Ber Street’s Two Lost Churches.

Nearly four centuries separate the desecration, or violent disrespect, of two churches that once stood along Ber Street, in Norwich – namely the church of St Michael-at-Thorn and the church of St Batholomew. Read on:

Norwich’s ‘Berstrete’ was named after the Anglo-Saxon road which was the Northern Conesford sub-leet’s backbone. It ran along a ridge above a long slope which ran down to the river on the western side of the ridge; below, the Great Cockey ran through a natural valley. In time, the road became Ber Street, placing itself between present-day Queens Road and King Street. Ber Street formed one of two major routes into Norwich that ran through the Conesford area; the second was the Royal Conesford Way – the present-day King Street. Today, Ber Street is a fragmented mix of historical buildings and post-war WW2 industrial buildings; the result of a 1950/60’s slum clearance scheme which followed extensive war bomb damage.

Back in the Middle Ages, Norwich and Bristol were judged to be second to London in size. Consequently, Norwich still had 36 parish churches in its city centre when the Reformation took place; a couple were quickly demolished, but most lingered on into the 21st century. Over the centuries, the function of some parishes fell into disuse, but a surprising number were still parish churches of the Church of England within the minds of many Norwich people.

City Medieval Towers (Illustration)
An artist’s impression of the complete Norwich City walls and gates in the 14th century. Ber Street (Berstrete) Gate is depicted centre at foot, with the two churches referred to in this post towards the Castle.
Image courtesy of Aviva Group Archive

Any mention of Ber Street would be incomplete without mention of its medieval Gate, one of a series of gates that, together with an almost continuous wall, surrounded the city. Early references to Ber Street Gate, which was built on a corner of the city wall which runs southeast and southwest from the gate, are contained in documents from the reign of Henry III in the second and third quarters of the 13th century. The gate itself was demolished in 1808 but the street remained busy and densely populated and was known locally as “Blood and Guts Street”, due to its many slaughterhouses and butcher shops; also, because cattle were driven down the road into the city.

Two Ber Street Churches1
The outside of Ber Street Gate from the south by H Ninham from an early-18th century drawing by John Kirkpatrick.  Image: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.
Two Ber Street Churches2
The inside of Ber Street Gate from the north by H Ninham from an early-18th century drawing by John Kirkpatrick.  Image: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

1. The church of St Michael-at-Thorn:
St Michael at Thorn was once the most central of Norwich churches but was lost in the World-War-Two blitz of January 1942. When it did exist, it stood about 200 metres south of St John Timberhill at the edge of the Ber St ridge, and overlooking the Wensum valley. Next to the church, on its south side, Thorn Lane led steeply downhill into King Street, but since the area was redeveloped in the early 1960s it now terminates at Rouen Rd. From the 1840s onwards the whole area between Ber Street and King Street was densely populated and consisted of many yards and courts leading off from Ber Street. This whole area was known locally as the ‘Village on the Hill’ and the three roads of Mariners Lane, Horns Lane and Thorn Lane, led into the district. It became the settlement for a small Italian community.

St Michael's (Church)1
The south side of the former church of St Michael at Thorn from Ber Street. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1938-03-18.

St Michael at Thorn was described by Ian Hannah as being only ‘partly built in 1430 but largely modern’. Completed, it consisted of a square west tower, nave with north aisle, a south porch, and a chancel. The original tower collapsed in 1886 and was rebuilt the following year. Sillett’s ‘Norwich Churches’, published in 1828, showed that the style of the Victorian work followed very closely to that of the old.

The historian Francis Blomefield, writing of St Michael at Thorn, said that it: “was anciently a Rectory appendant to the Castle, until the Conqueror gave it to FitzWalter along with St Martin at the Bale.” The church of St Martins, also known as St Martin-in-Balliva, once stood on a triangular piece of ground close by the entrance to Golden Ball Street – near to, what once was, the principal entrance to the barbican of the Castle. The apparent strange title of this church stemmed from it having been built within the bailey, which once was the outer courtyard of the castle. St Martins church was demolished in 1562 when the parish was united to that of St Michael at Thorn; and in the latter’s church registers, which date from that year, are records of burials of many of the criminals who were executed on the Castle hill. In 1926 a chapel in St Michael’s was dedicated to the patron saint of the Bale to perpetuate this association with St Martin’s.

With regard to the dedication – or rather the “surname” – of St Michael’s church, Blomefield mentions that it is:

“called in antient evidences, St Michael in Ber Street, and ad Spinas or at the Thorns, and even to this day, a very large Thorn remains growing in the Churchyard. I find it also in the most ancient Deeds called St Michael Super Montem, or St Miles on the Hill from its situation”.

Prior to the church tower collapsing in 1886, it contained only one bell; but John L’Estrange noted in 1874 that: “There were three bells here until about 1838, when the two largest were sold, to help to build a hideous north aisle, recently replaced by a much comelier structure. They are now the ‘first’ and ‘second’ bells at Bale, near Holt”. [making up a ring of 4 bells there, the oldest of which was cast c. 1440. This is the ‘second’ bell from St Michaels, and bears the inscription ‘Nobis Succurre Michael Raphael Gabriel Quaesumus’, – ‘Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, help us’. On the ‘first’ bell from St Michael’s is the inscription “Pack and Chapman of London Fecit 1777. John Spratt and Henry Warns Ch. Wardens.]”

St Michael's (South Door)
St Michael at Thorn south Norman doorway, later re-erected in nearby St Julian’s church. Image: (c) George Plunkett1938-03-18

The main entrance to St Michael’s was through the porch and south doorway; the latter was Norman probably the oldest remaining part of the building. Following its survival of the WW2 blitz, the doorway was dismantled and re-erected in St Julian’s church nearby, forming the inner doorway to Mother Julian’s cell.

Reinstalled Doorway_Simon Knott)2
The former south doorway of St Michael at Thorn church as it appears in the nearby St Julian’s Church. Image: Siman Knott 2005.

When the doorway was ‘in situ’ at the former St Michaels, it was described as having a shaft on either side supporting a round-headed arch with cable and zig-zag ornaments, with one of the billets of an outer moulding carved into a queer little animal; then, according to White’s Norfolk directory of 1833, the door was then still in possession of its ancient ironwork. As for interior fittings, only an ancient octagonal font with shields survived the centuries. All the Victorian reconstruction woodwork was modern, including a fine roodscreen surmounted with a St Michael’s cross.

St Michael's (Interior East)
St Michael at Thorn’s 1869 interior east view, along with the then modern oak rood screen surmounted by a St Michael’s cross. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1937-08-12.

The bombs that fell in that January of 1942 left only the tower of St Michael’s standing, but removing a section of the parapet and the spirelets; the church itself was gutted, leaving only the eastern gable and the other walls at a lower level. Up to the day the church was lost, thorn trees grew in the churchyard, though perhaps not the same ones to which Blomefield referred. It was said that by the time the war ended, the thorn bushes that gave the graveyard its character and the church its name had quickly regrown through the rubble. The name of Thorn Lane is comparatively modern, for two centuries previously it was known as Sandgate, and it is a matter of speculation whether or not it was named after the nature of the soil there; in time the Lane was probably named after the thorns then flourishing in the neighbouring St Michael’s.

St Michael's (Tower before Demolition)
The St Michael at Thorn tower before demolition It survived air raids in 1942 but the tower was demolished ten years later. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1952-07-31.

In the 1950’s, with redevelopment plans well formulated in the minds of the authorities, there was no way that St Michael was going to be rebuilt – or its tower kept as a landmark. St Michael’s was too close to other working churches to be needed, and was set in an area earmarked for industrial and commercial building. As things turned out, the site was completely erased with the church ruins, tower and thorn trees completely removed for the laying out of a car park for Archant House, the Eastern Daily Press building.

Simon Knott said in 2005: “It gives an idea of the ferocity of the blitz, as well as of the completeness of post-war Norwich planning, when I tell you that the two images below were taken from exactly the same spot. Robert Ladbrooke made his leisurely sketch in the 1820s. Some 180 years later, I risked my life and limbs to stand in the middle of Ber Street to take the same view of the site as it is today. I am obviously closer in time to the destruction of St Michael at Thorn than Mr Ladbrooke, but not a single building in this modern view, apart from perhaps those on the far horizon, was here when the church was”.

The Church of St Bartholomew:
Southern Conesford was the long, straggly suburb to the south of Northern Conesford and the Norwich medieval city within the walls, but with an independent life of its own. The two Conesford sub-leets were amalgamated by mid-14th century, the likely result of a reduced population (and therefore the number of tithings) in the area. Subsequently, large areas of land were acquired by the Augustinians and Franciscans for their friary precincts. Conesford, as a whole, had nine medieval parish churches, as well as several monasteries, and was home to important merchants – the Pastons’ Norwich house was in Conesford, down on the the ‘Royal Conesford Way’ (King Street), the main road to London. Parallel to it, but high on the ridge to the west, sat Ber Street, leading out of the city centre to the Berstrete Gate in the city walls.

Conesford

In the 18th and 19th centuries, this part of Norwich became home to warehouses and factories, a slum area of workshops and back-to-back terraces. As if in anticipation of this future development, St Bartholomew was desecrated in 1549 and abandoned; its two bells transferred to St John de Sepulchre – situated at the junction of Ber Street and Finkelgate. St Bartholomew itself once sat barely 100 metres south of St Michael at Thorn, its advowson belonging to the prior of Wymondham.

The church was to be used as a factory; then gradually, other buildings were built on to it, until almost nothing at all of the medieval exterior showed, and few would have ever known that the former church was there. All that was visible was part of the south wall of the nave. It was about this time when George Plunkett sketched, in his own hand, Claude Messent’s plan of the building as it was in 1931. Nineteenth-century houses had been built into the west end; the nave and chancel were part of Snellings factory, and against the north wall was a slaughterhouse.

St Barts (Diagram)
George Plunkett’s sketch of Claude Messent’s plan of St Bartholomew Church as it was in 1931. Image: (c) George Plunkett.

George Plunkett’s fascination with Norwich churches led him to be ‘on the spot’ when the Norwich City Corporation began to clear the site in the summer of 1939. They really need not have bothered – and would have saved some money had they known that, two or three years later, the Luftwaffe would have done the job for them. As it was, the ramshackle lean-to buildings were torn away by the Corporation and the heart of a medieval church revealed – the blocked-up chancel arch, the Tudor arched interior window splays, and a brick south doorway. But now everything has gone and all that survived from the clearance is the rump of the tower which sits beside the Ber Street pavement. Unlike St Michael at Thorn, it was not a victim of war time bombing. Today, modern sheltered housing occupies the area where the St Bartholomew, the factory and the slaughterhouse once stood.

(The remains of St Bartholomew’s Church).

