominent committee member of the Triennial Musical Festival. However, back on the business front, Frank lost his fortune when the East of England bank crashed in 1864; he was a large shareholder in the bank which in those days meant that he had unlimited liabilities. 

Noverre & Norwich Union (Fran Noverre)
Frank Noverre

Noverre & Norwich Union (Dance Lessons)

Frank Noverre first appears in the Life Society’s board minutes for 1835 where he was variously referred to as F Noverre Junior or Frank Noverre. Unlike his father, Francis, he does not seem to have been a member of the ‘inner circle’, the Board Committee, and although he is listed as a director on policies – he does not appear to have ever signed one.

Despite being a director for over 30 years, there are very few references to Frank in the board minutes. His name stops being listed as a director in around 1868 and newspapers of the period report that he lost a vote to be on the Society’s board that year. Surprisingly, the minutes themselves do not pass any comment on his departure. Although board minutes, generally, are often frustrating for the very fact that they are full of references to the coming and going of board members rather than the business undertaken – this is not a criticism that can be made of the Norwich Union minutes in this period. Characteristically, the minutes record a payment on Frank’s life policy a decade later, but in a similarly business-like way with no expressions of regret at his loss despite the length of his tenure on the board and his family’s, by then, nearly 80 year link to the Society.

The reference to his death in the board minutes does, however, give his policy number which unlocks the records of Frank as a ‘customer’. He took out two policies with the Society, one when he was 27 and another a’ged 59. By all accounts his wife, Sophia, would have been very grateful to receive the insurance payment of £1221 7s 13d as Frank had lost a great deal of his fortune as a result of his liabilities as shareholder of the East of England Bank which failed in 1864.  Records show that his entire estate was valued for probate purposes at less than £2,000.

In many ways the investigation into Frank is a lesson in the disappointments of archival research for, despite him taking out two policies nearly thirty years apart – both coincide with gaps in the company’s policy records. Without the proposal and referee letter books it was not possible to see what his doctor said about his pulmonary condition or which friends he chose to support his application. To return to the analogy of unlocking customer records; in Frank’s case – we have the key but the doors no longer exist!

Noverre & Norwich Union (Frank Noverre_Haggard)

Frank Noverre, by virtue of his long association with the society, took a pre-eminent position in the list of directors. His name appeared directly below the main committee of the board (see above) who undertook the day-to-day business of the society. As an aside, at the foot of this list of Directors there appears a one W.M.R. Haggard – father of  H Rider Haggard, the author known for his adventure novels.

The ‘wow’ moment during research into Frank is also linked to the developing promotional activity of the Life Society – like being listed as a director on this very attractive information leaflet which folded to form an envelope and could then be posted to policyholders or prospective policyholders. All the information on the premium rates and security of the company is cleverly fitted in below an attractive engraving showing the society’s offices at Bignold House in Surrey Street Norwich and when this leaflet was turned over we find that it was addressed to none other than Frank!

Noverre & Norwich Union (Leaflet)1

Noverre & Norwich Union (Leaflet)2
With so many ‘dead ends’ with regard to Frank, the unexpected discovery that this attractive example of company literature had been sent to him, and had been in his hands, must be a real thrill to any archivist. It is also a fitting place to end the links between Frank Noverre and Norwich Union. While Frank may have been a shadowy figure in the Norwich Union records his son Charles is one member of the Noverre family that offers more.

Charles Edwin Noverre (1845 – 1920) was the first of the Noverre dynasty to put insurance/assurance before dancing – leaving his elder brother, Frank William Bianchi Noverre, to run the dancing school. Charles took up an apprenticeship in the Norwich Union Life Office in 1861 at the age of 16 when his father, Frank, was still serving on the board.  Seven years later he elected to transfer to the Fire Society. The first reference to his employment in the Fire Society was this fragment which appears to record overtime paid to clerks from both societies in 1871.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Charles Overtime)
The name of Charles Noverre is the fourteenth entry down in the left-hand column

As can be seen from the above reference, he received £9 12 shillings for his overtime which was a relatively low sum compared to the amounts racked up by his fellow clerks. It may be that his other, more artistic pursuits, as organist and choirmaster at St Stephens Church etc. meant he had less spare time than some.

The next reference to Charles Noverre came in that invaluable scrapbook which also contained his grandfather’s fire policy receipt and the interesting ‘Nowhere, Starling and Crow’ handbill referred to above with regard to his grandfather, Francis Noverre. The significance of the document (see below) is that it lists the order in which the clerks of both Societies attended the funeral, in 1875, of Sir Samuel Bignold who had served as secretary of the fire and life societies for the preceding 60 years. By virtue of his length of service Charles was transported to the funeral in coach Number 5 and by 1904 was one of few members of staff still working for the Society who had also served under Sir Samuel.

Noverre & Norwich Union (Bignold's Funeral List)

In a staff magazine article that year he fondly reminisced…

“Well shall I ever remember the genius of my dear old chiel, Sir Samuel Bignold, who used to devote a whole day in personally paying salaries of his large staff of clerks, from the highest to the lowest, as each quarter day came round, and who, on these occasions, used to discuss and advise each of us in our separate anxieties and aspirations, and who showed by his unprompted comments that that separate individual had been in his thoughts at other times. Truly, was he a father to us all. He would notice our children when he met them on the roads and would rein up his horse to give a passing remark of kindliness and encouragement, perhaps allowing the little ones to examine and stroke the gee-gee, to their infinite delight. The children may have forgotten these little attentions but their parents never did. Need I say his staff loved him to a man. Here was an influence which cost nothing even in dignity, but its effects were immeasurable.”

…..and revealed that he had tried to emulate Sir Samuel in this respect when he himself joined the ranks of the management.

Although staff records for this period are limited and not particularly informative we know from his obituary in the staff magazine that in 1882 that Charles was promoted to Head of the policy and tariff department. In this role, according to a contemporary on the staff, he oversaw every policy written up for the Fire Society – just as his grandfather had been so closely involved in all the life policies produced half a century before. Fellow employee and colleague, W Jecks Drane, also recalled in this period that:

“Having himself contracted writer’s cramp, he adopted me temporarily as his amanuensis, as he considered I had a facile pen. He would be at the office as early as 6 o’clock in the morning, if occasion required, when arrears of correspondence were cleared off. Mr [Charles] Noverre would dictate to me, and the letters would be written on the Board Room table, the illumination being by candle-light in the winter. Those were not the days of short-hand writers and typists, but frequently as many as 40 letters were written before breakfast. Regular office hours commenced at 9 o’clock, when we would adjourn to the St Stephen’s Cafe, quite near, and would there have a somewhat frugal meal, and so back to the ordinary day’s work.”

It is illuminating to have such memoirs of former staff to bring life the everyday work activities which are not recorded in the formal records of a business. The reference to Charles’ problem of writer’s cramp is pertinent as it links to a further reference in the Staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund records for references to the Noverre family.  Although the name crops up several times the most informative reference is one of 1885 shows that Charles had visited the doctor provided by the SS&B Fund after suffering from writer’s palsy [cramp]. In this instance Charles sought a cure for his condition in Germany (the trustees of the fund did not feel that this was something they ought to pay for!), but the trip was not a success and evidence of his problems with writing appears again later in Charles’ career when his personal letters were stamped with a polite notice excusing his use of a typewriter.

Despite this disability Charles continued his rise within Norwich Union and in March 1887, only a month after attending this dinner in Norwich,……he was appointed manager for the London branch at 50 Fleet Street. Further records show that by 1895 Charles was manager for the whole of London on a salary of £700 a year plus commission. His position guaranteed him a role in celebrations for the centenary of the fire office in 1897.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (1897 Celebrations)
Can you spot Charles Noverre in this photograph of branch managers and agents at the official celebratory garden party? He is sixth from the left on the third row back, in a somewhat lighter coat and sporting both a ‘button-hole’ and a monocle.

 The portraits appeared in the staff magazine and it is through the magazine that the real Charles Noverre comes to life. While official correspondence as London Manager shows him dealing with business and administration……..in the magazine we see him as a man as well as an insurance official and as someone who was very proud of Norwich Union and his family links to it. The Norwich Union staff magazine, one of the earliest staff publications produced, first appeared, in manuscript form, in 1888. It is an incomparable source for information on the lives and activities of the men, and later women, who worked to build up Norwich Union.

