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.

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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.

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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)

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

The Dancing Noverres’ and Assurance!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Unin (David Garrick)
David Garrick,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Francis_deed)

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Signature)

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

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Public Notice)3

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

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

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Policy)

Noverre & Norwich Union (Policy)2

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Receipt)

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Show Bill)

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

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

Corsbie2
Samuel Bignold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Frank Noverre_Director)

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Fran Noverre)
Frank Noverre

Noverre & Norwich Union (Dance Lessons)

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

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

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Frank Noverre_Haggard)

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Leaflet)1

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

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

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

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Union (Bignold's Funeral List)

In a staff magazine article that year he fondly reminisced…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noverre & Norwich Unin (Charles Accident)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

 

 

2020: The Year of Richard Caister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Caister (Margery Kempe)2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Caister (William Sawtre)

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

Two planned lectures on “Richard Caister are:

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

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

THE END

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

The Story of Richard Caister


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

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

The Corsbies — A Family of Clerks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bignold House Surrey Street, c1897

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Norwich Market Place, 1890s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walter Lewis Corsbie’s application letter, 1883.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Staff in the Marble Hall of Surrey House, c1911

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

 

Dr. Emanuel Cooper: A Norwich ‘Oddity’

Emanuel Cooper was an obstetrician but first and foremost he was an eye specialist. Born in 1803 in Birkby, Huddersfield in Yorkshire and was baptised in its 11th century St Peter’s Church.

Cooper (Huddersfield_Parish_Church)
St Peter’s Church, Huddersfield. Photo: Wikipedia.

He went on to study in Yorkshire and eventually was awarded his LSA (Licentiate Society of Apothecaries, London) in 1828 before setting up a practice in Norwich by early 1830s. White’s 1836 Directory lists his occupation as Surgeon and his address at that time was Red Well [now Redwell] Street. According to Piggot’s 1839 Directory, Cooper had purchased and moved into his Tombland home, a house (long since demolished) which stood adjacent to the Erpingham Gate which leads from Tombland into the Cathedral Close. This house was described as having had columns at the front entrance.

Cooper (RH Mottram)
Ralph Hale Mottram (1883-1971) by Bassano Ltd, Bromide print dated 14 June 1939. Photo: National Portrait Gallery (X83807)

Dr Cooper was certainly regarded in Norwich as a generous man, but also one who was quite eccentric. Ralph Hale Mottram, the son and grandson of the principal bankers at Gurney’s Bank, Norwich, described him thus:

“Dr Emanuel Cooper was, even in remote, isolated, provincial Norwich, full of unusual people, a ‘character’ only redeemed from being an ‘oddity’ by a very high professional reputation ….. Of Yorkshire extraction and mildly Quaker persuasion he had ……. the reputation of being the foremost accoucheur (obstetrician, gynaecologist) in the Norwich district…..”

In 1862, and seemingly totally in character, Dr Cooper accepted the position of Honorary Assistant to what had been named the 1st Norfolk Mounted Rifle Volunteer Corps when it was first formed during the previous year. At the time of his appointment, in September 1862, the Corp. became known as the 1st Norfolk Light Horse. Nothing more is known about Cooper’s involvement with the military, or his responsibilities as an ‘Honorary Assistant’; and we can only speculate what part he may have played, if any, during the following ‘showpiece’ which took place on Mousehold Heath in March of the following year:

Cooper (Norfolk Light Hourse)
“The mounted Volunteers, who mustered very strongly on this occasion were conspicuous in their scarlet coats and showy helmets.” The Norfolk Chronicle, 14th March, 1863. An attached caption read: “Review of the Norfolk Volunteers on Mousehold Heath. Lady Suffield presenting the prizes won at the Norfolk Rifle Meeting”. Image: Public Domain.

Around 1865-86 Anna Julia Pearson (1838-1913), born in 1841 at Wreningham, South Norfolk, became Emanuel Cooper’s mistress; she at least twenty years younger than he. Little is known about Anna’s life and she never married Cooper. There were two children born to Anna but there is no evidence that Cooper fathered them and they were born before she moved into 36 Victoria Street, Norwich; a house that Cooper owned but never lived in himself.

