Did Cromwell come to stay, and what’s Beadle about?

A local legend came to light in an early meeting of the fledgling Hapton History group; Oliver Cromwell stayed in the village during the English Civil War. The story had been passed around by word of mouth, one current resident remembering the shopkeeper having removed a plaque from the local stables citing the fact. But how to go about proving a local legend?

Continue reading

Posted in NRO Research Bloggers, Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Witches of Lynn

It’s strange how one thing leads to another. When I was researching the French POWs in King’s Lynn, I came across Devil’s Alley, where the warehouse that was used for temporary accommodation was situated. This led on to the legend of Devil’s Alley- related in the King’s Lynn All Saints Church website:

“It is said that the devil’s hoof print is to be seen in Devil’s Alley off Nelson Street in Kings Lynn. The devil arrived by ship to the town, and disembarked to steal some souls, but he was spotted by a priest who drove him away with prayers and a dousing with holy water. The infuriated devil stamped his hoof with anger so hard that he left his imprint.”


The Devil was all too real back in those days- people believed he was a physical entity who chased souls and with whom certain people- witches- could communicate. The Witchfinder General didn’t just exist in Hammer horror films. For 14 terrifying months he ran amok throughout East Anglia at considerable profit to himself “clearing towns of witches”, and indeed was invited to King’s Lynn to do just that.

1 kl-c_7-10_f187

Extract from the King’s Lynn Hall Book, f 187. KLBA, KL/C 7/10

It seems that, once he had reduced his victims to complete submission with techniques we now call sleep deprivation and water boarding, he asked when it was that the “witch” first communicated with the Devil.

The frenzy for witch hunting really began in the reign of James I, who apparently came into contact with it in Germany, but fear of witches had been rife decades before then- as witness the legend of the witch’s heart at number 17 Tuesday Market Place. The Market Place had long been a place for public execution, and the story goes that one witch who was burned alive in 1590 was Margaret Read. At the moment of death, her heart burst from her body, struck the wall, leaving the mark still to be seen today, then, with an energy all its own, bounced its way to the river, presumably via Page Stair Street, and plunged into the river, causing it to froth and boil.

Margaret Read was an actual person, and details can be found in the St Margaret parish register (NRO, PD 39/1). There are two possible candidates. One was baptised there on March 25th 1568.

2 PD_39-1

Parish Register for St Margaret, King’s Lynn. NRO, PD 39/1

This would have made her 22 in 1590. Most witches seem to have been old women, though not exclusively so, as witness the stories of the Witches of Salem, and of Pendle Hill. The other candidate was Margaret Hammond, who married Thomas Read at St Margaret on April 8th, 1562 (PD 39/2).

3 PD_39-2

Extract from Parish Register for St Margaret, King’s Lynn. NRO, PD 39/2

From researching my own family at the Norfolk Heritage Centre in the Forum in Norwich, my impression is that in those days, marriage generally happened around the age of 20, so in 1590, Margaret Hammond-Read would have been around 48 or 50, which perhaps makes her a more likely witch.

In his History of the Borough of King’s Lynn, Henry Hillen has something to say about witchcraft in general and about Matthew Hopkins. He also names a number of other witches who were executed in the 1590s.

4 Hillen p848

Extract from History of the Borough of King’s Lynn, by Henry Hillen, p848


Other executions included Mary Smith, burnt in 1616, Dorothy Lee and Grace Wright, hanged in 1646, and Dorothy Floyd, or Lloyd, in 1650.

But to return to the Witchfinder General- Matthew Hopkins began his career in Manningtree, Essex, and at a time when the average worker’s daily pay was 2 pence, he was paid £23 to cleanse the town of Chelmsford of evil, including the inevitable torturings and burnings. One of his techniques was to use a pricker to test whether bite marks, scars or nipples were immune to pain, as they were reputed to be after suckling the Devil. The pricker was a three inch spike which was plunged into the victim, who of course, felt no pain, and the pricker left their flesh not having drawn blood, which was further proof. Hardly surprising, as the instrument was something like the plastic dagger I had as a child, where the blade was spring-mounted and retracted into the handle under pressure.

As indicated above, on 11th May 1646, Alderman Thomas Revitt was delegated to approach Hopkins, and there is a transcript of “Extracts from King’s Lynn Borough records relating to Matthew Hopkins’ visit to Lynn in 1646 “

The Chamberlain’s Account of 1645-6 (KLBA, KL/C39/102) contains two entries under the heading ‘Gifts and extraordinary Charges’, for expenses of sending messengers to Matthew Hopkins.

