John Fenn – A Dereham Man: The Diaries of Sir John Fenn, 1786-1794

Taken from documents held at the Norfolk Record Office, NRO, MC 525/1

Sir John Fenn was a man most notably known for his publication of the Paston Letters.  But his eight engagement diaries, spanning 1786 to 1794 tell us so much more than that about this Georgian gentleman.  He was a man known for many things but above all else, he was a Dereham man.  This blog focuses on his life in (East) Dereham and Norfolk.

Sir John Fenn (Serpell)
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Examining Marriage Licence Bonds

Illustration of a wedding at Topcroft, Norfolk. NRO, ANF Bishop’s Transcripts, 1828.

Marriage licence bonds for the Archdeaconry of Norfolk, 1704-1886, and for the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral, 1705-1860, have recently been indexed by a group of dedicated Norfolk Record Office volunteers.

In a few cases, the backstory to some of these bonds (rarely given in the document itself) is recounted in other sources.  One such story relates to Mahershalalhashbaz Tuck and Emily Beddoe who applied for a licence to be married at East Dereham on 20th December 1866. Their wedding took place there a few days later.

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World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

On October 27th, heritage organisations across the world will join in celebration of World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. Founded by UNESCO in 2005, World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (WDAVH) is an international day with the aim of celebrating audiovisual heritage documents and raising awareness of current risks that jeopardise their long-term preservation.

What is audio visual heritage? 

Audiovisual documents include moving image, such as films and television programmes, and recorded sound, such as radio programmes, music, oral history interviews, and recordings of nature. Norfolk Record Office safeguards many forms of audiovisual heritage documents and is home to both the East Anglian Film Archives, and a substantial sound archive.

  Norfolk Record Office is the East of England hub for the national audio preservation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, one of ten UK wide heritage organisations working alongside the British Library to digitise the UK’s rare and at-risk audio archives.

Examples of audio formats (Clockwise from top left: Reel-to-reel magnetic audiotape on player, vinyl disc on player, compact cassette tape, wax cylinders, reel-to-reel magnetic audio tape in box)
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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: a British musical prodigy

Revered as one of Britain’s greatest black composers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is most remembered for his choral masterpiece Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. 

Through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage audio preservation project, a recording of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast performed at the 28th Aldeburgh Festival in 1975 has recently been digitally preserved at Norfolk Record Office. In this blog we will explore the life of this prominent composer, and the trilogy of Hiawatha cantatas that brought him international critical acclaim. 

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in Holborn, London, an area just around the corner from Fetter Lane which was described by the writer Charles Dickens as being “the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner”. It is thought that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was named after the famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and from the age of five Coleridge-Taylor showed his own artistic talents when starting to learn the violin. His musical gift quickly became apparent, and when he turned fifteen, he was accepted into the Royal College of Music initially as a violinist. After two years, he changed his direction of study to composition, and under the guidance of Charles Stanford (one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music), began to develop as a skilful composer.       

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Allan Glaisyer Minns: The First Black Mayor of a British Town

October is Black History month: how many people know that the first ever black mayor of any British town was in Norfolk?

Allan Glaisyer Minns was one of ten children of John and Ophelia Minns (nee Bunch) of Inagua in the Bahamas.  Theirs is an extraordinary story: Allan, his brother and sister, all came to England and lived in Thetford for many years, playing an important part in community life.  In 1904, Allan became Mayor of Thetford – the first black mayor of any town in Britain.

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The Unusual Burial Request of Stephen Kendall, singleman of Hempstead cum Eccles, Norfolk


The wills of 16th and 17th century testators can provide researchers with some remarkable insights into the lives of ordinary people by telling us their actual thoughts and beliefs, albeit in a stylised form, as opposed to what written history wanted later generations to believe. The underlying beliefs of the testators can then be matched to their actions to explain why and how they make provisions for preserving their souls, and through their various bequests of money and goods how they provide for family, friends and the wider community.  

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Story of Sound Part 3: Shellac to vinyl, how World War Two changed the record

Previously on the Story of Sound blog series, we travelled back in time to the late 1800s to discover who was the first inventor to create a machine which both recorded and played back sound, and discovered the forgotten format of wax cylinder recordings. Read parts 1 and 2 here:

The Talking Machine

“Canned music” and a war of formats

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Defending the Nation, Looking after the Poor and Preventing Coastal Erosion: the Varied Expenses found within Churchwardens Accounts

The churchwardens accounts give more than just details of how the parish ran its own affairs. They can be invaluable in understanding what was happening in surrounding parishes, other counties and nationwide. Looking into the accounts for Loddon has drawn up some intriguing entries, from paying a subsidy to Suffolk Justices of the Peace to helping with the defence of the nation (PD 595/19). This blog delves into the archives to understand what was happening at the time in order to fully understand each entry.

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