St Bartholomew (Nave Blocked Window)
St Bartholomew’s Nave blocked window 
Secularised after the Reformation, the church nave and part of the chancel remained, largely hidden from view by slaughterhouses and other buildings. Brought to light in the 1930’s, it offered slight compensation for the loss of St Michael at Thorn. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1939-05-18
St Bartholomew (Nave South Wall)
A section of St Bartholomew’s Nave South Wall incorporated into a warehouse which once stood at rear of 82 Ber Street. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1937-08-07.
St Bartholomew (Gabled Wall)
St Bartholomew’s west side gabled wall which
divided the Nave from Chancel. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1939-05-18.
St Bartholomew (South Doorway)
St Bartholomew’s south doorway arch. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1965-05-01.

A few yards south along Ber Street from the site of St Michaels at Thorn a portion of St Bartholomew’s 15th century church tower still stands, its flint, brick and some stone dressings preserved among a block of new dwellings. To think that it was only brought to light in the 1930’s; in a sense, its preservation offers slight compensation for the total loss and disapperance of St Michael’s.

St Bartholomew1
The ruined tower of St Bartholomew’s church, Norwich.
A short stump of the tower is all that remains today and it is so overgrown that one could walk past it without noticing what it is – were it not for the plaque attached to its wall. Image:© Copyright Evelyn Simak.

Finally, Simon Knott again adds: “St Bartholomew should not be confused with Norwich’s other medieval church of the same name. The other one was the parish church for Heigham, the area to the west of Pottergate and St Benedict, and is also a ruin today – but unlike the long-suffering St Bartholomew of Ber Street, the Heigham church really was gutted in the blitz”.

THE END

Sources:
www.georgeplunkett.co.uk/Norwich/ber.htm
https://www.norwich.gov.uk/site/custom_scripts/citywalls/29/report.php
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/norwichmichaelthorn/norwichmichaelthorn.htm
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/norwichbartholomew/norwichbartholomew.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ber_Street,_Norwich

All George Plunkett images are by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.

5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment – The True Story

Steve Smith, author of ‘And They Loved Not Their Lives Unto Death: The History of Worstead and Westwick’s War Memorial and War Dead’, wrote the following article “5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment – The True Story” – it may shed some light on the fate of the Vanished Battalion.

This article is designed to tell the true story of what happened to the 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment on 12th August 1915 at Kuchuck Anafarta Ova, Gallipoli, during World War One. Supported by recent research, it dispels many of the myths attached to the battalion including ‘disappearing into a cloud of smoke‘.

5th Norfolks (Memorial Window)
A detail from a memorial window at the church at Aldburgh. Depicting the regimental badge, it commemorates the men who died in the Suvla Bay operations at Gallipoli. From the Broads Marshman collection. – To continue……..

The first myth is that the 5/Norfolk’s were called the ‘Sandringham Battalion’ but this is not correct. It is incorrect because it recruited from all over North Norfolk, with companies being raised by towns as far apart as Great Yarmouth and Dereham. In fact what was known as ‘E’ Company (The Sandringham Company) ceased to exist on February 8th 1915, when during a major reform they converted to a 4 company battalion, merging with C Company to become ‘King’s Company’.

The second myth has to be covered by considering a number of claims:

A dispatch by Sir Ian Hamilton reported, ‘But the Colonel, with sixteen officers and 250 men, still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before them. … Nothing more was ever seen or heard of any of them. They charged into the forest and were lost to sight or sound. Not one of them ever came back.’

When the 50th Anniversary of Gallipoli came around in 1965, references to the Sandringham Company, Battalion and Regiment first started to emerge when three New Zealand veterans claimed to have seen a British regiment marching up a sunken road to be swallowed up in a cloud.

This led to other theories that they had been kidnapped by aliens who had landed in flying saucers and a book and TV adaptation depicted a highly charged new solution to the mysteries, suggesting they had been executed by the Turks.

We know that a number of the Norfolk’s managed to advance 1400 yards to a sunken road before stopping and awaiting the rest of the battalion. Second Lieutenant Fawkes commanded this small group and he was ordered to press on by the C.O. Colonel Proctor-Beauchamp. Virtually all of them were taken down when they bunched up in a gap covered by a machine gun.

A small element of the Norfolk’s managed to reach a small vineyard and another element managed to get to a group of small cottages where they were joined by Colonel Proctor-Beauchamp and the Adjutant. Beauchamp was seen by Private S T Smith to say ‘Hound them out boys!’ It was the last time he was seen alive and probably the last order he ever gave.

It was here that the surviving officers managed to take stock of what had happened and Major W Barton and Lieutenant Evelyn Beck led the survivors back to friendly lines when it became dark. And the mystery was, in fact, cleared up by the press very early on.

Private C. Bullimore
Private 1432, Cecil Ernest Bullimore, killed in action on 12th August 1915

The local papers initially reported the loss of 5th Norfolk officers on 28th August 1915 and accounts from men who were there were published soon after, especially in the Yarmouth Mercury and the Lynn News. One article dated 27th August 1915 noted:

‘It is with the deepest regret that we publish the list of missing officers of the 5th (Territorial) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. At the time of going to press, no further information is available than the bare fact that they are missing.’

Hamilton’s dispatch did not appear until 6th January 1916 and on 7th January 1916 the Eastern Daily Press reported, ‘SANDRINGHAM MEN DISAPPEAR.’ The article went on to state that 16 officers and 250 men pushed deep into enemy lines and ‘…were lost from sight and sound. None of them ever came back.’ This directly quoted Hamilton’s after action report.

But on 15th February 1916 the Lynn News reported that one officer was now recovering from wounds in a hospital as a prisoner of the Turks in Constantinople and noted:

‘This news of Capt. Coxon will come as a relief to not only his friends but also to those who are still awaiting news of other officers and men of the 5th Norfolks. It is obvious that an officer in hospital would have greater opportunities for writing home to his friends than others who were not wounded but are prisoners of war.

Captain Coxon

And there is this excellent article printed in the Lynn News from a survivor:

‘I did not see anything of the missing officers after I got lost. I heard the Colonel call out when we approached the huts I have referred to, but I did not see him then. I did not hear him again afterwards. During the attack I did not see anything of Capt Pattrick. I did not see any wood into which the officers and men could have disappeared, and I certainly did not see them charge into a wood: in fact the Norfolks did not charge as far as my knowledge goes. I know absolutely nothing about how the officers and men disappeared. At first, like others, I thought that the officers and men who are now reported missing had returned to other trenches but later I found that this was not the case. I inquired a lot about them but all I could find out was that they had disappeared-vanished. We could only come to the conclusion that they had advanced too far, had been captured and made prisoners of war. We knew that some of the men had been killed and others been wounded, so it did not seem at all unlikely that these others had been captured by the enemy. I heard no news about the 5th Norfolks charging into a wood until I came home.’

Private Sidney Pooley 1/5th Norfolk Regiment.

As with countless engagements in World War One, the bodies of the men who fell that day did not have the luxury of a burial detail. In fact, they lay where they fell until 1919 when the battalion’s Chaplin the Reverend Pierrepoint Edwards found them and reported at the time:

‘We have found the 5th Norfolks – there were 180 in all; 122 Norfolk and a few Hants and Suffolks with 2/4th Cheshires. We could only identify two – Privates Barnaby and Carter. They were scattered over an area of about one square mile, at a distance of at least 800 yards behind the Turkish front line. Many of them had evidently been killed in a farm, as a local Turk, who owns the place, told us that when he came back he found the farm covered with the decomposing bodies of British soldiers, which he threw into a small ravine. The whole thing quite bears out the original theory that they did not go very far on, but got mopped up one by one, all except the ones who got into the farm.’

And the actual casualty list, recorded between 12th and 31st August 1915, is 11 Officers and 151 Other Ranks killed. This total comes from a database called ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’.

Supported by recent research, this article may perhaps help to clarify what actually happened to the 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment and acknowledges their bravery and tenacity in the face of an extremely determined enemy.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/5th-Battalion-Norfolk-Regiment-The-True-Story/
https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/08/01/the-5th-norfolk-battalion-vanished-without-a-trace-during-the-gallipoli-campaign-in-world-war-i/

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William In The Wood.

There is today, overlooking Norwich, a gem of a place which is free of urbanisation – although it is completely surrounded by roads, traffic, concrete and bricks. It is an area where there is freedom for trees, bracken, brambles, grass and weeds to grow, freedom for feet to ramble and for dogs to do what they normally do when let off the lead. This place once formed part of a much greater expanse of heathland that extended from the north-eastern bank of the River Wensum at Norwich, towards the villages of Salhouse and Rackheath way out into the County. It was once a large area maintained by grazing, but without such husbandry the trees grew tall and thick to produce woodland, now much frequented by walkers. Today, this area covers a mere 200 acres but is much appreciated by Norwich people as a welcome piece of open space. It is an island of green, known today as Mousehold Heath but in far off days there was a section of it that was called Thorpe Wood.

St William (Mousehold)
A scene on Mousehold Heath; here formerly known as Thorpe Wood. Image: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Within it, Long Valley makes one feel that Norwich is far away and that the only exciting thing that would happen below the deciduous canopy of Mousehold is for Robert Kett to emerge with the city’s authorities in hot pursuit. The wood’s deciduous canopy also does more than cushion objects of our imagination, it muffles the noise of vehicles on those roads that run circles around the area, including that odd little field or two set amongst the trees. It is a wood veined with sand and flint edged pathways that have been cut through ridges by centuries of feet; nice pathways, many of them through birches growing in shallow areas either side. Pick the right one, but avoiding bramble, rough undergrowth, burrs and ticks and you will find the site of a largely forgotten chapel; here the mind can get lost in time for that place is where the ‘St William’s Chapel in the Wood’ once stood.

St William (Site)1
Site of St. William’s Chapel in the  Wood. Image: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

The Chapel site covers just a small area, towards the edge of present-day Mousehold Heath – a short distance to the south-west of the junction of Gurney Road and Heartsease Lane. It was originally dedicated to St Catherine de Monte, way back in those far off days following the Norman Conquest; at that time, it served as a parochial chapel for the Norwich Cathedral Priory. Later, in fact on the 27 April 1168, it was re-dedicated to honour a new ‘martyr’ on the block – the boy William. Fast forward to some 380 years later and we find that this chapel was amongst those religious establishments dissolved by Henry VIII; and whilst the exact date of its demise is unknown, the last offering was recorded in 1506, and by 1556 the site had been leased out by the Dean as ‘The Chapel-Yard called St William in the Wood’. But that piece of information is something of a distraction for we need to retrace our steps back to March 1144. In that month, a despicable act was said to have taken place at, or near, the site of the chapel – It was Easter and not the best time for a murder – or a place to dump a body!