Charles remained an active contributor to the publication even after his retirement providing the editor not only with treatises on insurance topics, but also fictional tales with titles like “the Muggs of Mugborough, a dream” and “A Christmas Nightmare”. Through the magazine we learn about his social life in London…… and even find out about an accident in 1893 which injured his leg and nearly cost him his life.

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Charles Accident)

 Reminiscences by his contemporaries for his obituary in the magazine provided details of his activities outside the office, as a writer of plays and musical scores, and information on his philanthropic work. For four years ending in 1887, he was secretary of the Jenny Lind Infirmary for Children and also secretary of the Children’s Convalescent Home at Great Yarmouth, of which he may be regarded as the founder. Then there was his enthusiasm for music. He was, for 21 years the choirmaster and organist of St Stephens Church in Norwich and a useful scribe and counsellor for the Norwich Triennial Musical Festivals. Charles also acted as ‘Musical Editor’ of the Easter Daily Pre

Apart from his abilities as a musical critic, he was an amateur playright and a musical composer of no slight merit, besides being a brilliant pianist. For some, his best plays were “Later On” and “A Game of Nap”. These were first performed in a bijou theatre at his residence of ‘Connaught House’ in Norwich. Charle’s musical compositions, which were both sacred and secular, were published under the pseudonym of “Errevon”. When Charles retired at the start of 1912 he had completed over 50 years in the service of Norwich Union. After his retirement he was to serve, until his death, as chairman of the society’s London board.

The journey of discovering the links between Norwich Union and the Noverres’ is nearly over – but not quite. The death of Charles Noverre in 1920 effectively saw the end of family links which were over 120 years old, but there were thtee further family members to whom fleeting references have been discovered – read on!ss.

Two of Charle’s sons, Frank William Bianchi Noverre (b.1843), founder of the Norwich Ladies Orchestral Society, and Richard Percival (Percy) Noverre (1850-1921) were both organisers of the ‘Festivals’ and fourth generation dancing masters in the city. According to one former pupil of theirs, they cut imposing figures as follows:

“……the Noverre brothers wore tail coats and knee breeches, silk stockings and buckle shoes, and we certainly did learn to waltz and reverse beautifully. Also, we knew at the time that their ancestor had been a ballet master at the French Court.”

The lack of comprehensive staff records means that it hasn’t been possible to say precisely when ‘Percy’ Noverre began to work for Norwich Union. According to the Census records he was working as a dancing master, alongside his elder brother, Frank William Bianchi Noverre, in 1891 but by 1901 he gave his occupation in the Census as insurance clerk. The earliest reference to his employment for the Society dates to 1902 when he applied to join the Staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund which had been employed by his father, Charles, in his quest for treatment for his writers’ palsy. Percy’s request was denied and it is possible that this was something to do with his age, for the change from dancing master to insurance clerk came very late in life when he was around 50 years old. What caused the change of career and how influential his brother and his long family connections were in securing his position remain unanswered questions.

Ten years later, in 1912, Percy was well in charge of the ‘office ladies’ and the following memory, shared by Geoffrey Hart, is of Percy’s role of ensuring that there was no fraternisation between the clerks and his ladies:

Corsbie124
Geoffrey Hart’s reminiscences from a staff magazine of 1938.
Noverre & Norwich Unin (Percy_Noverre)
This photograph from the NU staff magazine, shows Percy with the ‘ladies’ whose honour he defended so well.
Note also ‘Elsie Corsbie’, at the extreme right of the back row. She was a member of the ‘Corsbie’ dynasty of Norwich Union employees – of which there is more HERE.

Sadly, his retirement in 1918 when he would have been about 69 years old occurred during the time of the First World War. As a result there was no retirement notice to add to the details on Percy. The brief reference to his death in 1921 also contains few further clues about the life and career of the last of the dancing Noverres.

Finally the last man of the Noverre dynasty: Francis Gray Noverre: He was the only son of Charles and his wife Laura. References to his brief employment, at the Fleet Street branch under his father, are very limited. He was listed, as Noverre (new clerk), in a board minute relating to staff salaries in 1895 …… then the staff magazine announced his departure two years later. The 1911 Census records him living in Hove and gives his occupation as ‘insurance official’ but there is no record of his employment by Norwich Union after he left Fleet Street. Two years later on the 11 December 1913 he was admitted into Holloway Sanatorium where he died on 28 December 1943.

It seems a shame to leave investigations into the Noverre family on such a sad note but, to quote Anna Stone, Group Archivist ov Aviva:

“…… it is the final feature of research that historical facts rarely fit neatly into the plans we have for them and that we can’t change what happened in the past to suit the view of history we want to project.”

Hopefully, you have enjoyed getting to know the Noverres and remember the thought that all archivists may well hold – that of this verse, from  A Psalm of Life  by Longfellow:

“Lives of great men all remind us,
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time;”.

THE END

Sources:
Gratitude and thanks to Anna Stone, Group Archivist, of Heritage.Aviva who made this blog possible. She contributed most of the information and supporting images contained herein; exceptions are annotated otherwise.

 

 

Secret Tunnels: Kings Lynn.

Legend has it that a tunnel once ran between Greyfriars Priory and the curious and somewhat mysterious Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Another tunnel, now bricked-up, was also thought to have connected the Priory to the White Hart pub, both in St. James Street. The pub itself is supposed to be haunted by a monk. While the Red Mount Chapel is a unique structure, about which opinion has always been divided; nothing is left of the 13th century Franciscan Priory except the lofty Greyfriars Lantern Tower.

Tunnels (Greyfriars Priory)
Greyfriars Lantern Tower

Now, for some reason, the ramblings of the Yorkshire soothsayer Mother Shipton (c.1488-1561) used to be very popular with the country folk of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. And somehow, the old Fenmen reckoned that she was responsible for the prophecy and belief that, when royalty visited the Theatre Royal in St. James’ Street, the Greyfriars Lantern Tower mentioned above would collapse on to it. Since the Theatre wasn’t even opened until 1815, one has to wonder how Mother Shipton’s name ever got attached to this myth. The slight lean that the tower had for years was corrected in 2006, while the Theatre Royal, which burned down in 1936 and was then rebuilt, is now a bingo hall. While the Queen has visited King’s Lynn many times, it seems unlikely that she will ever pop in for a game of bingo.

Tunnels (Red Mount Chapel)
The Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Photo: EDP.

The structure of the Red Mount Chapel is, unsurprisingly, of red brick; it is octagonal and buttressed, with an inner rectangular core that projects above the roof. It consists not of one chapel, but two – one possibly of 13th century vintage, the other being the ‘Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount’, built by Robert Corraunce upon the steep-sided artificial mound in about 1485. This second chapel was probably put there to house a holy relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and tradition tells of pilgrims halting at this place on their way to Walsingham. Despite the beginnings of the Red Mount Chapel being set around the 1300’s, there is reason to believe that an earlier edifice also stood here; this thought is even more probable because the mound itself was once known as Guanock Hill – ‘guanock’ or ‘gannock’ being an old local word meaning a beacon.

Tunnels (Castle Rising)
Castle Rinsing, Norfolk. Photo: EDP.

A tunnel is said to lead from the Red Mount to a door in the gatehouse at Castle Rising, some four miles to the north-east. This castle was built in the 12th century by William de Albini, and a considerable amount of the structure still remains today. In 1331 Isabella, the widow of King Edward II, was brought to the castle by her son and ‘allegedly’ imprisoned for her part in Mortimer’s rebellion. However, she wasn’t even under house arrest because she travelled quite freely in this country and abroad. It has been said that she was jailed there until her death in 1358, then buried in Rising church. Thus, Edward III was believed to have used the tunnel on many occasions to secretly visit his mother. However, she actually died at Hertford Castle and was almost certainly buried at Greyfriars in London.

The historian of Lynn, Mr. E. M. Beloe, dug at the Red Mount and found that the supposed tunnel came to a halt after only a few feet, at an outer door which had long been buried beneath the soil of the mound. The door in the castle was likewise no more than one of two entrances to an inner stairway. As in other subterranean tales, a drunken fiddler and his dog are said to have tried to explore the tunnel, and were never seen again!

