Cardinal Adam Easton – of Easton!

Who was Adam Easton? Well, in a nutshell, he was a man who helped change the course of English history. A 14th century scholar, said to be born to a family of peasants at Easton in Norfolk, England, who rose to become the most powerful Englishman in the Catholic Church, second only to the pope. So why (except for a few scholars of 14th century church history) have many never heard of him – even in Norfolk itself?

Easton (Signs of a Norfolk Summer)1
The red robes and galero worn by the person on this village sign at Easton identifies him out as a cardinal. This person is Adam Easton who was born in the village in the 14th Century. The keys he carries represent St Peter, after whom the local church is dedicated. The book he holds is a symbol of learning. It could perhaps be one of his own: he was a renowned scholar of both Greek and Hebrew and wrote some learned tomes during his lifetime. Equally, the book could be one from the library he left to the monks of Norwich after his death. Photo: Signs of a Norfolk Summer.

Well, Adam was born in the village of Easton in Norfolk, just half a dozen miles to the west of Norwich. Almost certainly the son of peasants, he was taken in and educated by the church. After applying to join the monastery of St Leonards on the Hill overlooking the river Wensum, he was spotted for his potential and moved downhill to the mother Benedictine monastery attached to Norwich Cathedral.

Easton (St Leonard's Priory)
Remains of St Leonard’s Priory.
Kett’s Heights is situated on a hillside between Kett’s Hill and Gas Hill in Norwich. Here at its highest point, overlooking Bishop Bridge and the Cathedral, a flint wall is all that remains of the chapel of St Michael-on-the-Mount. According to the Registrum Primum of Norwich Cathedral Priory, in 1101 Herbert de Losinga, the first Bishop of Norwich, was granted the manor of Thorpe and Thorpe wood by Henry I. There he built the church and priory of St Leonard and, nearby, the chapel of St Michael. St Leonard’s priory was a cell to the Cathedral. Photo: George Plunkett.

As one of the brightest scholars of his generation, Adam was sent by the Norwich Monastery to study at Oxford. There, the Benedictines had their own college, Gloucester College – today known as Worcester College. There, the monks were split into houses, sharing quarters with those monks sent from the same monastery. Some of the old buildings of Gloucester College still survive as ‘the cottages’ and can be seen in the grounds of Worcester College today (see left in photo. below)……. Meanwhile his friend and fellow student from Norwich, Thomas Brinton, was enjoying life at the papal court or curia, in Avignon and Rome acting for the Benedictine Order in England.

Easton (Worcester College)
The main quadrangle of Worcester College; on the left are the medieval buildings known as “the cottages”, the most substantial surviving part of Gloucester College, Worcester’s predecessor. Photo: Wikipedia.

Adam himself soon moved to Avignon and the papal court also, there to replace the same Thomas Brinton as a proctor acting on behalf of the English Benedictines. However, his first major task there did not make him popular in his country of birth; it was to send a message from the Pope telling the English King to restrain the activities of his men at arms in Italy. Fortunately, on his way back to London his route took him through Canterbury where he met with the Archbishop, Simon Langham. Langham was also a Benedictine monk from Westminster Abbey and he persuaded Adam to enter his service. From this moment until Langham’s death, Adam’s fortunes were linked to that of his new master.

Easton (Simon Langham)2
Simon Langham, Archbishop of Canterbury

It was while at Oxford, that Adam first came across fellow student John Wycliffe. They shared a common interest in attacking the successful and increasingly wealthy Friars. Adam owned copies of the writings of both William of St Amour and Richard FitzRalph attacking the Friars and Wycliffe had certainly read both works himself. Adam may even have loaned Wycliffe his own copies while they were at Oxford. Yet increasingly, in the years that followed, the broad thrust of Wycliffe’s life was to attack not just the Friars, but every aspect of the Church, both spiritual and temporal. He raged against the hierarchy, wealth and the power over secular life that the Church had established – he was far from alone.

Easton (John Wycliffe)
Fictional portrait of Wycliffe, c. 1828. Image: Wikipedia

Yet the Church had other things to worry about and just as Wycliffe produced his most vociferous attack in 1376, the Pope packed up the papal Court in Avignon to return to Rome and try and re-establish his secular authority over the states of central Italy that had risen in open rebellion against him. The fact that once again fiscal matters seemed to be governing the fate of the Church rather than matters spiritual gave extra poignancy to Wycliffe’s attacks.

Adam now found himself in strident opposition to his former fellow student. He may not have approved of everything the pope was doing, he may have had doubts about the motives behind the Pope’s return to Rome, but he was now entrenched in the same church hierarchy that Wycliffe attacked. He planned his defence of the Church in two stages. The first was vicious but effective, simply to identify the key elements of Wycliffe’s philosophy that could be identified as heretical, and get him condemned by the Church both in England and Rome. The second and perhaps the more interesting part of the enterprise was to try and set out in writing, through argument and debate, a definitive defence of the power of the Church. This became the vast Defence of Ecclesiastical Power and it was a volume that would have a profound impact in denying the truth of Wycliffe’s argument.

Cardinal Adam Easton, following the death of Simon Langham, really began to find his feet, and his reputation, as a scholar and canon lawyer, grew at the Roman Court or Curia. But then the smooth progress of his life was interrupted by the unexpected death of Gregory XI in 1377. This would mean the one thing that the papacy had dreaded for 100 years and more – an election in the full view of the Roman mob. The honourable way in which Adam defended this election and the selection of Urban VI marked him out. The way he spoke out against the (mostly French) defectors, who finding Urban less generous than they hoped, went off and selected a new (French) pope who might help them more, made the Norwich monk one of the most ardent supporters of Urban VI. The reward for his fidelity was not long in coming.

Easton (Urban VI)
Pope Urban VI

Downfall and Restoration of Adam Easton:
In 1385 as the actions of Urban VI became ever more irrational, he moved his court to the castle above the dusty town of Nocera in Campania. Adam was involved with several other senior cardinals, in a plot to restrict the power of the Pope. However, the plotters were betrayed and the full wrath of the demented pontiff fell upon their shoulders. The situation was made even more uncomfortable when Charles Duzazzo arrived with his army and laid siege to the castle.

Easton (Easton's residence)However, following the demise of Pope Urban VI, the Cardinals loyal to Rome immediately elected the youthful Neapolitan, Pietro Tomaselli who took the name Boniface IX. One of the first acts of Boniface as Pope was to restore Adam to freedom, readmit him to the college of cardinals and restore his power within the Papal Curia. Adam rapidly established himself with a court in Rome and lived close to his titular church of St Cecilia. The 14th century house (pictured left) opposite the church may well have been the sort of establishment the cardinal would have run. Today the colonnade on to the street is bricked in but it gives a flavour of how Adam’s residence might have looked over the plotters were betrayed and the full wrath of the demented pontiff fell upon their shoulders. The situation was made even more uncomfortable when Charles Duzazzo arrived with his army and laid siege to the castle.

Once Adam had been restored to a position of eminence in the Church, he set about building up his wealth and those of his followers in Rome. In this confused time with two popes to choose from, many of the benefices that he would try to get his hands on were contended. This led to a morass of legal disputes which, at least, helped in keeping track of Adam’s activities in his later years.

Easton (St Cecilia)
Church of St Cecilia

Around 1394 Adam, having established a court near his titular church of St Cecilia, several English and German churchmen attached themselves to him and he was obliged to lobby hard to get livings for them from Pope Boniface – not least, if they had funds of their own whereby they could set themselves up at Adam’s court without costing him a fortune! Now,  an essential ingredient of a successful cardinal’s court, was permission for his ‘hangers-on’ to gain a benefice without actually suffering the inconvenience of having to visit it, or worse still live in it. This meant they could make a living from the fruits of the vicarage, without the necessity of having to do the work, whilst remaining at the centre of Church power, be it Rome or Avignon. As to the cure of souls, they could pay a clerk to do that out of their profits as absentee landlords!

Easton (Adam's World)This system was also good for the cardinal as he would be saved the expense of having to pay a salary to his courtiers from out of his own pocket. The courtiers in turn had a good chance of getting a lucrative benefice, as their master, the cardinal had plenty of incentive to get them one. Once they had an income, they could attend on the cardinal and concentrate on studies in his libraries or else working as part of the papal administration, without needing a salary. The fact that Adam was granted this privilege in 1394, suggests that this was the first time that he ran a substantial court in Rome. His was a small world at the centre of power, the image (above left) shows the tower of St Ceclia in the foreground and the great dome of the Vatican in the distance. These two buildings formed the boundaries of Adam’s world, and that of his courtiers, in the final stages of his life.

Easton (Richard II_ Wikipedia)
Richard II

After his restoration by Boniface IX in 1389, Adam tried to regain the income from his two benefices, Somersham in Huntingdonshire and the deanery at York. Unfortunately, Richard II (left) had provided his own candidates to occupy the benefices whilst Adam was been languishing in prison. Although it appears that neither of Richard’s men had yet succeeded in getting hold of the fruits of the benefices, neither was inclined to surrender his claim just because Adam had been released. Both men were courtiers and close confidantes of their king, John Boore who was awarded Somersham and Edmund Stafford the deanery of York, and relied upon Richard’s support in maintaining their position.

By 1394 increasingly heated correspondence passed between the King, Adam, Pope Boniface and Stafford. Meanwhile Adam appears to have been successful in holding on to the cash but Stafford must have felt he would be completely out of favour with his religious superiors. So, when Richard decided that he would like to appoint Stafford as bishop of Exeter he must have feared the worst. Boniface would never accept the appointment without the ‘say so’ of the Cardinal of England.

However, Adam was quite prepared to separate the principle of the authority of the Church over matters clerical, from the authority of the monarch over matters clerical. Stafford had been granted York by his sovereign, but York was not in his sovereign’s gift. By contrast when Richard put forward Stafford for the Bishopric of Exeter, he began by seeking papal approval. There was for an advocate of Adam’s standing, a very clear distinction between the two sets of circumstances. However, much to Stafford’s surprise his appointment was confirmed and he could hardly restrain his gratitude to the English Cardinal. He duly served as Bishop of Exeter until his death and his tomb (below) can still be seen in Exeter Cathedral.

