An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.
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That this place hath been a burgh ever since the Romans made it so is very plain, its inhabitants being called burghers or burgesses, (fn. 1) in all ancient records whatever, both before Domesday and since; I need not mention any thing of the government of the place, till the original of the present corporation, the inhabitants in general being governed by the King's provosts from the Conquest; Roger de Scherdestona, who enjoyed that office in 1139, 5th Stephen, paid the King for all the pleas of Thetford, 10l. as the Pipe-roll shews us, and the next year Fulchard the Provost of Thetford paid 35l. 12s. 10d. for the profits of his office for this year, which shews it was annual. I meet with no more of the names of these officers which governed the town, and were nominated by the King, who was lord of it, but find the office expired in Richard the First's time, who changed its government from a provost to a bailiff, coroner, and mayor; the bailiff was the superiour officer, his jurisdiction being general; be was always nominated by the King, as lord of the dominion or manor of Thetford, and held his place during life; the coroner was also named by the lords of the dominion, and was superiour to the mayor till the year 1373, and then John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster, and lord of the dominion, obliged the town so far, as to make the mayor superiour to the coroner, but still kept the nomination of the coroners to himself; this office was also for life, till 1490, and then King Henry VII. as Duke of Lancaster, and lord of the town, granted them the privilege, that the old mayor should be the future coroner, which remains to this day; the mayor was an officer that the King allowed the people to choose annually, but his power was very small, though he had some privileges, as that of making capital burgesses, and freemen, all which were subject immediately to him, in the same manner that he was to the bailiff. In 1249, it appears that none of the King's bailiffs could enter the town, to distrain any one, or serve any writ, the inhabitants in general being only subject to the bailiffs of the town and hundred, and the capital burgesses or freemen, to the bailiff of the town only, by their mayor, to whom all processes were sent by the bailiff to be served on them. (fn. 2) The privileges of the corporation increased by degrees, for at first the mayor got leave of the lord to have a sword carried with him in publick places, as an ensign of authority, which was granted; but it was carried behind him many years, in token of his subjection to a superiour power, till he obtained leave of the lord of the town, under the dutchy seal, that it might be born before him. (fn. 3) The mayors were always sworn at the leet held some time before the Feast of the Translation of St. Thomas the Martyr, by the bailiff of the town, in order to be in his office to ride to Bromehill-Fair, according to ancient custom. In 1331, there was a dispute between the Prior of Bromehill, and the mayor, burgesses, tenants, merchants, and inhabitants of Thetford, who had the toll of the fair, by grant from the lord of the dominion, concerning the jurisdiction of the mayor there, and the toll, picage, and stallage of the fair, who recovered against the Prior, by shewing that they held it of the dominion of Thetford, as belonging to the dutchy of Lancaster, by grant of a former lord thereof, (fn. 4) and that Henry Earl of Lancaster was in possession of it in 1327. William Brygges, mayor in 1471, was the first that I meet with, that was called Esquire in right of his office. I have a letter of his own handwriting to Master Lumnour, under-steward of the dutchy, and bailiff of Thetford, Ao 1470, in which he desires him to direct a premunire facias to his [under] bailiff of Thetford, to summon a leet against Thursday before St. Thomas, and that he would be there to swear him into his office, that he might ride to Bromhill-Fair, and sit as was his duty, in every court in the year, as well in the market-courts, as in the general courts, and that he might hold the courts and leets at his command, and under his supportation and correction, which plainly shews that the chief of the mayor's power was held under, and belonged to, the dutchy; and indeed the mayors had little or no power before the charter, otherwise than by hiring several things of the dutchy. In Henry the Eighth's time (fn. 5) there were three leets belonging to the town, viz. the hundred leet, which belonged to the Queen, in right of her hundred of Shropham, East leet, and St. Thomas's leet, (fn. 6) which belonged to her in right of the dutchy, all which she granted to the corporation, impowering them to keep two leets in a year, paying to the Crown an annual rent of 13s. 4d. for the hundred leet, which rent was reserved to the Crown when Shropham hundred was granted from it, though the jurisdiction of the hundred extends over the Norfolk side of the town at this time, as is evident from the leet only, and its annual rent being excepted, and from the hundred-courts that were formerly kept at Mawdlin-Cross. In 1693, there was a warrant directed by the sheriff of the county to the bailiff of the hundred of Shropham, commanding him to