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.

A coloured print of the Peterloo Massacre published by Richard Carlile

Norwich’s Reaction

On 16th September 1819, one month to the day after the atrocity, the people of Norwich addressed the Prince Regent, by way of an address read at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich. In this address, read by the Mayor of the City, Nathaniel Bolingbroke, the “citizens and inhabitants of the City of Norwich” expressed their “… shame, and grief, and indignation at the cruel outrages which have lately been committed at Manchester”.

Manuscript copy of the Citizens of Norwich Address to His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, protesting against the Massacre at Peterloo, Manchester. NRO, MC 243/1, 678×6
Hilton I, William; Nathaniel Bolingbroke (1757-1840), Mayor of Norwich (1819-1820); Norfolk Museums Service

It is noted in the 1819 Norfolk Chronicle Newspaper Selections (Norfolk Chronicle, 1819) that the address was “afterwards presented to the Prince at Carleton House”, the town residence of the Prince Regent.

The events in Manchester, and the feelings of the people of Norwich, at that time should be understood in relation to the context of social and political events leading up to that point.

Britain at the time

The late 18th and early 19th centuries had been a period of huge transition: beginning with the loss of the American colonies following the American Revolution (1775-83), the rebellion by the United Irishmen on behalf of Irish autonomy (1799), the Napoleonic Wars (1783-1815), and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution intensified class distinctions when wealthy landowners built large farms and introduced improved farming methods. Fewer agricultural workers were needed as a result so most moved to towns and became the workforce of the Industrial Revolution. On top of this, the end of the Napoleonic Wars brought economic disaster, depression and mass unemployment. Agitation for social reform grew and the government’s response to this agitation was repression of the people.

At this point in the early 19th century, only 11% of adult males had the vote with very few in the industrial north, which had been hit worst by the repressive Corn Laws. In 1817, 750,000 people petitioned Parliament for manhood suffrage to be introduced; the request was flatly rejected by the House of Commons. In 1819, the country experienced a second slump in the economy whereupon radical reformers sought to mobilise huge crowds of people to force the government to back down from their 1817 decision.

A tale of two cities

The cities of Norwich and Manchester were vastly different at the turn of the 19th century. Manchester began expanding at an astonishing rate at this time as people flocked to the city for work from around the United Kingdom as part of a process of unplanned urbanisation brought on by the Industrial Revolution. The population, in 1821 (Office for National Statistics), was 108,016  and by 1835, Manchester was described as “without challenge, the first and greatest industrial city in the world” (Hall, 1998).  

By contrast much of Norwich’s industrial and commercial life was already in decay and the population was less than half that of Manchester (50,288) (White, 1864).  The city had begun to expand beyond its walls and living conditions were unsanitary: there was no supply of clean water and the city was hit by epidemics of various diseases including smallpox which killed over 500 people in the year of Peterloo.

The Prince Regent

The life of the Prince Regent, by contrast to most of his subjects, was one of riotous, boisterous and drunken frivolity. George, the eldest child of King George III and Queen Charlotte, was appointed as Prince Regent in February 1811 following the Regency Act of the same year. This appointment was as a direct result of the deterioration of the King’s mental health that rendered him unfit to rule. The Regent let his ministers take full charge of government affairs, playing a far lesser role than his father, and the principle that the prime minster was the person supported by a majority in the House of Commons, whether the king personally favoured him or not, became established (Bagehot, 1872).

George IV, Prince Regent

The Language of the People of Norwich

It would appear, from the words of the Norwich address, that the Prince’s lack of involvement in affairs of government, was recognised as a “limited Monarchy” and that they had “long observed, on the part of the King’s Ministers, a settled and systematic purpose to deny, harass and suppress the petitioning of the People”. The language used in the address ranges from flattery of the Prince (“a generous Prince”, “the natural mildness and generosity of your Royal Highness’ disposition”), through horror at the barbarity which occurred in Manchester (“Blood has been shed. Bodies have been mangled. Lives have been destroyed”, “the Outrages at Manchester”) to utter disdain at the “gross and wanton violation of the Rights and Liberties of the People” and his Royal Highness is petitioned to “displace, for ever, from your Royal person and Councils, those equally weak and violent Ministers who have presumed, on this occasion to connect your Royal Highness’ noble nature, with the massacre at Manchester.”