5 kl-c_39-102 Hopkins-edit

Extract from the Chamberlain’s Account of 1645-6. KLBA KL/C 39/102

So Matthew Hopkins came to Lynn. On the 2nd September 1646 it was ordered that he be paid £15, “to be borne by the towne” (KLBA, KL/C 7/10).

6 kl-c_7-10 f193v

Extract from King’s Lynn Hall Book. KLBA, KL/C 7/10, f 193 verso

Though later in September it was ordered that he was paid £20 “for his pains and in full discharge of his demands”:

7 kl-c_7-10 f195

Extract from King’s Lynn Hall Book. KLBA, KL/C 7/10, f 195

There is a book in the Archive the minutes from the Quarter Sessions where the charges against those accused of witchcraft were heard (KLBA, KL/C 21/2).

8 kl-c_21-2 Session opening

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes. KL/C 21/2

There is an entry for each of the accused, a list of witnesses, several of whom, along with Hopkins himself, seem to be giving evidence against more than one of the accused- of which more shortly- and the verdict.

Grace Wright was found guilty, and she was hanged in 1646.

9 kl-c_21-2 Grace Wright

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes for Grace Wright. KL/C 21/2

Thomas Dempster, Cicily Taylor, Dorothy Griffin, Katherine Banks and Emma Godfrey were all found not guilty, while the trial of Lidiah Browne was postponed, as she was, unsurprisingly given Hopkins’ methods, “not of sound mind”.

9 kl-c_21-2 Grace Wright

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes for Lidiah Browne. KL/C 21/2

In his History, Hillen also reports that Dorothy Lee was also hanged in 1646, and Dorothy Floyd or Lloyd in 1650- both due to the efforts of the Witchfinder. He also has a couple of other interesting facts to share. Going back to my point that a number of people seem to have given evidence against several of the accused, one is tempted to think that certain people considered themselves able to recognise witches. On page 848, Hillen mentions “the wonderfully omniscient Mrs Sparrow, who could not only detect those who had recently purloined goods, but point out the person who bewitched cows”. Was this a person of extrasensory talents, or someone with a grudge against the neighbours?

In spite of being paid handsomely by the town, though, the Witchfinder does not seem to have been very successful in King’s Lynn. If we look at the figures, seven people were brought before the court, but only one was found guilty. Apart from one who could not enter a pleas due to insanity, the rest were declared not guilty.

Vincent Price did much better!

Compiled by NRO Research blogger, Pete Widdows

Posted in NRO Research Bloggers, Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Volunteering Opportunity: The King’s Lynn Borough Archives Transcription Project

Image 1 - KLBA

Searchroom users at King’s Lynn Borough Archives

Thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have been able to set up a new project, which aims to use crowdsourcing to transcribe the documents held at the King’s Lynn Borough Archives. These records have been under the administration of the Norfolk Record Office since 1974, when the King’s Lynn Borough Council agreed to become part of the county’s record service, but with the records remaining in the King’s Lynn Town Hall. The Norfolk Record Office has since worked with the borough to jointly care for the records. In 2016, the Town Hall was refurbished, with a new strongroom created to house the documents, and the public searchroom refurbished to be more comfortable for visitors. The new Stories of Lynn museum was also opened. More information about the King’s Lynn Borough Archives can be found in an earlier blog here.

Image 2 - kl-c_7-15_104

Hall Book, King’s Lynn Borough Archives. KLBA, KL/C 7/15

The initial project aims to transcribe a section of the Hall Books, which contain the minutes of meetings of the historic Town Council – the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses. These include references to local issues, such as annual elections, the admission of freemen, business regulations, and orders relating to trade, public health, and amenities, as well as mentioning matters of national importance. The Borough Archives hold Hall Books dating from 1372 to 1902, under the reference KL/C 7. The plan is to focus on those dating from 1611 to 1822 (KL/C 7/9-15), as two separate projects – Georgian Lynn, followed by Civil War Lynn. The inhabitants of King’s Lynn during the Georgian period witnessed events such as the Napoleonic Wars, the American War of Independence, the passing of the Corn Laws, and the draining of the Fens, whilst those who lived during the Civil War saw the borough both fortified and besieged.