levy 13s. 4d. upon the mayor, burgesses, and commonalty of Thetford, due to the Exchequer, for the annual farm of the leet, or view of frankpledge, of all the inhabitants in the burgh. This town is always reckoned as part of Shropham hundred, ever since Edward the Third's time, in all taxations, and used to raise their trained-bands, as in that hundred; and before 1664, they paid all duties, King's taxes, &c. as one body, to Norfolk, the greater part of the burgh being in that county; but since, the one part is taxed as in Lackford hundred in Suffolk, and the other as in Shropham hundred in Norfolk. It was a burgh by prescription only till the first royal charter, which was granted to this town by Queen Elizabeth, and bears date at Gorambury the 12th of March, in the 16th year of her reign, 1573. This was in force till Jan. 30, 34th of Charles II. and was then surrendered to the King, who granted them a new one, with some alterations, which was dated at Westminster, March 6, in the same year; but this did not continue long, for these was another granted exact like that of Queen Elizabeth's, by which they are now governed, the substance of which I shall here give you.
The charter first recites, that Thetford is an ancient burgh, and used to send two burgesses to parliament, and had several liberties, which of late had not been used, to the great damage of the town, the Queen therefore grants, that the town of Thetford shall be a perpetual free burgh, and body corporate, of a mayor, ten burgesses, (fn. 7) and twenty of the commonalty, (fn. 8) by the name of the Mayor, Burgesses, and Commonalty, of the burgh of Thetford, in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, the precincts of which burgh shall extend as usual, and that they may make perambulations, may sue and be sned, and have a common seal, and alter the same; (fn. 9) the ten are to be principal men of the burgh, and as such shall be called principal burgesses, and are to be the common council of the burgh, the twenty men of the commonalty being under them; upon the death or removal of a commoner, a new one is to be chose by the mayor and recorder, or his deputy, and the coroner, mayor, recorder, and common council, may make laws for the governing the burgh, so that they be not contrary to the laws of the land, nor the prerogative of the Crown. The mayor may have a sword born before him, and shall choose his sword-bearer, and two serjeants, who may bear two silver maces before him, and do all things as the serjeants at mace in London do, every serjeant being to be sworn to the faithful performance of his office. The mayor is to be clerk of the market, and no other clerk is to enter: the recorder is to be an officer for life, and may exercise the office by himself, or deputy, who shall be called the town-clerk, and upon the death, or removal of a recorder, the mayor, burgesses, and commonalty, must choose a new one in eight days, who is to be sworn before the mayor, and in his absence to have a deputy. The recorder and mayor are to be named by commission, justices of the peace for the burgh, and the mayor of the preceding year is to be sworn coroner, by his successour. The Queen granted them a Saturday market, (fn. 10) and a fair on St. Mary Magdalen's day, and two days after, with all the profits; the gild-hall is appointed the commonhall, where the mayor and body shall meet every Wednesday before Michaelmas day, between 9 and 11 in the forenoon, and then the major part of the commoners shall nominate two of the principal burgesses, that the major part of all the inhabitants (fn. 11) of the burgh may elect one of them mayor for the following year, who should be sworn on Michaelmas day; and if any one, without reasonable cause, refuses the office, the mayor and rest of the principal burgesses may commit him to prison, there to remain till he will take the office, or pay any competent fine, that they shall set upon him: every mayor is to be sworn before his predecessor, if alive and present, but if dead, or absent, before the recorder, and principal burgesses; and if a mayor dies in his office, or be removed, a new one must be chose in eight days, who shall be sworn before the recorder and principal burgesses; upon the death or removal of a principal burgess, a new one must be chose in eight days, by the mayor and burgesses, and be sworn before the mayor. The clerk of the market is to be sworn before the recorder or his deputy, and the principal burgesses to exercise his office without favour or regard to any one. A court of record is to be held every Monday, before the mayor and recorder, in the gild-hall, except in Easter, Shrovetide, and Christmas weeks, and to have cognizance of all actions arising within the burgh, not exceeding 50l. the mayor, recorder, or either of them, to make process, &c. according to the usage of the city of Norwich. The Queen also granted them a court-leet to be holden in the gild-hall, before the mayor and recorder, or the recorder only, and his deputy, twice in the year, a month before Michaelmas, and a month after Easter, the mayor, burgesses, and commonalty, to have the fines thereof, and also all goods of felons, fugitives, outlaws, persons attainted and condemned, or any way forfeited, within the precincts of the burgh, at the yearly rent of 13s. 4d. to be paid to the Crown.