Manuscript copy of the Citizens of Norwich Address to His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, protesting against the Massacre at Peterloo, Manchester. NRO, MC 243/1, 678×6

Repercussions of Peterloo

Reaction in both London and national newspapers shared the horror felt in the Manchester region. Sadly, it would appear that the heartfelt petition of the people of Norwich fell on deaf ears as the government passed new legislation, the Six Acts, which was aimed at gagging radical newspapers and preventing large meetings for the purpose of radical reform.

In 2018 the British film “Peterloo” was premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in Manchester. The director, Mike Leigh, said that he was truly delighted that his drama would be shown “where it all happened” (Korsner, 2018)

In 2019, on the 200th anniversary of the massacre, Manchester City Council inaugurated the Peterloo Memorial, eleven concentric circles of local stone, engraved with the names of the dead.

Written and compiled by Samantha Kimber, NRO blogger

Works cited

Bagehot, W. (1872). The English Constitution. London: H S King.

Hall, P. (1998). The First Industrial City: Manchester 1760-1830. London: Widenfeld & Nicolson.

Korsner, J. (2018, August 16). London Film Festival to Premier Mike Leigh’s Peterloo drama – in Manchester. Retrieved from What’s Worth Seeing:

Norfolk Chronicle. (1819, September 16). 1819 Norfolk Chronicle Newspaper Selections. Retrieved from The Foxearth & District Local History Society:

Office for National Statistics. (n.d.). National Census & Registrar General’s Mid-Year Population Estimates. Crown.

White, W. (1864). History, Gazetteer & Directory of Norfolk, and the city and county of the city of Norwich. Retrieved from

Wroe, J. (1819, November 13). Manchester Digital Collections. Retrieved from The University of Manchester:

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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.

Part 2 presented a detailed and complex case arguing that, in fact, Charles E. Boles was baptised in Bressingham, Norfolk, as Charles Burch on 25 October 1829 to John Burch and his wife, Maria Hall (NRO, PD 111/4). The research was particularly challenging for two reasons: firstly, the family appear to have been non-conformists and there is patchy survival of the records of dissenting churches from this period, but primarily because the family used two surnames, Burch (or Birch) and Bowles. The most likely explanation for this is that John’s father, James, was born illegitimately to a mother named Birch, but that his father was a man named Bowles. Indeed, there is a baptism in Wymondham of James ‘base child’ of Elizabeth Birch, on 25 September 1753 (NRO, PD 184/3) which may well be him, and the Wymondham parish registers show there were also families named Bowles in the parish, at the time.

Therefore, the family had to be pieced together using an incomplete record of baptisms and an inconsistent use of surname, but the following tree was eventually constructed:

John’s brother, Leonard, proved pivotal to untangling this family. The Bressingham parish registers contain a number of examples of his family being recorded by the name Birch and also the name Bowles. Leonard and his family also emigrated to Alexandria, Jefferson County, New York around the same time that John and his family did. A naturalization application from 1838 has survived for Leonard and it states that he was then around 44 years of age and had been born in Shelfanger, Norfolk, England (New York, Jefferson County Clerk’s Office, File 5789, Application for Naturalization of Leonard Bowles, 3 September 1838). Leonard, son of James and Rebecca Birch, was baptized 26 February 1792 in Shelfanger parish church (NRO, PD 80/2).

After the blogposts were published, I was contacted by Mr Jim Birch from Cincinnati, Ohio and he was to provide further evidence which proves that this is the family of Black Bart. Jim is a direct line descendant of John and Leonard’s brother, Robert. Robert was born around 1784 and like the rest of James and Rebecca’s children, excepting Leonard, his baptism has not been found in a Church of England parish register. However, as with other members of the family, there is clear evidence of him using both surnames throughout his life. He married Martha Thirston (or Thurston) in Carleton Rode in 1809 as Bowles (NRO, PD 254/8), but they had most of their children baptized into the Shelfanger Baptist Church as Burch (TNA, RG4/1138). In the 1841 census, the family was listed as Bowles (TNA, HO107/758/17/6/7), in the 1851 census as Burch (TNA, HO107/1822/148/21).