Easton (Exeter Tomb of Stafford)

By 1394 Adam was gradually building his portfolio of livings as he was appointed to more and more churches around Europe and in the process, he started to accumulate considerable wealth. In the text below, taken from ‘The Segreto Archivo’, the Pope grants Adam the Church of Hasselt (pictured below) in Belgium which fell vacant when one of Adam’s own courtiers died:

Easton (Hasselt)
Church of Hasselt
“May your holiness also grant to your faithful servant Adam (cardinal priest of St Cecilia through your decree and also priest of the church of St Severus at Cologne ) the living of the diocese of Hasselt at Liege , the total earnings of which do not exceed 35 silver marks a year , which has fallen vacant through the death of Theoderici Bukelken , Adam’s longstanding companion at the Roman Curia. May you also grant to him anything else which has fallen vacant through Theoderici Bukelkens death. May this be enacted by personal decree and dispensation. Given at St Peters , Rome , Nones of October, twenty first hour, fifth year (of Boniface’s reign)”.

Easton (St Agnes Ferrara)By 1396 Adam was starting to enjoy considerable wealth and prestige and Boniface IX was proving very generous to his senior cardinal. When a significant benefice came up in Ferrara, Adam was given the fruits. 200 gold florins was quite a significant sum and the Benedictine priory an appropriate reward for a Benedictine Cardinal. The monastery no longer stands today but there the parish church of St Agnes (pictured left) stands on the same site.

Easton’s Death etc:
As with so much of Adam’s history, the details surrounding his death are not entirely clear. That he died peacefully of old age is not in dispute, the more interesting question is when? The date is not without significance for the events surrounding the usurpation of Henry IV…… Adam died in Rome, his adopted city, aged around 70. There is some confusion about the date of his death not least because of the inscription on his tomb which can still be seen in the Church of St Cecilia in Trastavere, Rome. An inscription can be found on the tomb today suggesting Adam died in 1398. But the tomb used to have a canopy over it, removed in the 17th century and that tells a rather different story! The inscription on the canopy of Adam’s tomb is preserved in a drawing made of his tomb before the canopy was removed. The drawing can still be found in the Vatican Library records. Roughly translated the Latin inscription read:

“Skilled in all things, renowned father Adam. The great theologian, who was cardinal of England, which was his fatherland, the title of St Cecilia was given to him. He died and ascended to heaven in the year 1397, in the month of September.”

In 1641, Felice Contelori wrote about Adam and once again we have to acknowledge two things. Firstly, that even in the 17th Century Adam was still regarded as one of the more venerated of the cardinals and secondly that already, just 250 years after his death his life story was becoming confused – to say the least.

“On Saturday the 18th day of December in the year 1389 Boniface IX created cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, among the undersigned were: restored to the dignity of Cardinal, Adam of England Bishop of London with the title of St Cecilia. He died on 20th September in the year 1397.”

As stories about Adam’s life were passed on within the Church, within Rome and at a considerable distance from the place of Adam’s birth and early life, so the written record of his life became obscure and increasingly distorted. By 1714 George Eggs was able to write, somewhat implausibly, that Adam was a Welshman who was brought up in Norwich! It is the rare facts that form a common thread in the eulogies of Adam and his work that have enabled some sort of factual historical record to emerge from the biographies of the cardinals in which he is so often featured. Here, even the inscription on his tomb has moved on and his date of death is now shown as November 1397!

In 1792, Cardella, the 18th century Italian historian, also wrote a well renowned history of some of the more reputable Cardinals of the Catholic Church, its title ‘Memorie de Cardinali’. His entry on Adam is fascinating in that it contains a detail of Adam’s legend that is not found anywhere else! Perhaps though it is a tribute to the enduring enigma of Adam’s story, that the account by Cardella contains many factual errors and creates nearly as many questions as it answers. This is also the only biographical account that mentions Adam’s body being uncorrupted when the tomb was moved. It comes from Volume II:

“Adam Easton was born, according to the distinguished Auberius, Ughiello and, most reliably Godwin, to humble parents, in the English county of Herefordshire! He was admitted to the order of St Benedict, where, having distinguished himself at the monastery of Norwich in both piety and learning, he became public professor of theology at the University of Oxford and was nominated by Richard II to be bishop of London, or according to others, of Hereford. At the request of the same monarch, he was created priest cardinal of St Cecilia.

He was suspected of conspiring against the Pope, was taken in chains to the city of Nocera in 1385, together with 5 other cardinals and cruelly tortured. The basis for this suspicion was certain letters written in code (a skill in which he excelled) to Charles Durazzo, King of Naples, which were intercepted by Cardinal Medesimo. The most skilled codebreakers were unable to penetrate their meaning. Some assert that he had spread rumours about the Pope’s cruelty and rich living, others that he had not revealed the plot against Urban, of which he was aware. Whatever it was, one certainty is that despite various requests from the above-mentioned king he was put under the supervision of an official of French nationality and stripped of his office of cardinal.

However , Boniface IX restored him to the honours he had lost and as well as holding him in high esteem, sent glowing letters in his favour to the English parliament, in which he called him a great priest, worthy of the office of officiating cardinal…….He (Adam) produced a prodigious number of works, mainly about the divine scriptures and the others included a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin…….He was able to do this with both ease and erudition because of his exceptionally high level of competence in oriental languages. Almost all the authors are agreed in writing that the subsequent Urban both understood and expressed the innocence of that Cardinal.

Easton (Easton's Tomb_Wikipedia)
Cardinal Adam Easton’s tomb in the church of St Cecilia. Photo: Wikipedia.

He did not reach old age, but ended his days gloriously in Rome in 1398 as can be read in the epitaph on his tomb in the church of St Cecilia…….. after 20 years office as cardinal, he remained buried in the tomb to which he was entitled. Then 200 years after his death, the floor of the church was dug up on the order of Cardinal Sfondrati to create a new pavement and the confessional, as they call it of that virgin and martyr [St Cecilia], and they discovered the body of that devout cardinal, whole and uncorrupted. This is confirmed by the chronicles of the time. The body was carried, with grand ceremonial, to the left side of the aforementioned church, where one can see the ancient tomb with the statue representing the cardinal in his priestly robes, lying on the sepulchral urn. Together with a brief epitaph, there is a representation of his family crest.

It is to the great credit of this pious and learned cardinal that he is praised with sincerity by Bale and Godwin, both heterodox and implacably opposed to the religious orders. The eulogy which these two writers make of Cardinal Easton is reported in full by Ziegelbaver in part 3 of his history of the Benedictine order, page 187ff, in which he gives us an exact catalogue of the many works written by him.”

THE END

Readers please note the following (including the NTM&M Notice at foot:
Most of the above detail is from our Source (below) and contains original material that illustrate events in Adam Easton’s life; much is illustrated with 14th century art from across Europe. However, the images are illustrative of the text themes only; they are NOT necessarily exact of persons or events within the text!

The original material from our source constitutes a Picts Hill Publishing Project – to find out more go to Picts Hill Publishing.

Main Source Used:
https://sites.google.com/site/cardinaladameaston/home
https://sites.google.com/site/pictshillpublishing/home
Feature Heading Photo of the Easton Village Sign: © Copyright Adrian Cable

Useful Suggested Links:

Cardinals of the Catholic Church
Brilliant site listing all the cardinals of the Catholic Church by date of appointment. For many an in-depth biography is also provided together with useful links to other historical information. This is a really valuable tool, for the historian.

 Julian of Norwich and 14th century spirituality
This site contains a great deal of very interesting material, book reviews and theories about the world of Adam Easton and more particularly, Julian of Norwich and the other female mystics of the 14th century. It will be evident that the author of that site, Julia Bolton Holloway is not always in agreement with the content of the site from which the above ‘NTM & More’ version comes. However, it is always useful to compare conflicting theories and accounts and her site offers a number of interesting and detailed perspectives and deserves much more than a cursory glance.

Biography of Adam Easton
Entitled the Most Ungrateful Englishman, this is to date the only substantive biography of Adam Easton, published by Corpus Publishing of Lydney in Gloucestershire.

 Wikipedia entry
The Wikipedia entry on the subject of Adam Easton, the entry does contain a few errors but is a good synopsis for all of that.

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permissions to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that 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.

W.G. Sebald: Where Did He Belong?

Let’s start at the end – the moment when ‘Max’ (he liked that) Sebald died; it happened when he was driving on the A140 near Norwich in December 2001. The coroner’s report, which took six months to publish, stated that he had suffered an aneurysm at the time and had died of this condition before his car swerved across the road and collided with an oncoming lorry. He died three days after his final class at the University of East Anglia (UEA). His daughter, Anna, was with him in the car but survived the crash. Sebald was buried in St. Andrew’s churchyard in Framingham Earl, close to where he lived.

Sebald5
St Andrew’s Church, Framingham Earl, Norfolk. Photo: Norfolk Churches.

But that was then. What preceded it was a very distinguished literally life, on which many other writers and critics have theorised and eulogised. The purpose of this blog is not to try and emulate this gentleman but to simply lay out some interesting information behind his life as documented by others. His experiences and upbringing which influenced everything else that followed, particularly his writing.

(‘Max Sebald and his headstone. Photos: Eastscapes.)

At the time of his death in 2001, at the age of 57, he was being cited by many literary critics as one of the greatest living authors and had been tipped as a possible future winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then in a 2007 interview, Horace Engdahl, former secretary of the Swedish Academy, mentioned Sebald as one of three recently deceased writers who would have been worthy laureates.

Sebald (Wertach)
The town of Wertach where W G Sebald was born. Photo: Wikipedia.