It is currently necessary to visit the King’s Lynn Borough Archives in order to view these documents. This project intends to make the contents of the Hall Books more accessible to researchers, with the ultimate aim being a catalogue which links to digital images of the books, accompanied by a relevant transcription. We are, therefore, also asking transcribers to tag both names and places that they come across, so that researchers in the future are able to find what they are looking for more easily. Already, there has been mention of street names and places within King’s Lynn itself – St Ann’s Fort and the Gaywood Road Almshouses – as well as elsewhere in the country, such as Great Yarmouth, Wisbech, and Cambridge. However, there have also been references to places and events much further afield, including great European battles at Barcelona, and English colonies in America. Similarly, the books contain references to local events, such as the sending for of the famous witch-hunter, Matthew Hopkins, and the fortification of the borough during the Civil War, as well as national events, such as victories during the War of the Spanish Succession, and the proclamation of George I as king.

Image 3 - Proclamation of King George I

Hall Book, King’s Lynn Borough Archives. KLBA, KL/C 7/12

Those interested in volunteering can visit the transcription website here, as part of the Zooniverse, which plays host to several crowdsourcing projects. High-quality digital images of the documents have been uploaded to the site, where the user is provided with a random page of the project and given the chance to transcribe it as free text. There is a tutorial and field guide, which should be able to help with any queries, but failing that, there is the ‘talk’ option, which allows users to discuss images with each other, as well as with a project administrator. It is not necessary to create a Zooniverse account in order to transcribe, but doing so prevents users from seeing the same image twice, and opens up the ‘talk’ message boards. There are also plans to host various sessions at the King’s Lynn Borough Archives, if users live locally and wish to socialise with fellow transcribers.

Image 4 - Screenshot

Screenshot from Zooniverse.

Tips for transcribers:

  • The tutorial should appear at the beginning of your first transcription session – this will explain how to set out your transcript. If you are unsure about anything during a later session, the tutorial can be viewed again by clicking the ‘tutorial’ button, above the text box.
  • The Field Guide is a tab on the right-hand side at the page – this should be a fairly comprehensive guide to anything you might be stuck with. It lays out the format of the Hall Books, gives examples of common names (under ‘Members of the Congregation’), explains how to deal with tables, deletions, insertions, and notes added to the page, and contains guides to money, Roman numerals, dates, abbreviations and contractions of words, and a letter guide.
  • The project may seem intimidating at first, but it will become much easier with practice – you will get used to the handwriting of various town clerks, become familiar with common King’s Lynn names, and have a better idea of how the Hall Books are laid out and the information they are likely to contain. If you are unfamiliar with secretary hand (the style of handwriting common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), we recommend that you begin with the Georgian Lynn workflow. Once you become used to this, the Civil War Lynn workflow will hopefully seem much easier.
  • It is useful, whilst you transcribe, to have open a family history site (for example, FindMyPast or Ancestry) and the Oxford English Dictionary website. The former can help to confirm readings of names, whilst the latter is handy if you are unsure about any slightly archaic words.
  • If you are having trouble with a particular image, simply refresh the webpage, and you should be provided with a brand new one.
  • Don’t feel too much pressure to ‘get it right’ – each image is being transcribed three times in total, and the results combined and compared, so any mistakes that might be made will hopefully be caught by someone else.

If you have any queries about this project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, at norfrec@norfolk.gov.uk

Chloe Phillips, Project Officer.

Posted in Events | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life in Nelson’s Navy: An Account of Joseph Emerson, a Surgeon on board the HMS Agamemnon in 1793.

The wellbeing of the men in the navy, despite leading a rough and treacherous lifestyle, was considered superior to that in the army, especially now that scurvy was on the decline. Still, being out at sea for long periods increased the risk of disease and injury. Surgeons like Joseph Emerson were employed to aid the men during and outside of battle. The ship he worked upon, anchored at Spithead in the Mediterranean, was HMS Agamemnon which was captained by none other than Horatio Nelson. Launched in 1781, she was infamous for being in in constant need of repair but would participate in many battles, including Copenhagen 1801 and Trafalgar 1805. It is likely that she was only in operation for this long because Nelson was particularly fond of her, perhaps more so than HMS Victory.

While in dock at Portsmouth Emerson wrote to his brother at Swaffham (NRO, PD 337/161). Emerson starts his letter regretting that it could not meet his brother earlier. Depending on the amount of distance between the ship and land, letters could take weeks to get to their respective destination. He complains of mismanagement in the post service and that he has not heard back from his father ‘or anyone else’, likely because their letters had been detained. This was a frequent occurrence, possibly to stop potentially sensitive information from being intercepted by the enemy.

image 1

Letter from Joseph Emerson to his brother at Swaffham (NRO, PD 337/161).