Tunnels (Gaywood Hall)
Gaywood Hall

Another tunnel supposedly comes to Lynn from the site of the former medieval bishop’s palace where Gaywood Hall now stands, in an eastern suburb of the town. A brick arch uncovered in a trench along Blackfriars Road was claimed by one old man to be evidence of this, while another is said to have dug up a tunnel on the same line during the last century, but veering towards the Red Mount. A sewer and a covered-up reservoir may have been the basis for this tale.

Tunnels (Exorcist House)
The ‘Exorcist’s House’ which stands in Chapel Lane, Kings Lynn.

The so-called ‘Exorcist’s House’ stands in Chapel Lane, next to St. Nicholas’ church and is of 17th century vintage; possibly it once was a medieval Bishop’s House in which an exorcist, who was employed by the church clergy, once lived. Some believe that a subterranean passage – allegedly used by the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins – runs from there to the 17th century St. Anne’s House – now demolished.

Tunnels (St Annes House)
17th century St. Anne’s House which once stood in St Annes Street, Kings Lynn.

In St. James Street is the White Hart pub, radically rebuilt in the mid-19th century, but dating from at least 200 years earlier. A shadowy, hooded figure that haunts the pub is said to be a ghostly monk, who has passed through a legendary tunnel from St. Margaret’s church in the Saturday Market Place.

Tunnels (St Margarets)
In December 2011, The Bishop of Norwich dedicated The Priory and Parish Church of St Margaret as King’s Lynn Minster. Photo: King’s Lynn Minster

Today, the medieval St. George’s Guildhall in King Street is the home to an arts centre, coffee shop, and other businesses, but beneath it is an actual tunnel (now stopped-up and dry), through which merchants brought goods from their boats on the nearby Great Ouse river. Vaulted under crofts exist here and beneath former medieval warehouses along King Street as far as the Tuesday Market Place, but it seems to be rumoured only because other tunnels honeycomb the area.

Tunnels (Guildhall)
St. George’s Guildhall in King Street, Kings Lynn. Photo: EDP.

THE END

Sources:
Walter Rye: ‘Norfolk Songs, Stories & Sayings’ (Goose & Son, 1897), pp.85-6.
‘The East Anglian Magazine’, Vol.2, p.461.
http://www.paranormaldatabase.com/hotspots/kingslynn.php
http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk-King’s Lynn
www.kingslynn-forums.co.uk-tunnel2
Ann Weaver: ‘The Ghosts of King’s Lynn’ in KL Magazine, Issue 1, Oct. 2010, p.51.
http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/down_in_the_secret_tunnel_under_king_s_lynn_arts_centre_1_1325374
Source:  Arthur Randell (ed. Enid Porter: ‘Sixty Years a Fenman’ (R & K P, 1966). P.102-3.
www.hiddenea.com

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Norfolk Railway Tunnels: Barsham.

The Barsham parish is located north of Fakenham and south of the pilgrimage centre of Little Walsingham in North Norfolk. This parish includes several small villages, that of Houghton St Giles, West Barsham, East Barsham and North Barsham. For those who have a liking for such things, the name Barsham means ‘homestead or village of a man called Bar’. We are not sure, but ‘Bar’ may derive from ‘boar’ and may even be a nickname. The Domesday survey itself identifies a man called ‘Toki’ as owning land there prior to 1066 after which, around 1087, a certain ‘Hugh’ owned the land. This area around the Barshams is rich in archaeological finds and contains some particularly splendid churches and monuments related to pilgrimages to nearby Little Walsingham.

Barsham4

The area is also well known for its ‘Barsham Tunnel’, as once was – the only other standard gauge tunnel (apart from the Cromer Tunnel – see previous blog) to be built in Norfolk during the 19th century as part of the rush to lay down railways.

Barsham1
A Fakenham-bound train crosses the trestle viaduct at East Barsham in the mid-1890’s. Beneath, work is in progress to replace the 40 year-old timber structure, embankment and culvert. Picture : Norman Faircloth courtesy of the FCA.

The railway which ran through the Barshams linked Wymondham, Dereham, Fakenham and Wells-next-the-Sea. The Wymondham to Dereham section opened in February 1847 as the Norfolk Railway. This was followed the following year by a second section that was to run towards Fakenham, but the Company ran out of funds and had to wait until the independent Wells & Fakenham Railway, finally filled the gap in 1857. Just five years later in 1862, all local railway companies merged into one network, named the Great Eastern Railway (GER).

Barsham (Map)
Illustration showing Norfolk railways, both past and present. Photo: Wikipedia.

For just over a century all was well, until road transport began to take passengers and goods away. The M&GN (nick-named the ‘Muddle & Get Nowhere’ railway), which crossed a large part of Norfolk from Gt. Yarmouth to Kings Lynn and beyond, closed in February 1959. Then along came Dr. Beeching and his draconian nationwide closures which, invariably, included many lines in Norfolk. The Wells to Dereham section, on which the Barsham Tunnel was situated, closed in 1964 followed, in 1969, by the Dereham to Wymondham section. Some parts of former routes however still operated as either Heritage or Narrow-Gauge Railways -see map above.

wells-walsingham-light-railway-train (
The Wells & Walsingham Light Railway. Photo: Discover Norfolk.

One of these is today’s 4-mile narrow gauge Wells & Walsingham Light Railway; its line reduced from the former standard 4ft, 8.5inch width to just 10.25inch width. This railway opened to the public in 1982.

post-25673-0-28973600-1537025843
The Barsham Tunnel. Picture: Courtesy of the FCA.

It was towards the Walsingham end of the old Wymondham to Wells-next-the-Sea railway where the track passed through a tunnel – the Barsham Tunnel, which was originally built to pass through Barsham Hill, as indicated on the 1838 first edition 1-inch O.S. map. During construction, and in order to comply with safety regulations, the 200-yard-long and slightly curved Barsham Tunnel had refuges (or portals similar to those of the Cromer Tunnel) cut into its walls for staff to ‘hide’ from passing trains when working in or near the tunnel.

15980197697_0787a2ed46_b
The open Barsham Cutting where the tunnel once stood. Photo: Owen Stratford. Courtesy of FCA.

However, on 22nd November 1892, the London Gazette advised that conversion of the tunnel into an open cutting with a solid embankment, would follow during the following year; this was because structural problems were discovered and, consequently, the tunnel’s roof was removed, leaving just the base of the walls and an exposed deep cutting instead – as still seen today. The tunnel walls had been built with soft ‘Norfolk Red’ bricks and later clad, in a concrete screed, by British Rail. In 1912, the spoil was taken away and dumped to form an embankment across a nearby valley which had previously been crossed by a trestle viaduct over the River Stiffkey.

1934268_43a70ebb
The Wells to Wymondham Branch Line
The branch line was one of the longest lines in East Anglia, running from Wymondham Abbey to Wells next the Sea, through four major Norfolk towns. Here was where the line ran through the area of the former Barsham Tunnel.
© Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Barsham2
Work-in-progress on the trestle viaduct that once carried the Fakenham to Wells railway over the River Skiffkey at East Barsham. The timbers of the viaduct were buried as an embankment was formed. The spoil came from the opening-out of the nearby Barsham Tunnel which, by the mid-1890’s had become unsafe. Picture: Peter Boggis courtesy of FCA.
Barsham4 (Peter Boggis)
A Wells bound goods train left stranded at  North Barsham after the bridge over the River Skiffkey was washed away during the great flood of August 1912. Picture: Peter Boggis, courtesy of the FCA.
Barsham3
The bridge at North Barsham being rebuilt after the original was destroyed in the August 1912 floods. Picture: Courtesy of the FCA.
Barsham (River Skiffkey)
River Stiffkey
The River Stiffkey is a chalk stream running through north Norfolk, from its source near Swanton Novers to flow out into the North Sea on the north Norfolk coast near the town of Stiffkey. The river is 18 miles long.
The river’s source is a small wooded lake just north of the village of Swanton Novers, after which the river passes close to Fulmodeston, then north to pass through the village of Great Snoring. From Great Snoring it runs south past Thorpland Hall, then north-west through East Barsham, North Barsham and Houghton St Giles to the town of Little Walsingham.
From here it flows north past Great Walsingham, then through Wighton and Warham before passing through the village of Stiffkey and out to its estuary on Stiffkey Salt Marshes.
© Copyright N Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

After closing on 5th October 1964. The Walsingham station building was purchased three years later by members of the Russian Orthodox Church and transformed into a small monastic community house, including St. Seraphim’s church. So today, they have timetables of a different kind!