Church Site 002
A ‘bird’s eye view’ of most of Mousehold Heath, showing the approximate position of the St William’s Chapel site. Illustration: Haydn Brown

Get the detail right and the place will be a stark reminder of a disturbing and unpleasant moment that, they say, took place here. But take care; the way history works is not to run through the past in straight lines. As with many stories, and particularly with historical accounts, it is best to visualise them as being twisted flights, criss-crossing through time and place on a journey which runs the risk of turning the past into a ‘foreign country’ – where that which is written is far from factual – and the  truth. The St William’s Chapel story may well fit into this category and, as with other historical stories, it doesn’t have one starting point. What we know or think we know about this story, is that parts of it are probably inaccurate, simply twisted by whatever thought or political/religious agenda was in place when the scribes pen was at work. Here we have Thomas of Monmouth to thank!

It is probably a safe thing to say that most people in Norwich are vaguely aware of William of Norwich, helped no doubt by a report in 2004 about 17 skeleton bodies which were found in a medieval well in Norwich, during the development of the Chapelfield Shopping Centre (see Footnote below). That report was clearly written for readers who like Time-Team programmes with their trowel and forensic archaeology. However, these sorts of people may not be aware of all the detail which, in William’s case, seems to suggest to some that he was a victim of a ritualised murder. Further, he was only a young lad of about 12 years of age who was an apprentice skinner and tanner, the first recorded apprentice in English history so they say. We are told that he died somewhere in Norwich on or around 22nd of March 1144 and it was on the 25th March that his body was found, mutilated on the heath close to, if not on the spot where the Chapel stood. Clearly, if he had been murdered elsewhere then his body would probably have been carried to the heath by horse to be disposed of.

Nobody truly knows who did the foul deed, or where, or even why; but, as ever, blame was quickly apportioned by the populace, egged on by the religious authorities and William’s family. Their collective finger pointed directly at the Jews of Norwich who, by the way, were protected by the Sheriff in the King’s name. Now, this is where politics vie with the powers of the church for front row seats, not forgetting that in the 12th century the King was Stephen. He not only had the church to deal with but also his cousin Matilda; they were both grandchildren of William the Conqueror and amongst all the others competing for a dominant position in ‘The Anarchy’ – which, basically, was a rather nasty tribal squabble about who controls England – not forgetting Normandy of course. Add to this the question of the Jews who started to come over in 1066, who had French as their mother language – and settled in Norwich. Big trouble was afoot!

Brother Thomas and his Version of Events:
Enter Thomas of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk who resided in the cathedral priory in Norwich, having been “respectably educated” before he first arrived in Norwich around the year 1150. It would appear that very shortly after his arrival in the city Brother Thomas, (we’ll call him that from now on), began his long-winded investigating into the so-called ‘murder’ of the boy William. He began by taking notes in preparation for a narrative about William, and a plea for the boy’s martyrdom that he finally completed more than twenty years later, titled “The Life and Passion of Saint William of Norwich”. This account ended up as a multi-volume series with the final Volume 7 being completed around 1173. The first two volumes details William’s life and sufferings, with the remaining five volumes recounting the miracles the proposed saint was said to have performed after his death. According to E.M. Rose, in his book ‘The Murder of William of Norwich’ “Brother Thomas maintained that William was worthy of veneration and claimed him as an important patron for Norwich Cathedral”. but his claim was based on a writing that was nothing more than a treatise that was “an imaginative, emotional appeal rather than a presentation of forensic evidence”. It is thought that the original manuscript no longer survives, but a unique single contemporary copy resides in the Cambridge University Library.

Life of William 002
An example of a page from the sole surviving text of ‘The Life and Passion of St William of Norwich’ by Thomas of Monmouth which appears in a 12th-century manuscript held by Cambridge University Library, Ref: Add MS 3037, f. 1 – 771.

In his quest, Brother Thomas claims to have set about interviewing as many of the surviving ‘witnesses’ as possible. These included people who he had already identified as being “converted Jews”; they, he would claim, provided him with inside information about events within the Jewish community. According to Brother Thomas, one particular ‘convert’, called Theobald of Cambridge, told him that there was a written prophecy which stated that the Jews would regain control of Israel if they sacrificed a Christian child each year. Every year, Jewish leaders met in Narbonne to decide who would be asked to perform the sacrifice; in 1144, the Jews of Norwich were assigned that task.

Since most information about William’s life and the resulting murder inquiry comes from Brother Thomas, it is difficult to distinguish the facts of the case from the story of martyrdom created around it by Thomas. It was he who devoted himself to the promotion of William to sainthood; even his opening sentence of Volume 1 reflects that both he, and presumably some of his contemporaries, believed that William’s death was preordained:

“The mercy of the divine goodness desiring to display itself to the parts about Norwich, or rather to the whole of England, and to give it in these new times a patron, granted that a boy should be conceived in his mother’s womb without her knowing that he was to be numbered among the illustrious martyrs”.

Was Brother Thomas proud that his adopted city of Norwich should be blessed with a suitable candidate for sainthood, despite the apparent horrible circumstances surrounding the young boy’s death? That’s how it may have been, but Thomas’s final narrative went on to build a case for William’s holiness based on the collected evidence, and arguing that he had been martyred by the Jews in a ‘ritual’ murder.

St William (Loddon Screen)1
Holy Trinity church, Loddon: One of the rood screen panels, depicting a rosary sequence from the birth of the Blessed Virgin to the Presentation in the Temple, with the addition of one unrelated panel – seen here – depicting the martyrdom of a local saint, St William of Norwich, whose dead body was found in 1144 on Mousehold Heath.

As things turned out, Brother Thomas was ultimately unsuccessful in getting William of Norwich canonized as a saint; however, but did succeed, for a time at least, in creating a cult around him in Norwich. But right from the outset of his endeavours, Thomas contended that he had received visions from the founding Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga, who had died in 1119. According to Thomas, Losinga had told him in a vision that William’s body should be moved into the Chapter House of the monastery; however, Thomas had to battle with the sceptical Prior Elias, who was unconvinced of William’s sanctity. The body of William was in fact moved in the same year of Thomas’s arrival in Norwich. That year of 1150 was also the year in which Elias died, and by then the cult of William was established.

St William (Jewish-cartoon-norwich)
Jewish Cartoon, Norwich
“Every year, at Narbonne in Spain, where the Jews are held in high regard, lots are cast in order to determine the country where the sacrifice will take place. In the capital city of that country, another lot is drawn to determine the town or city, and it just so happens that at this particular time the lot has fallen on the Jews of Norwich, and all the synagogues in England have signified, by letter or message, their consent that the killing should take place here”.

Circumstances Leading up to the Murder:
Brother Thomas stated that William had been born on 2 February 1132 and that his parents, Wenstan and Elviva, were a local Anglo-Saxon couple living on the outskirts of Norwich. His father died while William was still very young and it was left to Elviva, who had learned much from her own father, a priest, to educate William. Then, when William was eight years old, he was taken to a skinner, near his home, to learn a trade. Brother Thomas says:

“In a short time, he far surpassed lads of his own age in the crafts aforesaid, and he equalled some who had been his teachers”.

In time, William moved into the city to join the workshop of a prosperous master of the skin, fur and leather trade; an important industry in Norwich, which served the demand for clothing, shoes and bed coverings. Leather was the most hard-wearing fabric available, so leather jerkings, breeches, aprons and caps were the normal wear for most manual workers. It was the custom for young unmarried employees to live with their master, often being obliged to sleep on the shop floor in order to help protect the property from break-ins and thefts. The area that William moved into was the Jewry, to the east of Norwich Castle, which suggests that both Jews and Gentiles were accustomed to working and trading alongside each other.

St William (norwich-city-walls 14C)

In his book, Norwich – The Biography, Christopher Reeve writes:

“It could be imagined that William would be well liked by his fellow workers and neighbours, and also by the customers, some of whom would have preferred to deal with him when they brought their orders in for leather goods. If it was true that William had settled in so well then what happened next was all the more shocking……. the Jewish community believed that they would never gain freedom, or be able to return to their homeland unless they made an annual sacrifice of a Christian, so as to mock Christ. Where Thomas got this idea from is not known…….[or] whether or not he himself had a prejudice against Jews. Maybe it was simple malicious gossip from those who might have envied Jewish prosperity in the city”.

Shortly before his murder, William’s mother, Elviva, was approached by a man who claimed to be a cook, working for the Archdeacon of Norwich. He offered William a job in the Archdeacon’s kitchens and paid William’s mother three shillings to let him go. This must have been a very good offer for it came with the opportunity to earn more money and better prospects than if he stayed in the skin trade. William must have been delighted but, it is said, his mother had her doubts and asked her son not to go; however, William was determined and the messenger’s words were compelling to both mother and son, sweetened by a reward of ‘three shillings’ in return for the mother’s agreement. William later visited his aunt in the company of this same man but she was apparently suspicious when she heard the news and told her own daughter to follow William and this messenger after they left. The daughter was able to report that they returned to the area when William worked and went into a house belonging to Eleazar the Jew. This was the last time William was seen alive. It was Holy Tuesday.

According to Brother Thomas, the man who claimed to be a cook had been employed by the Jews to entice William into the house where the sacrifice would occur. There, William was initially treated well, but was then bound, gagged and suspended in a cruciform position in a room where he was tortured and murdered in a manner imitating the Crucifixion of Jesus: the Jews lacerated his head with thorns and pierced his side.

“having shaved his head, they stabbed it with countless thorn points, and made the blood come horribly from the wounds they made……… some of those present judged him to be fixed to a cross in mockery of the Lord’s Passion…………”

St William (Little Hugh)
Hugh of Lincoln (1246 – 1255) was an English boy, whose death was apparently (as with William) an act of Jewish ritual murder. Hugh is known as Little Saint Hugh to distinguish him from Saint Hugh, otherwise Hugh of Lincoln. The style is often corrupted to Little Sir Hugh. The boy disappeared on 31 July, and his body was discovered in a well on 29 August.

Brother Thomas said that the body was concealed until the Good Friday and claimed further that another converted Jew told him that there was an argument over how to dispose of the body afterwards. Nevertheless, two members from amongst those who had tortured William, did place his body in a sack and take it to the best hiding place they could think of – Thorpe Woods on Mousehold Heath. Unfortunately for them, as they entered the wood they met, we are told, Erlward, a Burgess and a citizen of note, who was returning from the church of St Mary Magdalen nearby. He challenged the two men, suspicious that they were up to no good. At this, the two Jews ‘in their terror…… made off at full gallop and rushed into the thick of the wood’.

St William (Site)2
Site of St. William’s Chapel in the  Wood. Image: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Christopher Reeve again writes:

“It is said that Erlward did nothing further except continue on his way to his own home in the city. With the coast clear, the two Jews returned and simply hung the sack holding William’s body on a tree and galloped home, still in panic. Aware that there was now a witness to the disposal of the body, the Jewish leaders decided that they needed to obtain the protection of the City Sheriff, John de Caineto, who as the King’s representative, was obliged to act on the Jew’s behalf for they were his source of ready money. In return for a willing bribe offered by the Jews, de Caineto instructed Aelward not to divulge anything he might have seen in Thorpe Wood”.