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36 Victoria Street, Norwich.
In the 1870s this house was owned by Dr. Emanuel Cooper, an obstetrician and eye specialist, and lived in by his mistress, Anna Julia Pearson and her two children. Dr Cooper, Anna, and Charles Arthur, her son, are buried at the Cooper Mausoleum in Rosary Cemetery. All houses in Victoria Street date from the early 19th century and are Grade 2 listed. Photo:© Copyright Evelyn Simak.

The children were named Charles Arthur (1862 – April 1904), and Ada Nemesis (1864-1956) and were probably not born in Norwich at all. Later legal documents refer to both children as “strangers in blood” to Dr Cooper. Why Anna Julia Pearson came to Norwich and who fathered her two children are not known, neither is whether “Pearson” was her maiden or married name. To his credit, Cooper supported Anna and her children fairly comfortably and left her economically secure for life. The fact that she gave her daughter the middle name of “Nemesis” may indicate that she had not felt nearly so secure at the time of Ada’s birth.

It is said that Cooper formally adopted both children as his own, and in a Will dating from August 1866, when his daughter was only two years old, bequeathed her a fortune. R.H. Mottram, In his biography of John and Ada Galsworthy titled “For Some We Loved” he described Mrs Anna Pearson as ‘a very stately figure, full-bosomed and full-skirted, a fine woman … of yeoman stock’.

Then there was the letter written to Helen Flood by a relative in June 1933 (Norfolk Record Office MC 630/29 784X2) offers a few more glimpses of what was seen as ‘the Coopers’:

“When a boy, P often saw Dr Cooper walking across Tombland with his wife. May I say it without any offence, a Darby & Joan* – he with his black coat and white hair, and her with a crinoline dress. I do not remember her wearing any other. There was a personalus about them which impressed your memory and it would be well if the present-day young folks would follow their example.”

(*Darby & Joan is a proverbial phrase for a married couple living a placid, harmonious life together and are seldom seen apart.)

James Gindin mentions in his book, ‘John Galsworthy’s Life and Art'( © James Gindin 1987) the following:

“A prominent obstetrician in Norwich during the 1860s and 1870s, Dr Cooper was fond of making elaborate wills. He first mentions Ada [his adopted daughter]  in a will dated 24 August 1866, describing her as less than two years’ old and living with her brother, Arthur Charles, two years older than she, and her mother at 36 Victoria Street in Norwich, a house Dr Cooper owned but did not live in. Little is known about the life of Anna Julia Pearson (1838-1913), Ada’s mother. She never married Dr Cooper and there is no evidence that he fathered her children or knew her at all before 1865 or 1866…….

Of Yorkshire extraction and mildly Quaker persuasion he had, by the time of Ada’s birth, the reputation of being the foremost accoucheur in the Norwich district, in which so many remarkable names have been made in the medical world, from the times of Dr Caius and Sir Thomas Browne to the present day …. I can say only that the best known fact of his private life was that he employed his leisure in planning and seeing built a handsome, and I think stylistically correct, Mausoleum, midget in dimension, but in the classic taste, which is still the most conspicuous object in the Rosary Cemetery at Norwich today. Here, on Sunday afternoons, he used to sit, smoking a clay pipe and (possibly) reflecting on our future state …. Called to the bedsides of the titled, landed and what we nowadays feel to have been incredibly privileged classes, to preside over the entry into the world of future lords and ladies, members of Parliament and county hostesses, I fancy he began to think that he was no ordinary mortal. The proof is to be found in the long list of noble names set down to be executors of his Will, not one of whom ever acted in that capacity.”

Emanuel Cooper died, in January 1878 and his death notice stated:

“We regret having to report that the lengthened career of this successful surgeon terminated rather suddenly on Saturday evening at a few minutes to ten o’clock. He made the ‘eye’ his special study and was considered an authority on its treatment. He also took a great interest in the Norwich Blind Institution and devoted much of his time to it. He was the oldest practitioner in Norwich, and died at an advanced age. He will be buried on Tuesday at the Rosary, where under his direction, a mausoleum has been for some years erected.”

