Book of Orders for Dutch and Walloon Strangers: Refugee Week 2021

For Refugee Week, we take a look at the Book of Orders for Dutch and Walloon Strangers (NRO, NCR 17d/9). This is a document containing orders for the regulation of the Strangers’ Hall in Norwich and for ordering the life and business of the Dutch and Walloon Strangers, as recorded in signed minutes of a committee for regulating the city’s relationship with the Strangers community. 

In 1556 the Mayor of Norwich, Thomas Sotherton, with permission of Queen Elizabeth I, invited thirty Flemish families to Norwich, in the hope that they would be able to halt the decline in the city’s weaving industry. The first thirty families were being persecuted for their Protestant religion within their home country and so readily accepted the offer. They worked on improving the weaving industry using new techniques and providing a form of quality control. Very soon, these refugees became known as the ‘strangers’. By 1579, 6,000 ‘strangers’ lived amidst the city’s population of about 16,000.

The Book of Orders demonstrates how they set about improving the standard of weaving in Norwich. Describing the stages of cloth manufacture, quality of yarn and technical expertise, instructions for dying and quality control, checking for the correct width, length and breadth- once the cloth passed these stages it was sealed with a lead cloth seal and sold.  In 1575 council issued a statement saying the city was prospering and it was down to the strangers work.

Strangers also introduced to Norwich introduced rare spices, dried fruits, and canaries.  New words also came to the city, e.g. Norwich has Plains rather than Squares, such as St Martin at Plain.

For more information about the Strangers in Norwich, take a look at our video ‘Welcoming Norfolk’s Strangers‘ on the Norfolk Record Office YouTube channel.

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