The mayor, as clerk of the market, to have the assize, and trial of bread, wine, and ale, and all other victuals, and also correction of all weights and measures, with all fines proceeding therefrom; the mayor, &c. to have execution of all writs, and return of the same, and no sheriff or other officer is to enter the burgh, unless he or his serjeants shall neglect to execute them. The mayor hath power to correct offenders against the town laws, and no inhabitant is to be returned upon a jury out of the burgh, and no foreigner to be sworn upon any within the burgh: they had license also to purchase 40l. per annum in mortmain, and to send two burgesses to Parliament, to be chosen by the mayor and commonalty. And whereas King Edward VI. under the seal of the dutchy of Lancaster, by indenture dated at Westminster in the third year of his reign, leased to Richard Fulmerston, Esq. for 30 years, the toll of the great bridge, called Incellond or Selford, in Norfolk, (fn. 12) the toll of the market, and of Brandon, Ewston, and Honington bridges, in Suffolk, being parcel of the dutchy, at 8l. 6s. 8d. a year, viz. for the great bridge 3l, 6s. 8d. for Brandon bridge 4l. and for Ewston and Honington 20s. the Queen now grants them to the corporation for ever, to be held in fee-farm, paying the said rents by equal portions, on Lady and Michaelmas day, and keeping the bridges in repair, taking no other toll than 1d. for every cart loaden with things to be sold, and for every horse a halfpenny, for all great or small cattle 4d. a score, for every home, mare, gelding, or colt to be sold, a halfpenny, for every quarter of grain, whatever it be, one quart, and for every stall, or standing in the market, according to the ancient custom; all which rights, privileges, and revenues, the corporation is now in possession of.
In the 10th of Henry VII. 1494, Thomas Heigham, Esq. and Catherine his wife, granted the advowson of Santon in Norfolk to the mayor and commonalty, who hath ever since presented to it, and it is always given to the schoolmaster of the grammar school.
In 1567, 24th June, Archbishop Parker settled 6s. 8d. yearly, out of his manor and farm of Hethill in Norfolk, for a sermon yearly to be preached on Rogation-Sunday, by a fellow of Corpus-Christi or Bennet college in Cambridge. (fn. 13)
Sir Richard Fulmerston, at his death, gave his enclosure called Roses in Fersfield, to be sold, and the money arising therefrom to go towards the discharging the tax of the town of Thetford, 26s. 8d. to be applied to each payment, so long as the money would last.
In 1601, Richard Asteley of Thetford, Esq. was buried in St. Cuthbert's church, and entailed his house and lands in Thetford. (if Drew and Henry his sons had no issue (fn. 14)) on the corporation, who were to expend half the profits towards the maintenance of the blind, lame, and old poor, and the other half towards the maintenance of a preaching minister in St. Cuthbert's church.
They have a common goal, and bridewell, which stands by the Market-place on the Norfolk side; and some years since, they bought a house, &c. in Magdalen-street, which is the present work-house. The cross in the Market-place, by the Butchery, belongs to the corporation; the ducking-stool, which was by Nuns-Bridge, is now decayed. Their gild-hall is a fine old building of black flint; when it was erected, I cannot learn; it had a noble kitchen under it, (now turned into a stable,) where they made ready for the corporation, at their gilds, and other publick times. In this place the Lent assizes for the county are always kept, and have been so ever since the itinerant justices were first instituted, as appears by divers records.
