By Haydn Brown
This blog revises and adds to a previous blog, titled: Mr Marten Pays a Visit to Norwich!
Robert Humphrey Marten, to give him his full name, came to Norfolk in September 1825 on a 24-day tour of at least a section of the County which took in Yarmouth, Norwich, Cromer and finally ending with a few days of ‘country delights’ in an unspecified house and location where the family could enjoy shooting, musical evenings, riding, and some fine dining. His intention was to provide ‘heath and pleasure’ for himself, his wife, Emma and daughter Sarah; in this, the party were ably assisted by the family servant. Today we would class them as well-healed tourists.
Mr Marten, who was something of an avid diarist and gifted artist; however, he tells us little about himself. It has been left to future researchers to establish more about his personal details and character. Neverthe less, it seems that Robert was clearly a caring man, his kindness well in evidence in the pages with small acts of kindness. Also, although a serious and deeply religious man, he did seem to possess a ‘cheeky’ sense of humour, alongside his amusement, on several occasions during his travels, of the tactics employed by the smarter element of Norfolk locals to profit from visitors! But there was much more to this man.
The basic facts of Mr Marten were that he was born on 21 March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the time. His father, Nathaniel, was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson. The family attended Congregationalist meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in his home.
He married three times, but it was only his second marriage, to Elizabeth Giles in July 1791, that gave him children. At first, the couple lived on a small income, meaning that they had to practice economy – with no partying permitted; instead, they followed the advice of their church, working hard, praying hard and striving to remain cheerful despite their circumstances. But he was to advance in business and fortune, and with improving finances came the opportunity to move to larger premises, first at No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London; it was a comfortable house but with a small garden, of which he seems not to mind. However, by this time, Robert had established himself in maritime insurance, an occupation which had, for centuries, been the most dominant and important line of business. It followed that he became a partner with the company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for this ambitious 30-year-old. To this firm’s main business, he was responsible for adding the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.
By April 1807 the family was in a position to move again, this time out to Plaistow and live in a large house called ‘Broadway House’ in what was then a small village east of London; a gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household. It seems also that his business career was matched only by his role as a religious leader and a reformer. Politically he worked towards removing legal discrimination against non-members of the Church of England. It is also known that he was a friend of William Wilberforce who is reported to have been a frequent visitor to Broadway House. Continuing his religious role, he also helped to found the Non-Conformist Church in Plaistow.
When his second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1811 Robert Marten wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children. Two more years were to pass before he found his third wife, Emma, said to have been chosen for her very high character and approved by the children. It was Emma who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour of Norfolk; but by then, the demands of business and philanthropy were beginning to take their toll on Mr Marten’s health, hence the need for a break away from business stresses, towards the more bracing and cleaner air of the Norfolk coast with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.
Mr Marten simply tells us that, it was on Wednesday 7 September 1825 when he and his party began their tour of Norfolk; leaving from the Custom House steps London and sailing on the Thames-built steam packet ‘Hero’, bound for the County. In little over a day later, they reached the port of Great Yarmouth, having probably enjoyed their mini-cruise more comfortable than any stage-coach journey. Whilst in the town for only a short stay they took the opportunity to visit the more fashionable Gorleston, seemingly a more pleasurable place than its herring-smelt neighbour on the other side of the estuary.
On Saturday, 10 September, Mr Marten’s party boarded yet another, but smaller, steam packet vessel which would make its way inland along the river Yare to Norwich; a city laying some 27 miles and a journey time of approximately 5 hours away. It made good time and once alongside Norwich’s quay, they disembarked above Carrow Bridge at Foundary Bridge – the scene of the 1817 steam packet explosion.
It was probably likely that Robert Marten and his party would have been picked up by a hotel employed vehicle and conveyed into the city; in this instance, it was to the Norfolk Hotel at 25 St Giles in the city centre near the Market Place; here they booked in for a several-day stay. The idea of picking up visitors made good business sense to the hotels of Norwich; particularly, fourteen years later, when trains operated to and from Norwich. The station would be at Thorpe which, incidentally, was the very site of the once Ranelagh Gardens and the point where Mr Marten and his party disembarked in 1825.
Mr Marten and his party were clearly set on taking every opportunity during their stay in the city to explore all its facets; however, high on their list was their need to attend various places of worship. The first opportunity to do this was during their first full day in Norwich, which was a Sunday. They attended morning service at the old St Mary’s Baptist Chapel near Duke Street. It seems that they were a very devout family for during the evening they attended yet another service at the Princes Street Chapel.
Clearly, two visits to a religious establishment in a week was not enough for Mr Marten, for he and his party headed for the ‘solemn grandeur’ of Norwich Cathedral on the Monday morning to attend the 9.45am Matins. Marten described the service as “the same as in other Cathedrals” – this comment may well suggest that he was an Anglian, but one who enjoyed visiting different places of worship. He went on to say in his diary:
“There were scarcely a dozen persons besides the ecclesiastics who officiated. The building is in fair preservation considering that it has been [in use] since the year 1096. The interior is very clean and from the magnitude and architecture presents to the eye a solemn grandeur. The Courts & inclosures and ancient houses around it are also kept in that order & have that still and quiet aspect & that appearance of retirement & comfort which is usually found around Country Cathedrals.”