68267133_10157844774166490_8863172246638690304_n
The Russian Orthodox Church. Photo: Christopher Weston.

FOOTNOTE: On a final note about Norfolk tunnels, there is today a third tunnel to mention – and still used today! However, this was only created in 1990 with the arrival of the Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway that follows the route of another former ‘standard-gauge’ railway line which ran between Hoveton and Aylsham, and beyond – but not anymore. When the Aylsham Bypass was built, the old level crossing was demolished and a short Tunnel passing under the A140 built. So when anyone says that Norfolk is too flat for tunnels – then the answer must be Rubbish!

Bure_Valley_Railway_-_Aylsham_bypass_tunnel-by-Evelyn-Simak
Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway Tunnel. Photo: Evelyn Simak

THE END

Sources:
https://www.facebook.com/Fakenham-and-District-Community-Archive-265910276788551/
disused-stations.org.uk/c/cromer_high/index.shtml
Christopher Weston, Norfolk Archive

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Norfolk Railway Tunnels: Cromer.

Cromer View1
Postcard showing Cromer around the turn of the 19th Century. Picture: Public Domain.

Most people know something about Cromer; a few know quite a lot! It is a seaside town well settled in the English County of Norfolk and once the small inland village of Crowmere, before gaining prominence as a seaside holiday resort in Victorian times. It is said that the writings of Clement Scott, are often attributed as one reason for Cromer’s popularity as a holiday resort during the nineteenth century.

Other reasons for Cromer’s popularity as a holiday resort during the nineteenth century were largely down to the development of a North Norfolk rail network which began around 1877 to service such places as Cromer – a resort also well-known for Cromer Crabs, Cromer Golf Course, Cromer Hospital, Cromer Lifeboat & Henry Blogg, Cromer Lighthouse and the never-to-be-forgotten Cromer Pier. But in this article, we concentrate on the local railway network, which includes one more hidden gem which will surprise those who believe that the County of Norfolk is completely flat. Cromer, in fact, has a tunnel, which normally would not be necessary if there were no hilly terraine to tackle. That tunnel still exists – although neglected and almost forgotten ever since the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR) line, which connected Cromer to Mundesley and North Walsham via Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand, Overstrand and Trimmingham, closed down. However, when this line first opened, it did so in two sections – North Walsham to Mundesley opened in July 1898 and Mundesley to Cromer opened in August 1906 – thus completing the line; this latter section followed an Act on the 7th August 1896 which authorised the M&GJR to build on from Mundesley to Cromer, but passing south of Cromer and curving back to approach the town from the west.

Cromer_Map2
An Illustration of the M&GNJR line, from North Walsham, leaving Overstrand (right) and curving round to approach the then Cromer Beach station from the west. Photo:Wikipedia
Railway Map001
An Illustration of how the Cromer section (top right) fitted into the Norfolk railway system around 1900. Take note of the relatively short section that links Cromer with North Walsham – drawn as a ‘fishbone’.

Cromer once operated up to four railway stations at various times over the years, that of Cromer Beach, Cromer Links Halt, Cromer High and, latterly, Roughton Road – all within an apparent complicated rail system which became simplified when closures took their full effect. Now the town has just two – Cromer (former Cromer Beach) and Roughton Road which opened in 1985, near the site of the former Cromer High station. Roughton Road came into existence following the town’s growth as home for a growing number of Norwich commuters. This particular expansion was, of course, in complete contrast to the 1950’s and 60’s closures which followed the fall in traffic caused by Cromer’s decline in popularity as a holiday destination after World War II. At that time, there were also closures of many other Norfolk railway lines. The knock-on effect of this was that an inevitable early decision was made to concentrate all Cromer passenger traffic towards, and from, a single station. This was to be the former, and centralised Cromer Beach station, built in 1887 for the former Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR). This station was simply renamed ‘Cromer’.

Cromer_Beach1
The former Cromer Beach Station. Photo: Public Domain.
Cromer (Beach Station)001
Old Postcard Cromer Beach Station and its extensive number of rail tracks at the time. The inclusion of ‘Beach’ in its name was to hightlight the station’s actual position at Cromer. The station became simply ‘Cromer’ in 1969 and today there are just two tracks, one each side of the platform. Dwarfing today’s station is a supmarket, plus other retail outlets.
Cromer_High1
The former Cromer High Station. Photo: Public Domain.

Cromer High lay high on the outskirts of the town, and opened in 1877 as the terminus of the once Great Eastern Railway (GER) main line from London. Cromer High was one casualty when the cuts came, and it closed as a direct result of the rationalisation, despite the station having far better facilities than the more central Cromer Beach station down below. Cromer High was simply inconveniently situated high above and on the edge of the town.

Cromer (Sidstrand_Station)1
Cromer Links Halt. Photo: Steven Gorick.

Then there was the Cromer Links Halt railway station, on the M&GNJR, which became yet another casualty when the line closed. Located near to Sidestrand the Halt opened in 1923 to serve a nearby golf course. Costing £170 to build it was located in a wood with the path to the station running up the embankment. The Halt was part of this little-used extension line from Cromer to North Walsham via Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand, Overstrand, Trimmingham and Mundesley.

 

Cromer (Sidstrand_Station)2
Sidestrand Station
Much like its counterpart at Cromer Links Halt, Sidestrand consisted of a simple wooden platform capable of accommodating one coach. Hidden away at the end of a public footpath, the station did not have any ticket-issuing facilities, and these could only be purchased on the trains. The halt had been opened in an attempt to increase revenues on the line by further exploiting the tourist potential of “Poppyland“, but in the event it only lasted seventeen years and closed along with the section of the line between Cromer and Mundesley in 1953. Photo: Wikipedia.
Cromer (Overstrand Station)001
Overstrand Station
A postcard showing that much of the M&GNJR  line at Overstrand was on an embankment, and the reach the ‘long-island’ platform entry was via a white-tiled sloping subway, in the centre of this view, with its frosted-glass roof.

Overstrand station opened in 1906 and was much used in the summer months by holidaymakers. It closed along with the rest of the line in April 1953.

Cromer (Trimmingham Station)002
Trimingham Station
Here and the Overstrand the stations were built by C.A. Sadler of Sheringham; both stations were of the same brick and terracotta design with the corrugated iron roof extending over the canopy.
Cromer (Mundesley Station)001
Mundesley-On-Sea Station
To cater for the crowds of holiday makers – who, by the way, never materialised – this station was spacious with four platforms, two signal boxes and its own engine shed.
Cromer,_North_Walsham
A 1907 map showing the North Walsham to Cromer section of the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway (in dotted blue/yellow) and connecting lines

The Cromer Tunnel.

It was along this M&GNJR line at Cromer, and just before Cromer Links Halt, where the ‘Cromer Tunnel’ was built in the late 1880’s. At just 61 yards long, this last remnant of the long-defunct Cromer Beach to North Walsham railway line, once ran beneath the, also defunct, Cromer High to Norwich route. This tunnel is still Norfolk’s only remaining former ‘standard gauge’ railway tunnel which can be seen on the Overstrand side of the main A140 road at the Northrepps. During the Second World War, the local Home Guard set up a spigot mortar base about 70 feet inside the tunnel, should the Germans have ever invaded.

Cromer_Tunnel (Anthony Weeden)2
The Cromer Tunnel today. Photo: Anthony Weeden

Clearly visible in some photographs of the tunnel are posts along the left-hand side which once carried signal cabling, while set into the wall on the right, were two safety shelters, or portals, for anyone working in the tunnel seeking to protect themselves from approaching trains. Both tunnel portals are still open today, but undergrowth and modern housing in the area make access to the tunnel difficult.