On the ship itself Emerson has ‘nothing to complain of’. There was currently no medicine chest on board, this is probably because the ship was away from the battlefield. In intense sea battles which defined the earlier stages of the Napoleonic Wars the surgeon would tend to the men around the clock, some of them with horrific injuries. Nelson’s right arm was famously put under the mercy of the bone saw during the disastrous battle of Tenerife and his surgical wounds would take months to fully heal. Outside of battle, nausea was commonplace and Emerson admitted to feeling ‘very sick for a day or two’. Nelson ironically, was also known to frequently come down with the seasickness.

Emerson reports the ship pursuing two French frigates and two brigs. They laid in wait for 3 days but did not venture out. Occasionally scuffles would break out between British and French vessels, such as the ‘Action of 22 October 1793’ in which Agamemnon was involved, but casualties were small. Ships spent time outside battle patrolling the waters, seeking out enemy vessels that could potentially cause trouble. With little to occupy him, Nelson’s depression would take its toll, as he felt his true home was on the battlefield. Being a man of pride and vanity, compared to the more down to earth Duke of Wellington, he wanted nothing more than to honour his nation, little of that was possible during these long and tedious cruises.


image 2-ed

Chasing two French Frigates and two Brigs. NRO, PD 337/161.

Nelson’s son in law messed alongside Emerson which as commented by the latter, resulted in many advantages. Captain Nelson is described by Emerson as a ‘worthy, good man, & much lik’d by men on board’ and ‘is much of a gentleman’. Nelson would later become a national celebrity and memorabilia related to the navy commander was all the rage, especially after his death. He was admired for his aggressive tactics, as was demonstrated at the Battle of the Nile 1798 and in the case of Copenhagen, his willingness to do the ‘greater good’ for the nation, even if it meant defying his superiors’ orders. Nelson’s surging popularity in British society and the navy would prove to be crucial to him at the Battle of Trafalgar. Despite many casualties, the love for their commander, even as he lay dying below deck, successfully motivated the British navy to secure a victory, albeit a bittersweet one, and Napoleon’s weaker and disheartened navy would no longer present a major threat to British waters.


image 3-ed

Well liked by his men. NRO, PD 337/161


Emerson mentions that two of the servants on board consist of a black man and a boy. It was not uncommon to see black men acting as either sailors or servants in Nelson’s navy. Contrary to what is often depicted in history related media, they are frequently depicted in various paintings and monuments, including Nelson’s column. They are shown to be proudly fighting alongside their white comrades, presenting a rare example of racial integration in the British military. Given the amount of racial prejudice back on land, those enlisting in the navy would have likely seen an opportunity to prove their worth and honour, and that they could fight just as well as white men. Food and accommodation would have been provided too, as was the case for the servants mentioned in the letter. Sadly however, navy life was not free from racial prejudice. Like many in his society, Nelson spoke against the British abolitionist movement as he was acquainted with various plantation owners, his wife’s family included.

Emerson was able to sleep ‘very comfortably’. Compared to rough terrain that men in the army often slept upon, seamen slept in hammocks which cheap, light and could be packed easily. Food provisions for Emerson were good too, describing meals consisting of a roast leg of mutton, a plum pudding, and a beef steak pie. Emerson and his mess companions would receive a pound of meat a day, a hearty amount for the time period. The men were properly fed too, compared to life at home and indeed, life in the army. They would also receive a regular dose of lemon juice in order to prevent the spread of scurvy which had proved devastating to sailors during the previous Seven Years War. By the time of the French Revolutionary Wars, in order to ensure ultimate fitness and prestige, the government and the navy felt an increased sense of urgency to stop the spread of scurvy once and for all.

Accounts like Emerson’s prove that Nelson even before his ‘glory days’ was popular with the men of the British Navy and was well respected as a commander. While Nelson himself now lies in St Paul’s Cathedral, next door to Britain’s other great Napoleonic war hero, the Duke of Wellington, his influence around Norfolk remains strong. Emerson’s letter be read at the Norfolk Record Office. The Britannia monument commemorating Nelson stands in Great Yarmouth. The Church in which his father worked as a preacher as well as The Lord Nelson pub where he dined for the men of the village before setting sail on Agamemnon can still be visited in Burnham Thorpe, his birthplace. Last year many important historical artefacts, associated with Nelson, including a captured French tricolour flag which had not been shown to the public for a century, were reunited for the first time after more than 100 years, at a successful exhibition in Norwich Castle. Considering how important Norfolk was to Nelson, and the fact that he personally wished to be buried there, it seemed the ideal place for such an occasion.