We are told that Max Sebald was born on the 18 May 1944 in Wertach, Bavaria and was one of three children of Rosa and Georg Sebald, who came from an intensely Catholic, anti-communist rural world, wedded to local traditions and hostile to foreigners. Eight months before Max’s birth, on the night of 28 August 1943 to be precise, Rose Sebald, née Egelhofer, was returning home from a visit to her husband in Bamberg; he an officer in the Wehrmacht. She got as far as Fürth from where she saw and heard what turned out to be 528 Allied planes bombing the city of Nuremberg, setting it ablaze.  That was the moment when Rosa first noticed that she was pregnant.

Christened Winfried Georg, Sebald later took to calling himself ‘Max’, which was his preferred short form of one of his middle names, Maximilian. This preference of his was because he was to hate the Germanic “mythological pomposity of Winfried”, and because he was to grow fed up with being called out as ‘Miss Winifred Sebald, please’ when he came to England some 22 years later.

Apart from his christening and meeting his biological father, little is known about Max over the next four years; however, one may assume that he was sheltered from the worst of the Second World War. Certainly, between 1948 and 1963 Sebald grew up in his mother’s village of Sonthofen, in southern Germany and located in the Oberallgäu region of the Bavarian Alps near the Austrian and Swiss borders. The pleasant aspects of this site, its countryside and relatively quiet country life allowed Sebald to grow up without any real concept of destruction. However, the bombing of Germany was to haunt Max Sebald’s adult life, as witnessed by most of his fiction. Quite ironically enough, he was to lived for almost thirty years in the East Anglian region of England, where many of the British planes took-off on their war-time sorties over Germany.

375px-SonthofenVonOben
Sonthofen

Sebald was not yet three years old when, around early February 1947, the family travelled to Memmingen to greet his father Georg Sebald, who the child had never seen. His father, a rather detached figure said nothing about ‘his’ war. Family silence and forgetting seemed to be conditions of Segald’s early life. His father had joined the Reichswehr in 1929 and remained in the Wehrmacht under the Nazis throughout the war; now he was being released from a French prisoner of war camp. He was part of a moment in the lives of German families that took place from the end of hostilities until 1956 when the last German prisoners were finally released from custody. The returning father was to offer his children nothing; it was said that he was morally and physically diminished, weighing less than 50 kilos, but remaining authoritarian and demanding. He appeared the stern usurper in a family benevolently ruled by Rosa, the mother, Max’s oldest sister Gertrud, and his doting maternal grandparents, Theresa and Josef Egelhofer; Josef, the grandfather, became the most important male presence in Max Sebald’s early years. In a sense, it was Josef Egelhofer who was in reality Sebald’s “true” father, someone who had served as village constable in Wertach from the early part of the 20th century until his retirement in the 1930s. From the account of Mark M. Anderson, writing in February 2015, Max Sebald’s grandfather was:

“….. a sensitive, gentle, humorous man, [who] never received much formal education. But he was intelligent and curious, particularly about the physical world around him. Gertrud Sebald calls him a “natural philosopher”. The retired Egelhofer, whose profession had required him to patrol the surrounding region on foot, took his grandson on long walks, teaching him about mountain flowers and herbs, meteorology, geology, but also about the village residents whose life stories he knew so well. He is Sebald’s first and most beloved mentor, a role that was strengthened by the absence of his son-in-law Georg, [Max’s father] who worked in a neighbouring town and returned home only on weekends until 1952. Egelhofer died in April 1956, on the night of a great snowstorm, a few months before his grandson finished elementary school. His death will leave perhaps the largest imprint of any single event in Sebald’s inner memory. His first novel, written during his university studies but never published, turns on the long description of the grandfather’s funeral and burial.”

Sebald studied German and English literature first at the University of Freiburg and then at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where he received a degree in 1965. The move from Freiburg to Fribourg marked the break with Germany and the beginning of his emigration, first in Switzerland and then in England, where he will live until his death in 2001. Again, Mark Anderson writes:

“It didn’t start as a deliberate plan to emigrate—the move to Fribourg was prompted by his desire to escape the stuffy, morally compromised environment of the German faculty members at Freiburg University, where he had initially studied. During his stay in Fribourg, Sebald completes his Master’s degree with distinction in nine months in French (a language he had hardly studied beforehand), working with a Viennese professor who had opposed the Nazis and emigrated to Switzerland before the war. Here begins Sebald’s connection to victims and exiles of the Nazis, which continues in important relationships in England, where so many persecuted German Jews had found refuge. Just as importantly, the stay in Fribourg will teach him what life in a foreign country and language can offer in the way of inner freedom and relief from his generation’s burden of Germany’s war crimes—a burden made simultaneously more self-conscious and lighter by living among non-Germans. Emigration was part of the family DNA. All three of Sebald’s maternal aunts and uncles emigrated from Germany in the 1920s to the United States and remained there until their deaths; Sebald’s own two sisters, Gertrud and Beate, moved to Switzerland early in their lives and reside there today. But emigration was also part of his generational heritage as a child born during or just after the war, the generation that will come of age during the 1960s and, quite often, seek their fortunes abroad.”

Thereafter, Sebald became a Lector at the University of Manchester from 1966 to 1969, then returned to St. Gallen in Switzerland for a year hoping to work as a teacher but could not settle. Sebald married his Austrian-born wife, Ute, in 1967. In 1970 he became a lecturer at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, Norfolk. There, he completed his PhD in 1973 with a dissertation entitled “The Revival of Myth: A Study of Alfred Döblin’s Novels”. Sebald acquired habilitation from the University of Hamburg in 1986. In 1987, he was appointed to a chair of European literature at UEA. In 1989 he became the founding director of the British Centre for Literary Translation. He lived at Wymondham and Poringland while at UEA.

Sebald6
University of East Anglia, Nowich, Norfolk. Photo: Insidermedia.

In the winter of 1983, while living in Norwich, Sebald received news from his mother of the suicide of a beloved elementary school teacher named Armin Müller. Rose sent him newspaper clippings reporting the gruesome death—the retired teacher had lain down on the railroad tracks just outside Sonthofen. Through these cuttings Sebald discovered that Müller had been a victim of the Nazis during the 1930s. As a quarter Jew he was barred from teaching German children early in the Nazi regime; but, paradoxically, he would be drafted by the Wehrmacht in 1939 as a three-quarters German and would serve the Fatherland for six years. Sebald’s discovery of a conspiracy of silence perpetrated by parents and teachers about the town’s true involvement in Nazi persecution created mixed emotions, from fury at being lied to as a child to feeling guilty about mourning for a beloved teacher whose true identity and past persecution he never properly understood.

On 27 January 2012, an independent documentary film was premiered in London celebrating W. G Sebald, the University of East Anglia lecturer and writer. He, who was known to friends as ‘Max’, taught at the UEA for more than thirty years, until his death.

The film ‘Patience (After Sebald)’ was made to coincide with the 10th anniversary of his death on the A146 near Norwich. In it, Grammy nominated film maker and director Grant Gee followed the journey taken by the author through East Anglia in his book ‘The Rings of Saturn’. Grant Gee said the book was unclassified, with elements of travel writing, local history, memoirs and fiction all combined. ‘What started off as an everyday summer holiday walk became a moving, very strange story about the end of all things’

patience-dvd
Patience, the DVD.

After so many years of living in East Anglia Max seemed to have developed a feel for its idiosyncratic way of life, an area in which he was an inveterate walker and connoisseur of the isolation of a place which has been left largely untouched. ‘There was not even a decent autobahn in East Anglia, and that suited him fine.’

A Max Sebald Quote:

“Tales from the Vienna Woods was written by a Hungarian writing in German, who escaped before the Nazis invaded. He was exiled to Paris where, after consulting a clairvoyant who warned him to avoid the city of Amsterdam, never to ride on trams, and on no account to go in a lift. He was walking on the Champs Elysées when the branch of a tree fell and killed him.”

Finally:

Someone once asked Max Sebald where he felt he belonged? He thought that to be “a very good question”. His reply – “I would be very relieved if you could tell me”.

Winfried Georg Maximilian Sebald, writer, born 18 May 1944; died December 14 2001

THE END

Sources:
Eastern Daily Press, 30 January 2012. Photos: Eastscapes
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._G._Sebald
http://kosmopolis.cccb.org/en/sebaldiana/post/cinc-esdeveniments-a-la-vida-de-w-g-sebald/
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2001/dec/17/guardianobituaries.books1

The Collected ‘Maxims’ of W.G. Sebald


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4725736/The-significant-Mr-Sebald.html
https://peoplepill.com/people/w-g-sebald/
Banner Heading Photo: W.G. Sebald portrait / Jan Peter Tripp

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Francis Howes: An Almost Forgotten Cleric and Scholar.

Francis Howes was born at Morningthorpe, Norfolk, on 29 February 1776 and baptised at St John’s, Morningthorpe on 3 March 1776. Apart from his entry into the church, he was to become a classical scholar.

Francis Howes (Portrait_Norfolk Museum Service)
The Reverend Francis Howes (1776-1844) by Henry Housego (c.1795–1858) . Portrait: Norfolk Museums Service. Image: Artuk

Francis was the fourth surviving son of the Revd Thomas Howes (1732–1796), ‘Lord of the Manor of Morningthorpe’ and Rector of St Edmunds, Fritton and St Andrews, Illington. Thomas was grandson of a much earlier Thomas Howes who had first acquired Morningthorpe Hall following the death of his own father in law, John Roope, who died without male heirs in 1686. For generations thereafter the Howes family were born at Morningthorpe.

Francis Howes (Spixworth Hall)
Spixworth Hall. Image: Wikimedia.

Francis Howes mother was Susan Longe (1732-1822), the daughter of Francis Longe of Spixworth (1689-1735), also in Norfolk. Susan had married Francis Howes’s father, Thomas, on 11 Jan 1758 at St Peter’s church, Spixworth, Norfolk. Her elder brother had already married Thomas’s sister, Tabitha Howes, at the same Spixworth church in 1747 – brother and sister married sister and brother! Francis Howes eldest surviving brother, John (1758–1787), entered Gray’s Inn but died young. Two other brothers of his, Thomas (1770–1848) and George (1772–1855), took holy orders, the latter taking over in 1808 as Vicar of Gazeley cum Kentford, Suffolk and then as Rector of St Peter’s at Spixworth, the related Longe family home.