Cromer_Roughton2.jpg
Roughton Road Railway Station
Roughton Road railway station is located on Roughton Road in the southern outskirts of Cromer. It is the station between Cromer and Gunton railway stations on the Bittern Line.
  © Copyright G Laird and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Nowadays Cromer is served only by the Bittern Line service, which runs from Norwich to Sheringham, stopping at Roughton Road and Cromer stations.

FOOTNOTE: On a final note about Norfolk tunnels, there is today a third tunnel to mention – and still used today! However, this was only created in 1990 with the arrival of the Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway that follows the route of another former ‘standard-gauge’ railway line which ran between Hoveton and Aylsham, and beyond – but not anymore. When the Aylsham Bypass was built, the old level crossing was demolished and a short Tunnel passing under the A140 built. So when anyone says that Norfolk is too flat for tunnels – then the answer must be Rubbish!

Bure_Valley_Railway_-_Aylsham_bypass_tunnel-by-Evelyn-Simak
Bure Valley Narrow-Gauge Railway Tunnel. Photo: Evelyn Simak

THE END

Sources:
Handscomb, M., & Standley, P., Norfolk’s Railways, 1992
Weston, C., Norfolk Archive.

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that, at least, any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

2020: The Year of Richard Caister

Richard Caister could be described as a medieval maverick cleric who preached and wrote in the vernacular a century before the Protestant Reformation. However, it is more than likely that not many people today would recognise his name if asked; or be aware of his deeds, character or reputation. Timely therefore that between February and October of this year, 2020, St Stephen’s Church in Norwich (where this late priest and poet was based in the latter part of his life) will celebrate the 600th Anniversary of his life and work through several events hosted by the Church itself, including family craft workshops and musical performances. These events are to be supported by associated historical tours of the city and variously timed lectures at the Forum and the Norfolk Record Office. Not everyone could possibly share in these celebrations, but for those who may still be interested in the man, the period in which he lived and those with whom he associated, here is an adapted summary of his life based (in part) on the information compiled by St Stephens Church.

Richard Caister (St Stephens)
St Stephens Church, Norwich and host for the 600th Anniversary of its late Vicar, Richard Caister. Photo: Jamie (flickr).

We can never be absolutely certain of Richard Caister’s place of birth or the actual date, only that he was born either in Caister St Edmund or Caister-on-Sea sometime around the middle of the 14th century. He was apparently styled ‘master’ but there is no clear evidence that he studied at a university; but it is said that in 1385, possibly on 1 October, a part of his head was ‘tonsured’ – left bare on top by the shaving off of the hair – he had been made a cleric. It was at that moment when he was admitted to Merton Priory in Surrey where he received his education in preparation for an ordained ministry. It is probable that, after being ordained, he spent some 10 years as a monk of the Norwich Cathedral Priory. Certainly, in 1397, he become vicar of St Mary’s Church in Sedgeford, near Kings Lynn, having been presented to the benefice by the Prior of the Norwich Cathedral Priory.  Richard Caister served Sedgeford for five years; its location described by Simon Knott in 2006 thus:

Richard Caister (Sedgeford)
St Mary The Virgin Church at Sedgeford. Photo: Blosslyn.

“Sedgeford is one of those surprisingly secluded villages not far from the Wash, with busy Hunstanton and Sandringham just over the hill. Many East Anglian churches are at the highest point in their parishes, which isn’t saying a lot, but this big church is down in a dip in the valley below the road, and you would never notice it unless you were deliberately looking for it. The nave seems vast with those great clerestory windows, and the round tower appears to grow out of it, the aisles extending westwards to wrap around it.”

In 1402 Richard Caister was transferred to St Stephen’s Church in Norwich, where he remained until his death on April 4, 1420. He was buried in the chancel of the Church; an indication of the high regard he was held at the time. According to Norman P. Tanner:

“Margery Kempe [see below] provides a glowing portrait of him as vicar of St Stephen’s. He was, she indicates, a generous and apostolic parish priest, and a noted and effective preacher. He acted as her confessor in Norwich and supported her against her critics, including the officials of the bishop……… Following his death in 1420, perhaps on 29 March, his reputation for holiness developed into a minor cult. Margery Kempe went to pray at his grave in St Stephen’s Church, to thank him for the recovery of a friend from sickness: between 1429 and 1500 a number of bequests were left in wills for people to make pilgrimages to his grave, or for offerings to be left at it. He appears to have been a radical and evangelical priest, one in a succession as vicars of St Stephen’s parish, though Bale’s claim that he was an enthusiastic Wycliffite, albeit a secret one, seems unfounded……… Books on the ten commandments, the beatitudes, and the meditations of St Bernard, and also some homilies, were attributed to him. His only extant work, however, is the hymn ‘Jesu, lord, that madest me’, which seems to have been very popular, surviving in numerous manuscripts (though eight of its twelve stanzas come from an earlier poem).”

Richard Caistor’s Will was probably written within a few days of his death; it is remarkable, especially for a man who had been incumbent in one of the most valuable livings in Norwich for some eighteen years. The Will is very brief and contains no requests for masses or prayers to be said for his soul. Instead, he seems to have wanted his ‘unspecified wealth’, apart from £10 that was to be spent on buying two antiphonaries for his church, to be given to the poor, with preference being given to those of his parish on the grounds that “the goods of the church, according to canon law, belong to the poor”

Two significant Contemporaries of Caister:
One of Caister’s contemporaries was Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). She is, of course, known for her book The Revelations of Divine Love, which is a masterpiece of 14th century vernacular theology and also the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman.

Richard Caister (Julian of Norwich)
A sculpture giving an imagined depiction of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

There are no documents in existence which says that Richard Caister and Julian of Norwich ever met. However, it seems inconceivable that this was never so, when their geographical proximity of St Julian’s and St Stephen’s Churches were practically next door to each other. Also, having both a mutual friend in Margery Kempe, would strongly suggest that the lives of Julian and Richard may well have overlapped at times. However, more significantly than that suggestion, is the fact that both of them wrote in the vernacular. By doing so, both opened spiritual and theological matters to ordinary lay people, as distinct to only the clergy which believed, certainly in Caister’s time, that the English language was not an appropriate vehicle to consider or broadcast theological matters; such matters needed to be presented in the language of the Church – Latin.

Richard Caister (Margery Kempe)2

Margery Kempe (1373-1438) was another significant contemporary of Caister and the author of The Book of Margery Kempe, which is considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language; she was also a Christian mystic whose work gives a careful spiritual and social commentary of England. Kempe became very close to Caister; in their first meeting, Caister listened to Margery Kempe speak about the love of God and her spiritual experiences. Margery Kempe also recorded that while some considered her to be insane or under the influence of demons, Richard Caister defended her, open to the idea that God may inspire a woman. Caister became Margery Kempe’s confessor and even defended her in a hearing before the formidable Bishop Henry le Despenser. From the website of present-day St Stephen’s Church, we learn that:

“……. after Caister’s death and burial, Margery Kempe writes that she was moved to journey to St Stephen’s to pray for the healing of a priest who was close to her. She writes of a powerful spiritual encounter of the goodness of God during this time of prayer at the chancel of St Stephen’s Church, where Caister was buried. The priest for whom she was praying was healed. It is most likely for this reason that Caister’s burial place became a shrine for pilgrimage throughout the latter half of the 15th century.”

The Character of Caister and his Ministry:
Caister had a reputation for being a man of significant learning who was assiduous in his pastoral duties, particularly in his preaching and in his concern for the poor of his parish. The pilgrim badges that accompanied the shrine of Richard Caister frequently depict him preaching from the pulpit, wearing either clerical or academic dress’.

Richard Caister (Pilgrim Badges)2
A medieval pilgrim badge, worn by someone who would have visited Richard Caister’s burial spot in St Stephen’s Church in Norwich in the 15th century. Photo: Pinterest (Museum of London)

John Pits, (1560 – 17 October 1616) was an English Roman Catholic scholar and writer who was born in Alton, Hampshire. He provides a character sketch of Richard Caister.