Mr Marten also took a particular interest in Meeting House buildings and attended a sermon by Mr Joseph Kinghorn, although:
“His preaching was not to us so satisfactory…….He appeared to be more the preacher than the minister or pastor. His pronunciation is very broad…….Mr Kinghorn is a thin tall old gentleman, very plain in his attire, simple in appearance, of acknowledged talents and has entered the lists in controversy with Robert Hall of Leicester on the subject of open communion which is advocated by the latter and opposed by the former.”
On Tuesday, 13 September 1825, Marten and his family continued their tour of Norwich but found the stones with which the Norwich streets were paved very annoying; this would seem to be a strange reaction to a material that had long been widely used for laying road and pavements in many other towns and cities. Nevertheless, they prevailed and on the same day, obtained permission to:
“mount the top of the elevated castle in order to have a panoramic view of the City and the hills which surround it, but we were dissuaded on account of the wind blowing so strong that it would be difficult to stand against it”.
However, they did manage to walk round the castle to where it was “loft enough to afford a view over the houses to the distant hills.” From high on the castle they counted 23 steeples of the 36 churches which the Map of Norwich stated to be within the city. The view “prolonged our stay because of the pleasure we enjoyed”.
“We then walked about the large city & came by St Giles Church into Heigham, and called on Mr Grout who permitted us to go through his important Silk Manufactory. The works are in several floors and the winding twisting bobbings are by machinery moved by a beautiful 20-horsepower engine. These operations are watched and conducted by more than seventy females, some so young as 7 to 8 years of age. These are on foot from seven in the morning till eight in the evening watching the threads, repairing the broken & seeing that all go on well – occasionally supplying oil where wanted to prevent evil from friction. Only that they have half an hour to breakfast & an hour for dinner. And these little girls earn some 5 shillings, some 5 shillings/6d a week.”
“We were then shewn the winding into warp – the subsequent Beaming – & the reeds for the weaving & were informed that a-yard-wide crape has in that breadth 2560 single twisted threads of silk. We then saw one of the female superintendents at her crape loom, and afterwards the turners shop where nine men were employed in preparing Bobbins etc. for the factory here & the much larger [factory] which Mr Grout is now erecting at Yarmouth. The silk used here is principally from Bengal but part was the white silk from China………Seeing a loom going in a private house as we passed, we asked the woman who was weaving Norwich crape & learned that she could, by close application, weave eleven yards each day – but we omitted to ask her earnings by that work.”
Where Mr Marten and family ate and refreshed themselves between forays is not known but they kept going throughout each day. This included walking towards the north of the City until they reached its outskirts and fields beyond and “found the population lively”. They remained clearly amazed by the number of churches around:
“so abounding that the eye could scarcely fail to see two or three whichever way it turned. Many of these were flint faced and some of them with squared flints very carefully cut & nicely laid” – They even counted eleven steeples from their hotel windows.
Their stay was also to include walks through both the eastern and southern parts of the city where they saw “many very large & elegant houses.” Marten even picked up on the fact that Norwich was in the process of building a new prison at the top end of St Giles, in an area now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral. One wing of the new prison was expected to open for business later that year and Marten was sufficiently interested in the site to request a visit. He went on to write:
“We were admitted to go over the whole building. The Governor’s House is in the centre and from several windows he can at all times inspect every part of the prison. The Chapel is in the Governor’s House. His pew is opposite & very close to the Pulpit which is entered from the winding stair case. The Felons are in Pews even with this Governor whose eye may be constantly on them – and the Turnkeys guard the two entrances during the whole of divine services – the Debtors are on the floor of the Chapel and thus everyone can see & hear the Preacher. We were shewn the cells for the Felons who are confined at night separately – but they have a Day Room & they have the privilege of the open air in a yard allotted to them. Condemned Felons left for execution have other & still stronger lonesome cells which they are not permitted to leave until the hour when they are taken to the platform over the entrance gate to surrender their forfeited lives to the violated justice of their Country.”
Marten’s general impression of the City was favourable, apart of course for those streets which were paved with small pebbles and flints, making walking “uneasy to the foot and on which one unused cannot walk either steadily of comfortably.” Other than that:
“We were not accosted in any of our walks even by a single medicant [a beggar] – Everyone seemed busy and we were told by a Gentleman, a resident, that no complaints were heard and that the manufacturers and general business of the place were in thriving condition. Houses of the third and fourth rate & some even beneath these were buildings to a great extension of Norwich, a circumstance which marks many other cities beside this.”
Marten’s final comments, as he prepared his party for their departure from Norwich, was to say that their stay had been pleasant and:
“the Norfolk Hotel intitled to praise for the goodness of its provisions – the neatness of its accommodation……..and attention of its conductors & servants. We were also perfectly satisfied with the reasonableness of its charges. We left the Hotel at 20 minutes before 4 o’clock in the stage for Cromer……….”
Twinch, C., Norwich Book of Days, The History Press, 2012
Reeve, Christopher, (pages 169-172) Norwich The Biography, Amberley Publishing, 2014.
Norwich Record Office.
Photo (Feature Heading): The Yare at Thorpe, Norwich. circa 1806 by John Crome.
The George Plunket photographs are by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.
Robert Humphrey Marten | Morgan Web Site (morganfourman.com)
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