Compiled by Rebecca Hanley, NRO Research Blogger.






Posted in NRO Research Bloggers, Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Homemade Remedies in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Long before the NHS was founded, many households in 18th and 19th century Britain relied on home remedies to help them cope with various ailments. Healthcare was less accessible, especially for the poorer sectors of society and quack doctors would take advantage of this fact, often lying in wait to scam anyone who came to them in desperation. Home remedies on the other hand were a much less expensive, safer alternative, and families would often rely on them to cope with numerous ills. The ingredients needed for some of these remedies such as oil and laudanum, would have been readily available and could be bought over a counter quite easily. Laudanum, which was less regulated at the time, was often used to numb the pain of ailments such as toothache. Other plant based ingredients, especially herbs could be grown at home in a garden. All that would be needed is a pot of boiling water to make these ingredients safe for human consumption.

Not much is known about Hannah Neal (nee Burton) and her son John, but from information that is available it appears that Hannah was born in 1783 and died in 1855. It is believed that her son John (1816-1859) continued his mother’s book on home remedies as his handwriting has been spotted in parts of the book (NRO, MC 3291, 1067×1). As medical knowledge would been limited, they probably would have had to conduct various experiments with these remedies to test their effectiveness. Some food recipes are included in the book too such as ginger pop and lemonade. The recipe included for jugged hare contains tips on how to create the perfect garnish for it and how to boil the meat properly. The dish was largely popularised in Britain by the work of Hannah Glasse in ‘The Art of Cookery’, one of the most influential cookbooks in the 18th century. Pudding recipes are included too, such as various cakes and tarts, a rather simple variety included are Shrewsbury cakes, a small dough cake. It is recommended they are baked in a stone oven.

Lavender is listed as an ingredient in an antidote to help ease fever. In the 19th century lavender was often regarded as a therapeutic property, much of the time it was kept in little bags under pillows to create a sweet aroma, creating a calming effect, it could also help clear nasal passages. Also mentioned is sage, throughout history it was one of the most commonly used herbs in Britain and was also regarded as having positive effects. Beeswax is one of the more commonly used ingredients, likely because it is effective when it comes to skin treatment and is even today still popular in cosmetic products such as hand cream.

In a cough remedy liquorice is mentioned, which is ironic as it was well known for being added to tobacco to enhance flavour. While it is generally associated with sweets that children tend to avoid, it was commonly used in medicine. A type of resin called Dragon’s blood is one of the ingredients for making a plaster. It is known for being effective at stopping bleeding and for healing wounds. In the 19th century when superstition was rife it was regarded as a good omen by various cultures around the world. In American voodoo for instance, it was said to ward off ‘negative energy’ and it is still acknowledged for its healing properties.

Various alcohols such as wine and brandy are used often for various ailments and white wine vinegar is even recommended to cure a horse of a cold. Honey is also commonly mentioned, today it is regarded as a natural painkiller and can soothe sore throats. A medicine recommended for a consumptive horse advises that the remedy should be administered with 2 spoonfuls of it. A similar method is mentioned in curing the cold of a horse, most likely to create a more tolerable taste. It can also be seen in a remedy for green sickness, a condition in which red blood cells appear paler than normal.

One interesting remedy mentioned is a ‘certain cure’ to be used after being bitten by a mad dog. It involves the powder of crab’s claws and periwinkle being boiled in milk. It is recommended that a dose or two is taken for a period of 8 days after being bitten. Recipes for rabies have varied throughout history. Another guide for a cure appeared in an early 18th century guide (NRO, COL 5/19), this time involving the use of rue leaves, treacle and garlic among other things which would have been boiled in a strong ale, and recommends a dose being taken for 9 days after receiving a bite. According to a report written after the recipe, the solution allegedly did work on a number of people attacked by a mad dog in Lincolnshire.