Sir Joseph Williamson, one of the secretaries of state to King Charles II. and burgess in parliament for the burgh, gave them the present sword and mace, which are very grand ones, and built them a fine court, and grand-jury chamber over it, which joins to the old gild-hall; on the top of it is a statue of Justice, and underneath it, upon the front, is this inscription, and Williamson's arms impaling quarterly, 1st, three de-lises; 2d, a fess chequy:
The windows of the chamber are adorned with the town arms, Sir Joseph's, viz. sab. a chevron ingrailed between three trefoils or, several benefactors to the town, and many of his crests, which is, an eagle issuing from a crown, and this motto, Sub umbra alarum tuarum. I shall conclude the account of the benefactors with the following transcript from three tables in this court.
|The most illustrious prince Thomas Duke of Norfolk, &c. gave for ever, for clothing the poor||8||10 per ann.|
|Henry Duke of Norfolk, for the repairing St. Mary's church||50||0||0|
|Sir Richard Fulmerstone, Knt. founded a school and hospital, with maintenance for ever, for a minister, schoolmaster, usher, and four poor people, two men, and two women||160 per ann.|
|Mrs. Eaden, for ever to the poor||3 per ann.|
|Mr. Henry Smith of London, for ever to the poor||10 per ann.|
|Mr. Samuel Snelling, an inhabitant, a piece of land to the poor of St. Cuthbert's parish for ever||1||6||8|
|A poor shepherd to the poor of this town for ever||1 per ann.|
|Sir Edwin Rich, Knt. to the building a bridge, and to the poor||100||0||0|
|And at his death, for the relief of the poor for 500 years, payable out of his manor of Rose-Hall in Suffolk||20 per ann.|
|Mr. Alderman Barnham of Norwich||10 per ann.|
|For three years next after his decease, and for ever to the poor||4 per ann.|
|Mr. John Wadford, to the use of the poor of St. Peter's for ever||0||12 per ann.|
|Sir Charles Harbord, Knt. and the Honourable William Harbord, Esq. his son, (fn. 15) hath built an hospital for six poor old men, and endowed it with||30 per ann.|
|for ninety and nine years, and ordered to each of them a blue gown yearly|
|The Hon. Sir Joseph Williamson, Knt. sometimes a privy counsellor and principal secretary of state to his most sacred majesty King Charles II. gave towards procuring an Act for making Brandon river navigable (fn. 16)||26||0||0|
|More for releasing John Browne out of this goal||15||0||0|
|More the Statutes at large, and other Statutes.|
|More for the binding out four apprentices||14 per ann.|
|More for a poor scholar in this school, until he be fit for Cambridge, and there provide for him.|
|More eleven folio books to the school.|
|More a noble sword and mace.|
|More, he hath built us a very fair court of common pleas, and a grand-jury chamber, and is a daily benefactor to this burgh.|
|Sir Joseph Williamson, Knt. gave more by his will, 2000 pounds, to be laid out in lands for such uses as his executors, with the advice of this corporation, shall think fit. An estate of 110l. per annum has been bought with this money, and is settled by decree in Chancery, for binding out poor children of this town, apprentices, and other uses.|
Sir Henry Bennet, Knt. a man of universal learning, (fn. 17) being inflamed with zeal for the cause of King Charles I. whose honour and authority he saw so inhumanly trampled upon by his rebellious subjects, laid aside his books, and betook himself to the camp, where, in defence of his Majesty's right, he behaved himself with such valour and prudence, that he was created by his Majesty King Charles II. reg. 16, Viscount Thetford, and Earl of Arlington; he had only one daughter, Isabella, (fn. 18) who married Henry Fitz-Roy Duke of Grafton, and had Charles Fitz-Roy, the present  Duke of Grafton, whose titles and honours are described in a picture hanging in the grand-jury chamber, having his arms, crest, and motto, viz. et decus et pretium mori.
