From Tram Conductor to Chief Inspector: The Police Registers of Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn

From Norfolk Record Office documents C/PO 1/58 & C/PO 1/46

Brief History of the Police Force

The first official police force was the London Metropolitan Police set up by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.  The County and Borough Police Act 1856 required a national system of policing throughout England and Wales and towns such as Kings Lynn (KL) and Great Yarmouth (GY) would each have their own forces.  Smaller town forces did not merge until the 20th century.

Registers Held at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO)

The NRO holds personnel registers for the GY and the KL police forces.  The first dates from 1871 to 1924, the second from 1845 to 1920.  The KL register has suffered water damage making some entries difficult to read. 

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The Ghostly Mystery of Mannington Hall

With the nights drawing in and a distinct chill in the autumnal air, our thoughts turn towards all things ghoulish, ghostly and spectral. If you’re looking for a spine-chilling tale to tell by the fireside on a dark winter’s evening, look no further…

Our story begins in Victorian England, where there was a national hunger for the supernatural. The tradition of the winter ghost story was gaining popularity, and gothic literature surged forth as anathema to the rigid social and religious structures of the day.

Dr. Augustus Jessopp (1823-1914)  made his name as a clergyman and headteacher in Norfolk in the latter half of the 19th century. Although ordained in the Christian church, he was not averse to the rise of the popular new religious movement of Spiritualism.

It came to pass that in October 1879, the combination of a ghostly tale recounted by Jessopp, a trusted ‘man of the cloth’, and the nationwide thirst for all things beyond the grave caused quite a stir both within Norfolk and the wider world.

Dr. Augustus Jessop, 1913
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Heritage Open Days 2022 at Norfolk Record Office

This year to mark Heritage Open Days (HODs), we invited members of the public to take a peek behind the scenes, gave a talk about Richard Bright ‘The Man Behind the Discovery of Bright’s Disease’ and the Conservation project at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO), and hosted an online special Reading from the Archives.

Heritage Open Days 2022 at NRO

Heritage Open Days is England’s largest festival of history and culture, and thanks to the help of local organisations and volunteers, it provides free access to events and local heritage sites, many of which are not normally open to the public. Each year there is a theme to the festival, and 2022 was ‘Astounding Inventions’.

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Snuff in 19th Century Norfolk

Snuff, high society’s choice of tobacco inhalation, first appeared in England in the middle of the sixteenth century, along with tobacco imports from America.  Sir Walter Raleigh is usually supposed to have been the first to bring it home to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, but Leonard Bolingbroke, of the Norwich Science Gossip Club, feels that it was more probably Ralph Lane (a lesser- known English explorer of the same period) in 1586.

The Norfolk Record Office has the typed lecture notes which Mr Bolingbroke, solicitor and Registrar of the Diocese of Norwich, used for a talk to the Club in the late nineteenth century (NRO, BOL 1/90, 739×2). He talks about Christopher Columbus’s ‘discovery’ of America in the fifteenth century, when ‘the natives not only smoked tobacco, but they inhaled the powder of it through a cane half a cubit long into their nostrils.’ (A cubit is about 18 inches or 45.72 centimetres).

Notes for Leonard Bolingbroke’s talk on tobacco and snuff. NRO, BOL 1/90, 739×2

Snuff was, at first, not as popular as tobacco. ‘Early snuff takers had to grind his [sic] own snuff in a grater or grinder’, Mr Bolingbroke continued.  ‘These were made of metal, wood, ivory or bone and beautifully carved or engraved. These days they are very rare.  They are not to be confused with a nutmeg grater.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, snuff was being produced commercially and its use increased hugely.  A great variety of types of snuff became available, for example Masulipatam, Grimston’s Eye and Maccaboy.  This last was produced in Martinique and the word became an expletive used on the floor of the Stock Exchange in London.

Snuff boxes became collectors’ items, and could be made of silver, steel, pressed horn, wood and ivory.  They varied in price from two pence (in pre-decimal currency) to £2,000.  A large collection is held at Strangers’ Hall, Norwich in the reserve collection. Some are of papier maché, painted with great artistic skill. Others were like miniature books and even a coffin! Richard Bullard, of the Norwich brewing family, had a snuff box with the London hallmark for 1850, presented to him on his retirement from Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre in London (NRO, BR 138/3).

The energy for the commercial process to make snuff out of tobacco leaves was often a windmill.  A snuff mill was once situated on Carrow Hill, in or near the Norwich Black Tower.  According to the Records of the Norfolk Windmills Trust (NRO, C/WT/1/19/115) ‘one of the towers of the old city walls is called the snuff tower, since it was surrounded by a windmill grinding this commodity’.  In 1783 it was occupied by Walter Livingstone, snuffmaker and tobacconist of No. 52, Market Place. The mill, later used for spinning cotton, had its machinery removed in 1833 and in the same year the Black Tower was struck by lightening and destroyed.

A panoramic View of Norwich by John Ninham c.1780 shows a close-up view of the Black Tower with its windmill in the foreground.

Mr Bolingbroke notes that even in the nineteenth century there was ‘an enormous amount of tobacco smoking literature, both for and against it on health grounds.’  Snuff was not liable to cause lung cancer, but it could trigger nasal and mouth cancer. 

30-year old Ruth Bullard, from Sporle, was admitted to Norfolk County Lunatic Asylum on 25 May 1878, after becoming depressed following her mother’s death. The Case Book (NRO, SAH 267/275) states that:

She showed great preference for her own society & shunned her relatives without reason. She has continued to get gradually worse, & for the last fortnight she has been very restless & unsettled, suspicious of her friends whom she fancies are plotting against her & trying to poison her, altho’ there is apparently no ground for this idea. She is sullen & reticent, indifferent to food, & gets little or no sleep.

Over the following months Ruth received treatment. On the 20th July Thomas J Compton writes

She has lately taken to taking large quantities of snuff & she is always more irritable & quarrelsome when without this stimulant.

It seems for those that were already addicted to snuff going without it caused other issues.

Entry in the Norfolk County Asylum Case Book for Ruth Bullard. NRO, SAH 267/275

Today, snuff is available over the counter in most European tobacco shops, although the same age restrictions apply as other tobacco products. Despite its popularity decreasing over time, it is said to have made a slight comeback in England in the late 2000s when the smoking ban can into effect.

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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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