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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Dragon Hall Archive Project Internship

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.

The exterior of Dragon Hall photographed in 1935, when it was known as The Old Barge Inn

Hello everyone! My name is Sally and I am currently finishing my third year at UEA studying English Literature with Creative Writing. In September 2022, I will be beginning the UEA MA Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies course, which has led me to seek out work experience opportunities within the heritage sector. In the beginning of May, I was lucky enough to begin an internship project organised by the Dragon Hall Heritage Volunteers and the Norfolk Record Office, and I am looking forward to learning more about the world of archives, heritage, and local history.

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Newton Flotman and Saxlingham Thorpe Heritage Group

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.

Newton Flotman and Saxlingham Thorpe Heritage Group were established in 2018 as part of our church’s commitment to the legacy element of a Heritage Lottery Grant awarded in 2017 for repairs to the church. We started by producing a revised church leaflet, setting up a website and being trained to created short videos (published on YouTube!) about aspects of the church. A couple of us attended pre-lottery application meetings at the Archive Centre and were very pleased to be accepted in to the project when the finding was awarded. We always aimed to broaden our scope to the villages as a whole and the Community Archive Project has acted as a spur to equip us to do just that. We aim to meet monthly and plan to bring back our ‘memory events’ where we encourage village residents to come to reminisce and have the opportunity to record their memories. Again, we have received valuable training on this from the Project to improve our recording of oral history.

Group members cataloguing some of NFASTHG’s collections
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‘A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’: Mulbarton Heritage Group

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.

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is an old adage, so a thousand pictures must be worth… a whole library? And that is about the number of photos the Mulbarton Heritage Group has collected over nearly 20 years, first for a now-defunct website, then for ‘The Book of Mulbarton’ and now many are displayed at https://www.mulbartonhistory.org.uk/  They are on CDs and a succession of laptops. There are duplicates and pictures of varying quality. There are notes about most, but not everyone depicted has been identified – and they are all randomly numbered.

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60 years old!

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.

The Aylsham Town Archive can trace its roots back to around 1950 but has been in its present location and open for research since July 1960. First catalogued in 1974, the archive covers the whole of the parish of Aylsham and an area of 2-3 miles around. Based on the Town Council’s own records, it now contains over 1500 manuscript and printed items and a large photographic image archive formed from donations and copied photos, most of which have been added in the last 20 years.

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King’s Lynn Golden Jubilee procession identity parade

One of the more eye-catching items from the records of civic events is a photograph of the mayoral procession that took place as part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. They are photographed standing on the Saturday Market Place with 2 St Margaret’s Place in the background.

Golden Jubilee Procession, KL/TC 13/1/28

There are 23 individuals lined up in procession. The staff bearer, sword bearer, and the four mace bearers precede the mayor, who can be seen wearing his ceremonial robes. Following them are the alderman and common councillors all wearing top hats and gloves. There was a threat of rain in the air as many of them are also carrying umbrellas. In the background you can see two policemen standing guard, two servants and a man looking out of the windows at the gathered officials along with a few members of the public. The dignitaries had just processed through the town and were waiting to enter St Margaret’s Church for the service of thanksgiving when the photo was taken. The local newspapers of the time have a description of the route and all the groups who took part in the procession. However, no names are written on the photo so as part of the Jubilee celebrations I attempted to but a name to as many faces as possible. Numbers in brackets () refer to associated numbers on the photo.

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Church court records at the Norfolk Record Office

Introduction

Nineteenth century photograph of Norwich Cathedral, held by the Norfolk Heritage Centre (ref. 723621).
Courtesy of www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk

Church court records, more specifically the records of the Norwich Consistory Court, are probably the most salacious at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO). Before the mid-nineteenth century, church courts had jurisdiction over many aspects of life, including matrimony, probate, church taxes, sexual promiscuity, and defamation. In effect they were guardians of a person’s moral wellbeing. For this reason, their archive, especially witness statements, also known as depositions, offer an intriguing insight into everyday life. They are sure to add great interest to family and local history.

The Norfolk Record Office, with the support of its charitable partner, the Norfolk Archives and Heritage Development Foundation (NORAH), has started work to unlock the stories contained within the records, which cover the late fifteenth to the nineteenth century. And because the Diocese of Norwich covered Suffolk as well as Norfolk during most of this period, the records contain entries relating to both counties.

This blog post will introduce the records, explain why they can be so difficult to use and outline how they can be made more accessible. Other blog posts will follow, which look more closely into the records contained in the Norwich Consistory Court archive.

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