Unlike his brothers John and Leonard, Robert stayed in England and Jim had two crucial pieces of evidence that the family were well-known to use both surnames. Firstly, Robert and Martha’s daughter, Mary, married in Shelfanger in 1832 and the marriage register names her as “Mary Burch commonly called Bowles”.

Extract from the Shelfanger marriage register (NRO, PD 80/7)

Secondly, at the County Quarter Sessions held in Norwich on 7 January 1835, Robert and Martha’s daughter, Sarah, was sentenced to 6 months at Wymondham Bridewell for larceny. The sessions book records her as “Sarah Burch als[o] Bowles”.

Norfolk Quarter Sessions, sessions book. Entry from 7 January 1835. (NRO, C/S 1/24).

Sarah was Jim’s direct line ancestor. In 1839, she had an illegitimate son, named Charles. Sarah married in 1852 and remained in East Anglia, dying in 1897 in Walsham Le Willows, in Suffolk. Her son Charles sought new opportunities and wider horizons. By 1861, he had moved some 250 miles north to Shildon in County Durham where he was working as a coal miner. He married a local girl, Margaret Watson, and they had seven children, before Margaret died in 1881. In 1882, Charles married Margaret’s half-sister, Elizabeth Watson, and they had a further five children in County Durham. In 1889, Charles and his family boarded the British King at Liverpool and travelled to Philadelphia and then onwards a further 700 miles to Glenmary, in Tennessee, where Charles continued to work in the mining industry. There they had a further nine children. Late in life, Charles moved further north, and he died in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1917. As an adult, Charles appears to have only used the surname Birch and thus gave rise to the Birch line in Cincinnati where Jim still lives today.

Interestingly, Jim had taken an autosomal DNA test with Ancestry® and he identified two distant matches of great interest to this enquiry. The first is another Jim, Jim Bowles of Oregon. Jim is a direct line descendant of Leonard Bowles, through his son Robert, born around 1819, probably in Bressingham, Norfolk. Leonard and his family emigrated to the US at or around the same time as John and Maria and their family and both families initially settled in Alexandria, in Jefferson County, New York. Robert married Susannah Stevens and, like his father and uncle, farmed for a living. In the 1870 US Federal Census, 78-year-old widowed Leonard Bowles is recorded living with his son Robert and his family in Theresa, Jefferson County (1870 U.S. Federal Census, Theresa, Jefferson County, New York, p. 36, Dwelling 286, Family 300, Robert Bowles). In March 1872, tragedy struck. The house of Robert Bowles was consumed by a terrible fire. In an attempt to save all his children, Robert was so badly burned that he died the next day. Leonard, fell down the stairs while making his escape and never recovered, dying a few weeks later. Susannah and the children did all survive, including 6-year-old James Appleton Bowles, who was to become the great grandfather of Jim Bowles. After the death of her husband and father-in-law, Suzannah moved to Wisconsin to be near her family and eventually this branch of the Bowles family settled in Oregon, where Jim lives today.

Not so much is known about the family of the other DNA match of interest, however, I have verified her Bowles connection. She is a direct line descendant of John Bowles, the brother of ‘Black Bart.’ John Jr. as he was known, was born in Norfolk, England around 1819. He married Martha E. Wood and, like his father John Sr and his uncle Leonard, he also farmed, first in Alexandria and then in Theresa. His first child was named Mary D. Bowles. Mary married Lewis Cuss Goodrich and had just one daughter, Martha Mary, before she died, aged only 28. Martha Mary moved to Washington state which is where this branch of the family still live.

The three branches of this family can be constructed thus:

Both Jim Birch and Jim Bowles kindly gave their permission to use their family trees in this reconstruction, but their fathers have been anonymized for the sake of privacy. Likewise, as we have been unable to contact the Washington cousin, both she and her mother have been anonymized.