In 1742 Dr. Mead wrote letters for various treatments of mad dog bites depending on who was bitten (NRO, HMN 4/8/1-2). The general solution involves bleeding first, a common medical practise at the time when the concept of the four humours was still taken seriously, before taking the powder in half a pint of warm milk. It is then recommended that for the first month since the bite, the patient spends around three minutes under cold water covering the head and ears. For a dog, the solution involves something similar to hiding a pill in peanut butter as it recommends that the powder is rolled into balls with some fresh butter. The dog should then be made to swim for a quarter of an hour every morning for a month. Both cases advise that the wound should be kept open and dressed with ungulntum basilicum mixed with some red precipitate. The powder itself is made using the prime ingredient, fire dried lichen. In his third entry Mead highlights a very specific case which gives advice on how to treat madness in a ‘Christian from China’, Mead claims that his method, a recipe containing local and artificial cinnabar, can cure ‘those that even bark like a dog’. According to Mead, this unique recipe came from the missionaries of Tonquin where dog bites were apparently a regular occurrence.

home remedy page

Extract from the Neal’s Notebook showing a Remedy for Dog Bites. NRO, MC 3291, 1067×1

Now that basic healthcare is free for all, homemade remedies, while they are still being used today are not as common as they once were, probably because they are not needed as much, although they remain relatively popular in countries that still charge for healthcare like the U.S. In the U.K. homemade remedies are generally for the most minor of ailments, like the common cold, and serve more of a therapeutic purpose.

Compiled by NRO Research Blogger, Rebecca Hanley

Posted in NRO Research Bloggers, Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hashtags and 280 Characters: My Experience of Teen Twitter Takeover Day

During the summer I was lucky enough to take part in the Teen Twitter Takeover 2018 at Norfolk Record Office. Hosted by museums from across the country the Teen Twitter Takeover gives teens the chance to experience not only the museum and archive services but also running a twitter account.

Throughout the day I was in charge of the Norfolk Record Office’s twitter. I got to explore their fantastic archive, find out more about different areas and careers in the sector and experience a children’s workshop all while documenting my experience on Twitter.

screenshot 1

My discoveries during the day.

I had a great time and my experience provided me with a lot of insight. Social media and marketing is not an area that you might think is especially connected to museums and archives but it is vital. Social media allows museums and archives to connect to a wider and new audience in particular young people. Part of the Norfolk Record Office’s mission is to present history in a new and exciting way. Social media is a great tool in this respect.

During my visit I was really struck by all the different jobs that come under the archive sector. It was both interesting and useful to learn about careers such as education officer, photographer and conservator. These careers are not always talked about at school. I was quite surprised by how many different jobs are connected by a love of history. I was also really struck by the amount of hard work that goes in to ensuring that history is made accessible to all. Archive staff do really deserve more recognition.

screenshot 3

Enjoying the school holiday activities.

One of the best highlights of the day was the children’s workshop in which children made tabards. It was great to see children so enthused about history.

Running a twitter account was a great experience. It was also quite challenging. I had to learn to write in such a way that was succinct and engaging.

Overall I had a brilliant time and came away having gained a lot of new skills, knowledge and confidence. I was presented with a fascinating insight into the inner workings of an archive.

Thank you to all involved for giving me such a great experience.



Posted in Behind the Scenes, Schools | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Lord Willoughby and ‘the time of rebellion’.


The King’s Lynn Borough Archives received a request for information regarding an ‘apparent uprising’ in West Norfolk in 1548, which was described by Francis Blomefield in 1728. On researching this uprising the archivist discovered a number of references within one of the Hall Book’s (KL/C 7/6). The Hall Books are a series of large, leather bound books which record the minutes, memoranda and proceedings of the Town Council. The references to the upraising include payments of reasonable sums of money. I was asked to look further into these entries and the ‘apparent uprising’, and these are my findings.

Causes of the uprising

Francis Blomefield wrote about the West Norfolk rebellion, attributing its causes to a reaction against the removal of saints’ images from churches in 1548. This surely would have been in contradiction of the claims by Kett’s rebels that the clergy were not doing enough to advance the reformation.

The Norfolk Places website contains photograph of ‘Kett’s Oak’ on the road between Hethersett and Wymondham. However, there is another Kett’s Oak in the grounds of Ryston Hall, reputedly a rallying point for rebels during Kett’s Rebellion of 1549.

Kett’s Rebellion

The Rebellion was part of a wave of discontent which swept the country in the late 1540’s; it was partly due to religious issues – the feeling that the Reformation was not making sufficient progress, and discontent with the availability and general level of education of the clergy – and partly economic. The issue here was enclosures – the appropriation of land for sheep farming, which was seen as more profitable for the major landowners, many of whom had gained possession of the church lands which became available after the Reformation.