Du-Tres-Haut Puissant & Tres Nobile Prince Charles FitzRoy, Duc de Grafton, Comte de Euston, Viscomte de Ipswich, Baron de Sudbury, et en Survivance de sa Mere, Comte de Arlington, Viscomte de Thetford, Lieutenant General pour sa Majesté, et Governeur du Royaume D'Irland, Signeur Lieutenant et Gardes des Rolles dans le Province de Suffolk, & Conseiler du Roy, en son Conseil prive, et Chevaleir du Tres Nobile Ordre de la Jarretiere, installe Au Chateau Windesor, le xxv Jours D'Aurel, mdccxxi.
In 1199, King John, in the first year of his reign, confirmed to the abbey of West-Derham, 6s. 8d. rent, for half a knight's fee here, with the homages of William de Repheham, and Alan, son of Thurstan, his wife, sons and daughters in Thetford.
The family of Thurstan seems to be descended from Thurstan the mint master, and to have continued here till Edward the Fourth's time, for then the family of the Thurstans of Thetford bare sab. three bugle-horns or, stringed az.
In 1316, the 10th of Edward II. the great lords, earls, barons, knights, &c. had appointed a turnament at this town, but it being without the King's leave, he sent letters dated at Clipston, to them, and the sheriff of Suffolk, to forbid it. (fn. 19)
1616, 11 Jan. there passed letters patents for collecting money for a fire in Thetford, and it appears by one of the court books of the city of Norwich, that there was 11l. 10s. 8d. collected in the city towards the relief of this town.
In 1621, the ancient family of the Thetfords, which took their name from hence, and had Alwin or Elgar of Thetford for its founder, in the Conqueror's time, bare az. three lions passant gardant sometimes arg. and sometimes ermine.
1630, Campfield or Kentfield is mentioned, and said to have belonged to the nuns; it is the same that is now called Smith-Field, and is covered very thick with cinders, such as are thrown from blacksmiths' forges, and might probably be the station for the smiths during the time of the Romans, who were generally placed near the camp; the present name is newly acquired, from the number of cinders, I suppose, that lie on it, which made people think smiths must live there formerly; it contains above three acres.
In April 1737, there was a sturgeon taken in the paper-mill pool, which weighed thirteen stone ten pounds, and was some inches above seven feet long; it had three pecks of spawn in it. I remember some years agone I saw one which was taken in this river, near the middle sluice, above six feet six inches long, and weighed above eleven stone.
Thomas Boteler of Thetford, Esq. son of Thomas Boteler, of Thetford, Esq. was descended of the family of the Botelers of WattonWoodhall, in the county of Hertford, being son of Francis, the eleventh son of Sir Philip Boteler, commonly called Le Grand. He was the nimblest Englishman that has been known, for he would stand upright on the saddle of an horse, (and yet he was six feet high,) and run him full speed, and when he was riding full gallop, he could take a handkerchief off the ground with his hand, and never stop, with several notable actions of that nature. He was lame twenty years before his death, by a sciatica, but lived to a good old age, and died at Thetford in 1637, and was buried at Watlington in Norfolk, leaving six sons and one daughter. Robert Butler, Esq. of Thetford, his third son, died by a surfeit contracted by eating philberds Aug. 15th, 1657.
This place hath been honoured with the presence of many Kings and Queens, several of which used to reside here for some time together; that Henry I. did so, is certain, for we meet with many charters made to the Abbot of Ramsey, the priory in this town, &c. that are dated here. Henry II. and several others were often here, and when the dominion came with the dutchy to the Crown, the ancient seat of the Earls Warren became a palace, and was rebuilt by the Crown, as I think, in Queen Elizabeth's time, for that Princess used it as a hunting-seat, and took great pleasure here, as did her successour King James I. who used to hunt here almost every season; in 1604, Wednesday, 27th Feb. the gentlemen of the county met him at his coming hither; in 1610, it appears from a treatise of the yearly payments made by the Crown, that the King had this palace only in Norfolk, and that the fee of the keeper of it was 40l. per annum. Not long after, the King was affronted some way or other by the inhabitants; the report goes, that one of them insisted upon unreasonable damage for riding over his corn, but what it was I cannot say; however, he gave the palace to Sir Philip Woodhouse, in remembrance of the valour of John de Wodehouse, his ancestor, in the battle at Agincourt, as it is said, and there appears to be some truth in it, for on the back side of the gate, which fronts the street, are the arms of Woodhouse, viz. sab. a chevron or, gutte de sang, between three cinquefoils ermine, with Ulster arms on a canton, with the crest that was granted after Agincourt battle, viz. on a wreath, an arm erect, holding a club in the hand, and this motto on a scroll, frappe forte, i. e. strike strong, and at the bottom Agincourt. The late crest used by some of the family is a demi woodman, holding a club. This is now called the King's-House, and is owned by Sir John Woodhouse, the present  recorder; it is a large house, fit for the reception of much company, for which reason the judges usually lodge in it during the assizes.