Unfortunately, in that March of 1144 at least three persons had already discovered William’s mutilated body; one, a peasant, plus two prominent citizens – Lady Legarda and Henry de Sprowston, a forester and keeper of the Bishop’s stables. It seems that Lady Legarda, a Norman aristocratic nun, was the first to come across the cadaver, tangled as it was in the undergrowth and quite near a thoroughfare in Thorpe Woods. We are told that she took no responsibility in informing the authorities, as was required; instead, she quietly said prayers over the corpse before retreating to her convent. Later that day, the peasant also ignored the body, despite being well aware of his responsibility to report the find to the powers-to-be.  Then, on 25 March 1144, Holy Saturday, Henry de Sprowston was riding through the woods in the course of his duties as guardian of all that was owned there by his ecclesiastical employers, the Norwich bishop and monks. Possibly to deflect attention from his own illicit activities, the same peasant [apparently] led Henry de Sprowston to the cadaver, but neither person recognised it as anyone they knew; what was clear however was that it was a young boy. The forester, because of his standing, instigated an inquiry into the death and while nothing came out of his investigation, the boy was identified as that of William, the apprentice leatherworker and son of Wenstan and Elviva.

St William (Eye c1500)
Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, Eye, Suffolk: A 15th Century ‘rood screen’ painting of St William – complete with his” martyrs marks “and carrying a cross.

It was noted at the time that William’s injuries suggested a violent death and that the boy appeared to have been gagged with a wooden ‘teasel’ and was wearing just a jacket and shoes. Maybe they speculated that this had been a sexual assault? After consultation with the local priest, it was decided to bury the body two days hence, on Easter Monday; the position of the grave would be where the body was found. In the meantime, some curious folk came to look at the body, a few recognising William. Then, the following day, being Easter Sunday, William’s uncle, brother and cousin arrived to confirm the identity of the dead youth before he was buried, but with proper but minimal ceremony and no elaborate marker. That was on Easter Monday.

Information about William and the resulting homicide inquiry comes only from Brother Thomas’s account which claimed to have pieced together what actually happened during that fateful Holy Week of 1144. Thomas seems to have set out to prove that William had been killed for his faith and therefore deserved to be ordained as a saint. He devoted most of his book not to the crime, but to the evidence for William’s sanctity, including mysterious lights seen around the body itself and miraculous cures affected on local devotees. Thomas admits that some of the clergy, notably the Prior Elias, were opposed to the cult on the grounds that there was little evidence of William’s piety or martyrdom. However, Thomas actively promoted the claims by providing evidence of visions of William and miracles.

As for the Christians of Norwich, they quickly blamed local Jews for the crime, then demanded justice from the local ecclesiastical court. Members of the Jewish community were asked to attend the court and submit to a trial by ordeal, but the local sheriff, John de Chesney, advised them that the ecclesiastical court had no jurisdiction over them, as they were not Christians. He then took the Jews into protection in the castle. After the situation had calmed down, they returned to their homes. In the meantime, William’s body had been moved to the monks’ cemetery. Later, it would be moved to progressively more prestigious places in the Cathedral, being placed in the Chapterhouse in 1150 and close to the High Altar in 1151.

St William (With St Adatha)
Depicting St Agatha holding Pincers and a Breast and St William of Norwich with nails in his head. This Panel is from a rood screen originally in the Chapel of St Mary in St John’s Church, Maddermarket, Norwich. It was commissioned by Ralph Segrym, – later Mayor of Norwich and who is buried beneath the nave of the Church. It was painted in Norwich by an unidentified artist in 1450. The screen was removed (date unknown) and is now believed to reside in the V & A museum London.

As part of this promotion, images of William, as a martyr, were created for some churches, generally in the vicinity of Norwich. The above image shows a panel of painted oak, depicting both William and Agatha of Sicily, and is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; William is shown holding a hammer and with three nails in his head. The panel was formerly part of a rood screen at the Norwich Church of St John Maddermarket. The screen was commissioned by Ralph Segrym who died in 1472, a merchant who became a Member of Parliament and Mayor of Norwich. Another rood screen in St Mary’s church, Worstead also depicts him holding nails. One in Loddon depicts William being crucified.

As it was, William’s death was never satisfactorily solved and the local authorities would therefore not convict anyone – simply because there was no proof. There the matter apparently rested, that is until a Brother Thomas came along, some six years later, and got caught up in the clergy’s idea of establishing a cult around the death of William with a motive which must have been partly pecuniary. It was William de Turbeville, Bishop of Norwich between 1146 and 174 who encouraged Brother Thomas to write his book as a precursor to the church achieving its aim. It turned out to be an extensive hagiography work; Volume 7 being completed in 1173. Clearly, it was designed to deify the boy and to blame the Norwich Jews for what became Britain’s first ‘Blood Libel’ – the idea that Jews use the blood of the murdered, usually Christian, children in Passover rituals to make bread – no more need be said!

The Aftermath:
As a result of the feelings generated by the William ritual murder story and subsequent intervention by the authorities on behalf of the accused, the growing suspicion of collusion between the ruling class and Jews fuelled the general anti-Jewish and anti-King Stephen mood of the population. After Brother Thomas’s version of William’s death circulated a number of other unsolved child murders were attributed to Jewish conspiracies: – This evolved into the so-called Blood Libel.

St William (Harold-of-Gloucester)
Harold is one of a small group of 12th century English Saints of strikingly similar characteristics: they were all young boys, all mysteriously found dead and all hailed as martyrs to alleged anti-Christian practices among Jews. Contemporary assumptions made about the circumstances of their deaths evolved into the blood libel.
St William (Robert_of_Bury)
15th century illumination depicting the martyrdom of St. Robert of Bury. Top left, a woman seems to be placing Robert’s body in a well; top right, it is lying next to a tree with an archer standing by. The precise meaning of these scenes is unknown. At bottom, a monk prays to Robert’s soul.

The horrific death of William of Norwich at the hands of an unknown became an appalling beginning for future propaganda exercises in many other parts of Britain and across Europe which used murdered children by unknowns, some of whom, as with William, became the subject of veneration. Proof of William’s veneration can be found in Norwich Cathedral, in a small chapel less than a stone’s throw from the choir stalls. It’s not an exciting place, wood lined and with a few chairs; seemingly out of place within the Cathedral’s splendour but comfortably near the tombs of old bishops. As someone said elsewhere, this is where the story starts to get really nasty. William is said to be buried here, after being moved several times in the church’s attempt to get William away from Thorpe Wood and nearer the high alter. The answer is all very simple; saints bring pilgrims and pilgrims bring money!

According to E. M. Rose in his book ‘The Murder of William of Norwich’:

“William of Norwich, in particular, has received a considerable amount of attention, ever since the full text of his story was discovered in a Suffolk parish library at the end of the 19th– century by the antiquarian M. R. James, who edited and published an influential translation with Augustus Jessopp, an honorary canon of Norwich Cathedral. Brother Thomas’s ‘Life and Passion has now been re-translated for a modern readership, including passages that the fastidious Victorian translators passed over.”

FOOTNOTE:
In 2004, the remains of 17 bodies were found at the bottom of a medieval well in Norwich. They were discovered during an excavation of a site in the City’s centre, ahead of the construction of Chapelfield Shopping Centre.
According to the scientists, carrying out the investigation, the skeletons dated back to the 12th or 13th Centuries, at a time when Jewish people were facing persecution in Norwich and, indeed, throughout Europe. In their opinion, the most likely explanation for them being down the well were that they were Jewish and probably murdered or forced to commit suicide. Pictures taken at the time of excavation suggested the bodies were thrown down the well together, head first.

St William (Bones)

Using a combination of DNA analysis, carbon dating and bone chemical studies in their investigation, the team established that eleven of the 17 skeletons were those of children aged between 2 and 15; the remaining six were adult men and women. Out of the total found, seven skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single Jewish family.

A close examination of the adult bones showed fractures caused by the impact of hitting the bottom of the well. But the same damage was not seen on the children’s bones, suggesting they were thrown in after the adults who cushioned the fall of their bodies.

The team had considered the possibility of death by disease but the bone examination also showed no evidence of diseases.

St William (Reburial of bones)1
Seventeen suspected victims of religious persecution, found at the bottom of a Norwich well were buried an estimated 800 years after their deaths in a service in the Jewish Cemetery in Earlham Cemetery, Norwich. Minister Alex Bennett adds soil to the grave. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Medieval Jewish History:

1066: The Norman Conquest opens the way to Jewish immigration. The monarchy needs to borrow money and Christians are forbidden to lend money at interest. London, Lincoln and York become centres for substantial Jewish populations.

1100s: Resentment against the Jewish community grows over their perceived wealth and belief they killed Jesus. The “blood libels” – Jews are accused of the ritual murder of Christian children.

1190: Many Jewish people massacred in York. In Norwich they flee to the city’s castle for refuge. Those who stay in their homes are butchered.

1230s: Executions in Norwich after an allegation a Christian child was kidnapped.

1272: Edward I comes to the throne and enforces extra taxes on the Jewish community.

1290: Edward I expels the Jews en masse after devising a new form of royal financing using Christian knights to fill the coffers.

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_of_Norwich
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Life_and_Miracles_of_St._William_of_Norwich
http://www.historyinanhour.com/2010/11/25/blood-libel-and-the-murder-of-william-of-norwich/
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~pardos/ArchiveWilliam.html
Reeve, Christopher, Norwich – The Biography, Amberley Publishing, 2014.
Rose, E. M., The Murder of William of Norwich, Oxford University Press, 2015.

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.

Norwich’s Young Hero!

Had World War Two not happened then we may never have heard of him. But it did happen and for a short while his name hit the headlines thanks to the investigative skills of the local newspapers. The local press built a story on the unselfish nature, courage and deeds of this lad and the award that he sunsequently received from a King.

John Grix (St Marks)
St Mark’s Senior Boys School on Hall Road in Lakenham, Norwich

The lad’s name was John Grix, was born in 1927 and living with his parents at 79 City Road, Norwich at the time of the conflict. As an aside, his grandfather was William Grix who once ran a restaurant in the city. John was one of five children and when of age attended St Mark’s Senior Boys School on Hall Road in Lakenham. This was a 19th century-built school, erected in 1897 at a cost of £3,000; its main benefactor and instigator at the time was the Vicar of St Marks, the Reverend Prior Whalley. The Reverend was said to have contributed £1,000 of his own money to the building fund and also provided the entire cost of the school furnishings, estimated to have been £130. He apparently died a poor man but helped establish a school where the ethos prepared many of its pupils who later went on to fight in the First World War of 1914-18; plaques dedicated to some of them in the local church bear witness. Amongst those heroes, and with his own memorial in the city centre, was a Sidney Day who won the Victorious Cross.