In point of fact, it appears that Robert Kett himself was guilty of enclosure and a dispute between him and one John Flowerdew gave rise to the uprising round Norwich. With considerable foresight Kett dismantled his enclosures. Although, there are more generous accounts which have him seeing the error of his ways and offering himself as spokesman for the rebels, who began tearing down enclosures in protest at the overgrazing of common land by the landowners.

Kett set up camp on Mousehold Heath, and the rebels actually succeeded in taking Norwich. The forces of authority surrounded the city and ordered Kett to surrender. It was reported that while this was happening, ‘One of the rebels lowered his hose and tauntingly bared his backside. An archer, with ‘commendable accuracy, shot an arrow into his rump.” (from ‘Spartacus Educational’s British History’)

Rather than face starvation under siege, Kett complied, but as the rebels marched out, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, commander of the king’s forces, sent in the cavalry, the resulting rout seeing the slaughter of several thousand of the rebels.

A special commission was put together to deal with the issue of prisoners, though it has been said that the Norfolk gentry, enraged at what had happened, were not satisfied even by the slaughter of the fleeing rebels. Warwick himself had to step in to stop further brutality, pointing out that the gentry got their wealth from the agricultural classes. He is quoted as saying, ‘Will ye be ploughmen and harrow your own land?‘, an early way of saying ‘Why cut off your nose to spite your face?‘.

Kett and three other leaders, including Kett’s brother William, were arrested and detained in the tower of London. Kett was reputedly twice offered a pardon, which he refused on the grounds that he had done nothing which needed to be pardoned; he was hanged at Norwich Castle on 7th December, 1549.

Effects on the West of the County

The rebellion did not just affect the east of the county though, as demonstrated by the reference to Kett’s Oak at Ryston Hall.

Far be it from me to cast aspersions on the upper levels of society of those times, but Robert Kett himself was, as we have seen, hardly the downtrodden man of the people rising against oppression that he often comes across, and there will be doubts about other players in this drama, as we shall see.

Returning to the earlier uprising and delving into the appropriate Hall Book (KL/C 7/6) and its later transcription (KL/C 7/31) we come across various references to one of the major figures in the West Norfolk rebellion, Lord Willoughby.

Folio 112 of the Hall Book reports:

‘This day there is taken out of the Treasure House to be delivered unto the Lord Willoughby by way of present upon letters directed from my Lord Protector and others of the King’s Majesty’s Council for the furniture of his service here 100 marks.

Folio 112 of the Hall Book. King’s Lynn Borough Archives, KL/C 7/6

This entry is dated 15th August of the third year of the reign of King Edward VI. Edward came to the throne in 1547.

The next entry of note is folio 118, dated 20th November:

‘Robert Houghton has been accounted this day in the hall for £71.7.9 to him delivered for the payment of the soldiers’ wages in the time of rebellion.’ (I have underlined the key words myself).

Folio 118 of the Hall Book. King’s Lynn Borough Archives, KL/C 7/6

Folio 125 mentions the feast of the Purification of Mary. This feast is also known as Candlemas: it was tradition that Jewish women were kept in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth. If we accept 25 December as the Birth of Jesus, forty days takes us to 2 February, when it is calculated that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to present him in the Temple. The entry reads:

‘On the Friday next after the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mary Virgin in the 4th year of Edward VI’ (i.e. the Friday following 2nd February, 1550). John Hokes has paid in the hall £53.17.6 in full payment of the arrears of his present account one at Michaelmas last past whereof £30 was delivered to Mr. Mayor and £16.5.8 to the Chamberlains and £7.6.8 towards the payment of such money as was delivered to the Lord Willoughby in the time of rebellion.’ (Once again, I have underlined the key words.)

Folio 125 of the Hall Book. King’s Lynn Borough Archives, KL/C 7/6

Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th September every year. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England, it is one of the ‘quarter days’.

Folio 145 is dated Friday 25th day of January in the 4th year of Edward VI:

‘This day My Lord Willoughby’s obligation of the sum of £25.6.8 is delivered to Mr. Amyas to demand the money of My Lord now at the Parliament which is delivered to Mr. Overend’s servant.’

William Overend and George Amyas are listed in the Hall Book as members of the ‘Congregation‘, and were the two elected Chamberlain’s for the year.

Folio 145 of the Hall Book. King’s Lynn Borough Archives, KL/C 7/6

Other sources

As far as I can work out from various sources, including an excellent website run by the Castle Rising History Group, these entries from the Hall Book, gives details of some of those who played a major part in the events.