“He was a man simple and upright, and no mean scholar. In his sermons he used not so much to attack men’s vices with bitter words, as to deplore them with tears of sympathy, and to exhort all to flee from their sins and to have pity upon their own souls. With the ignorant multitude he willingly adopted a familiar style, and used to mingle with the crowds to hold outdoor meetings. The simplest folk he loved the best, as being most like himself, saying that of such is the kingdom of heaven. He is said to have had the spirit of prophecy, and both during his life and after his death to have been renowned for many miracles”

Then there was Francis Blomefield who, in his History of Norfolk (volume 4), adds to this description that Caister was “a man of greatest learning and what was exceedingly remarkable in those days, a constant preacher of God’s word in English to his parishioners”.

Religious Dissent in the 14th and 15th Centuries:
Caister lived in a turbulent period in the life of the Church in England, for there existed a particular element of non-conformist thought, known of today as “Lollardy“; this movement became increasingly powerful across England in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The book “Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards (1395)” indicates a set of ideas held in common at the time, and strongly criticises clerical practice, the doctrine of transubstantiation, pilgrimage, plus rejecting the necessity of the mediation of God’s forgiveness through the Church via confession of sins to a priest. However, at the heart of Lollardy was the insistence for access to the scriptures in the English language – not Latin.

Richard Caister (Thomas Arundel)
Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. Copy of a 15th century portrait. Image: Lambeth Palace.

Thomas Arundel (1353 – 19 February 1414) was an English clergyman who served as Lord Chancellor during the reign of Richard II, as well as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1397 and from 1399 until his death, an outspoken opponent of the Lollards. In 1409 he promulgated a piece of ecclesiastical legislation, called the ‘Constitutions’ which was designed to establish control over religious thought and speech in England; it established controls over access to the scriptures in the English language:

“No one should translate any text of holy scripture on his own authority into the English language or any other under pain of excommunication, until that translation was approved by the local diocesan council”.

Alongside this, the Constitutions outlawed the criticism of clergy in the context of sermons and limited the topics upon which clergy could educate their parishioners. In a very influential essay Nicholas Watson argued that the goal of Arundel’s Constitutions was to restrict the development of religious thought in the English language; this led to the ‘watering-down’ of a growing and creative tradition of vernacular theology in England, as represented by Julian of Norwich.

Richard Caister (Love's Mirror)2
The ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus. This version printed by William Caxton, Westminster: circa. 1490. Image: University of Glasgow.

Then there was the 15th century Nicholas Love; the Carthusian prior of Mount Grace Priory. He translated and adapted Pseudo-Bonaventure’s ‘Meditations on the Life of Christ’ into English and named it ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus (1410)’. His was not merely a translation of one of the most popular Latin works of Franciscan devotion on the life and passion of Christ, but an expanded version with additions against the John Wycliffite (Lollard). Specifically, Love argued that Latin was the true language of theological thought and spiritual devotion. As such, the lay person remained in an unchangeable state of dependency on the Latin-speaking clergy. His version was submitted to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, around the year 1410 for approval. This submission was in accordance with strictures that forbade any new biblical translation written since the time of John Wycliffe, “in any form whatsoever, unless the translation was submitted to the local bishop for approval.” Arundel not merely approved the ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus’, but commanded its propagation; the work survives in sixty-four manuscripts; nineteen of these contain a note of Arundel’s official approval along with a note that this work is a “confutation of heretics or lollards”. Love’s work appears to have been the most popular new piece of literature in 15th-century England and was published at least ten times between 1484 and 1606. It provides an instructive insight into the character of the Church at the time, in contrast to which Richard Caister’s own ‘Metrical Prayer’ can be better understood. In short, it is a fascinating document written at that turbulent time and does, arguably, contains some themes consistent with Lollardy.

Richard Caister (Henry_le_Despenser)
Henry le Despenser (c.1341-1406) a 14th-century carving of him on a misericord in a chancel stall in St. Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn. Photo: Wikipedia.

Lollardy was particularly influential in Norfolk at the turn of the 15th century. The Bishop of Norwich, the then Henry le Despenser, was also a fierce an opponent of Lollardy. According to Thomas Walsingham, (Rolls Series, Vol. ii., p.188):

“He swore, and did not repent, that if any of that perverse sect [Lollards] should presume to preach in his diocese, he should either be given to the flames or deprived of his head”.

The Legacy of Richard Caister:
Richard Caister was closely associated with the linguist, philosopher and theologian John Wycliffe who was an important influence on Lollardy and is thought of as a forerunner of Protestantism in England. Then there was Bishop John Bale (himself a man with strong protestant sympathies) who, in his work ‘Illustrious Writers of Great Britain’ (printed c1549-1559), wrote:

Richard Caister (John Bale)
John ‘Bilious’ Bale. Image: Wikipedia.

“Richard Caister, of the County of Norfolk, and coming from near Norwich itself, a man learned and pious for his age, and Vicar at the Church of St Stephen in that City, [he was] called ‘the Good’, lead an apostolic and innocent life in great simplicity of spirit. Miracles are narrated of this man, but many are void of all truth. Nevertheless, he was distinguished for remarkable sanctity and a prophetic spirit. He favoured the Wycliffite (or rather the Christian) doctrine strongly, but secretly, for fear of the Papists, having had experience of their tyranny in others.  The scandalous example of the clergy he deplored with humble reproof in sermons, since otherwise he was not able to cure it. Many other proofs of piety did the good man display, and amongst other things he wrote in his native tongue”.

Richard Caister (John Wycliffe)
John Wycliffe. Image: Wikimedia.

Whether or not Richard Caister really held Wycliffite views is not clear. In the case of Bishop Bale, (who was quite partisan towards Protestantism and could stretch his views of people towards his own ways of thinking), Richard Caister’s own Metrical Prayer does indicate, at least, some sympathy with ideas associated with Wycliffe and Lollardy; but, of course, did not suffer the same fate as others in the Diocese of Norwich who were more explicitly loyal to Wycliffe’s thought, such as William Sawtrey, and payed the price!

Richard Caister (William Sawtre)

FOOTNOTE:
The Richard Caister Project, hosted by St Stephen’s Church, Norwich, sets out to tell the story of Richard Caister. At the forefront of this story is the suitability of all (not just the professionally religious) for spiritual and theological discourse, a commitment which is still at the core of the ministry of Christ at St Stephen’s today. There will be an exhibition in the Church building, workshops for young people and series of talks throughout 2020 – ‘The Caister Talks’, delivered by a diverse range of experts, including Professor Richard Rex (Cambridge University), Laura Varnam (Oxford University) and prolific local historian Frank Meeres. There will be performances over the year including an evening of poetry with the internationally renowned poet and priest Reverend Dr Malcolm Guite. To close the year, there will be a celebration service at St Stephen’s Church, at which Bishop Graham Usher will preach.

Two planned lectures on “Richard Caister are:

16 January 2020, at The Auditorium in the Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich NR2 1TF and hosted by the Norwich Society. 

6 May 2020, at The Green Room, Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich NR1 2DQ and hosted by the Norfolk Record Office

THE END

Sources on which this Blog is based:
https://www.ststephensnorwich.org

The Story of Richard Caister


https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-4349
https://www.juliancentre.org/about/about-julian-of-norwich.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Kempe#Pilgrimage
https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Lollardy
https://philpapers.org/rec/WATCAC-4
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wycliffe
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bale
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sawtrey
https://www.networknorwich.co.uk/Articles/558444/Network_Norwich_and_Norfolk/Regional_News/Norwich/Events_mark_6th_centenary_of_Norwich_medieval.aspx

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered informative and of an educational nature, and considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always included in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

The Corsbies — A Family of Clerks!

Charles Dickens, writing in April 1835, describes running into a fellow office clerk:

“He was a tall, thin, pale person, in a black coat. He had an umbrella in his hand – not for use, for the day was fine – but, evidently, because he always carried one to the office in the morning.”

This particular story would not have been written without the help of a professional archivist, someone who proved instrumental in bringing together information about the somewhat obscure Corsbies’. Never heard of them? Well, that would not be at all surprising since theirs is not a house-hold name. In fact, they would have remained within the sphere obscurity had not this diligent archivist brought them back into the light. Up until that point, the name Corsbie lay hidden in time-worn files, scrap books, photograph albums – company magazines and board minutes; most detail having been kept for a very long time in dusty draws before digitisation came along. Theirs is a simple story which offers a glimpse into what office life of the past was like, particularly for the generations of Corsbies who all worked, at some point, as humble clerks before rising up their own particular career ladder. However, they did have one thing in common – apart from the surname; they all had the distinction of having worked for one of the most famous and greatest Insurance companies ever to have once existed – Norwich Union.