The tree shows that Jim Birch and his Washington Cousin are 6th cousins, and that Jim Birch and Jim Bowles are 5th cousins once removed. The amounts of DNA shared by Jim with each of his cousins fits perfectly with these relationships and we have here a clear example of what a useful tool DNA can be to the genealogist, even when dealing with such small, shared amounts. Jim has provided both documentary evidence and DNA evidence which surely establishes beyond all doubt that ‘Black Bart’ was Charles Burch, baptized 25 October 1829 in Bressingham, Norfolk, the son of John Birch also Bowles and his wife Maria Hall. I am enormously grateful to Jim Birch for all his assistance and also to Jim Bowles for his willingness to share his branch’s story in this fascinating family history.

Joanne Penn is a professional genealogist at Ancestry ProGenealogists®

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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.

The CAS³ team comprises Laura McCourt, the Project Manager, and me, Robin Sampson, the project Community Archivist. We are working in partnership with thirty community archive and heritage groups across Norfolk. Between us we work with each individual group in a two to three-month period, talking to the group about their needs, providing practical advice and knowledge, supervising the work the group is doing and obtaining the necessary equipment and resources that the group requires.

Figure 2 The Community Archives projects aims to increase knowledge and confidence in packaging archive material to a professional standard.

Challenges and opportunities in 2020

So far, so good…but we weren’t counting on coronavirus! As with the rest of the world, 2020 has presented us with some significant challenges to how we do our jobs. An important aim of the project was for the team members to visit each group at the places where they keep their collections, to give us a better idea of what the group had, what they wanted to do with it, and how we could help them achieve this. Because of this year’s lockdowns and social distancing requirements, it was sadly no longer possible to do this. We couldn’t go out to meet groups, or even work at the Norfolk Record Office. The groups couldn’t meet together, and several of their members were forced to shield. So how could we possibly run the project?

The answer was: we had to be creative. We ran the project from our homes, holding remote meetings to develop the project. Rather than meet in person, we held introductory meetings with each group over Zoom or by phone call. We created online surveys for the groups to complete, so we could get a sense of what skills, knowledge and confidence they currently had, so that we can compare this with their answers at the end of the project. We also worked with consultants to help us design project logos and lettering, give advice on writing our guidance and help with evaluating survey data.

In the first lockdown, we created a whole new section of the NRO website, the Community Archives Toolkit, including guides to archive procedures and downloadable resources. We also developed the Norfolk Archives Network Forum, an online message board where groups can keep in touch, let each other know about training opportunities, resources and events, and ask each other, and us, for advice about their collections.

At the moment, we are developing training sessions about cataloguing archives, digitising historic material and running oral history programmes. These sessions will shortly be delivered over Zoom. Until we can meet up in person again, we also offer each group a series of video calls with us. We give them advice, set tasks, and request updates on how they are getting on. We are also running virtual ‘coffee mornings’ where groups can meet with each other online and chat about their projects.

It has been a steep learning curve for both the project team and the groups involved. It’s been disappointing for everyone that we can’t provide help in person at the moment, and many of our groups would love to work on their collections together and in the same room!

However, we are all doing our best, and whilst it has been a challenging time, it has also been one of opportunity – the team members ourselves have learnt many new skills, such as setting up and running online training, developing websites and digital resources, and the groups have plenty to work on, including cataloguing, photographing and storing their collections, and of course, becoming experts on Zoom!

The goal of the project is not to ‘finish’ an archive – no archive is ever ‘finished’! – but to ensure the community archive groups have enough knowledge, resources and opportunities to continue collecting, managing and using their archives for many years to come. In the first seven months of the project we have made a great start on safeguarding these precious community archives.

Have a look at the Community Archives Toolkit to see what we have been up to, and how the guides and resources could also help you with your personal or community archive projects:

The Norfolk Record Office would like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund for their valuable role in funding the Community Archives project. We would also like to extend our thanks to National Lottery players for making this project possible. You can find out more about the NLHF’s work at @HeritageFundM_E on Twitter or by using the hashtag #NationalLotteryHeritageFund

Robin Sampson, Community Archivist; Community Archives: Skills, Support and Sustainability

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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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Holocaust Memorial Day

January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day, a day to reflect upon the terrible injustices of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, and to remember the millions of people whose lives were taken from them.

In 1986, Norwich born James Gosling was interviewed as part of an oral history project that aimed to capture the memories of Norwich residents. During his interviews, Mr Gosling shared his first-hand experiences of assisting with the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in northern Germany.

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