Caught Red Handed: Duck Feathers and all!

Looking through the archives can lead to some interesting stories. Take, for example the case of Robert Goffin. He was convicted of larceny at the Norfolk Quarter Sessions in January 1843 .  A contemporary report from the Norwich Mercury newspaper revealed that Goffin (aged 25) was, in fact, charged with having stolen eleven ducks, the property of John Howlett of Bowthorpe on 23 October 1842 and Maria Goffin, his mother, stood charged with receiving the same, ‘well knowing the same to be stolen’.  The deposition of Mary Howard, wife of a farm balliff in Bowthorpe, stated that she had the care of the ducks in question and ‘on the 20th of October I put 20 ducks into the fowl-house; at six o’clock the next morning I missed 11 of those ducks; I have seen a wing and some feathers which were shown to me by police officer Copeman, and believe them to belong to the same ducks that were stolen from my master’s’.

Entry for Robert Goffin (at the top) in the Norfolk Quarter Sessions book, 1840-5. NRO, C/S 1/26

There was a further deposition from Robert Laws, a blacksmith in the St Benedict’s area of Norwich: ‘The prisoner (Robert Goffin) brought four ducks to my house on the 31st of October; and I bought one of them’.  Then it was the turn of Serjeant Copeman, who confirmed that he had searched Mrs Goffin’s house and  found some ducks’ feathers in the stable: ‘I also saw some on the kitchen floor, in the house; they were strewed all over the room; I then went to a closet at the further end of the room, and found three ducks’ wings, and a set of giblets; the neck was broken; I also saw some duck wings burning on the fire…I asked the female prisoner how she came by the wings in the closet; she said she bought them in the market, about a fortnight before, four for a halfpenny; I found a peculiar wing upon the fire; I asked her where she got it from; she said – ‘she did not steal them’.  The wing found on the fire and some feathers plucked from a duck sold to Laws, were produced; and Mary Howard identified the wing ‘but said she would rather not speak about the feathers, although she had no doubt about them’.  Under examination, Robert Goffin stated that he bought the ducks of a man named Tom Jarvis, which contradicted his mother’s statement to the policeman.

Interestingly, when the Chairman of the Bench briefly summed up the case in court, he ‘said he thought it had failed for the want of sufficient proof’.  However, the jury, after a few minutes’ consultation, not understanding what the Chairman had said, returned a verdict of guilty against both prisoners!  The Chairman then said he had ‘not the slightest doubt of the guilt’ of both parties, and committed Robert Goffin to four months’ hard labour, and Maria Goffin, as the receiver, to six months. The Norfolk Quarter Sessions minute book records that Robert was sent to the county gaol (at Norwich Castle) whilst his mother was sent to the Wymondham Bridewell (or house of correction), which was designated for holding female prisoners.

It seems that one of Robert’s children also had brushes with the law. Abraham Goffin was sentenced for three months for ‘breaking and entering a dwellinghouse and committing larceny therein’ and a ‘like offence’ at the Norwich Sessions on 1 July 1890, for which he was sentenced to three months in prison.  The Norwich prison register shows he was 39 and a wire weaver. The register describes Abraham as being 5’, 1¾’’ tall, with dark brown hair, and it was noted that he could read. 

The Norwich Mercury records that Abraham pleaded guilty ‘to breaking into the dwelling-house of John Smith, at Hellesdon, and stealing a silver watch on May 20th; and also to breaking into the same house on May 21st, and stealing a clock, value £5.  Prisoner said that he was in drink at the time, or he should not have done it.  The Recorder said that there was not much against the prisoner previously.  On one occasion he had been charged with assault, and on another occasion with deserting his wife and child.  The Recorder sent him to prison for three months’.

By the time of the 1891 census (taken at the beginning of April), Abraham had returned home to live with his parents in Hellesdon.  However, he wasn’t there for long; Abraham died in 1899.  Norwich City Council’s Health department’s death returns registers revealed that Abraham ended his days in the Norwich workhouse at Heigham where he died of phthisis pulmonalis exhaustion (i.e., consumption of the lungs) on 15 August 1899, aged 48.

Robert and Abraham Goffin on the 1891 census.
Entry for Abraham Goffin, in the Norwich Death Returns, 1899. NRO, N/HE 11/6
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‘Too common amongst young people’

Engraving of Norwich Cathedral by C. Hodgson, dated 1829. Norfolk Heritage Centre Prints Collection, ref. 1137488. Courtesy of www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk

These words relate to having sex outside of marriage. They were written in a letter of support, dated 3 May 1760, for a James Lacey of Scarning. The letter is just one of several thousand documents which form the archive, held at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO), of the Norwich Consistory Court. Before the mid-nineteenth century, church courts were responsible for many aspects of human activity, such as matrimony (including sex outside of marriage), probate, church taxes, and defamation. The records produced by the Court, provide a fascinating insight, often salacious, into day-to-day life of ordinary people. The language used in them is seldom found in any other archival document. The records offer a treasure trove for family, local and social historians.

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Shenanigans in Southrepps: Adultery in the Norwich Consistory Court Depositions

The jurisdiction of church courts used to cover many aspects of human activity. They heard causes, the church court term for cases, on such matters as marriage, defamation and probate. As part of their activity, the courts collected witness statements, or depositions. Often recording the words of witnesses verbatim, depositions offer a fascinating insight into language and human activity. The salacious nature of many of them, has earned the court the moniker of ‘bawdy courts’.

