Around the World in 80 Documents

Just over a year ago, we began a journey ‘Around the World’ looking at the range of documents in the collections of the Norfolk Record Office. Inspired, of course, by the book and tv show ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, we wanted to showcase the documents held in the strongroom with links to more far-flung destinations.

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Will Norwich be ready for the Coronation? 

The nineteenth century witnessed three coronations: George IV in 1821, William IV in 1831 and Victoria in 1838.  

On May 6th, 2023, we will celebrate the coronation of a new king, Charles III. Preparations for this event have been underway for many months. This is a far cry from Norwich in September 1831, on the day before William IV’s coronation, no celebrations had been planned by the Corporation. 

And it wasn’t as if a coronation was a new experience! Ten years earlier in 1821, Great Britain had welcomed George IV to the throne and Norwich had built a triumphal arch in the Market Square to mark the event.  

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Norfolk’s Ancient Animal Magic

Language, we are told is a constantly evolving beast. Whilst this is undeniable, in certain rural areas this evolution can be somewhat slow. We have, for example in the Norfolk vernacular today the phrase ‘to put the toad on someone.’ Admittedly this is not an everyday comment, but this curious phrase that seems to date back many hundreds of years is, remarkably still in use today.

It is often spoken in hushed tones by those fearful of having the toad put upon them, or more forcefully and with a sense of threat by those wishing to afflict their enemy using what is known in East Anglia as ‘toad magic.’

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Norfolk Women in History

Click on a name in the drop down menu to find out about that individual. See image below for details.

To find out even more about Norfolk women in history watch our YouTube channel to see films made by University of East Anglia film students about notable and inspiring Norfolk women.

Posted in 0-1299, 1300-1499, 1500-1699, 1700-1750, 1751-1799, 1800-1850, 1851-1899, 1900-1950, 1951-1999 | 11 Comments

Life in a Nineteenth Century Workhouse

The Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) empowered the Poor Law Commission to unite parishes in England and Wales into Poor Law Unions to be administered by a local Board of Guardians. The Loddon and Clavering Union was instituted on 7th May 1836, its Board of Guardians numbered 44 and there were 42 constituent parishes (two parishes returned two Guardians each). The provision of a workhouse building was central to this process. The original workhouse at Hales which had been built in 1765 was adopted as the Union workhouse and the Poor Law Commissioners authorised £3,145 10s for repairs (probably over £300,000 today) and enlargement with accommodation for 500 people.

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The Boys are Back in Town! The American Red Cross Service Club, Bishop’s Palace, Norwich

In 1942, General Eisenhower tasked the American Red Cross with establishing a chain of service clubs throughout the United Kingdom to accommodate the masses of US soldiers on leave. Service Clubs were designed as a home-away-from-home with American décor, American-inspired meals, and showers so US troops could have a reprieve from the dreaded British bath.

Whilst many Clubs were established in requisitioned hotels, the Service Club in Norwich had the unconventional setting of the Bishop’s Palace, the residential home of the Bishop of Norwich situated due north of the cathedral. The foundations of the medieval palace were laid by the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga (c.1095-1119). The first major alterations came in the early 14th century when Bishop Salmon rebuilt the palace on the original foundations. A drawing-room was added on the first floor above the kitchen by Bishop Walter Hart in the 15th century. This was wainscoted by Bishop Repps a century later with oak panelling from St Benet at Holme. The first major works to be carried out since the 14th century occurred when Bishop John Pelham employed the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ architect to remodel the Palace in 1858-9 CE, which involved moving the entrance to the north elevation, restoring the Bishop’s chapel and dining hall, and refacing the west façade with flintwork (fig. 1).

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The Life of Ellenor Fenn – One Woman: Three Identities.

Lady Ellenor Fenn is listed in the Norfolk Record Office as the wife of Sir John Fenn. He found fame through his work transcribing the 15th century Paston Papers. The first two volumes were published in January 1787 and led to him receiving a knighthood. He was a notable figure in Norfolk, holding several civic roles over his lifetime; he was High Sheriff of Norfolk 1791-1792. However, with a little more investigation, Lady Fenn is revealed as a person of substance in her own right.

Lady Ellenor Fenn, née Frere was born 12 March 1744 in Westhorpe, near Stowmarket, Suffolk. The Frere’s were a wealthy family. Ellenor was the only daughter of 6 children born to Sheppard and Susanna Frere. Her parents later moved to Roydon Hall, Diss, Norfolk.

Portrait of Ellenor Fenn in Bishop Bonners Cottage Museum, (2022).

John Fenn met Ellenor through her brother John Frere; both attended Cambridge University (1758-63). He recounted his courtship in his autobiography of 1763 where, in the proper language of the day, he “paid his addresses” to Ellenor. (Fenn’s ‘Memoirs’ N.R.O. NNAS 505/4/13 f.10.) John Fenn bought Hill House in East Dereham, which at the time overlooked a bustling market square. The couple were married on 01 January 1766.

Ellenor Fenn can be regarded as a pioneer of feminism.  She pursued her own career at a time when the place of a wealthy woman was to be at home supporting the career of her husband. Instead, she was an early innovator of children’s learning and education. However, she was modest about her work and used 2 pseudonyms throughout her career; her achievements only being fully realised after her death.

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The Clandestine Marriage of 1774

The Norfolk Record Office (NRO) holds a large series of correspondence of Elizabeth Leathes, formerly Elizabeth Reading, later Elizabeth Peach, but known to her friends and family as Betsy. Part of the Bolingbroke Collection, these letters give us a glimpse into what life was like for this sociable lady who enjoyed moving in gentry circles, attending card parties and balls, and having a wide range of life-long correspondents.

This blog is concentrating on Betsy’s marriage to Edward Leathes, which took place without the knowledge of either of their parents in Holborn, London, in 1774 by licence. However, some background first. Betsy was an only child, daughter of Elizabeth and Revd James Reading of Woodstock, Oxfordshire and was born in 1748. James was a teacher at Woodstock Grammar School and the rector of nearby Stonesfield. Betsy was well educated, had a large circle of friends, played the harpsichord and corresponded with her friends regularly. In Celia Miller’s 2016 biography of Betsy, she says ‘By the time she reached her 20th birthday she had acquired all the social skills needed to function effectively in polite society, and knew how to present herself to the best advantage.’

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