“In 1792, Thomas Bignold helped in the creation of ‘Norwich General Assurance Company’ and was appointed its secretary. He left there in 1797 to found the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society with support from local shopkeepers and in 1808 he founded the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. After 1815 the post war recession began to bite and claims against the Society increased; initially he resisted many of those claims – some legitimately but some not so. Eventually his sons collaborated with the other directors to force him to retire. In retirement he became increasing eccentric forming a business to make shoes with revolving heels: this venture pushed him into bankruptcy and he eventually into prison. He died in 1835. It was in 1821 when the companies founded by Thomas Bignold, and which had operated in competition, merged under the Norwich Union name.”

Corsbie2
Samuel Bignold in 1852.
Born in Norwich in 1791, Samuel Bignold was the third and youngest son of Thomas Bignold and his wife Sarah, widow of Julius Long. He was educated at schools in Norwich and Bury St Edmunds.
From 1814, he worked as secretary for the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Company and from 1818 had the same office at Bignold House for the Norwich Union Life Assurance Society; both companies founded by his father, Thomas Bignold. The Bignold’s and their office staff used Bignold House as the companies’ head office when they merged. Samuel died at Bignold House in 1875 and was buried at St Margaret, Old Catton.

The Corsbie family were from Norwich and several generations of them worked for the Norwich Union for well over a century. Our archivist’s research discovered that the Corsbie family, from Joseph Clarke Corsbie downwards, amassed more than 370 years of combined service for the Company. Joseph himself joined the Norwich General Assurance Company in 1810. and when company moved to its Surrey Street office in Norwich, Joseph went went with it. He joined the rest of the office staff who would then work in Bignold House, the actual family home of Samuel Bignold, the then Secretary of the Company.

Corsbie1
Bignold House Surrey Street, c1897

In November 1819 Samuel Bignold wrote a set of rules for his clerks which would have been in force when Joseph Corsbie arrived in Surrey Street. According to those rules, office hours were from 9 o’clock till half past one, and from half past two to 6pm. Staff who were late in the morning or after lunch were fined 2d for each 5 minutes they were late. Clerks were also fined for tending the office fire:

“The office fire to be attended to by Mr Driver, or the junior Clerk, and any Clerk who may assume his duty shall be fined 3d. Clerks are permitted to warm themselves at the Fire in Office hours, but only one at a time to be at the fire and no Clerk is expected to remain there longer than may be sufficient for Warming himself.”

Clearly Samuel suspected that without such a rule his clerks would spend too much time chatting while warming themselves at the fire. Despite these strict rules it seems that clerks at Norwich Union were generally content with their lot, and most spent their entire working lives with the company. When Samuel Bignold was knighted in 1854 he took the clerks from the Norwich Union Fire and Life Societies out for a meal to celebrate and at least half of the forty clerks who attended had reached more than 26 years’ service with one or other of the companies.

During following year of 1855, Joseph Corsbie presided over a meal of Norwich Union clerks to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday and by that date he was the oldest clerk in the establishment. Joseph spent 50 years working for Norwich General and Norwich Union and was granted his retirement by the Directors in January 1860, when he was awarded an annuity ‘in consideration of his long service’. He received £130 per annum, the equivalent of around £130,000 in today’s terms. According to the Board’s minutes, Joseph had not been fully able to attend to his duties for two years before he retired, and he died in September 1861 after a long and painful illness.

Joseph was not the only Corsbie to be working in Surrey Street in 1821. In June of that year his nephew, Dennis Tooke Corsbie, took a position with the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. According to a staff list, Dennis retired in August 1874 as managing or chief clerk, having clocked up an impressive 53 years’ service with the Society. During his time with the Norwich Union he would have been involved in the take-over of the Amicable Society, the world’s oldest mutual life insurer, which happened in 1866. Dennis may also have been responsible for starting an Easter tradition which was carried on by his successor as chief clerk, George Holmes. According to the memoires of another staff member, Henry Butler, Mr Holmes would call all the staff together at noon on the Thursday before Good Friday and give them each a glass of sherry and brown and white biscuits known as ‘fair buttons’. At one o’clock the office would close and all the clerks would go to the fair at Tombland.

The next generation of Corsbies to join Norwich Union arrived in the 1850s. His name was Henry Webster Corsbie, son of Joseph; he joined the Fire Society in 1852 but left in 1865. Henry had been involved in a court case in 1857 after he was ‘struck’ in the face by a certain William Tuck who was angry that other Norwich Union clerks had cancelled the periodicals they usually purchased from him. During the case, Tuck claimed that the clerks, who followed the Conservative political views of Sir Samuel, had turned against him after he had voted for the Whigs in the local elections.

In 1853, Henry’s brother, Horace Webster Corsbie, joined the Life Society and went on to work for the Life Society for 38 years’, retiring 1891 and by which time he was earning £350 a year. Presenting him with an inscribed timepiece from the Directors, Mr Forrester said:

“…… throughout your forty years’ service you have born an unblemished character, distinguished by integrity of purpose, devotion to your duties, courtesy to the higher officials and kindness and sympathy toward the other members of staff”.

In his response Horace thanked the directors for the gift and the generous provision for his retirement and said he ‘could look back upon nothing but kindness during his long connection with the society, both from those now in office and those who have been long in their graves’.

The 1850s also saw Henry John Abs Corsbie and his brother Charles James Abs Corsbie, sons of Dennis Corsbie, join the Norwich Union Life Society in 1854 and 1856 respectively. There would have been five Corsbies in the employment of the two societies in May 1862 when each clerk was given £5 by the management to go and visit the Great Exhibition at Kensington which was also insured by the Fire Society.

Corsbie (Great Exhibition 1862)
The Great Exhibition of 1862 at Kensington, London. Image: Wikipedia.
Corsbie3
Reproduction of Great Exhibition Policy, c1863.

In 1871 the names of the four Corsbies then working for the Life Society featured in an illustrated letter which was presented to Sir Samuel Bignold to mark his 80th birthday.

Corsbie4
Illustrated letter to Samuel Bignold on this 80th birthday, 1871
Corsbie5
Close-up view of life clerk names on  the 1871 letter.

The names of Horace, Henry John, and Charles also appear on a list of staff who attended Sir Samuel’s funeral in January 1875. Samuel Bignold died in the Surrey Street office which was also his family home and, according to contemporary newspapers, on the morning of the funeral hundreds of people filled the pavements of Surrey Street wanting to pay their respects:

‘As the time announced for the starting of the procession arrived, the Market-Place and approaches to Surrey Street became almost impassable by reason of the thousands who had there congregated.’

Corsbie6
Norwich Market Place, 1890s

Twenty-five carriages were included in the funeral procession which followed a route along Rampant Horse Street, the Market Place, London Street and Queen Street, through Tombland and along Magdalen Street to the family vault at Catton. All Norwich Union staff attended the funeral and they were allocated places in the carriages in order of seniority of service. Charles Corsbie should have been in coach three with his brother and cousin but instead watched proceedings from the window on the office stairs as he was too ill to attend. The staff list notes that he died the following month.

Corsbie7
List of clerks attending Samual Bignold’s funeral, 1875

Charles Corsbie was only 34 when he died and had still spent nearly twenty years working for Norwich Union. As for his brother, Henry John Abs Corsbie, he was first appointed an inspector for the South Eastern Region in October 1884, at which point his salary was raised to £225 pa with 2nd class rail travel and an allowance of 12s 6d for each day he was away from Norwich. Henry is the first of the Corsbies to be clearly identified in a photograph (see below) which was taken in around 1900. Apparently, he was still working for Norwich Union when he died, aged 73, in 1909 and the notice of his funeral refers to ‘upwards of 55 years’ service’ with the Society.

Corsbie8
Norwich Union inspectors, c1900.
Henry John Abs Corsbie sits second from the left in the centre row.