In Sept. 1555, Thomas Cobbe of Haverhill in Suffolk, butcher, was apprehended by his neighbours, for heresy, and examined by Michael Dunning, the bloody chancellor of Norwich, by whom he was con demned, Aug. 12, and with Roger Coo, James Abbes, &c. burned at Thetford, as Lanquet in his Chronicle tells us.
Provosts of Thetford.
Bailiffs of Thetford.
The office was during life, and they held it by grant from the Duke of Lancaster. I meet with no more after Lumnour, though imagine there must be one or two more before the charter, when the office expired.
Coroners of Thetford.
The office was held by patent during life, of the Duke of Lancaster, till this year, and then King Henry VII. as Duke of Lancaster, and lord of the town, granted them the privilege that the old mayor should always be coroner for the succeeding year, which hath remained so ever since.
Mayors of Thetford.
1373. John Davy, (fn. 20)
1471. William Bryggs, Esq. (fn. 21)
1506. Robert Love, (fn. 22)
1534. Richard Cokarel or Cokrel, (fn. 23)
1574. J. Edwards, by the Charter, (fn. 24)
1629. John Tyrrell, (fn. 25)
1635. Edm. Mobbs, (fn. 26)
1648. Edm. Mobbs, (fn. 26)
1681. John Mendham, (fn. 27)
1684. Henry Heveningham, (fn. 28)
1687. The same. (fn. 29)
1707. Robert Cawdell, (fn. 30)
A LIST OF THE KNIGHTS, ESQUIRES, AND GENTLEMEN, THAT HAVE SERVED IN PARLIAMENT FOR THE BURGH OF THETFORD. (fn. 31)
Edw. VI. 1546, John Brend, Richard Haydon, (or Heydon,) Esq. (fn. 32)
1556, Edward Clere, Esq. (fn. 33) Walter Haddon, Esq.
1571, William Fulmerston, Esq. (fn. 34) Thomas Colby, Esq.
1625, Sir John Hobart, Knt. and Bart. (fn. 35) Framlingham Gawdy, Esq.
1661, Sir Allen Appesley, Knt. William Gawdy, Esq. (fn. 38)
James II. 1685, Henry Heveningham, Esq. (fn. 39) William De-Grey, Esq.
1690, Honourable William Harbord; Esq. (fn. 40) Sir Francis Guybon, Knt.
Wm. III. 1695, Sir John Woodhouse, Bart. Sir Joseph Williamson, Knt. (fn. 41)
1698, Sir Joseph Williamson, Knt. (fn. 42) James Sloane, Esq.
1700, Sir John Woodhouse, Bart. Sir Joseph Williamson, Knt. (fn. 43)
Anne. 1702, Robert Benson, Esq. Edmund Sloane. Esq. (fn. 44)
1705, Sir Thomas Hanmer, Bart. Sir John Woodhouse, Bart. (fn. 45)
1710, Sir Thomas Hanmer, Bart. (fn. 46) Dudley, North, Esq.
George II. 1727, Sir Edmund Bacon, (of Gillingham,) Bart. Robert Jacombe, Esq. (fn. 47)
1735, Sir Edmund Bacon, (of Gillingham,) Bart. (fn. 48) The Hon. Charles Fitz-Roy.
And thus I have finished the general history of this town, a more exact account of which I hope to see published by Mr. Thomas Martin, whose large collections, and great abilities for such an undertaking would, without doubt, do more justice to the grandeur and antiquity of the place, than either my collections or abilities would enable me to do.