Sir Timothy Colman (1929-2021)

In addition to a whole host of other appointments, and to his wide-ranging interests both in the county and elsewhere (as amply recorded in his obituary in the Eastern Daily Press for 10 September 2021), Sir Timothy was president of the Norfolk Record Society from 1978 until his retirement as Lord-Lieutenant of the county in 2004, to be succeeded in both offices by Richard (from 2019 Sir Richard) Jewson. This has maintained an established tradition for the society since all but one of our six presidents have been Lord-Lieutenant. Sir Timothy was always far more than a figurehead president. He regularly chaired our triennial general meetings and conducted the business of the agenda with remarkable efficiency and panache – his record may have been 17 minutes! He also attended the bi-annual meetings of the council whenever he could and made telling contributions to our deliberations. When Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Read More

Letters from Humphry Repton’s Family

The life and work of Humphry Repton are of interest to scholars and readers from a wide variety of historical sub-disciplines because his activities made an impact not only on architecture, gardens and the landscape but also on individuals, localities and Georgian society more generally. His surviving letters, manuscripts and published works of various types, which are housed in numerous repositories, have been drawn on by historians to reconstruct different aspects of Repton’s contribution to the English landscape and to Georgian society. Whereas Repton’s landscape design books (known as his Red Books), his other designs and published printed works display his public side, as do his memoirs, the letters written by him held at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, provide a different view. They shed light on some of his private thoughts and attitudes, at times somewhat negative, written as they were towards the end of his life, which, Read More

Overseas Trade (and Smuggling) in Early Modern King’s Lynn

The King’s Lynn Port Books 1610-1614 While not as important as London, King’s Lynn was still definitely in the premier division of the urban commercial leagues in the early modern period, alongside ports such as Newcastle, Hull, Southampton, Bristol and Chester. Liverpool and Glasgow at that time were still ‘emerging’ and would have to wait until the age of the Industrial Revolution for their glory days to dawn. Lynn’s overseas trade in the reign of James I was heavily concentrated on the North Sea, with particularly brisk exchanges of goods with the Scottish ports on the Firth of Forth. Kirkcaldy was the most important, followed by Leith, but also significant was Culross, which is still a major visitor attraction in the region with its cobbled streets, well-preserved houses and a splendid so-called ‘Palace’ built by the entrepreneur Sir George Bruce. He was a notable trader through King’s Lynn and he Read More

The Whirlpool of Misadventures

The Whirlpool of Misadventures: Letters of Robert Paston, First Earl of Yarmouth, 1663-1679 The famous Paston Letters document the rise to wealth and status of a Norfolk family from 1422-1509, and first appeared in print in 1787. The most significant collection of letters detailing the family’s subsequent fortunes is in the Norfolk Record Office and was published in 2012 by the Norfolk Record Society. These letters continue the story from 1663 to 1679: the Pastons were honoured with the lord lieutenancy of Norfolk, a royal marriage and an earldom, but they were also engulfed by a ‘whirlpool of misadventures’ which was to lead to their eventual bankruptcy and extinction. The most important group consists of some 88 letters from Robert Paston (1632-1683), first earl of Yarmouth, principally to his wife. They begin in 1664 on a note of optimism. After the restoration of Charles II, there were many royalists competing Read More

The Civil War Comes to Norwich

The Great Blow: Examinations and Informations relating to the Great Blow in Norwich, 1648 On 24 April 1648 a rioting crowd unwittingly unleashed the largest explosion in seventeenth-century England, detonating ninety-eight barrels of powder in the house rented to Norfolk’s County Committee, very close to Norwich market place. The blast was heard throughout Norfolk and caused damage to many of the city’s buildings. It occurred when the nation was poised on the brink of the Second Civil War. Despite it being such a dramatic moment in Norwich’s history, the episode has been overlooked by many national narratives of the Civil Wars. Norwich is usually considered a strongly parliamentarian city, ‘puritan’ in its sympathies and deep within the powerful Eastern Association, a distant backwater from the theatres of war in which armed royalism presented a military threat. The evidence generated by the ‘Great Blow’ challenges that perception. The subsequent investigation by Read More

Norfolk’s Navigator

The World of John Secker 1716-95, Quaker Mariner John Secker was a Norfolk sailor who penned his personal recollections of around 65 voyages, mainly undertaken in British and foreign merchant vessels, to encompass destinations in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas between 1729 and 1755. The son of a Quaker miller and born at Swafield near North Walsham in 1716, he was taught to read and write, and through the influence of maritime relatives, he first put to sea aged fourteen. A remarkable narrative of his working life is among the treasures of the Norfolk Record Office, one of just a handful of autobiographical accounts that survive for able seamen before the Napoleonic Wars. Secker was almost constantly at sea between the ages of 14 and 40 years of age, progressing through the roles of servant, cook and cabin boy, to seaman and chief mate in coastal and long distance Read More

Architecture and family life in early-Georgian Norfolk

John Buxton, Norfolk Gentleman and Architect, Letters to his son 1719-1729 Reading other people’s letters is not obviously legitimate, but past collections can fairly be explored to illuminate the lives of individuals and their families. Between 1719 and 1729, John Buxton (1685-1731), a south-Norfolk landowner remembered as a gentleman-architect, exchanged letters with his eldest son Robert (1710-1751). The letters begin when Robert left home as a nine-year-old for boarding school in Suffolk, and end with his graduation from Clare Hall, Cambridge. The collection is complemented by John Buxton’s account of a tour he made in 1720, visiting country houses, and the record of Robert’s visit to Oxford in 1729. This was early-Georgian England, before industrialisation and the development of modern communications. The documents have been published by the Norfolk Record Society as their volume 69, 2005, edited by Alan Mackley, John Buxton, Norfolk Gentleman and Architect. John Buxton, his wife Read More

Running Tudor England’s Second City

The Accounts of the Chamberlains of Norwich, 1539-45 Accounts are an important source of evidence for students of late medieval and early modern history.  The requirement that officials should produce minutely detailed lists of all the individual sums that they received and all the money that they paid out sprang from a desire to avoid fraud.  As a result, these documents contain a treasure trove of information that is often unavailable elsewhere.  How else would we know that in 1542 torrential rain led to such serious flooding in Norwich that the streets and drains were badly damaged, and piles of debris had to be removed from the marketplace?  The accounts kept by the sixteenth-century chamberlains illuminate many other aspects of life in England’s second city, from the treatment of homeless beggars to the lavish gifts presented to local dignitaries.  Those for the years 1539 to 1545, which have just been Read More