Francis Howes (St Peter's Spixworth)
St Peter’s Church, Spixworth, Norfolk. Image: Wikipedia.

Francis Howes was first educated at Norwich Grammar School in 1790 under Dr Samuel Parr and then entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1794 and graduating with a BA in 1798 as ‘Eleventh Wrangler’, then proceeding to a MA in 1804. Between 1799 and 1800 he had obtained the ‘Members Prize’. His chief college friend was John Williams, the judge, who subsequently made him an allowance of £100 per annum.

Francis Howes (Norwich Grammar School)

Francis Howes is said to have ‘married early’ but in fact was of full age, having married Sarah Smithson (1773–1863) on 19 March 1802 in St Nicholas Chapel, King’s Lynn. It has been speculated that this comment ‘married early’ was probably because his family disapproved of the match; the bride’s late father had been a member of St John’s College, Cambridge – but as a cook, not as a Fellow! (Universal British Directory, 2, c.1792, 493). Francis and Sarah had a reported nine children of whom their sons were Thomas George (b. 1807), later rector of Belton, Suffolk; John (1808–1837), parish clerk; and Charles (1813–1880), fellow and chaplain of Dulwich College. Three of their six daughters married clergymen – a strong theme throughout the generations of the Howes.

Francis Howes was ordained Deacon on 21 December 1800 and priest on 9 August 1801. He was to accumulate a number of clergy appointments thereafter. He was appointed Vicar of Shillington, Bedfordshire, in 1801 and was to hold it until 1816, although it appears that he never lived there. Francis’s sons were baptised in Acle, Norfolk, from where his first books were dated. He was also Vicar of Wickham Skeith, Suffolk, from 1809 until his death, and Rector of Buckenham, with Hassingham, Norfolk, from 1811 to 1814. In 1814 he moved to St George Colegate, Norwich, as parish chaplain, a position which he held until 1831 when he was appointed Vicar of Bawburgh, Norfolk, remaining in this post until 1829. But in 1815 he was also appointed a minor canon of Norwich Cathedral, moving to Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, where he lived for the rest of his life. He received the rectories of Alderford and Attlebridge in March 1826 and in 1829 was made Rector of Framingham Pigot, Norfolk, retaining them until his death in 1844:

The diocese of Norwich was notorious for pluralism and absentee clergy, but the Bishop of the time, Henry Bathurst, always pointed out that the majority of parishes were small and produced a low income.

Francis Howes (Book)As for scholastic writings of Francis Howes, some translations were from Latin into English verse and printed privately for him in 1801; they were included in his Miscellaneous Poetical Translations (1806). His translation of The Satires of A. Persius Flaccus (1809) was unsuccessful. Although he claimed that his translation of Horace’s Satires was ‘shortly’ to be published, The Epodes and Secular Ode of Horace did not appear until 1841 and The First Book of Horace’s Satires in 1842; both were privately printed in Norwich. It was only after his death when his son, Charles, gathered his translations from Horace and published them in The Epodes, Satires, and Epistles of Horace (1845); all the translations were written in heroic couplets, on which Francis Howes’s reputation was to rest. In 1892, John Conington praised these translations, noting that they had been forgotten by the public:

“very good, unforced, idiomatic, felicitous … I should be glad if any notice which I may be fortunate enough to attract should … extend to a predecessor who, if he had published a few years earlier, when translations were of more account, could scarcely have failed to rank high among the cultivators of this branch of literature.”

Howes, also composed epitaphs for monuments in Norwich Cathedral and spent his last years transcribing the diaries of his eccentric but cultured neighbour Sylas Neville. Neville was born in 1741, apparently in London. In 1768-9 he came to Great Yarmouth and settled at Scratby Hall. The years 1772-6 were then spent mainly in Edinburgh where he qualified as a doctor of medicine; the years 1777-80 were spent in foreign travel, mainly in Italy. On his return, and after visits to London, Edinburgh etc., he settled at Norwich in 1783 and there spent the rest of his life, intending to practise medicine but in fact subsisting increasingly on charity and the proceeds of begging letters. He was also to mutilate his diaries and letters later in his life, apparently in an attempt to remove compromising or politically embarrassing matter. Many of these excised passages were later restored by Francis Howes after Neville’s death in 1840 when his papers passed to Howes; he, in turn, transcribed some of the diaries, along with some of the correspondence – but afterwards destroying the originals! From Howes’ son the papers passed to the antiquary Hargrave Harrison then, on his death in 1896, they were purchased by L.G. Bolingbroke; from his family they went to Basil Cozens-Hardy.

Revd Francis Howes died at Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk on 26 March 1844 and was buried in the west cloister of Norwich Cathedral near his son John. According to the Norwich Mercury on 30 March 1844:

 “Mr Howes was known as a ripe and spund [sic] classical scholar having addressed himself to this branch of learning from its earliest growth. He was not less distinguished for the benevolence of his disposition, the sweetness of his temper and the urbanity of his manners. The Editor of this Journal, who pays this tribute to his worth, passed through the Free School of this City upon the same form as him, and testifies with a mournful satisfaction to the early development of these his true qualities, to which they who knew him in later life will be ready to do the same justice, as well as to the liberality of his principles, and of his firmness in their assertion.”

Francis Howes widow died on 3 January 1863, aged 89 years.

THE END

Some Sources:
https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/13987
https://www.howesfamilies.com/getperson.php?personID=I10181&tree=Onename

Poachers and The Heydon Affray

Overview:
Over 194 years ago on a large country estate in Norfolk a group of working-class, if not peasant, men clashed with those who were on the side of the Landed Gentry. The intruders were intent on poaching game for their tables and yes, probably profit. The land owner on the other hand was determined to stop them, see them off the property and, if needs must, punish them with the help of strict and almost unforgiving laws! The Heydon Affray, as it was called, was only one incident in what were once known as the “Poaching Wars”, an almost continuous bitter class conflict which started in earnest in the mid-17th century and came to infest the countryside across the whole of England – but never more so than in Norfolk. According to “The Stuart Constitution” by J.P. Kenyon (Cambridge University Press 1969):

“A similar distinction between the God-given race of landowners and the rest was made by the Game Act of 1671, the most stringent and comprehensive of the famous Game Laws.  It gave gamekeepers the power to enter houses to search for guns, nets and sporting dogs, which those below the rank of esquire were nor only forbidden to use but even to own;  it gave a single justice – usually the landowner concerned-power to award summary punishment, and the decision of Quarter Sessions, staffed by neighbouring land owners was final.  Such blatant class legislation confirmed the social ascendancy of the squirearchy, but in the end their administration of the Game Laws, ‘grossly partial, selfishly biased, and swayed by consideration of their own class interest even to the verge of corruption’, wrecked the reputation of the rural justices and made an important contribution to their ultimate downfall.”

Heydon Affray (Poachers)
19th Century Poachers by Edward Charles Barnes (1855-1882)

In this war between Peasant and Landowner, men were sometimes killed on both sides of the social structure whether by intent or accident, some were even murdered. Those from the lower order who were caught received sentences of death, imprisonment or transportation – all for the sake of a rich man’s rabbit or pheasant. A particularly vicious phase of the poacher’s war began in 1816 with the passing of the Night Poaching Act; this introduced transportation for seven years, if the convicted culprit had been armed with ‘net or stick’ and had the intent to steal rabbits or game. In 1828 a new ‘Night Poaching Act’ introduced transportation of up to fourteen years for such offences.

In 1825, and a little over twelve months before the Heydon affair, Lord Suffield said in the House of Lords: –

“The recipe to make a poacher will be found to contain a very few and simple ingredients which may be met with in every game county in England.  Search out (and you need not go far) a poor man with a large family, or a poor man single man, having his natural sense of right and wrong….give him little more than a natural disinclination to go to work, let him exist in the midst of lands where the game is preserved, keep him cool in the winter, by allowing him insufficient wages to purchase fuel; let him feel hungry upon the small pittance of parish relief; and if he be not a poacher it will only be by the blessing of God.”

Heydon Affray (Poachers War)
Poaching Wars

William Savage in his blog “Poachers in the 18th Century” added: “There’s also a tendency in this romanticised version of events to portray most, if not all, poachers, as poor local men. Fathers desperate to feed themselves and their families. As large-scale capitalist agriculture spread during the 18th century, so this version goes, the commons and woods where ordinary people once grazed a few sheep and shot a few rabbits were fenced off as private property. Deprived of access to wild animals for the pot, the peasants were driven to taking illicitly what they had once enjoyed without hindrance.

I’m sure that did happen. Yet local, small-scale poaching would never have produced the Draconian anti-poaching laws which disfigured the period from around 1810 to the 1830s. The petty ‘crimes’ of local poachers were almost always dealt with as misdemeanours. The poacher would expect a severe lecture from the magistrate, followed by a small fine or a few weeks in prison. Poaching for money, not for the pot, was the problem. Gangs of men who descended on an estate to take large amounts of game to sell. It started in the 18th century, then grew into almost a class war in the 19th.”

Heydon Affray (Corn Laws)

This bleak picture of England by the early 19th century was, in no small measure, made worse by the collapse of wheat prices to 65 shillings 6 pence following the Wars against France; foreign grain flooded into the country.  From 1815 onwards a series of Corn Laws were passed in an attempt to prevent the importation of wheat until prices reached at least 80 shillings. This blatant protectionism failed but the price of bread, which was the staple food of the English poor, remained high; this was coupled by the increasing number of enclosures of land which greatly reduced the opportunity for supplementing the diets of the rural poor with rabbits, hares etc.

Tensions were therefore at a high level in the countryside as a result of working people’s desperation and the fear they had of the far richer landowners who vigorously pursued their fight to protect what they believed was rightly theirs. The Night Poaching Laws had brought with them the sentence of transportation for seven years for poachers caught in the act of taking game.  It was said that in the eleven years following the introduction of these Laws, 1700 people in both England and Wales were convicted and sentenced to be transported.