The Norfolk Record Office has an ongoing programme to improve access to the archive of the Norwich Consistory Court, the main church court for Norfolk. During the Covid lockdowns, archivists at the NRO started cataloguing some of the depositions. Together with work done by students at the University of East Anglia, this information has been added to the NRO’s catalogue. In doing so, we get a glimpse into eighteenth century life not offered by any other document.

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Local history is all about stories

The ‘Community Archives: Skills, Support & Sustainability’ project has been set up by the Norfolk Record Office with the aim of providing Norfolk’s community archive and local heritage groups with advice, training and resources to help them improve the management of their important and unique collections. Since 2020 the project team has worked closely with over 30 partner groups. During International Archives Week, we will showcase a selection of these groups and the progress they have made during the project.

At Martham Local History Group the Archive Group has been busy developing a catalogue of documents and photographs.  Every stage of the operation has been a learning experience for everyone involved.  Like many other groups we have learned to select and digitize documents, linking them to accession numbers – prior to uploading them onto our website.  It’s not surprising that this final stage may never be complete.  Every time we think we are on top of the process someone else donates their house documents for us to process.  Our brilliant photographer, Chris Harrison, aided by our president Ann Meakin, has been working on building the archive for some years.  One of our members, Peter Dawson, accepted the challenge of ‘telling the story’ about a modest Victorian terraced house in Martham, using the documents and photographs in our collection.  It transpires that the house tells the story of how the land first supported a local wheelwright and his family in the nineteenth century; the later success of a local baker and his care for his two sisters; and how an eleven-year-old boy left a note under the floorboards about his toy car hidden for future residents to find, 35 years later.  This is how Peter starts the story:

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Dragon Hall Archive Project Internship

The ‘Community Archives: Skills, Support & Sustainability’ project has been set up by the Norfolk Record Office with the aim of providing Norfolk’s community archive and local heritage groups with advice, training and resources to help them improve the management of their important and unique collections. Since 2020 the project team has worked closely with over 30 partner groups. During International Archives Week, we will showcase a selection of these groups and the progress they have made during the project.

The exterior of Dragon Hall photographed in 1935, when it was known as The Old Barge Inn

Hello everyone! My name is Sally and I am currently finishing my third year at UEA studying English Literature with Creative Writing. In September 2022, I will be beginning the UEA MA Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies course, which has led me to seek out work experience opportunities within the heritage sector. In the beginning of May, I was lucky enough to begin an internship project organised by the Dragon Hall Heritage Volunteers and the Norfolk Record Office, and I am looking forward to learning more about the world of archives, heritage, and local history.

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Newton Flotman and Saxlingham Thorpe Heritage Group

The ‘Community Archives: Skills, Support & Sustainability’ project has been set up by the Norfolk Record Office with the aim of providing Norfolk’s community archive and local heritage groups with advice, training and resources to help them improve the management of their important and unique collections. Since 2020 the project team has worked closely with over 30 partner groups. During International Archives Week, we will showcase a selection of these groups and the progress they have made during the project.

Newton Flotman and Saxlingham Thorpe Heritage Group were established in 2018 as part of our church’s commitment to the legacy element of a Heritage Lottery Grant awarded in 2017 for repairs to the church. We started by producing a revised church leaflet, setting up a website and being trained to created short videos (published on YouTube!) about aspects of the church. A couple of us attended pre-lottery application meetings at the Archive Centre and were very pleased to be accepted in to the project when the finding was awarded. We always aimed to broaden our scope to the villages as a whole and the Community Archive Project has acted as a spur to equip us to do just that. We aim to meet monthly and plan to bring back our ‘memory events’ where we encourage village residents to come to reminisce and have the opportunity to record their memories. Again, we have received valuable training on this from the Project to improve our recording of oral history.

Group members cataloguing some of NFASTHG’s collections
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‘A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’: Mulbarton Heritage Group

The ‘Community Archives: Skills, Support & Sustainability’ project has been set up by the Norfolk Record Office with the aim of providing Norfolk’s community archive and local heritage groups with advice, training and resources to help them improve the management of their important and unique collections. Since 2020 the project team has worked closely with over 30 partner groups. During International Archives Week, we will showcase a selection of these groups and the progress they have made during the project.

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is an old adage, so a thousand pictures must be worth… a whole library? And that is about the number of photos the Mulbarton Heritage Group has collected over nearly 20 years, first for a now-defunct website, then for ‘The Book of Mulbarton’ and now many are displayed at https://www.mulbartonhistory.org.uk/  They are on CDs and a succession of laptops. There are duplicates and pictures of varying quality. There are notes about most, but not everyone depicted has been identified – and they are all randomly numbered.

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60 years old!

The ‘Community Archives: Skills, Support & Sustainability’ project has been set up by the Norfolk Record Office with the aim of providing Norfolk’s community archive and local heritage groups with advice, training and resources to help them improve the management of their important and unique collections. Since 2020 the project team has worked closely with over 30 partner groups. During International Archives Week, we will showcase a selection of these groups and the progress they have made during the project.

The Aylsham Town Archive can trace its roots back to around 1950 but has been in its present location and open for research since July 1960. First catalogued in 1974, the archive covers the whole of the parish of Aylsham and an area of 2-3 miles around. Based on the Town Council’s own records, it now contains over 1500 manuscript and printed items and a large photographic image archive formed from donations and copied photos, most of which have been added in the last 20 years.

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