The one executor who did serve and who managed the family’s financial affairs was Ralph’s father, James Mottram. When Emanuel Cooper died, his elaborate fifteen page Will, (dated 22 April 1870) left £3,000 for “my adopted daughter Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper”, and the same sum for “my adopted son”. He added the stipulation that no one was to be buried in his mausoleum except his adopted son, adopted daughter, “their mother Anna Julia Pearson”, and his servant, Maria Bayes (the latter two were also left considerable sums).

The mausoleum of Emanuel Cooper.
Photos: © Copyright Evelyn Simak
and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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Name plate on the lead coffin containing the remains of Dr Emanuel Cooper in the Cooper Mausoleum. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As for Dr Cooper’s mausoleum – it is the only such structure in the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich. The only remains it contains are those of Dr Cooper; a vault situated below the mausoleum does contain the remains of Anna Julia Pearson Cooper, Cooper’s wife, who died in 1913 in Newport, Essex, and of Charles Arthur Pearson Cooper, their son, who died in April 1904 in Kensington, London. The railings surrounding the mausoleum (and perhaps also the ironwork) were made by J Barnes whose foundry was based at Church Street, St Miles, Norwich.

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Mausoleum of Emanuel Cooper (detail)
The railings surrounding the mausoleum and perhaps also the ironwork – were made by J Barnes. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Footnote:
Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper (adopted daughter of Dr Emanual Cooper of Norwich) married the writer John Galsworthy; he based his novel, ‘Jolyon’ on their relationship. His more famous novel was  ‘The Forsyth Saga’ – a story about the vicissitudes of the leading members of a large commercial upper middle class English family – similar to his own – is believed by his biographers and people who knew him to have been based on his own life.

Cooper5 (Ada Galsworthy _Research & Culture Collection)
Portrait of Ada Galsworthy by George Sauter (1866-1937). Oil on canvas, 1897
This portrait depicts Ada Nemesis Pearson Galsworthy (1864-1956), future wife of John Galsworthy, in a fashionable garment. At the time this portrait was painted, Ada was still married to Arthur – John’s cousin – but she had begun her affair with John two years prior. The relationship between Ada and John caused a scandal in London society and the two were ostracised from certain social circles (Gindin, 1987, p. 359). Following the death of John Galsworthy’s father, John Senior, in December 1904, Ada and John lived together publicly at a farm called Wingstone, near Dartmoor. Arthur served Ada with divorce papers and the divorce was finalised two months later. On 23 September 1905, John Galsworthyand Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper married. Photo: Research & Cultural Collections at the University of Birmingham Special Collections.

The firm of John Barnes was listed in the 1865 Kelly’s Post Office Directory as “iron and brass founder, Church Street, St Miles” but the foundry was to be known variously as Barnes Ironworks, Barnes and Pye as a partnership (between Jacob Pye [a son?] and John Youngs – dissolved on the latter’s death in 1929) and as a company (Barnes and Pye Ltd from 1962 until dissolved in 2006) and also as the St. Miles Foundary. Their products included joists, beams, columns, manhole covers, standpipes (examples still in Maddermarket and Dereham Road), sturdy fittings for the gates of churchyards and the like – and they supplied the ironwork for Edward Boardman’s new Royal Hotel in Prince of Wales Road, built by John Youngs & Son and completed in late 1897.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/6085879
https://www.flickr.com/photos/researchandculturalcollections/8744376912
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-349-08530-9_4
https://www.literarynorfolk.co.uk/Norwich/ralph_hale_mottram.htm
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YcevCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA71&lpg=PA71&dq=emanuel+cooper+obstetrician+norwich&source=bl&ots=UCJ5SMa0Oo&sig=ACfU3U3qXbc7VcTW7wghWbKzXyAfojtd0Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjH5vb_5cjlAhUPXMAKHXZDA6EQ6AEwAnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=emanuel%20cooper%20obstetrician%20norwich&f=false

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