Heydon Affray (wounded_poacher_henry_jones_thaddeus)
“The Wounded Poacher”,
Henry Jones Thaddeus, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

If it was desperation that persuaded peasants and labourers to poach, then it was the fear of transportation, if caught, which drove many to violence when resisting arrest.  Transportation meant never returning to England and to families; equally, it was extremely unlikely that convicts who were only transported for a limited period would ever return to their native land.  Those transported for life were, of course, banned from ever returning, although many were conditionally pardoned within the colonies.

Costessey, Norwich – A Hotbed for Poaching:
The pages of the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette for the period in which we speak provided ample evidence and comment on the fact that the area in and around Costessey village, Norfolk was a hotbed for poachers, whether indivuals or large poaching gangs.  The proximity of this area to the City of Norwich made disposal of ill-gotten game relatively easy. In return, the city itself was a fruitful source for recruiting poachers for the likes of the notorious “Cossey Gang” of that time. The city’s crowded yards and courts also provided excellent hiding places for planned poaching forays into the gaming preserves of the surrounding country estates.

“On Sunday the 31st ult at four o’clock in the morning, a gang of poachers, about fourteen in number, entered the plantations of the Earl of Buckingham, at Blickling. After they had fired thrice, the keeper and his watch, in all fifteen, came up with them, and an engagement ensued, when the poachers threw vollies [sic] of stones, and very much wounded one of the watch. The poachers, at length, finding themselves pressed, threatened fire, and did fire two guns, but, as is supposed, with powder only; soon after, however, they fired with shot, and wounded three of the watch, and then fled.”

(Norfolk Chronicle – Saturday 20 January 1787)

In 1818 both Richard Harvey and David Banham of Costessey were imprisoned for poaching in Taverham.  In the 1820’s the most frequently named offender in Costessey was a John Adcock. He was a ploughman, transported in 1827 to serve seven years as a convict labourer in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania); it would be most unlikely that he ever returned to Norfolk and his family. Adcock was transported despite a plea from Lord Stafford to the Home Secretary to let him serve his sentence in England.  Adcock’s offence was for taking three pheasants at Costessey Hall, the property of Lord Stafford. Others poaching with him were Henry & James Harvey, James Edmunds, Thomas Paul and Thomas Riches.

Heydon Affray (Costessey Hall)

The Heydon Hall Affray:
It was on Monday, 11 December 1826, when there was much to-ing and fro-ing between Costessey and Norwich by men planning to do a bit of poaching that night.  Five men went to the city in the morning and met up at Crook’s Place before taking a short walk to St Stephens to buy powder and shot. Two then went off to the Brickmakers on the Trowse Road in search of a further colleague, before returning and moving on the Eight Ringers in St Miles – it would seem that the process of ‘rounding up’ a party was in progress. From St Miles the party walked the short distance to St Augustine’s where they all had a further pot of beer before going outside.

A total of fourteen men gathered under a tree at St. Augustine’s Gates where they held a meeting to finalise a plan for what would turn out to be a poaching foray to Heydon Hall, some 14 miles north-east of the city. Those men who made up early numbers were (1) William Howes, aged 32, (2) Edward Baker, (3) William Elsegood, aged 28, (4) George Goffin, aged 30, (5) Richard Harvey, aged 27, (7) James Harvey, aged 20, (8) Thomas Paul, aged 26, (9) James Paul, aged 18, (10) William Olley, aged 34, (11) Thomas Skipper, aged 17, (12) John Catchpole, aged 26, (13) John Perry,  (14 ) John General, and (15) Matthew Howlett (16) Richard Turner. More would join them at the Red Lion at Drayton. – Take note of the sequence of numbers against the names for later reference when each was sentenced.

Heydon Affray (St-Augustines-Gate_Henry-Ninham)
St Augustine’s Gate by Henry Ninham (1793 – 1874). Image: Tudor Galleries.

It was while they were still at St Augustine’s that there was a realisation that they only had four guns between them and it was James Paul and John Perry who volunteered to return to Costessey to get more weapons whilst the other men moved on to the Red Lion at Drayton where they met up with (15) Matthew Howlett. Later, Paul, Perry, plus a sixteenth member, (6) William Skipper arrived to report that they had managed to get two more ‘nippers’ (guns). In total, sixteen men settled down in the Red Lion for an evening’s drinking before setting off for the Heydon Hall Estate for a night’s work.

Mary Howard was to remember Monday, 11 December 1826 long into the New Year and beyond. She was the Red Lion publican’s daughter who served behind the bar and generally kept order, particularly when her father was absent. She remembered most of the proposed poaching party turning up, at intervals, to kill time before moving on. Mary witnessed them ‘loosening up’ and generating increasing levels of noise. This included a drinking challenge of ‘downing the flincher’ over pots of beer, accompanied by the rider “b**** to the first who flinches”. Not everyone took part; James Paul, for one, refused to take part for he “would flinch”! As for John Perry, he proclaimed at some point well into the evening that he would bet “five shillings that he would not miss a shot that night”.

Heydon Affray (Red Lion)
The Red Lion in Drayton, some 90 years after Mary Howard worked there and where poachers gathered.

When the party eventually left the Red Lion public house, it was just before half past nine; they had some ten more miles to travel before they reached the Heydon Estate and their feather and fur quarry. The route was along the Attlebridge Road and then across country to Felthorpe where William Olley obtained a gun from a cottage and gave it to James Harvey. Seven men now had guns: Edward Baker, William Elsegood, John General, James Harvey, Richard Harvey, John Perry and William Skipper – the others armed themselves with stakes from a hurdle, broken off during their journey.  From Felthorpe, they made their way to ‘Blackbridge Wood’, which was on the Heydon Estate and about a mile from the Hall itself.

Heydon Affray (The Hall)
Heydon Hall. Image: Wikipedia.

The wood was large and surrounded a lake and boathouse before reaching almost as far as the gamekeeper’s ‘Bluestone Hall’ cottage which lay alongside the Holt to Norwich road and not far from Dog Corner. The poachers made certain that they were well clear of the gamekeeper’s cottage as they moved towards a nearby area where they hoped the game were roosting; but it was a bright moonlight night and they feared “the game birds would quickly fly”. Some nearby rooks had felt sufficiently disturbed to fly to more distant trees. But the poachers had arrived, they were committed to make the most of the conditions and they approached their task in a loose formation, with those armed advancing forward in front of those who only held stakes and bludgeons.

Heydon Affray (Bluestone Hall_Zoopla)
Formerly the gamekeeper’s, James Carman’s, ‘Bluestone Hall’ Cottage. Image: Zoopla

Somehow, suspicion had been aroused amongst Estate staff with the head gamekeeper, James Carman, organising a ‘Watch’ or ‘Posse’ which would assemble at his cottage; the party consisted of estate workers Phillip Brewster, William Southgate, William Spray, Richard Carmin and George West. It was just before midnight of the 11 December 1826 when a section of this party headed out towards Blackbridge Woods. No one had yet seen any intruders, nevertheless Carman went armed with a brace of pistols and a double-barrelled gun which he soon handed to William Spray at the cottage gate; the weapons were their insurance should ‘armed’ men be out there. All was still and quiet as they came within a furlong of the wood; then suddenly some crows flew and one in the party was immediately convinced that there was someone or other afoot amongst the trees. Carman’s first instinct was to dismiss the thought, on the basis that no one would poach on such light night. He soon changed his mind when a gunshot sounded – and then a second. Carman immediately drew his pistols and fired into the air so as to attract the attention of the remaining members of the Watch who were waiting back at the cottage. At the same time, he noticed several on the edge of the wood, one of whom recognised the gamekeeper and was heard to shout “That’s Carman” threatening to give him a ”damn good beating”, while another added ”We’ll shoot him out of the way”!

These last words were followed immediately with shots being fired in the direction of the gamekeeper, some of which Carman later claimed went “into his ear and eye and others into his hand”; however, this did not prevent him retrieving his gun from Spray and firing at the poachers.  Poachers Richard Turner and James Harvey were on the receiving end of this volley with Harvey saying to Turner, ‘’Take hold of my gun, they have shot my eyes out”. What followed was Turner bandaging Harvey’s head with a handkerchief, then both being hit with yet another discharge from Carman. Poacher James Paul then came up and said that he also had been shot in the hand and face.  Despite what appeared to be a one-sided confrontation, the Watch, to a man, ran off out of the wood and followed by the superior numbered poachers who had clearly taken the initiative. Watch member, William Southgate, was then knocked down with a stone and beaten by William Olley, that was until fellow poacher, William Elsegood, pleaded with him to stop or ”for God’s sake you’ll kill him”.

The poachers pursued James Carman and the Watch into Seaman’s Farm where, it was said, they hid under a manger in the stable while the poachers spent a full twenty minutes nearby searching for them and uttering threats throughout. The poachers then regrouped and departed for another wood nearby, said to be Newell Wood. There, they discharged their ‘nippers’ three or four more times.  They then disputed whether to go back to Blackbridge Wood or cut their losses and go home. In the meantime, Carman and the Watch came out of hiding and on the way back to the Hall for reinforcements met the Hon. G.W. Edwardes, the third son of Lord Kensington, who was going down to Newell Wood where it was reported the poachers were.  Poacher, Edward Baker, was the first to spot the now reinforced Watch, its advancing presence causing the poachers to run towards the shelter of a hedge and bank where they argued as to whether they should fight the Watch or retreat fast……

The Hon. Edwardes  stood on the bank and apparently said  ”What do all you people do here at this time of night” to which Richard Harvey replied ”Your people shot us at first, and if you do not stand back you will stand the chance of sharing the same fate”.  It was later suggested that his reply was probably a reference to one of the poaching party, John General, who it is believed was fatally wounded earlier in the night when it was reported:

”one of the keepers being hard pressed, discharged his gun at this solitary poacher who immediately fell, and the short distance at which that person received the shot makes it probable that he must have been seriously, if not fatally wounded”.

