Murder in Wells next the Sea

Written by Christine Shackell, NRO Research Blogger

The Murder

On Saturday 11 October 1817, Robert Baker, a fifty-eight year old glover and breeches maker, left his home in Wells next the Sea, on the North Norfolk coast to collect debts owed to him. Donning his hat and coat against the autumn chill, he tucked his red leather wallet with its silver clasp into his pocket and bade farewell to his wife, saying he would return mid afternoon for a meal of hot steak pie. But he never returned.

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Forgotten: R. H. Mottram

It’s become a historical trope, not to mention a clever marketing ploy, to use forgotten in book, article, blog and documentary titles, whether actually warranted or not (Google ‘forgotten history’). It’s catchy, pithy, and excites curiosity. In the case of Ralph Hale Mottram (1883-1971), one time Lord Mayor of Norwich, it’s actually deserved.

Even the First World War centenary was not enough to generate a buzz. No biography. No new editions of his wartime books. No conference in his name. Nope, nothing, other than a blog here, a laudatory newspaper piece there,[1] not a peep. Indeed if a quizzical look appears on your face; if your lips silently enunciate Ralph-Hale-Mot-tram under your breath, ‘Yes, I’ve heard that name before – but where?’; you’re surely in good company.

An employee of Gurney’s Bank (Barclays, from 1895), where several generations of Mottrams had made a living, young Ralph dabbled in poetry in the pre-1914 era. A bachelor, privately educated, fluently French (his mother insisted on schooling and vacations on the continent), and a congregant of the progressive Unitarian Octagon Chapel, Mottram was a fairly typical Kitchener volunteer, trading a reasonably comfortable existence for khaki in 1914.

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Dickleburgh Churchwardens’ Accounts Present an Unresolved Conundrum

Norfolk Archives and Heritage Development Foundation (NORAH) trustee David Stannard discusses the acquisition by the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) of a single manuscript folio, which must have been removed from a set of 16th century churchwardens’ accounts of the parish of Dickleburgh, Norfolk. Initially this manuscript presented queries concerning the origin and date of the document as a result of a poor transcription in the 19th – early 20th century. However, resolving these anomalies only led to a more fundamental, as yet unresolved conundrum. 


A manuscript offered on an American online auction site in the summer of 2020 claimed that the document originated from Depybrough Abbey and was dated as 1567. Unfortunately, research from historical and on-line sources for Depybrough Abbey could not confirm the existence of any such institution.

A close examination of the document by Professor Carole Rawcliffe of the University of East Anglia revealed that the manuscript comprised a single page which must have been removed from a set of churchwardens’ accounts of All Saints’ church in Dickleburgh, Norfolk. The parish name is rendered as ‘Dekylburghe’ in the original manuscript.  Professor Rawcliffe’s transcription also confirmed the date of the start of the document as March 1545, and on this basis the trustees of the NORAH approved a grant for the NRO to successfully purchase the document in September 2020.

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The Peterloo Address by the Citizens of Norwich

The 16th of August 1819 saw what has become known as the “Peterloo Massacre” (Wroe, 1819) at St Peter’s Field, Manchester where between nine and fifteen men, women and children were killed and hundreds of people were injured.

The Events

Over 60,000 people had gathered at a mass rally, organised by radical reformers, where they were addressed by a well-known radical orator, Henry Hunt. The Manchester & Salford Yeomanry tried to arrest Hunt and, in the process, charged the crowd knocking down a woman and killing a child. William Hulton, the chairman of the Cheshire Magistrates summoned the 15th Hussars to disperse the crowd who were charged at, sabres drawn, where the fatalities and injuries ensued.

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What was the True Identity of ‘Black Bart’? – part 3

In 2018, a two-part article was published on this blog (part 1 here, part 2 here) challenging the parentage of Charles E. Boles aka ‘Black Bart’ an infamous US outlaw, who committed some 28 holdups of Wells Fargo stagecoaches in California between 1875 and 1883. Charles is reported to have been born in Norfolk, England, to John and Maria Bowles, and his family emigrated to Alexandria, Jefferson County, New York, in 1830, when Charles was a baby.

Most accounts of Charles’ life state that his parents were John Bowles and Maria Leggett of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. However, in part 2 of the article, it was pointed out that children born to the Great Yarmouth couple did not fit with the children named in John Bowles’ will, proved in the US, in 1872 (New York, Surrogate’s Court, Jefferson County, Minutes, Vol I-J, 1868-1873, p. 312, John Bowles, 12 October 1872). In addition, John and Maria Bowles of Great Yarmouth can still be found there in the 1841 (TNA, HO 107/794/1/38/20) and 1851 (TNA, HO 107/1806/163/3) censuses, long after we know Charles and his parents were in the US.

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How a Second World War air raid caused the closure of a Norfolk School: The accounts of Amy Buckley, Head Teacher

On the night of 26 – 27 June 1942, St Mark’s Primary and Infants’ School on Hall Road, Norwich was bombed and destroyed during a Second World War air raid. The school’s temporary log book (NRO, N/ED 1/86), written by Head Teacher Amy Buckley, covers the month following the bombing, to its closure in July of the same year.

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Helping community archives during the pandemic: The Norfolk Record Office’s ‘Community Archives’ project

Figure 1 Community archives collect local and social history, such as these family photographs.

Community Archives: Skills, Support and Sustainability (CAS³) is a National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported project that began in March 2020 and is due to run until March 2022. As its name suggests, the goals of this project are to:

  • provide training to Norfolk’s community archive and heritage groups that allows them to develop the skills used by professional archivists.
  • give the groups professional support and resources for their collections and the projects they are working on.

  • help the groups preserve their collections for the future and make them accessible on an ongoing basis.
  •  increase the groups’ confidence with regards to collecting, managing and exhibiting archive material.
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She was ‘a natural, a poor fool and ideot …void of reason or sense’: A harsh judgement on Margaret Cooper of Snetterton

Recent indexing work at the NRO on witness depositions from the bishop of Norwich’s consistory court has uncovered many stories relating to everyday life from the 16th to 18th centuries in both Norfolk and Suffolk (for the ancient Diocese of Norwich covered both counties). Moreover, these narratives often concern and record individuals whose poverty or transience usually preclude them from mention in other surviving records of those times.

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