The next generation of Corsbies to join Norwich Union were the grandsons of Joseph Corsbie. In total, five of his grandsons began work for the company between 1877 and 1889. The first was Arthur Benjamin Corsbie who joined the Policy Department of the Fire Society in May 1877 and died in service just over two years later. In January 1882, Horace Frank Corsbie, the eldest son of Horace Webster Corsbie, joined the Life Society on a princely salary of £20 per annum. His time with Norwich Union coincided with the introduction of a Thursday half-holiday for clerks and the arrival of the office telephone, but he left in December 1891, eventually working as a municipal clerk. Next to join was Horace Frank’s younger brother, Ernest Benjamin Corsbie, who joined the Policy Department of the Fire Society in April 1883. The notice of his death in the staff magazine records that he also worked for the Loss Department, Accounts Department and Secretarial Department before being appointed head of the Marine Department. He moved to London with the department and died in service there in July 1917. Ernest also contributed to the social life of the office, he was auditor for the staff football club and wrote articles for the staff magazine, which is probably why his photograph appears in the magazine’s photograph album.

Corsbie101
Ernest Corsbie, c1900.
Corsbie102
Ernest Corsbie at his desk, c1900.

Also joining in 1883 was their cousin Walter Lewis Corsbie, who’s application letter he sent asking to join the Fire Society still exists in the archive collection. He was 22 years of age when he applied and had already served out his apprenticeship with Dexter & Moll the ‘old established family linen warehouse’ based in Upper Market Norwich. By the time he applied to join Norwich Union Walter was working at Henry Snowdon’s Drapery in Bridge Street, Norwich and, according to his letter, was looking for employment with a shorter working day. As seems to have been standard in application letters to the Society, he made it clear that he was not looking for a particularly high salary.

Corsbie103
Walter Lewis Corsbie’s application letter, 1883.

By the time Walter joined, Norwich Union Fire had already established a compulsory staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund which had opened the previous year. Each member of staff contributed 2% of his salary to the scheme and in return received a guaranteed pension and guaranteed payments to his widow and children if he died in service. The fund also provided medical attendance for each member of staff. This benefited the company by helping reduce time off for sickness and benefited the members of staff who could have access to a doctor, which might otherwise have proved too expensive in a time when there was no National Health Service.

It also provided an unanticipated benefit for future archivists as detailed reports were made each year about which staff had been attended by the doctor and these were recorded in the fund minutes. The reports contain fascinating information about staff who were working for Norwich Union during this period and what illnesses or injuries led to them having time off work. According to the reports, Walter was attacked with influenza on 3rd Feb 1890 and suffered with severe inflammation of the lungs but recovered sufficiently to return to the office on 31 March. However, he had suffered from symptoms of heart disease for several years which became rapidly progressive after this and ‘he was obliged to give up work on June 25 and finally succumbed on 8 August.’

The last of the third generation of Corsbies to work for Norwich Union was Louis Frederick Corsbie, the brother of Ernest Benjamin and Horace Frank. He had initially ignored family tradition and taken a position in April 1886 with Norwich and London Accident Insurance Association, a company which was later absorbed by Norwich Union. He obviously saw the error of his ways and in July 1889 left Norwich and London Accident and started work for Norwich Union Fire. According to the staff magazine, he spent the first ten years of his service in the Fire Policy Department before moving to the Fire Loss Department where he remained until he retired in 1930. He was known as ‘Uncle Louis’ to many of his contemporaries and was described as ‘a man of equable and genial temperament and popular with his colleagues’. He was an enthusiastic bowls player, secretary and librarian of the orchestral society from 1896, and played second violin in the office orchestra. His name appears in many concert programmes for the orchestral society and he was photographed with the orchestra in around 1902.

Corsbie104
Norwich Union Orchestra, c1902.
Louis Corsbie sits at the extreme right of the front row with the violin bow facing downwards between his legs.

Both Louis and Ernest were working for the Fire Society when it celebrated its centenary in 1897 and the staff received a 10% bonus, double that handed out a decade earlier to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Ernest can be found in this staff photograph taken for the centenary but for some reason Louis is missing.

Corsbie106
Norwich Union clerks at the anniversary garden party in 1897. Ernest Corsbie stands at the extreme right of the fourth row from the front.
Corsbie110
Norwich Union staff group photograph from around 1905. Ernest Corsbie is standing left of centre of the front row.
Corsbie108
Norwich Union staff outing, c1910.
Louis Corsbie sits third from the right on the back row

Both the names of Ernest and Louis Corsbie also appear in a booklet presented to George Oliver Clark on his retirement in 1905.

Corsbie112
George Clark’s retirement album, 1905
Corsbie113
A page from George Clark’s retirement album showing  the signatures od Ernest and Louis, 1905

A fourth generation of Corsbies started at Norwich Union when Harold Gordon Corsbie joined the Life Society in March 1900. A great grandson of Joseph Corsbie he appears in this group photograph of Life Society staff, looking much younger than his 18 years.

Corsbie114
Norwich Union life clerks, c1900
Harold Gordon Corsbie sits extreme right of front row.

Harold Gordon Corsbie can also be identified in two cartoons produced to mark the move of the Life Society into its new offices in Surrey House in 1904. Here he is moving with his typewriter across the road to his new abode.

Corsbie116
New Exodus cartoon showing move to Surrey House in 1904. H.G. Corsbie is the sixth image from the left carrying his typewriter. The unidentified cartoonist has exaggerated Harold’s small stature.

Harold stayed with the company until at least 1914 and cashed in his company life policy in 1924 before emigrating with his family to Australia the following year.

Corsbie118
H.G. Corsbie is in this photograph of staff taken in the Surrey House garden around 1910. He stands on the extreme right.

Harold was still with Norwich Union when these decorations were put up in Surrey Street to mark the coronation of George V in June 1911. The banner spanned the street between the head offices of the two societies and Harold probably had to pass under it to get to work.

Corsbie120
Surrey Street decorations for the coronation of George V, 1911.

It is also likely that he is somewhere in this photograph of life office staff in the Marble Hall of Surrey House at around the same date.

Corsbie121
Staff in the Marble Hall of Surrey House, c1911

By 1911 another Corsbie had joined the Fire Society across the road in Bignold House; her name was Elsie Gertrude Corsbie who joined the society in 1911 as a typist in the fledgling typing section. The Fire Society had first employed women in the Norwich head office in 1906 and the board minutes of 7th February that year record the decision to form a Typing Department:

“consisting of six lady typists with a member of the current staff to be appointed superintendent to act as an intermediary between the typists and the departments.”

The staff member chosen was Percy Noverre whose family had a long association with Norwich Union and who had come to insurance late in life having been a dancing master in Norwich (the family was well known in dancing and the Noverre ballroom in the Norwich Assembly Rooms was named after them). This photograph shows Percy and the lady staff, including Elsie, in around 1914.

Corsbie122
Norwich Union typing department, c1914
Elsie Corsbie stands at the extreme right of the back row. Percy Noverre sits front centre.

According to the memoires of another long-serving member of staff, Geoff Hart, Percy Noverre’s role was to prevent fraternisation between the clerks and the lady typists.

Corsbie124
Geoffrey Hart’s reminiscences from a staff magazine of 1938.

Elsie was Joseph’s great granddaughter, the daughter of Ernest Corsbie, and she moved to London with her father and the rest of the Marine Department during the First World War. The war may well have been the reason Elsie never married. When war ended, she returned to Norwich to the Secretarial Department where she spent some time as personal secretary to Sir Robert Bignold, the 5th generation and last of the Bignolds to run Norwich Union. She remained with the department until 1948 when she retired after 37 years’ service. Elsie was the last Corsbie to work for Norwich Union and her retirement ended an unbroken 138 years of family service.

There was, however, another descendant of Joseph Corsbie who worked for Norwich Union. His name was Geoffrey William Cecil Corsbie who joined Norwich Union Fire in April 1935, and was the 5th generation of Corsbies to join the society – and the great-great grandson of Joseph Corsbie. Geoffrey worked in the Workmen’s Compensation Department and died in 1944 at the early age of 28. The notice of his death in the staff magazine indicates that he was never physically very fit and remembers his skill on the piano accordion and his ability to mend all things mechanical, especially watches and clocks.

THE END

Source:
Gratitude and thanks to Anna Stone of Heritage.Aviva who made this blog possible. She contributed most of the information and supporting images contained herein; exceptions are annotated otherwise.