Edwardes told them they had better not fire, but was almost immediately struck in the face by a stone thrown by Perry; this caused blood to flow from his mouth and nose. Edwardes fell on one knee and hand and as he was rising was shot by Perry and another poacher in the side and shoulder. In the return of fire from the Watch James Paul cried ‘’They have cut me all to pieces ” as he was severely wounded in the thigh. At this point, the poachers had enough of the exchanges and retreated, led by John Perry.  The Honourable Edwardes’ servant ‘Ensor’ helped his master back to Heydon Hall……. On 17 December 1826, two bludgeons, two guns and a hat, ‘much shot through’ was found in the home of William Howes at Crook’s Place, Norwich.

Heydon Affray (Judge)
The Judge (c.1800) by Thomas Rowlandson. Image: Tate Gallery, number T08531. © Tate, granted under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0.

It is not known how and when the poachers were apprehended by the authorities – but caught they were and were committed to trial at the Lent Assizes held in Thetford, Norfolk on 27 March 1827. The Judge presiding was Justice Sir Stephen Gaselee (1762 – 26 March 1839), justice of the Court of Common Pleas. It was said that Gaselee was the original of the irascible judge represented by Charles Dickens in the trial of Bardell v. Pickwick, under the name of Justice Stareleigh.

Those poachers appearing on the Charge Sheet were:

“(1) William. Howes, aged 32, (2) Edward Baker, aged 34, (3) William Elsegood, aged 28, (4) George Goffin, aged 30, (5) Richard Harvey, aged 27, (6) William Skipper, aged 28, (7) James Harvey, aged 20, (8) Thomas Paul, aged 26, (9) James Paul, aged 18, (10) William Olley, aged 34, (11) Thomas Skipper, aged 17, (12) John Catchpole, aged 26, (13) John Perry was severally indicted for shooting at and wounding the Honourable George Warren Edwardes, on the 12 of December last.”

Witnesses called and cross-examined included James Carman (gamekeeper), William Southgate (watch), Philip Brewster (watch), George West, Honourable G. W. Edwardes (Estate), William Spray (keeper), William Ireland (Farmer), (13) John Perry, (accused), (14) Richard Turner (gentleman’s servant and accomplice), and Mary Brown (Red Lion).

The prisoners said nothing in their defence with some having to rely on submitted ‘good references’. The Jury retired for barely twenty minutes to consider its verdict, and when it returned the verdict was ‘Guilty’, but with the equally unanimous recommendation for Mercy. The Judge responded by saying that this “should be communicated where it would meet with due attention……nevertheless, he must perform the painful duty his office imposed on them”. His Lordship then proceeded to pass the formal sentence of death upon the accused, but which subsequently was commuted to either transportation or prison. The fate of the 16 members of the ‘Cossey Gang’, of whom 14 actually stood trial at the Norfolk Assizes on 27 March 1827, was as follows:

Sentence to Death but Transported for life:
The following were sentenced to death but with Royal Mercy were commuted to transportation on the ship “ASIA V”. This ship, of 523 tons, was launched in 1824 at Bombay. She carried 200 male convicts to Hobart and had two deaths en-route. She departed Portsmouth on the 17th of August 1827 and arrived at Hobart on the 7th of December 1827. Her Master was Captain Henry Ager and Surgeon: George Fairfowl.

Heydon Affray (John_Ward_of_Hull_-_H.M.S._Asia)
HMS Asia by John Hall of Hull.

(1) William Howes: Aged 32, native place Little Brandon, Norfolk and was a Groom and Coachman. He left behind a wife and children in Norwich. On his arrival ai Hobart, he was assigned to a Mr Seagrim and later served as a Constable. During his time, he committed five minor Colonial offences, being admonished or Ticket of Leave suspended 1 month. On 17 March 1836 Howes was sentenced to one-months Hard Labour on a road gang for being drunk and ‘striking his wife’! He received a conditional pardon on 24 May 1839.

(2) Edward Baker:  Aged 34, native place Catton, Norfolk, farm labourer and brickmaker – worked for a Mr Blake. He left behind a wife and children in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart, Baker was assigned to a W. Gunn Esq., Supt of Prisoners Barracks at Bourbon Sorrell in the Drummond Parish. He was later admonished for insolence and drowned in the South Esk River on Thursday, 13 August 1835.

(3) William Elsegood: Aged 28, On arrival in N.S.W. was assigned to Sir John Jamison of Evans.

(4) George Goffin:  Aged 30, native place Norfolk, ploughman and brickmaker. He left a wife in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart, he was assigned to Mr Phillip Pitt of Beaufort Parish. He committed no Colonial offences and was given a conditional pardon on 20 September 1837, with a Pardon extended to the Australian colonies on 12 August 1845.

(5) Richard Harvey: Aged 27, native place Costessey, Norfolk. He was baptised on 30 September 1798, son of Richard HARVEY and Sarah (Lovett), and left behind a wife, Susannah (Parnell) of Costessey and children Thirza and William at Costessey. On arrival at Hobart Harvey was assigned to Lieut. Hawkins and Mr Isiah Ratcliffe but later committed many Colonial offences, being sentenced to a variety of punishments, such as Tread-Wheel, Chain Gang, Working in irons, Imprisonment with hard labour, Solitary Confinement and Bread & water. Eventually he was given a ‘Ticket of Leave’ on 2 August 1836, conditional pardon on 10 May 1836 which was extended to Australian colonies 8 December 1846.

(6) William Skipper Aged 27, Native place Stoke, Norfolk. He left behind a wife Sarah and six children ‘on the parish’ at Costessey – William, Mary, Hannah, Isabella, Anthony and Anastasia. Skipper was sent to the Hulk ‘Leviathan’ on 27 April 1827, then transferred to the ‘Hardy’ on 28 May 1830. He was not transported but discharged with a Free Pardon on 30 June on the appeal of Lord STAFFORD to the Home Secretary. In the 1881 Census he was still living at 17 The Croft, Costessey as a widower.

(7) James Harvey:   Aged 20, son of Richard Harvey and Sarah (nee Lovett) and baptised on 6 July 1808 at Costessey. Harvey was already under sentence of 7 years transportation for poaching in a plantation of Lord STAFFORD on the Costessey Hall estate, along with John Adcock and Thomas Paul on 25 Nov.1826. On arrival in New South Wales Harvey was assigned to Mr. Spark of Botany Bay.

(10) William Olley: Aged 34, native place Drayton, Norfolk, farmer, ploughman, malster and brewer. He left behind a wife and children ‘on the parish in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart he was assigned to Mr. Andrew Tolney in the Ormaig Parish and was once reprimanded for being absent from Church Muster. He received a Ticket of Leave in 1836 and a conditional pardon on 20 June 1840.

Sentenced to Death but commuted to a Gaol term:
(8) Thomas Paul: Aged 26, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Bailey). He was baptised on 22 February 1802. His death sentence was commuted to 2 years in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.

(9) James Paul: Aged 18, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Bailey). He was baptised on 9 July 1806 and married Harriet Skipper on 26 October 1830. His death sentence was commuted to 4 months in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.

(11) Thomas Skipper Aged 17, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Lakay) of Costessey. Baptised 4 Feb. 1810. His death sentence was commuted to a period in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.

Sentence to Death but commuted to 7 years transportation:
(12) John Catchpole: Aged 26 was sent to the Hulk ‘Leviathan‘ on 27 April 1827 with others. Nothing more was heard of him.

Sentence to Death but not in Custody:
(13) John Perry:  At the time of the trial Perry was not in custody although in the evidence it was seen that he was the ringleader. Nothing further has been discovered about him. However, on 18 September 1826 a child Ellen E. Perry, daughter of John Perry and Martha, was baptised at Costessey Church.

Believed Killed during the Heydon Affray:
(14) John General: Newspaper reports of the time indicated that General may well have been fatally wounded and hence not charged. He was carried from the scene by his companions.

Sentence Unknown:
(15) Matthew Howlett:  He was with the gang at the Red Lion in Drayton but was not mentioned in the report of the affray. It would also seem that he was not charged.

Turned King’s Evidence:
(16) Richard Turner: It was reported that Turner had been a gentleman’s servant for twelve months before who turned King’s Evidence; he escaped punishment. On 17 May 1828 a Richard Turner married Anne Simmons at Costessey, (witnesses John Pank and Anne Powell). A question was posed as to whether, or not, Turner had been planted in the gang!

Other Costessey Poachers transported to Australia:
John ADCOCK:  Aged 28, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Richard and Elizabeth (nee Cutler). He was baptised on 12 Nov.1797 and married Sarah Gurney of Costessey on 4 Oct. 1825. Children were Maria Elizabeth and Sarah Ann. Adcock was a farm labourer and ploughman. He was sentenced to 7 years transportation on 10 January 1827 for poaching in a plantation of Lord Stafford on the Costessey Hall estate, along with James Harvey (10) and Thomas Paul (11) on 25 November 1826. Sarah ADCOCK was on parish relief all through 1827. Adcock was transported to Van Dieman’s Land on the convict transport “Asia V ” on 17th August 1827. On arrival he was assigned to a Mr Anthony Geiss of Wellington Parish. On 11 March 1830 Adcock absented himself from his master’s service and was reprimanded. Around 1832/33 he was given a ‘Ticket of Leave’ and on 23 January 1834 a Free Certificate was issued. It is to Lord Stafford’s credit that he had appealed to the Home Secretary to have Adcock’s sentence remitted; however, the appeal was unsuccessful.

THE END

Bibliography and Sources of Reference:
The above tale based on the reports that appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette on Sat. 31st March 1827 about the trial of the Heydon poachers at the Lent Assizes held in Thetford, Norfolk on the 26 March 1827: Also:
The Village Labourer 1760-1832. L.L. and Barbara Hammond – First publ. 1911 Longmans, London.
The History of Costessey by T.B. Norgate published privately by Author, August 1972.
The Diary of a Country Parson. 1758-1802. James Woodforde. ed by James Beresford, OUP 1978.
The Long Affray. The Poaching Wars 1790-1914. Harry Hopkins, Macmillan, London 1985.
Peasants & Poachers. A study in rural disorder in Norfolk, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge Suffolk.
Tasmanian Archives Convict Records -Hobart, Tasmania.
Poachers in the 18th Century
www.geocities.ws/sandgroper79/poachers19.html
www.geocities.ws/sandgroper79/poachers20.html
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2638689?seq=1
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2638689?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Ae2110a8ef76815734930d60a0662880e&seq=10#page_scan_tab_contents

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.

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.

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.

Norwich’s Secret Garden

The Secret Garden is well hidden, and so is the commemorative stone which sits in a dark niche immediately to the left of the entrance gate to the garden.

Secret Garden2
Entrance to the Secret Garden. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

The late photographer and historian of Norwich, George Plunkett, stated that: “This rather secluded corner adjacent to the Adam and Eve public house was the location of the Meeting House or Tabernacle.” It was a plain little red-brick building with pantiled roof and a double row of sash windows, opened by Mr Whitefield on 14 April 1753 and leased to John Wesley from 1758 to 1764 – see below. Stanley Wearing in ‘Georgian Norwich and its Builders’ considered the Meeting House to have been the first building in Norwich with which the locally famous architect Thomas Ivory was known to be connected.

Secret Garden1
The commemorative Stone. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

The person behind the existence of the Meeting House had been a Calvinistic Methodist by the title and name of Reverend James Wheatley. He, prior to his moving permanently to Norwich in 1750, had been preaching in the city at various places including an older ‘Tabernacle’ set up in a house on Scoles Green in Nowich. Unfortunately, Wheatley’s ideas were not generally well received and frequent riotous scenes occurred, resulting in his molestation to such an extent that on more than one occasion ‘the poor creature was half dead, not able to walk alone, and in a most terrible condition’, to quote one eye-witness. It would appear that such scenes and experiences left him totally undeterred for eventually he was able to purchase the land, of which we speak, for the building of the Meeting House, together with an adjoining three-storeyed dwelling house.”

It was in much earlier days, on 23 December 1737 to be exact, that John Wesley (1703–1791) and the founder of Methodism, disapproved of Wheatley’s reputation. It was at the time when Wheatley had invited Wesley to preach at an earlier ‘Tabernacle’ – possibly the one at Scoles Green. According to Wesley: “James Wheatley now repeated his offer of the Tabernacle. But I was in no haste. I wanted to consult my friends, and consider the thing thoroughly.” Eventually, however, Wesley consented:

“I went up and preached to a large congregation without any let or hindrance.” On the Sunday, “the Tabernacle was thoroughly filled, and mostly with quiet hearers. I saw none who behaved amiss but two soldiers, who struck some that desired them to be silent. But they were seized and carried to the commanding officer, who ordered them to be soundly whipped.” The following day he preached, he thought, to good effect, “Stony hearts were broke; many mourners comforted; many believers strengthened. Prejudice vanished away; a few only kept their fierceness till the afternoon.”

But, Norwich was suspicious of Wesley and he, in turn, thought of the city: “her people seemed fickle, perverse, unstable as water”. Then, in 1758, five years after the Meeting House had been built and also the time when Wesley was leasing the Meeting House, he wrote, “It seems the time is come when our labour even in Norwich, will not be in vain”.

PortraitofJohnWesley1703-1791founderofMethodism2
The old Meeting House in 1939. Photo: George Plunkett.

Fast forward again to George Plunkett who, apart from photographing the Meeting House in the 20th century, had also seen inside before the building which was to be demolished in 1953: “the Tabernacle was furnished with handsome mahogany seating and a beautiful pulpit”.

But it was back in 1775 that the building was sold to the Countess of Huntingdon; she set up a trust to appoint ministers “whose preaching and sentiments [were] according to the articles and homilies of the Church of England”. Disused by the 1930s, it was then acquired by the Eastern Gas Board, whose works adjoined to the north, and was pulled down early in 1953, the year of its bicentenary. Now, in its place, is Norwich’s ‘Secret Garden.

Secret Garden3
Inside the Secret Garden, Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

THE END

Photographs: George Plunkett, by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett. Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Adventures of the Old Catton Village Sign!

On 11 December 1895 the journalist, James Hooper, wrote “Our way to Catton, which is some two miles nearer the North Pole than Norwich is, we are told ‘a delightful suburban village’. He went on to recount numerous theories on the origins of ‘Catton’ but in the end concluded that ‘there is little doubt that Catton was so named from the common cat.’ This, he believed, was substantiated by ‘many more cat observations and a visit to the church.’

Some one hundred years or so later, Ray Jones of the Old Catton Society placed far more substance on the village’s feline friend and its origins. His approach was to unravel and document the mysteries of the origins of this cat and how it became celebrated as part of the village sign. His investigations established the many lives that this sign subsequently had – which included the cat itself, the barrel on which the cat sits; plus every other part of the village sign in fact. However, the author has not, as yet, established where the cat disappeared to at various times throughout its history – especially during the Second World War! Neither has he yet discovered how many ‘Catton Cats’ have disappeared and not been seen ever again; or, which parts of the country (or world) the cat has been seen in his travels. One thing is certain; the Old Catton village sign, with a cat atop a barrel, is a symbol which must be familiar to many people of Norfolk, and indeed further afield. Its beginnings, however, pre-date the village sign by some 400 years. From a variety of Old Catton Council minutes, press reports and parish talk, Ray went on to compile what must be a better than excellent account of the cat’s history as one could reasonably expect. Here is a resume’ of his endeavours.

Catton Cat (2013)
The Village Sign in 2013

The rebus of a wild cat on a barrel was first recorded as the sign of Prior Robert Bronde (also known as Robert de Catton), the penultimate Prior of Catton before the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Historical sources record that his heraldic arms included “an ounce or cat of mountain.” and were included in stained glass placed in the windows of St Margaret’s church by Bronde himself. In addition, the Cat and Barrel rebus is also found in a beautiful section of stained glass situated in the south window of St Margaret’s church; this particular glass was installed by its then Vicar the Revd. Richard Hart in 1850.

Catton Cat2

There is also the original Tudor doorway on the east front of the Manor House in Church Street, Catton, which is also surmounted by a carving of a ‘cat’ and a ‘tun’ (barrel) rebus in the spandrels of its moulded bridging beams which by the early 17th century were already old fashioned. But, the most obvious and well-known manifestation of the device is to be found in the ‘cat’ and ‘tun’ reliefs which were carved in the door frame over the south door of the Manor House in 1891. This work is a well-executed copy of the Tudor carving situated over the Manor’s east door mentioned above; the person responsible is considered to be James Minns, a well-known Norwich wood carver often associated with works by Norwich architects George Skipper (1856-1948) and Edward Boardman. A footnote on plans for Boardman’s remodelling of the Manor House in 1891 names the Minns family as carvers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then in 1902, to celebrate the Coronation of King Edward VII, the Buxton family of Catton Hall gave a commemorative mug, made by the famous Doulton pottery, to every household in the village: the jug featured a cat in relief on one side and a barrel on the other. Several are still held in private ownership in the village. All the instances of the cat’s past existence are the forerunners of the present well-known village sign; the originals are a happy mix of intent and coincidence.

Catton Cat (Mug)
The commemorative mug.

It was in March 1936 when the Parish Council first asked parishioners for their suggestions for commemorating the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, which would be held later that year. None were received immediately, and it was not until later in 1936 when a Mr Fred Gough of Crome House, Catton entered the scene; he owned the Norwich Paper and Cardboard Co. Mr Gough wrote to the Parish Council offering to erect a village sign which would represent the “Cat” and the “Tun”. The sign, similar to that erected at Swaffham, would stand on the ‘Village Green’ at the junction of Church Street and St Faiths Road; it was thought that this would preserve the small island there. Mr Gough’s offer was, in principle, accepted by the Council, along with a statement that the matter would be passed up to the St Faiths RDC.

It was the case that certainly by the November of 1936 no suggestions had been forthcoming from parishioners as to commemorating the forthcoming coronation; this being the case, the village’s deliberations on the matter were postponed a further three months, to February 1937; this to allow time to see what celebrations other Norfolk villages were planning. Eventually, the two interests of village sign and a suitable commemoration to celebrate King George VI’s Coronation merged. A new village sign was duly unveiled in 1937 by Mr Gough’s son in the presence of the Vicar, the Revd McCready, and formally handed over to the Chairman of Old Catton Parish Council. A large crowd of councillors and parishioners gathered for the occasion.

At the time of the 1937 unveiling, the identity of the designer and maker of the sign was not known – seventy-nine years later it was! Early in 2016, an email was received from a John Hennings of Droitwich in which it said:

“It is told to me that the sign was designed by Bernard Nicholson (my Grandfather) he was the Architect for Bullard’s Brewery and I was always told that his idea was to place a cat on to a model of a “tun”. I have, what I was told as being the original Alabaster cat used to model the carved version.”

From this message it became obvious that John Henning’s grandfather was none other than the Catton Parish Council Chairman present at the 1937 unveiling ceremony.  One further delight to emerge from John Henning’s email was that he had in his possession an alabaster cat which was said to have been the model for the cat on the barrel. A commercial post-card published in 1938 illustrates the sign perfectly, showing scrolled iron-work under the top pedestal, and a vertical in inscription which read, “G.R.- TO COMMEMORATE THE CORONATION OF KING GEORGE VI ON 18TH MAY 1937”. Neither of these two features appear to have survived beyond the 1940s.

Catton Cat9
This commercial post-card, published in 1938, shows the sign perfectly.

In Oct 1937 it was noted in the Parish Council minutes that under Section 268 (I) of the Local Govt. Act 1933, the Council were empowered to have reasonable expenses for the upkeep of the Village Sign presented by Mr F Gough and who, surprisingly enough, arranged for the sign to be renovated in 1938. No reason was given for the ‘remedial’ work on such a new feature, but the varnish was hardly dry before a remarkable series of feline adventures began. World War II intervened and across the nation signposts were taken down to confuse the enemy. It was in this way that the Officer’s Mess at RAF Horsham St Faiths, nearby, became the home of the sign for the duration of hostilities. The council minutes for August 1940 recorded: –

“The sign having been removed by request of the local police officer and temporarily placed in front of the Officers’ Mess R.A.F. Fifers Lane by request of the C.O. It was resolved on proposition of Mr Sabberton seconded by Mr Booty that the Commanding Officer should give the Council a written receipt for the sign on the understanding that it should be returned in good order to the former site on conclusion of hostilities.”

It seemed unclear to most in the parish what benefit the minor relocation of the sign would have in deceiving the enemy should they ever arrive, but clearly the move was very popular with the RAF as the following letter of 17 August 1940 (on R/H side) to the Parish Clerk demonstrated: –

Catton Cat (Cat Loan)

In the final years of the war American Liberator aircraft were based at RAF Horsham St Faiths and US servicemen were clearly taken by the ‘cute’ sign on their doorstep. The following photograph shows Capt. Maurice Speer standing beside the sign in front of the Officers’ Mess.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Captain Maurice Speer, United Sates Airforce, circa 1944.

Events during the war are shrouded in mystery but rumour had it at the time that the cat took part in a bombing raid over Germany. As the threat of German invasion waned the calls for the sign to be returned to its original home began. The Parish minutes for April 1944 recorded that the sign be brought back to its old position in the village, but it was not until the following April of 1945 that the Clerk approached the Air Ministry regarding the restoration of the sign. On 14 June 1945 the RAF responded:-

“Old Catton Village Sign

Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of the 11th inst., regarding the collection of the Old Catton village sign which is at present situated on front of the Officers’ Mess.

The Senior Works Officer raises no objection to the removal of the sign, provided no expense is incurred by the Air Ministry, but I regret to inform you that the cat is missing.

The matter has been taken up with the Unit Executive Officer, who assures me that no effort will be spared in endeavouring to trace the cat, and it is hoped that steps already taken will result in its location and return.

This matter is sincerely regretted, both by myself and the Unit.

Yours faithfully

Clerk of Works”

Four days later another letter was received: –

“Old Catton Village Sign

With reference to my letter of the 14th inst., I have pleasure in informing you that the cat has been traced and is now held in safe custody.

I should be glad if your representative would call at this office when he comes to remove the sign from the Officers’ Mess; the cat will then be handed over to him.

Yours faithfully

Clerk of Works”

In June 1946 the Council accepted Mr Southgate’s tender for re-erection of the sign. Materials were evidently difficult to obtain in the post-war economy, but the work was finally completed by the end of the year, and the sign stood again at its original home. There then began a long period of mixed fortunes.

In February 1949 the parish clerk reported the removal of the cat by RAF auxiliary merrymakers. Two months later, thanks to the local and RAF Constabulary, it was returned from Stockton-on Tees. The re-installation was undertaken by an RAF NCO but the sign was cleaned up at Parish expense. A charge of 25 shillings was made and councillor Mr English took steps to obtain restitution from the Commanding Officer of the auxiliary unit at Stockton on Tees; whilst in a separate letter, expressed the appreciation of the Parish Council to the Station Commander at Horsham St Faiths. Then in September 1952 the cat again vanished – apparently without trace! Fishponds appeared to be a popular choice for searching, and Bristol was mentioned as a possible fruitful ground of enquiry. Mr English of the Council promised to convey this information to the police.

Coincidently and quite out of the blue it seems, an offer to the Parish Council was received in 1953 from a Mr Wolfgang Klinge who was Danish. Despite having returned to his native Denmark, he offered to replace the cat in recognition of the happy years he had spent in Old Catton, having worked for Bush Builders at Hellesdon. His offer was ‘enthusiastically accepted on behalf of the Council’ and the Clerk was instructed to write to Mr Klinge ‘expressing the warm appreciation of the Council.’ However, the matter thereafter was far from being as straightforward as one would want.

Catton Cat (Wolfgang Klinge)
Wolfgang Klinge and wife – Greyfriars, May 1952.

Throughout the following year there were various reports which indicated ‘that there were frustrating delays in the making of a new cat.’; and Mr Klinge was expressing disappointment that nothing was being done, particularly as he had paid for the work before leaving Norwich. Then, in February 1954 Mr Klinge informed the Parish Council that he proposed to get the cat made in Denmark. In response, the Clerk was instructed to investigate the cost of a plaque pending the arrival of the cat. This plaque would note the gift of the original sign by Fred Gough in 1936, correctly reflecting the year when the idea of a cat on a barrel sign was born. A second plaque would acknowledge the generous gift of a restored version by Wolfgang Klinge. Keen to publicise the replacement, the Clerk of the Council undertook to supply a paragraph to the Press and Parish Magazine when the job was completed. In the meantime, in the June of 1954 to be exact, RAF personnel were seen trying, but failing, to remove the barrel. The new cat was finally posted to England and erected in September 1954.

Catton Cat (Plaque)1

Two months later, in November, a very interesting development took place in which the Parish Clerk received a letter from the Commanding Officer of RAF Horsham St Faiths with intelligence that the ‘cat’ might be found adorning a street sign in Chicago. A letter to the mayor of Chicago produced an inscrutable reply, thanking the village for their hospitality to the USAF during the war, but made no mention of the sign. This was followed in April 1955 with a suggestion that the cat had also been sighted in Orkney – or was it Shetland!

Catton Cat (1954 Sign)
The Cat and Tun in 1954.

Back in Old Catton the life of Klinge’s cat was very short-lived for, on 19 April 1955, The Eastern Evening News reported that both the cat and barrel had been wrenched off the post the previous night. A Melvyn Johnson reported that the barrel had been found on farmland (now Ives Road), next to the vicarage garden, which was then at the junction of Fifer’s Lane with St Faiths Road – there was no sign of the cat. A further cat was generously donated by Wolfgang Klinge, and the Parish minutes for January 1956 duly record the arrival of a new teak cat from Denmark.

The sign again suffered damage in 1971. On Sunday, 12 June at 1.30 a.m. two men were seen trying to remove the cat; they were seen off but not before leaving three saw cuts. The barrel was damaged beyond repair and a new one had to be made.

Then a major change took place in 1972 when, for traffic reasons, the whole sign was moved from the busy Church Street junction. It had originally been intended to place it by the new school extension in Church Street, but the wide grass verge created by the development of Parkside Drive was finally chosen and the sign became a dramatic village centre feature opposite the church.

Catton Cat (Sign Valdilised)

In June 1976, vandals struck again when the whole sign was laid flat. This prompted a complete renovation which was carried out in the workshops of Johnsons Joinery of Hellesdon at their expense, and unveiled by [Yorkshire born] parish council chairman Bill Catton at a ceremony on 13 November 1976. A wooden shield presented to Johnsons employees records their part in the restoration.

Catton Cat (Shield)

The latter quarter of the 20th century seems to have been incident free, and the only reference to the cat during this period was that it had not been forgotten in the USA; a fact established by village resident, Colin Green, in the early 1990s. He was on a visit to the ship Queen Mary, at her final resting place in Long Beach, when he saw a photograph and reference to St Faiths displayed on the wall of one of the great liner’s public corridors. Beyond that snippet nothing, except that by the end of the 20th century the village sign’s timber post was deemed to have decayed beyond the point of repair by the Parish Council and a new steel upright was commissioned.

It was in March 2001 when the wooden post was sawn down and later renovated, along with the cat and barrel, again by Melvyn Johnson who had worked on an earlier restoration as a young man place. By curious coincidence Drayton resident Peter Klinge, the son of Wolfgang, happened to drive past as the sign was being dismantled and stopped to see and reminisce. At a formal ceremony on 7 May 2001 the new sign was unveiled by Peter’s son Martin, the grandson of Wolfgang Klinge, along with Lucy Dingle.

In another nice touch a model of the sign was made from the old upright by Barry Leggett and presented to the Mayor of Lavare during the visit of the French Exchange to our twinned village in 2003. Another part was used to make a gavel for Old Catton Society. The remaining half of the decaying wooden upright was saved by Barry Leggett where it, with a freshly carved small cat and barrel, can be found on the wall beneath his car port in Garrick Green.

By an interesting development, village representatives made payed a visited to Zell-am-Zee in the Moselle valley and, apparently, they were amazed to discover a fountain in the town square with a large cat and barrel statue at its centre. As a keepsake, and no doubt to refresh this memory from time to time, a few wine bottles were brought back; their labels illustrating the feature.

In July 2009, being in need of further renovation, the sign was repainted. During the course of the work the cat fell sideways, no doubt due to decay. It was removed, renovated and replaced.

More recently, on Sunday 26 August 2012, Becky Betts and the the BBC Radio Norfolk Treasure Quest team arrived to find a clue secreted by the Society archivist in the leaf scroll work around the top of the column. The easily solved clue bringing the radio car to Church Street was:

“The rugby man who has aged a bit is changed from being on standby. The signs are they are not scraping it, not whisky in, but something galore over!”

Unfortunately, history repeated itself on 11 October 2012, when the cat and barrel were found missing. However, it was soon discovered – it had been briefly removed by the Parish Council for repair! By 2017 the barrel had decayed beyond repair and a new one was made and installed by Barry Legget and his son Graham. Now, and in retrospect, it has to be accepted that no-one is absolutely clear as to how many cats there have been over the years; but it is believed that the present incarnation is probably the fourth – sitting on what is barrel number two.

Catton Cat (2011)2

So, some 84 years on, the cat of many lives still stands and watches the villagers go about their business, and often seen sporting a Father Christmas bobble hat during the festive season.

THE END

Source: Most of the information and photographs included in this blog are by kind permission of  Ray Jones and the Old Catton Society at https://oldcattonsociety.org.uk/village-sign

 

Elizabeth Rigby: A Scholarly and Perceptive Critic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hill and Adamson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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