John Grix3
Soldiers lend a hand to the N. F. S. in the biggest of the many fires they had to fight in the Norwich blitz. Here is shown Debenhams shopping centre on 28 April 1942. Photo from Archant Library

From St Mark’s, John Grix moved on to the Technical School, whilst also a chorister at St Peter Mancroft Church and a scout leader attached to that church. Additionally, he applied to join the Civil Defence Messenger Service (SDMS), operational because of the War. John’s application in this respect may well have come about because, during World War II, Boy Scouts in Britain were called upon to serve as volunteers in civil defence. It was believed at the time that Scouts, due to their training and qualifications, would be ideal, stressing that during an emergency, means of communications could be disrupted and that written messages might be the only means of communication.

John Grix5
Oak Street bomb damage. April 27, 1942. Photo from Archant Library.

It has been said that the boys in the Civil Defence Messenger Service never received the credit that they undoubtedly deserved, at a time when they risked their young lives, racing across the city and suburbs on their cycles, past burning buildings and falling masonry to deliver vital messages. These riders had to operate with two-wheeled machines which often had to function with flat tyres, caused by strewn glass and debris; as bombs rained down, such riders were regularly thrown off. Those on the front line, such as the firemen and police officers who fought to put the fires and control the civil population, often relied and acted upon the vital information which was delivered to them by the members of the messenger service.

John Grix2
Bonds Store, now John Lewis, from Ber Street. June 28, 1942. Photo from Archant Library.

Then there was the feeling that no-one would ever know the exact number of lives the CDMS helped save during the Baedeker raids of April 1942, but it was established that more than 200 men, women and children died over two nights in that April and that many more lost their homes. As the movement grew, women also played their part, motor-cycles arrived and its headquarters were relocated at Chapel Field East. In total, there was said to be around 200 boys and 30 girls who were members of the Civil Defence Messenger Service in Norwich. It was an organisation where officialdom had decreed that the lads so employed must be aged between 16 and 18; but, for the quiet and modest John Grix, clearly keen to join and ‘do his bit’, he quickly invented another birthday which placed him in the 16-year-old bracket – he was readily accepted!

John Grix6
Civil Defence Messenger Service, Angel Road School, Norwich. Date: 1943. Picture: unknown source but supplied to Archant.

Pamela Brooks wrote in her book ‘Heroes, Villains and Victims of Norwich’ about John Grix:

“His actions in Norwich during the Blitz were incredibly brave, particularly as he had fibbed about his age so that he could become a member of the Civil Defence; he was only 15 at the time. As a member, as the air-raid sirens sounded and people took cover, Grix rode off on his bicycle to the report centre to await orders. He took messages to the firemen, even though the incendiary bombs were falling around him. On one occasion he was passing a factory when acid was sprayed from the windows and burned his hands; he didn’t tell anyone he was hurt and continued taking messages instead. And, he didn’t stop when the air raid was over; he helped rescuers among the ruins. He slept overnight at the report centre and was out again on the second night of the raid – he kept taking messages, even though he was blown off his bike five times.”

 

John Grix1
King George VI talking to young award-winning Norwich hero John Grix (centre): “I understand you are only 15.” Photo: Archant Library

Whether one should believe that it was the local newspaper which told John Grix that he was in line to receive an award, or whether it was by way of a formal letter telling him that he was going to received the British Empire Medal (BEM), is not important. What was important was the fact that by being told by the Regional Commissioner, Will Spens, that he, John Grix, had acted ‘with courage and determination’ the way was being cleared for King George VI, during his surprise visit to Norwich in October 1942 when he referred to the feeling that ‘all these messengers should be remembered and applauded’. In particular, he spoke to John Grix and added his own congratulations, plus the comment “I understand you are only 15”. The wool had not been pulled over the eyes of the authorities!

John Grix7

 

John Grix could not serve his country in the armed services for several reasons, they included his true age, the injuries he received while serving in the CDMS, plus the unfortunate circumstances of losing one of his lungs. Instead, he went on to work at Laurence Scott & Electromotors for most of his remaining life, interrupted only by a period when he and his brother ran the Lings hardware shop in White Lion Street of the city. He married, and with his wife had two sons, Stephen and Ian. John Grix died in 1990 at the age of just 63 years.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.edp24.co.uk/features/15-year-old-norwich-boy-john-grix-awarded-the-british-empire-medal-after-ww2-1-4990026
https://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/views/remembering-norwich-s-blitz-kids-1-5120407

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.

Admirals of our Norfolk Coast!

To understand what the title and this particular blog is all about, it is best to first explain the title and responsibilities of an ‘Admiral’ – before going on to write about two archaic posts which were held by distinguished persons responsible for our Norfolk coastline:

Meanings Behind the use of ‘Admiral’:
The title ‘Admiral’, as most people understand it today is quite different to the original name. Today, it refers to the title and rank of a senior naval officer, often referred to as a flag officer, who commands a fleet or group of ships of a navy or who holds an important naval post on shore. The term is sometimes also applied to the commander of a fleet of merchant vessels or fishing ships.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the title of Admiral has an ancient lineage. It apparently originated before the 12th century with Muslim Arabs, who combined amīr (“commander”), the article al, and baḥr (“sea”) to make amīr al-baḥr. Shortened to amiral, the title was adopted for naval use by the Sicilians. The French copied the word from the Genoese during the Seventh Crusade of 1248 to 1254. The Latin word admirabilis (“admirable”) may have contributed to the designation Admiral for the commander of the Cinque Ports in England before the end of the 13th century.

Admirals (Ship)
A ship of the 16th century. Photo: Pinterest.

Henry VIII is known as the father of the English navy and from the Tudor period, England produced many eminent naval officers. By 1620 the word Admiral was used in England to denote a commander at sea. In that year the fleet was formed into three squadrons with the admiral commanding the centre squadron, his ships flying red ensigns. The vice admiral in the van squadron flew white ensigns, and the rear admiral flew blue ensigns in his squadron. The British navy became the Royal Navy after the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.

The ’Lord High Admiral of the Wash’:
This position is an ancient hereditary office within the English navy goes back to medieval times when the title holder was a nobleman with responsibility for defending and protecting the entire coastal area of the Wash in Norfolk. The post was first granted to the Le Strange family (still associated today with Old Hunstanton) in the 13th century. However, in the 16th century and reign of Henry VIII, the post became obsolete when protection and defence duties around the area were taken over by the Royal Navy. Apparently, at that time, nobody thought of formally abolishing the post so even today, it still remains in title a hereditary dignity – but with absolutely no responsibilities nor privileges of any kind what so ever!

Admirals (henry_styleman_le_strange)
Henry Styleman Le Strange. Photo: Wikipedia.

When Henry Styleman Le Strange died in 1862 he was already Lord of the manor of Hunstanton – and other Manors, but also held the wonderful title of Hereditary Lord High Admiral of the Wash. But in more official times, this title had also allowed its holder the right to claim possession of anything out to sea for the distance a man on horseback could throw a spear from the High-Water mark!

Admirals1
The Admiral Surveys his Norfolk coast! Photo: Christopher Weston.

The Lord High Admiral of the Wash no longer resides at Hunstanton Hall. Nor does he control all shipping and smuggling around the Wash, as the Le Strange family had originally been commanded to do all those centuries earlier. The current Admiral inherited the title from his mother, yet still lives in Hunstanton. Technically, he still owns all the land between the High Tide mark and the distance he can throw a spear.

The ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’:
Again, during Henry Vlll’s reign in the 16th century, ‘vice-admiralties of the coast’ posts were established in each of the twenty maritime counties of England, the North and South of Wales, and the four provinces of Ireland. Hence, each jobholder became formally a ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’ within the county or area for which they had been appointed and while holding office, were required to act as deputies of the Lord High Admiral. This, the highest post, was always held by a nobleman who was not a seaman and did not command at sea except on rare occasions; the position was as head of departments that administered naval affairs and included responsible for providing ships for war which, through the duty usually brought large fees to the holder – he, by the way, also had jurisdiction in certain legal cases. The current title holder of Lord High Admiral is Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. As for the lower “Vice-Admiral”, he was responsible for naval administration in his County; this included deciding the lawfulness of prizes captured by privateers, dealing with salvage claims for wrecks, acting as a judge and implementing the role of the Impress Service (relating to men forced into military service by Press Gangs).

The earliest recorded appointment to the post was in 1536, when William Gonson (1482-1544) became Vice Admiral of the combined Norfolk & Suffolk coastal areas. Gonson was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire in England he was the son of Christopher Gonson and Elizabeth (nee: Trussell). He married Bennett Walters and together they had six sons and four daughters. (One of his sons, Benjamin Gonson, would go on to hold a career in the English navy and also became Treasurer of the Navy). William Gonson eventually fell from grace and committed suicide in 1544 leaving the navy disorganized in the region. It took two years for Henry VIII to reorganize control and develop what became later known as ‘The Navy Board’. William Gonson was probably, along with William of Wrotham, and Sir Robert de Crull of the 13th and 14th centuries, one of the three most important administrators of naval affairs of the English Navy prior to 1546.

Admirals (John Wodehouse)
On of the last recorded Vice Admirals of the Coast in Norfolk,  John Wodehouse (1771-1846), painted by Thomas Phillips (1770–1845)
Norwich Civic Portrait Collection, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

From around 1560, the ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’ acquired a more public profile than previously and in the second half of the 16th century, increasingly received orders from the Privy Council.  In 1561, instructions were given by the Crown but in 1660, their functions were controlled by the Admiralty Board. The last recorded Vice Admiral of the Coast in Norfolk, was the 2nd Baron Wodehouse, John Wodehouse (1771-1846), who was also Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk between 1821 and 1846. Soon after this, records indicate the office and its requirements as described above, became extinct.

THE END

Sources:
Christopher Weston, Norfolk Archives.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/admiral
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_High_Admiral_of_the_Wash
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vice-admirals_of_the_coast

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.

Mary Elizabeth Mann: A Norfolk Writer.

According to DJ Taylor in ‘Simple Tales of Country Folk’, published in The Independent as far back as 7 October 2000, Mary Elizabeth Mann’s writings “can be as brutal as Hardy, and as sharply satirical as Thackeray”. To illustrate her point, she states that there were not many grimmer stories in Victorian literature than , a book set in a Norfolk village in the 1890s and no more than five pages in length’. This story describes the visit of a well-meaning spinster to a philoprogenitive farm labourer’s wife who has just given birth to a stillborn thirteenth child. After commiserating with the mother, her visitor asks if she can see the corpse. This turns out to have vanished from the cradle. Venturing downstairs, the woman finds Mrs Hodd’s brood of children playing with what, at first sight, looks like a rather battered doll. This in itself would probably be enough to send shivers down the average 21st century spine. But what gives the story an even sharper tug, perhaps, is the dreadful laconicism of the final paragraph. Mrs Hodd, mildly rebuked for allowing this desecration, is unmoved:

“Other folkes’ child’en have a toy, now and then, to kape ’em out o’mischief. My little uns han’t,” she says. “He’ve kep’ ’em quite [quiet] for hours, the po’r baby have; and I’ll lay a crown they han’t done no harm to their little brother.”

Who, you might wonder, was responsible for this ghastly description from a bleak rural world where there was no child allowances and decent sanitation? Thomas Hardy? George Moore? – No! In fact, the author of ‘Little Brother’ turns out to be an obscure farmer’s wife named Mary Elizabeth Mann, an elusive person to say the least, who lived in Norfolk.

Mary Mann2
Mary Elizabeth Mann

All that is really known of Mary Mann (nee’ Rackman) is that she was born in Norwich in 1846, the daughter of a local merchant named William Simon Rackham. In 1871, at the age of 23, she married Fairman Joseph Mann, a substantial yeoman farmer whose land lay around the village of Shropham in Norfolk; a village laying near to Attleborough on the edge of the Breckland and not far from the Gallows Hill interchange with the modern A11, but with the water meadows of the young River Thet keeping today’s world at arm’s length.

Mary Mann (Church_Simon_Knott)
St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Shropham where Mary E. Mann is buried. Photo: Simon Knott.

Mary and Fairman Mann lived first at Church Farm in Shropham, Norfolk and after a few years moved to Shropham Hall [Manor], also in Shropham. The manor had been the Mann family home for several previous generations. Sometimes unoccupied and frequently let, the Manor became the home of Fairman and Mary Mann. They must have been, in practice, like a Squire and his wife in many an East Anglian tale. Fairman, as the owner and lessee of nearly 800 acres, was a significant local figure – churchwarden, parish guardian, secretary and treasurer of the board of school managers and guardian and overseer of the poor. Mary, as well as looking after their four children of one son and three daughters, was expected to support her husband by also devoting herself to the life and wants of the parish; to visit the workhouse and care for the poor. This transition of hers after marriage, from town to country, affected her greatly and was to prove hugely influential in her future writing; for that’s what she became – an author.

Mary Mann (Shropham Manor)
Shropham Hall today.

Mary Mann took up writing in the 1880s with the guidance of an in-law relative named Thomas Fairman Ordish and her first novel, ‘The Parish of Hilby’ (1883) began a career that was to last some 35 years. During this time, she produced over 40 works, all of which focused on the experiences of Norfolk yeoman farmers during the late 19th century’s agricultural and economic upheaval. Shropham (rechristened “Dulditch” in her writings) was to be the bedrock of Mann’s career. Her books were generally set in the few square miles around her village of Shropham; the books’ themes would usually be that of the yeoman farmer who both owned and rented land and, as such, was badly affected by the agricultural downturn. Fairman Mann himself was a casualty, and Mary’s writing hobby was soon to become an important part of the family’s income – at a time when the condition of the Norfolk working class was at its worst for half a century:

“…. a squalid vista of roofless cottages and families sleeping 10 to a bed, where the death of a baby in childbirth was looked on as an act of divine mercy.”

Mary Mann7

Unsparing of middle-class pretensions, Mary combined a satirical turn with a profound sympathy for the distressed rural poor: ‘The Patten Experiment‘ (1899), for example, one of her best novels, covers the efforts of a clergyman and his family to live on the 11 shillings a week that was the standard 1890s farmworker’s wage. Both that book and ‘The Parish Nurse’ (1903) were well received by contemporary critics, but her claim to lasting literary attention rests on the “Dulditch” stories.

It is her first-hand observations of Shropham’s community, enmeshed in the agricultural depression of the 1880’s, that gave her best work its quality. Anyone today reading her stories could not doubt that Mary Mann, at some point in her life, had seen a baby’s corpse sprawled somewhere in a labourer’s cottage, or watched “Wolf-Charlie” at work breaking stones by the roadside; he the protagonist of one of her best pieces:

“He is called Wolf-Charlie, I suppose, by reason of the famished look in his melancholy eyes, of the way in which the skin of his lips, drawn tightly over his gums, exposes his great yellow teeth; by reason of the leanness of his flanks, the shaggy, unkempt hair about his head and face, the half fierce, half frightened expression”

Mary Mann3
Mary E. Mann sometime around the turn of the 19th century.

Mary Mann was once one of the most popular English Novelists. Her books were frequently re-printed, several appeared in various popular series and 18 were listed in the standard bibliography “A Guide to the Best Fiction” in 1920. But because of the general reaction against things Victorian and Edwardian at the time, her reputation suffered and her books became neglected.

Again, according to DJ Taylor in her article of 2000:

“What separates [Mary Mann’s] work from that of Hardy is its absolute matter-of-factness. “Elly” in Ben Pitcher’s Elly, who murders her illegitimate child, is not a sacrificial lamb picked out of the flock by some malign instrument of destiny: Mann lets her stay ordinary, and as a result the portrait has an awful, glamour-free conviction. Her psychological touch, too, can be extraordinarily deft. Dora o’ the Ringolets features a flaxen-headed peasant girl whose chief anxiety is that her mother’s impending death will leave no one to arrange the hair that distinguishes her from her lumpish class-mates and monkey-faced brother. When Mrs Green dies, her husband blows some of the burial club money on the luxury of a tin of salmon (“Happen she’d been alive, she’d maybe ha’ picked a mossel,” he reasons). Proceeding upstairs he finds his wife’s body covered by a mass of shorn-off curls and a crop-haired child sprawled across her breast. The father takes time to recognise his daughter. “I thought yu was the boy Jim,” he mutters.

The best of the “Dulditch” tales, though, are unlike anything else in Victorian literature – hard-eyed, sympathetic, direct, unyielding. Some enterprising publisher ought now to take it into his head to reissue a proper collection of the work of this writer who, at the very least, can certainly be marked down as Thomas Hardy’s East Anglian cousin.”

After her husband’s death in 1913, Mary Mann moved to Sheringham where, in 1929, she died aged 80. Her grave is in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, Shropham and bears the epitaph:

“We bring our years
To an end
As it were a tale
That is told”

Mary Mann1
The grave of Mary Mann at Shropham, Norfolk. Photo: Cameron Self.

In the 90 years since Mary Mann’s death, her work has undergone re-evaluation and there have been various attempts to republish, mostly by local firms anxious to claim her as a “Norfolk writer”. Those who have championed the cause in recent years have been local personalities such as Keith Skipper and author D.J. Taylor (quoted in this blog). Then there has been the fictionalised version of Shropham ‘The Parish of Hilby’ which was published by the Larks Press early in the millennium; with some of her stories having appeared in ‘Dead Men Talking’ – published by Black Dog Books and edited, again, by D. J. Taylor. Though chronically out of print, the most recent collection, of ‘Tales of Victorian Norfolk’, was published by a tiny Suffolk imprint in the early 1990’s. Clearly, Mary Mann’s work has been rediscovered as a major contributor to East Anglian literature, championed among others by A. S. Byatt, who in 1998 included her story ‘Little Brother’ in The Oxford Book of English Short Stories. In 2005 Eastern Angles Theatre Company used a collection of her characters and stories to create a new play ‘A Dulditch Angel’, directed by Orla O’Loughlin and written by Steven Canny.

Here is a list of some of Mary Mann’s works – which totalled over 40:

THE PARISH OF HILBY (1883), her first novel.
THE EGLAMORE PORTRAITS
ROSE AT HONEYPOT
THE PATTEM EXPERIMENT
OLIVIA’S SUMMER
A LOST ESTATE
THE PARISH NURSE
GRAN’MA’S JANE
MRS PETER HOWARD. A winter’s tale
ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS
MOONLIGHT
THE MATING OF A DOVE
THE FIELDS OF DULDITCH
AMONG THE SYRINGAS
SUSANNAH
THE CEDAR STAR

THE END

The Principal Sources Behind This Blog::

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/simple-tales-of-country-folk-638123.html
https://www.literarynorfolk.co.uk/shropham.htm
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/shropham/shropham.htm

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 Fate of HMS Invincible – 1801

Before we proceed with what happened to the Royal Naval ship HMS Invincible some 219 years ago take particular note of Hammond’s Knoll, a 6-mile (9.7 km) long sandbank off the coast of Norfolk, England, just off Happisburgh. This is an innocent sandbank below high water when the sea behaves itself; but when the weather is foul and the tide is low, it is best to stay alert and be on guard – it can be dangerous. At low water, the sandbank has only a depth of about 6 fathoms at each end, and 3 fathoms in the centre. Nowadays, the Hammond’s Knoll is marked by lighted buoys at its north and east ends – this was not the case on the 16th March in the year of our Lord 1801.

Invincible (Hammonds Knoll)
The East Anglian coast is recognised as dangerous when the weather and sea choose to be foul. Many ships have been lost to gales over the centuries – some say the number runs into thousands. Storms in this part of the world seem frequent and ferocious either side of Autumn and Spring, wrecking and shifting the many sandbanks and shoals as they rage. In winter months particularly, the prevailing off-shore westerly wind would, more than likely, become a north-easterly, thrashing down from Scandinavia and the Artic. battering the lee shoreline. Ships which managed to sail a safe course through those ever shifting sands would still risk being smashed by the wave’s force, overwhelmed or driven ashore.

In the days of sail, the sea lanes up and down the eastern coast were far busier than they are today. Any storm would, as likely as not, have created a havoc of torn canvas, tangled ropes, broken masts and dead bodies. No ship, whether they be on Government business or commercial trading, were immune from possible disaster. Even the large fishing fleets that once thrived on herring could be lost; in fact, in 1789 around 130 fishing smacks and coasters were wrecked between Southwold and Cromer – one of more than a few such instances. With so many storms over the years the losses have been many, with coastal churchyards well used with graves and memorials for those who did not come home safely. These included resting places for members of the Royal Navy.

Britain once prided itself on having the greatest navy in the world and her sea battles were renowned, but East Anglian seas were even a challenge to military ships. Amongst those who did fall foul of the seas off Happisburgh, two stand out; the first was HMS Peggy which, in short, was wrecked on 19th December 1770 with thirty-two of its men losing their lives. They were buried in Happisburgh churchyard while their ship, the Peggy, was to remain on the beach for many years thereafter.

Invincible (HMS Peggy)
The wreck of the HMS Peggy

The HMS Invincible disaster was the other instance of a Royal Naval ship going down. She was a 74-gun, Ramilles Class third-rate ship, thirty-six years old in the spring of 1801 and battle-wearied, but nevertheless a stirring sight when fully rigged.

 

Invincible 1
HMS Invincible

Launched at Deptford in March 1765, the HMS Invincible had served in the American War of Independence. Her battle honours included Cape St Vincent 1780, Chesapeake 1781, St Kitts 1782 and the Glorious First of June in 1794, where she was badly damaged and lost fourteen men. In 1797, she took part in the invasion of Trinidad which captured that island from the Spanish. So by 1801, HMS Invincible, which had a proud record of service, was back in British waters. By March of that year, and with the war against France in a protracted state, fear remained that the French would seize the powerful Danish navy and use it against Britain. Therefore the British Baltic fleet, led by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker and with Nelson as his second-in-command, was directed to sail to Copenhagen and make sure the Danish fleet could not fall into French hands.

 

Invincible (Hyde Parker)
Admiral Sir Hyde Parker (1739–1807) after the painting by Romney

HMS Invincible was to be part of this fleet so it was ordered to sail from Chatham, with its crew of around 600, and meet up with the fleet of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker which was already in the Sound preparing for the planned attack on the Danish fleet – to be known later as the Battle of Copenhagen 1801. HMS Invincible sailed on its journey under the flag of Rear-Admiral Thomas Totty.

Invincible (Copenhagan)
Painting of the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. National Maritime Museum

During its way north, Invincible, with the ship’s newly appointed, thirty-fout year old, Captain John Rennie, put into Yarmouth to collect final orders and stock up with ordnance, stores and ammunition. She was by then a 1,631 ton war ship, as prepared as she could be for the battle ahead. Her state of readiness meant that on the 16th March she was able to leave Yarmouth Roads and, with a master and pilot aboard, set a course towards the notorious area of shifting sandbars off Happisburgh on the north-east coast of Norfolk.

The Master and Pilot clearly thought that they could navigate through the shoals safely, but a rising wind and the strong tide forced the ship off course. Within an very short time, at 2.30pm to be precise, she struck the sandbank of Hammond’s Knoll where the effect of wind and waves tore down the masts and began to break up the ship. The crew did all they could to save the ship. They jettisoned provisions and when the mizzen mast went they cut away the mast, hoping that the ship would float off the sands at high water. Whilst all this was going on, Invincible repeatedly fired a distress signal with its guns. For a while, it looked as if the crew’s efforts of jettisoning every they could would work for the Invincible moved slightly into deeper water. But, as she did so an even heavier swell and stronger wind caused the ship to lose its rudder. Unmanageable, she was driven back on to the sandbank. There she remained whilst the only thing left for the crew to usefully do was to man the pumps and try to keep as much of the ship as possible above water.

Invincible (Ship in Storm)

The wreck was only a few miles offshore and its distress signal, by way of frequent firing of the guns, was eventually answered by the collier Hunter, on her way into Yarmouth – but unfortunately she, for one reason or another, ignored the Invincible’s plight. Only the Yarmouth smack The Nancy, fishing for cod under its skipper, Daniel Grigson, came to Invincible’s aid. He offered whatever assistance he could. However, by midnight, it was clear to all on the royal naval ship that nothing could be done to save it and the order was for two of her boats to be lowered with Totty, the Purser, four midshipmen and some seamen in one and seamen in the other. They made it safely to The Nancy and then made a second run only for one of the boats to capsize as it approached The Nancy for the second time. Those men who had been thrown into the water were, fortunately, picked up by a Collier which had also answered the distress signal from the Invincible.

Invincible (Rescue)2
To the Rescue!

Both The Nancy and the Collier remained on rescue watch throughout that Monday night to pick up survivors, although neither were able to offer any assistance to Invincible herself. Then, after dawn had broken, the final act of this tragedy was played out. Those on the rescue ships were nothing more than spectators to the death throes of the Invincible as she shifted gradually into deeper water before slowly sinking. As she lowered herself below the surface waves, those on its forecastle made a last desperate attempt to survive by leaping into the sea before trying to get on board the last of the ship’s launches. Some made it but others were beaten back by those safely on board who feared that the launch itself would also capsize if overloaded. The weapons they used to repel greater numbers were the launche’s oars.

When the Invincible finally disappered into the depths, it took with her about 400 crew. Out of a full complement of 600 and, bizarrely, 50 passengers despite the fact that the ship was scheduled to go to war, one hundred and ninety persons were saved. Not included in this number of survivors was Captain Rennie who, duty bound, was the last man to leave his post; when he did so he was not only wet and extremy cold but suffering from exhaustion. He tried to swim to a launch but gave up. At that final moment before he drowned he seemingly had accepted his fate when he lifted his hands and place them over his face before sinking calmly beneath the water. Rear-Admiral Thomas Totty reported Rennie’s loss in his Report for the Court-martial which was to follow, calling him ‘a truly zealous and intelligent Officer’. That same Report also described the last moments of the HMS Invincible :

“At daylight on Tuesday morning, I observed that the Invincible had not a single Boat, either alongside or astern of her, and the tide ran so strong that it was impossible to get the fishing Smack to her, but the moment the tide slacked … she stretched under the Invincible’s stern, endeavouring by all possible means to work up and get alongside of her; but before that could be accomplished the Ship went down in thirteen fathoms Water, and out of 600 persons that belonged to the Invincible they have not been above 190 saved and now living; several who were picked up by the launch died very soon afterwards. I am extremely grieved to inform you that Captain Rennie was among the number of those drowned; by his death the service has lost a truly zealous and intelligent Officer … The horror of the scene at the Moment the Ship went down far exceeds all power of description.”

Amongst those who had reached The Nancy, and were later landed at Great Yarmouth, were those who were still to die as a result of the experience. In total, more than 400 were lost, compared to the 256 who were to die at the Battle of Copenhagen. On his way home from his triumph, Nelson still made time to visit “his men” from the Invincible lying injured in Great Yarmouth hospital.

For days after the wreck, bodies were washed up all along the coast. Most were brought on carts to Happisburgh churchyard, where they were buried in a huge, unmarked communal mound grave in unconsecrated ground to the north of the church. Of all those lost only six received a proper burial in the Holy Trinity & All Saints churchyard at Winterton the 20th day of March, 1801. Their names unknown

Invincible (St Marys Church)
St Mary’s Church, Happisborough.

But the story of the Invincible did not end there because an attempt was made by a Mary Cator in 1913 to erect a memorial as a reminder to the lives lost. She raised money by subscription but when it was found that there was no official record that proved that bodies from the Invincible were buried in the mound, she returned the money raised. Then in 1924, Mary Cator’s persistence to ensure that an appropriate memorial existed in St Mary’s churchyard paid off. This was the year when the church bells were re-hung and Mary gave a treble bell on which was inscribed ‘In memory of Nelson’s men wrecked off Haisboro in 1801‘. A memorial at last! – but the story did not even end there.

Invincible (Dedication)
The unconsecrated land where the dead were buried was later incorporated into Happisburgh churchyard, then in 1988, the remains of many of the Invincible’s crew were located by chance in their original mass grave during the digging of a new drainage channel. There was found a disordered mass of bones less than three feet below the surface. These remains were reburied with proper rites; then, ten years later, in 1998, a memorial stone was erected to their memory by the Ship’s Company of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, together with members of the Nelson Society,, the Happisburgh parochial church council and a descendant of Captain John Rennie. This was a final recognition of all those who had died on HMS Invincible in 1801, summed up by St Mary’s Rector, Reverend Doctor Richard Hines as being: “interpreted as a gesture of Christian faith that even in their most desperate moments those who perished out in the cold North sea did not perish beyond the love and presence of Almighty God” The Memorial’s inscription came from Revelation and reads ‘And the sea gave up the dead that were in it’.

Invincible (Memorial)
HMS Invincible Memorial at St Mary’s Churchyard at Happisburgh, Norfolk Photo: © Lynda Smith – 2004

Transcript of Memorial Lettering:

On 16 March 1801, HMS INVINCIBLE
was wrecked of Happisburgh when
on her way to join the fleet with
Admiral Nelson at Copenhagen.
The day following, the Ship sank with
the loss of some four hundred lives.
One hundred and nineteen members
of the Ship’s Company lie buried here.
“And the sea gave up the dead
that were in it…..”
Revelation 26:13

This memorial stone was given jointly
by the Parochial Church Council and
The Officers and Ship’s Company of
HMS Invincible. 1998.

FOOTNOTE:
The compulsory court martial that followed Invincible’s sinking was held on the HMS Ruby at Sheerness. It absolved the Amiral and the Captain (posthumously) of culpability in the disaster, but posthumously blamed the harbour pilot and the ship’s master, both of whom had been engaged to steer the ship through the reefs and shoals of the dangerous region – they should have known the location of Hammond Knoll, especially since it was daytime and in sight of land.

The only amusing side to this story concerns the many casks that were seen floating on the sea after the HMS Invincible went down. Some 150 were brought ashore by the customs officers and were found to contain brandy. Others casks escaped and were to be picked up by delighted villagers; many of whom drank themselves into oblivion – one even died from his excesses!

THE END

Sources:
The Loss of HMS Invincible in 1801

http://www.axfordsabode.org.uk/pdf-docs/invinc01.pdf


http://www.happisburgh.org/history/sea/losses-at-sea
https://rna-norwich.org.uk/2017/03/hms-invincible-memorial-service-2017/

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 Walpoles: Two of a Kind!

Certain members of Norfolk’s Walpole family of the past, if not born insane became so at some point in their lives. George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford, was one – and his mother Margaret (nee Rolle) was another. As with both his parents, George also indulged in life’s little vices, not that the aristocracy of the time considered them to be so.

George Walpole (Robert_Walpole,_1st_Earl_of_Orford_by_Arthur_Pond)
Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, KG, PC (1676 – 1745), was a British politician who is generally regarded as the ‘de facto’ first Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was George Walpole’s grandfather.

These two paintings are of Robert Walpole, (2nd Earl of Orford, KB (1701 – 1751), and Margaret Rolle, 15th Baroness Clinton, (1709 – 1781), wife of Robert. Both portraits are by John Theodore Heins and produced as a matching pair. Photos: Wikipedia.

George Walpole, (3rd_Earl_of_Orford,_by_Jean-Etienne_Liotard)
George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford (1730 – 1791) was a British administrator, politician, and peer. He was the only child of Robert Walpole, 2nd Earl of Orford and his wife Margaret Rolle (above) and became known as the ‘Mad Earl’. Image: Wikipedia.

George’s father, Robert Walpole, was born in 1701 and finally succumbed on 31 March 1751. He was, at the very least, a British Peer and married the rich heiress, Margaret Rolle – neither loved the other. In 1736, six years after George was born, Robert separated from Margaret in favour of a mistress by the name of Hannah Norsa; she was a leading singer and actress at Covent Garden.

George Walpole (Hannah-Norsa)
Hannah Norsa by R. Clamp, after Bernard Lens (III), stipple engraving, published 1794. Image: Wikipedia.

Horace Walpole, writer, George’s uncle and brother of Robert, described Norsa as “my brother’s concubine” when she went to live with him. Then at the point when Robert succeeded to the peerage as Earl of Orford, in 1745, Norsa moved to Houghton Hall in Norfolk. A local clergyman’s wife wrote of her at the time:

“She is a very agreeable Woman, & Nobody ever behav’d better in her Station, she has every body’s good word, and bears great Sway at Houghton, she is everything but Lady, she came here in a landau and six horses & …… a young Clergyman with her.”

In 1740, Norsa had a son with Orford, but who died young. Forever loyal, Norsa stayed with Robert until his death in 1751, having apparently financed his extensive debts – but not really enough to make any difference! Robert, in his Will, asked that his successor:

“take care that Mrs Norsa have her judgment well served to her.”

As for Margaret (George’s mother), she was the 15th Baroness Clinton in her own right and a wealthy Devonshire aristocratic, known both for her eccentricity – bordering on madness – and also extramarital affairs. Horace Walpole frequently alluded to Margaret as “his sister-in-law and her profligate habits”. Not to put too finer a point on her ‘comings and goings’ she did make the point, shortly after the birth of George in 1730: “not to let her husband lie with her and at last stipulated for only twice a week”! We know this because Horace Walpole, mentioned it in a letter to Sir Horace Mann on 17 June 1746. – the Horace’s exchanged many snippets of family gossip! It was also common knowledge between the two Horace’s that Margaret habitually quarrelled with the entire Walpole family; consequently, Robert and her lived apart from each other. Later Margaret obtained a legal separation from him and also departed for the continent, first going to Naples and afterwards to Rome and Florence. When she was about to leave England, the wits of the ‘Beef Club’ showed their antipathy towards Sir Robert Walpole by addressing her in the following ‘Toast’:

“Go, sprightly Rolle, go, traverse earth and sea
And fly the land where beauty is not free.
By your own wealth enslaved to one you hate,
Mourne not your own, but think of Britain’s fate.
Life may be welcome on some happy shore,
Where not a W [Walpole] shall approach thee more.”

We find that by 1734 Margaret had taken Thomas Sturgess {Sturgis] as a lover plus a second husband, he being the Honourable Sewallis Shirley. How many dalliance relationships Margaret had both before her separation from Robert Walpole and thereafter is best left. Suffice to say that in 1781 Margaret died at Italy’s Pisa, in Tuscany and was buried at Leghorn there. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon said of Margaret: “a woman of very singular character and considered half mad”. 

Georga Walpole (Horace_Walpole)
Horace – real name Horatio – Walpole , 4th Earl of Orford (1717 – 1797) was an English writer, art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician. He was the son of the first British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Image: Wikipedia.

It is Horace Walpole we have to thank for providing ‘pen sketches’ of his nephew, George Walpole; other than the snippets that he revealed, very little is known about George’s early years. We do know, through Horace, that in 1739 his friend, John Chute, said that he was ‘quite astonished at [George’s] sense and cleverness’; but within the year Horace worried about the ‘wild boy’. He also thought that George’s friends were leading him into bad ways and was to ask his friend and a minister in Florence, the same Sir Horace Mann, to make friends with young George while he was on a Grand Tour. In 1742, Horace then threw the cat amongst the pigeons by referring to George as “a most charming boy, but grown excessively like his mother in the face”. This comment would not have gone down well with the Walpole’s at a time when the parent’s unhappy relationship was a sore point.

Following the death of his father in 1751, George became the 3rd Earl Orford at the age of 21 years; he also inherited the family home at Houghton Hall, along with a family debt of £50,000. His father had made sparse efforts to, at least, reduce the total amount of the debt around the Walpole’s neck; he did so by selling off his own father’s London paintings and Houghton silver. However, he found out that the sum received barely dented the family’s total debt. Young George would do no better; in fact he would add further to the family’s woes!

Georga Walpole (Houghton Hall)

George moved into Houghton Hall and during his time there he served as High Steward of King’s Lynn, High Steward of Yarmouth, Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk and Colonel of the Norfolk Militia. He also served as a ‘Lord of the Bedchamber’ to King George II until the latter’s death, and then to King George III until 1782. On the death of his mother in 1781 he became the sixteenth Baron Clinton.  Amongst all these formal duties placed on the Earl, we still hear Horace Walpole speaking about George’s personal traits and experiences – like the time when friends of George tried, apparently, to persuade him to marry the Heiress, Margaret Nicholl. The thought was that the Nicholl’s wealth would save the debt-ridden Walpole Estate; but here, Horace stepped in once again and stopped such a move, leaving Margaret to go off and marry someone else. Later Horace referred to George as “charming”, with “the easy, genuine air of a man of quality and……his address and manner are the most engaging imaginable” However, George never answered letters or kept engagements, instead, he spent most of his time drinking, enjoying women and gaming. In April of 1751 George’s uncle, Horace, again wrote to his friend Horace Mann to say that his nephew was “the most ruined young man in England”.

Georga Walpole (Houghton Hall)2
This illustration is from ‘The Comprehensive History of England’ by Charles Macfarlance et al (Gresham Publishing, 1902). Image: Public Domain.

As an ardent falconer, George spent £100 a year on each of his birds of prey, sending them to the continent during moulting season. In addition to gambling, he indulged his mistress, Mrs Patty Turk, a former Houghton maid. To pay his growing debts, George sold Houghton’s exterior stone staircases. By 1773, Horace Walpole found Houghton:

“half ruin, though the pictures, the glorious pictures and furniture are in general admirably well preserved. All the rest is destruction and devastation. The two steps exposed to all weathers, every room in the wings rotting with wet; the ceiling of the gallery in danger…… the park half covered with nettles and weeds……a debt of above £40,000, heaped on those of my father and brother…”

But the worst was yet to come, by what Horace again described as the “shipwreck of my family” (see Footnote below).

George Walpole (Houghton Hall_Copyright @ Donna Simpson.)3
Houghton Hall. Image: Copyright Donna Simpson.

Whatever other time George had at his disposal, he included sport, particularly hare coursing. He founded the Swaffham Coursing Club in 1776, initially with twenty-six members who each named their greyhounds after a different alphabet letter. For some years Swaffham was the leading coursing club in England, holding several meetings a year. He also organised coursing for neighbouring farmers and provided prizes. Throughout all this, he displayed all the extravagance shown by his late father. Then, just like his mother before him, he became increasingly eccentric and, eventually, insane – as indeed was his mother. Two of a Kind indeed!

By then, George Walpole was generally regarded as the “Mad Earl”, someone having periodic bouts of madness and having “toad-eaters” around him and spending “by the handfuls and pocketful’s”, again according to Horace. But even he couldn’t put an end to either George’s recurring illness, or his antics and so-called ‘escapades’. It would seem that in 1756 George challenged his friend, Lord Rockingham, to race five turkeys against five geese from Norwich to London; the winner would be the one with the most birds at the finishing line at Mile End. George, who clearly had something going for him, won; he won because he knew turkeys did not roost – but geese did; one up on the Lord one would think! Then there were the occasions when he would use four deers to drive his open four-wheeled carriage, normally referred to as a ‘phaeton’ and pulled by horses. On one occasion at Newmarket when he used these deers, he was chased by a pack of hounds and only just made it into the Yard of an inn. It was Horace who, in 1777, had George moved to a house near London during one of his bouts while he, Horace, dealt with the stewards…… and so, it went on and on…..

In November 1791 Patty Turk, George’s mistress, died. It was said that George refused to accept the fact and hid her body under a pile of boots in a cupboard, not wanting to be parted from her. In his grief, he developed a fever and died at Houghton on 5 December 1791 at the age of 61. His titles — except the title of Baron Clinton, which passed into the Trefusis family who were descendants of George’s great-aunt Bridget Rolle (1648–1721), passed on to his uncle Horace Walpole; he also took the still heavily encumbered Houghton Estate. Because George never married, he left no legitimate heirs. However, there is documentary evidence that he had an illegitimate daughter, named Georgina Walpole, whose mother was Mary Sparrow of Eriswell

Within the story of George Walpole, it should not be forgotten that, certainly within the County of Norfolk, he was very popular; everyone liked his manners and the way he was passionately absorbed in things around him. In 1791, the year in which he died, Dr. Charles Burney visited him and “found his Lordship’s head as clear, his heart as kind and his converse as pleasing as it has always been.”  In 1792, Rochester Lane (the main entrance to the Castle Ditches in Norwich was widened. The work was financed by public subscription, and our George had been one of the biggest subscribers. The new road, Orford Street in the city, was named after him and Hog Hill became Orford Hill.

Footnote: Above everything else, George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford will be particularly remembered for his 1778 sale of his grandfather’s magnificent art collection, the “shipwreck of my family”, the phrase coined by Horace Walpole. This episode started in the autumn of that year when George hired James Christie, founder of the ‘eponymous’ auction house, to value his grandfather’s paintings in “the most profound secrecy” – a wish that didn’t really work! Alexey Musin-Pushkin, Russia’s ambassador to the Court of St James, was to quickly inform Catherine the Great of the impending auction:

George Walpole (Catherine_II_by_J.B.Lampi_(1780s,)
Portrait of Catherine II in her 50s, by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder. Image: Wikipedia.

“Your Majesty has perhaps heard of the collection of paintings of the celebrated Robert Walpole…… His grandson, Lord Orford [our George] is taking the liberty of placing everything, or part of it, at Your Imperial Majesty’s feet. It is worthy, in the opinion of all connoisseurs, of belonging to one of the greatest sovereigns.”

Wasting no time, Catherine instructed the diplomat to make an ‘en bloc’ offer of £40,550 [1778 value] for 204 of Walpole’s best paintings. Catherine’s apparent talent for clandestine negotiations paid off. By July 1779, the Empress and George Walpole had struct a deal. News of that deal unleashed a firestorm of protest. The trustees of the British Museum petitioned parliament for their purchase and the erection of a new building in the grounds of the British Museum, but to no avail – the King was pre-occupied with the American Revolution. Fast forward to the 1930’s which saw the sale of some of the collection, leaving 126 pictures which now forms the collection at The Hermitage in St Petersburg. In 2013 seventy paintings from the “magnificent” art collection built up by Britain’s first Prime Minister temporarily returned home to Houghton Hall in Norfolk; the first time in over 230 years. The collection included Rembrandt, Velasquez and Rubens.

For those interested in such things – here is the Walpole’s Family Tree, from the first person mentioned in this blog, to the present incumbents:

Georga Walpole (Family Tree)

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Walpole,_3rd_Earl_of_Orford

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=K8bY-u9uveAC&pg=PA82&lpg=PA82&dq=Thomas+Sturgess+Margaret+Walpole+1734&source=bl&ots=aOa6T-2FDB&sig=ACfU3U1Mtd1Ixf582OQLxE-5NLWphYRRFg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwir2bC98ZnmAhVgSBUIHf_uDTUQ6AEwEnoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Thomas%20Sturgess%20Margaret%20Walpole%201734&f=false

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Mary_Wortley_Montagu

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=BA_CCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT168&lpg=PT168&dq=patty+mrs+turk+houghton+hall+1773&source=bl&ots=hA-4GLoKra&sig=ACfU3U1HI_yVvwGEMVto6sZbLu5I1AA3Hg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjc5-TX45vmAhXPTsAKHVRYBi8Q6AEwDXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=patty%20mrs%20turk%20houghton%20hall%201773&f=false

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.

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.

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.