Jackie Morrallee has an excellent site, which was researched in conjunction with the Castle Rising History Group. Reading through it, it seems that unrest had been breaking out throughout the country, and throughout Norfolk a year before Kett’s Rebellion.

It was reported that one of the Fermours of Barsham was killed during the riots in the west of the county. This was, I believe, Sir Thomas. This is also noted in Walter Rye’s book Norfolk Families.

The Fermours held land at East Barsham, some of which they had acquired after the dissolution of Hempton Priory. They had something of a record of bad behaviour in their pursuit of expansion to the detriment of tenants, and Sir Henry Fermour stood accused of overgrazing the whole of the common land when he only had rights to a certain acreage and a certain number of sheep. This was as far back as 1520, so the unrest had been brewing for many years.

Sir Thomas was connected by marriage to the Cootes of Blo Norton, one of whom was, some 10 years later, ‘attainted for coining’, and though he was acquitted, it seems he was on the run from someone or something when he drowned in the Thames while trying to escape by boat. We hear in the news these days about criminal families, but it seems that it is by no means a new phenomenon!

Lord Willoughby’s Defence against the Uprising

Things came to a head and erupted in 1547. Malcontents from villages around Fakenham gathered, and they are reported as setting up camp in Rising Chase, a royal hunting area since Norman times. Various local spots have been identified as being what came to be known as Kett’s Castle.

Enter Lord Willoughby. The family are to be found back in 1334 in Lincolnshire. One of them fought at Crecy, and advantageous marriages through the years helped establish family fortunes.

William Willoughby was in service with the Duke of Richmond in 1536; he served in Parliament representing Lincolnshire and was raised to the peerage. He was certainly connected with John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, before the ‘time of rebellion‘.

There was apparently a plan afoot for the rebels in Castle Rising to mount an attack on King’s Lynn, but Lord Willoughby, leading a force comprised of the local gentry and paid for with the help from King’s Lynn, managed to thwart it.

Jackie Morrallee reports that the rebels moved south to Downham, which is where the Kett’s Oak of Ryston Hall comes in. It was, we are told, a rallying point for the rebels, but following what must have been something akin to a kangaroo court, the ‘Reformation Oak‘ was used as a gallows tree, giving rise to a rhyme:

   ‘Surely the tree which nine men did twist on must be the old oak at Ryston’

Having completed his work and cleared the camp at Castle Rising, Willoughby moved a sizeable force of loyalists to Walsingham, where he joined forces with the Earl of Warwick, and the combined force moved eastwards to tackle Kett’s uprising in Norwich.

Researched and Compiled by Pete Widdows, NRO Research Blogger.

Posted in Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Extending his Grasp on Science even after Death

The statue of Sir Thomas Browne stands in the Haymarket in Norwich, often covered by birds, and occasionally wearing a traffic cone on his head. But how many people passing by really know who Sir Thomas Browne is. Hopefully, with the launch of Talking Statues, the statue of Sir Thomas Browne, voiced by Adam Buxton, will be able to give people an understanding of the man himself.

The man himself

Sir Thomas Browne was a well know scientist and medical doctor. Although born in London in 1605, he settled in Norwich in 1637 and practiced medicine there for the rest of his life.

Finding his remains

His interest in these subjects continued into his death. Browne died on 19 October 1682 and was buried in his parish church of St Peter Mancroft on 24 October (NRO, PD 26/16). However his story doesn’t end there. Browne’s resting place in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft was accidentally disturbed in 1840 by workmen digging a grave for the Vicar’s wife, and the skull and coffin plate (which was broken into two pieces) were removed. They were among the subjects chosen for a new photographic process, the calotype, patented in 1841 and popular for the next decade.

pd 26,16 -ed

The original burial of Thomas Browne, 1682. NRO, PD 26/16

Looking after the skull

The skull was presented to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in 1845, and remained in the hospital’s museum for more than 75 years. It was reburied in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft church following the issue of a faculty in 1922 (NRO, PD 26/41).

pd 26,189-ed

The Burial of Thomas Browne’s Skull. NRO, PD 26/189

The Norfolk Record Office holds a number of documents relating to Thomas Browne, including letters, manuscripts of some of his books and his will. They were displayed in an exhibition in the Long Gallery. Information on some of the documents are included in Thomas Browne


Posted in Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment