City of Norwich, chapter 41: Of the Cathedral Precinct, The Charnel House

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 4, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part II. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1806.

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Francis Blomefield, 'City of Norwich, chapter 41: Of the Cathedral Precinct, The Charnel House', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 4, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part II( London, 1806), British History Online [accessed 16 July 2024].

Francis Blomefield, 'City of Norwich, chapter 41: Of the Cathedral Precinct, The Charnel House', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 4, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part II( London, 1806), British History Online, accessed July 16, 2024,

Francis Blomefield. "City of Norwich, chapter 41: Of the Cathedral Precinct, The Charnel House". An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 4, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part II. (London, 1806), , British History Online. Web. 16 July 2024.

The Charnel House,

now the free-school, at the west end of the church, was founded by John Salmon Bishop of Norwich, who died in 1325, as may be seen in Pt. I. p. 499; in which he at first placed four chaplains or priests, one of which was to be custos, master, or principal; and at the west end thereof, he erected proper offices and chambers for them; so that the whole (except the present porch) was built by this Bishop; and that, was the foundation of Bishop Hart, as appeared by his arms cut in stone there.

The upper charnel chapel is now the school-room, and was dedicated to the honour of St. John the Evangelist. In this, the custos or master, and chaplains with him, served daily; underneath was the lower charnel chapel, and CHARNEL-house itself; all which is now used for a vault or cellar: this chapel was dedicated to the same saint, though I have seen it called St. John Baptist's, by errour; and here the keeper of the lower charnel officiated daily, as they all did, for the souls of Salomon, his father, Amy, his mother, his own soul, and those of all the departed Bishops of Norwich in particular; all the dead in general; and in particular for the souls of all those whose bones were reposited in the vault of this charnel; in which, with the leave of the sacrist, who kept the key of the vault, the bones of all such as were buried in Norwich might be brought into it, if dry and clean from flesh, there to be decently reserved till the last day. Whether the bones were piled in good order, the sculls, arms, and leg bones in their distinct rows and courses, as in many charnel-houses, I can not say; nor how they were disposed of when removed after the Reformation, I do not find; though it is with probability conjectured, they were buried in the Upper-Close, which was to that time the burialplace belonging to the charnel: the foundation deed of which, is dated at the Bishop's palace at North-Elmham, IVth of the nones of Oct. 1316; by which it appears, that the founder had purchased the advowson of the church of Westhale St. Andrew in Suffolk, and appropriated it to the prior and convent, who were to have all the tithe corn of the said parish; out of which they were yearly to pay 22 marks and an half as follows; viz. to the principal chaplain six marks a year, and to each of the other three, five marks and an half per annum, by the hands of the prior, for the time being, who was to receive the profits, and pay yearly to the said chaplains 6l. on Michaelmus day, 4l. on St. Andrew's day, and 5l. on the octaves of Easter: all the small tithes being reserved to the vicar, who was to be presented by the prior and convent, as the vicars are now by the dean and chapter; and if the prior omitted to pay at any time, the chaplains were to be daily maintained in the strangers-hall, or at the prior's table, and yet recover their full stipend.

The custos or principal was always to be nominated by the prior for the time being, or in a vacancy, by the sub-prior, in a full chapter, to whom the custody of the vestments, books, ornaments, and buildings were committed; on swearing at his admission, to take care of them, and to celebrate mass every day for the dead, and the mass of St. John the Evangelist in particular, to which the other three chaplains were also all sworn.

The other three chaplains, every vacancy, were to be named by the prior in a full chapter, and all were to be honest learned priests, and of advanced years; and if every vacancy was not filled up by the prior in a month's time, the bishop, or his official in his absence, was to collate to it by lapse; and every one nominated by the prior, was to be presented to the Bishop, who was to admit him, on swearing as aforesaid; and every chaplain omitting to be sworn for a month, was to forfeit and pay half a mark to the official, and if he neglected it two months, was to be removed, and the prior was to present another. But in all cases the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the chaplains, concerning all things only within the Precinct, belonged to the prior and convent, as all things in the precinct anciently did; and the prior and convent could displace them for any thing that would displace a stipendiary priest.

They were to live together in the apartments by the charnel, (which are now the schoolmaster's house,) and have free egress and regress for themselves and families, at all competent and fit times at the monastery gates; and to eat and drink together at a common table, and were to be compelled by the prior, under pain of ejection, to keep their houses in good repair.

The chapel itself, with the vestments, plate, books, and ornaments, being to be maintained by the prior out of the profits of Westhale rectory; and the sacrist of Norwich was annually to receive all the offerings in the chapel; but was to allow the moiety of those made on the two feasts of St. John the Evangelist, and on the day of the dedication of the said chapel to the chaplains to find small necessaries for the chapel; and all books, plate, or vestments given to the chapel, were there to remain for its use continually.

Nine pounds of the overplus profits of the rectory of Westhale were to be delivered yearly to the chamberlain of the convent, who every March, on St. Bennet's day, was to pay it to half of the monks, to find them such winter gowns as the other half were already provided with; and what still remained overplus of the said profits, were to be paid by the prior for the common use of the church and convent; and all the priests and their servants were to be sworn by the prior or sub-prior, neither privately or publickly to do, act, or cause to be done, any thing to the prejudice, hurt, or damage, of the church or convent. All which was confirmed by the bull of Pope John XXII. and by the patent of Walter Archbishop of Canterbury, as also by Rob. de Langele Prior of Norwich, and his convent; and least the mortmain act should void the whole, King Edward II. licensed the abbot and convent of Humberstayn, for a fine of 40s. to assign the advowson of Westhale to the prior and convent, and the prior and convent to receive them in mortmain, by license dated at Windsor, 10th April, in the 8th year of his reign; and by another dated at York, four years after, the prior and convent had license to purchase 10l. per annum more, in mortmain, to settle on the chaplains aforesaid; and accordingly a messuage, six acres of land and two acres of wood in Hoxne, and one acre of pasture, and liberty of faldage in Denham in Suffolk, were settled to that use, by John Cordwayner of Eye, chaplain, Rob. Barker, and others, of whom they were purchased, in 1389.

After these four chaplains were settled, there were two more added by the founder himself, whose stipends were paid by the cellerer of the monastery, out of certain lands in Cressingham, (fn. 1) Hopeton, and Ashele, (fn. 2) which were purchased of Sir Walter de Norwich, Knt. and settled on the prior and convent for that purpose; so that the cellerer paid the said priests 22 marks and an half, and 10l. to the chamberlain of the convent for winter gowns, out of Westhale, as they did before.

In 1421, John Wodehouse, Esq. that great warriour, obtained license of his sovereign, King Henry V. to found a chantry priest, to sing for the King, Queen, and his beloved Esquire John Wodehouse, and his wife, their ancestors and posterity, in the lower charnel chapel, where he was buried in 1430; Alice his wife surviving him, who afterwards married to Edw. Winter, Esq. and dying in 1447, was buried by her husband Wodehouse in this chapel, as her will declares; in the license for the foundation, the King himself is declared founder, who licensed the said John Wodehouse, to grant the advowson of the rectory of Geyton, which belonged to the alien priory of Wells and Pangsfield, and was given him by the said Prince, for that purpose, to the chaplain of the perpetual chantry, now founded in honour of the Holy Trinity and five wounds of Christ, in the lower chapel of the charnel; and not only so, but he got it appropriated to the said chaplain and his successours for ever; who were to take all the great tithes for their own stipend, and to present a vicar, who was to enjoy all the small tithes; and I find, the said John Woodhouse presented to Geyton rectory thrice, in right of the temporals of the alien priory aforesaid, then in his hands by the King's gift: and in 1436, Oct. 29, Peter Knowt of Geyton was presented to the vicarage by John Sparham, chaplain of the perpetual chantry in the lower charnel chapel at Norwich, founded in honour of the Holy Trinity and five wounds of Christ, to which chantry this church was now appropriated. But though the appropriated tithes continued to support this chantry, the chaplains of it did not present to the vicarage after 1476, for then Henry Chamber, was presented by the dean and chapter of Westminster, who had obtained a grant of the temporals of the alien priories, from Henry VI. The account at large of the gifts of John Wodehouse, &c. may be seen in my first volume of the History of Norfolk, p. 757. [Vol. ii. p. 548. oct. edition.]

This arched vault is supported by two rows of pillars, 14 feet high; at the entrance, on the right hand, was a holy-water stone; and on the other side, a niche, where formerly an image stood: it appears that this chantry did not add any other chaplain to the former six, but which ever of them it was, that was appointed keeper of the lower charnel chapel, he it was that consequently was Wodehouse's chantry priest.

The names of such CHAPLAINS as I have met with, are these:

1324, Hubert and Henry.

1373, Walter de Sechford, chaplain, buried in the cathedral sanctuary, in the place where the charnel chaplains are buried.

1386, Henry de Biteryng, and Will. de Mikelby. In this year, Julian, relict of John de Mikelby of Wenhaston in Suffolk, was buried in the burial-place of the charnel chaplains.

1434, William Martin, by lapse.

1436, and 1447, John Sparham, keeper of the lower charnel. Henry Bitteryng, chaplain.

1440, William Karre, by lapse.

1464, Thomas Hill.

1478, died Tho. Dale, principal or master.

1492, Rob. Ippeswell.

1494, Ralf Pulvertoft, principal or custos of the charnel; by his will, dated 27 March, 1525, ordered to be buried in our Lady's chapel at the end of the presbitery; and gave the 3l. that Prior Bakunsthorp owed him, to the poor for bread, 3s. 6d. to the ringers at his exequies or mass; a taper of 5l. of wax to the image of the Trinity, and another like it to be set before our Lady's image in the chapel where he was buried; a candle of half a pound wax to be kept for a year, burning on his grave daily, when Lady mass was sung there, and to the priests gild 6s. 8d. and the same to our Lady's gild in St. Stephen's church; "also I give and bequeth to the use of the charnell, all the stuff of my household as I delivered it to
Sir John Boot, to whom I resigned the charnell, that is to sey, in the chapel a pixt of silver weying 12 oz. and an half, Item an antiphoner, ij grayles, ij processionaries, iiij rochets wight, iiij vestments, with other stuff," To John Spilman, Gent. and Will. Christian, parson of Saxlingham, his executors, 6s. 8d. For his monument, &c. see p. 11.

1528, Edm. Wethyr, LL. B. master of the charnel, was buried in holyrood chapel in the cathedral, and founded a priest to sing for him for three years, at his grave; he bequeathed five marks that the abbot of St. Bennet owed him, to the charnel. See under holy-rood chapel in the cathedral, and volume ii. p. 390 of the History of Norfolk.

John Whetacre, died master, and in
1547, Sir Thomas Lewyn was admitted in his place, by the dean and chapter, on the presentation of John Sotherton, citizen and mercer of Norwich; to whom, jointly with

Nic. Sotherton deceased, the next turn had been granted by the late prior and convent; and this was the last presentation ever made to it. For the next year, it was dissolved, stipends being reserved to the chantry priests during their lives, three of which only survived to the year 1555, when Thomas Lewyn, late master, received a pension of 7l. per annum, and Tho. Hay, and Henry Smith, late chantry priests there, 4l. 13s. 4d. per annum each.

This chapel was not taxed, but was valued at 19l. at the Dissolution; at which time Edw. Warner, Knt. and Ric. Catlyn, Gent. obtained a grant of it to them and their heirs, by the name of the chapel, called the Charnel-house, with all its site and appurtenances, within the Precinct of the cathedral of the Holy Trinity at Norwich, they being to hold it of the King, as of his manor of Draiton in Norfolk, by fealty only, in free soccage and not in capite, which grant bears date the first of July, in the second year of King Edward VI. and the year following, they sold it to Thomas Bere of Norwich, goldsmith, who conveyed it, the year following, to Rob. Jermy, Gent. and the 4th of Oct. the same year, he sold it to the mayor, sheriffs, and commonalty of the city of Norwich; who purchased it as part of the 200l. per annum, that they had license in mortmain, to purchase and add to the revenues of the hospital in Holmstrete; but in the mean time, the dean and chapter would not acquiesce in the validity of the grant, and therefore, to hinder its taking place, they granted a lease of the said charnel, dated Febr. 5, 1578, to Queen Elizabeth and her assigns, from Lady day 1579, for 100 years to come, at 10s. a year rent; which term the said Queen assigned to Rich. Coningsby, and Nic. Brooke, Esqrs. and they to John Bate, Gent. and he to the dean and chapter again; all which was done under colour to strengthen their weak title; but in 1582, it was agreed between the city and church, to leave it to the final determination of Ric. Davy and Ric. Godfrey, Esqrs. who determined it in favour of the city, on their paying to the dean and chapter, 3s. 4d. for ever at Easter, for a parcel of land lying within their premises; and each party binding themselves under the penalty of 500 marks, to stand by this arbitration: the matter was finally settled Jan. 11, 1582. And soon after, they acknowledged the city's right to their houses on the Precinct wall, at the north-west corner, and for a rent of 4d. a year, granted them license to make a door and windows through their wall, and another door into the schoolmaster's garden.

Before this time, and after the Dissolution of the old grammar school, at the Reformation, the city, by their hospital charter, dated May 7, 1 Edward VI. was obliged to find a schoolmaster and usher out of their revenues assigned them in that charter; both which, were to be sufficiently learned to teach grammar, and to be nominated by the mayor and majority of the aldermen for the time being: the master being to have a convenient house for his dwelling, and an annual pension of 10l. sterling, with power to seize on the revenues for non-payment; which pension was to be free and clear from all payment of first-fruits, tenths, or other outgoings.

The usher also in like manner was to have an annual pension of 6l. 13s. 4d. and a convenient house for his dwelling, and both are removeable from their places, by the mayor, and major part of the aldermen, "for any great crime by them, or either of them committed, or for being negligent or disobedient in performing and doing, those good and reasonable ordinances and commands, which shall be assigned or ordered to them, or any one of them hereafter," and to place others in their rooms, as often as it shall so happen.

And from that time, the school was kept in the frater or firmary, belonging to the late dissolved Black Friars convent, according to their promise to the King, when they petitioned for that monastery to be granted them.

But now the charnel chaplains houses were assigned to the schoolmaster, and the upper chapel was fitted up for the school, as it still continues; the names and arms of such benefactors as contributed to the work being at first placed in the windows, most of which are now lost, except some remains in the north windows, of the drapers, grocers, and St. George's arms; with those of the Palmers, Symbarbs, Ruggs, &c. In the upper window of this side, there remained sufficient fragments of words to denote by an easy conjecture, the following lines, which seem to refer particularly to those, whose arms went before; the words signifying,

That the citizens have at their own charges, repaired this place, when it was just coming to ruin, and made it a grammar school for boys, in the manner which we now see it adorned;
Hanc cum jam misere fuerat vicina Ruine, Ære Domum Cives restituere suo, Atque modo, quo nunc ornatam cernitis illam, Grammaticam Pueris, instituere Scholam.

In the middle of the top of the east window was an imperial crown, and in the midst of it the ensigns of King Edward VI. who confirmed by his charter, the hospital begun by his father King Henry VIII. and took care that the master and usher should be supported by the yearly income of the same, as is already observed in the foregoing extract of that charter. And in the same window was an account, in Roman capitals, of the assignation of the building for the use of a publick school, but it is so defaced that it cannot be made out.

On the front of the south porch, or entrance, on each side of the city arms, are the following lines now almost defaced:

AD QUEMVIS [philomathi].

Quam cernis variâ renovatam Porticus Arte, Pandit Apollineis Artibus ista Viam.

Ad quas ut Stoicos transcendas; Perge, Vocaris: Invenitque novos nunc Honor Ipse Gradvs; At quo, si quæras, polycleto Surgimus, aut Quam, Invenit Phidiœ nostra Minerva, Manum, Totius Candor vult quæque albere Senatus, Luteaque Henrico Lane via sola placet.

There is a copperplate of this chapel prefixed to the account of it, at the end of the Repertorium.

The schoolmasters that I have met with since the Reformation, are,

1542, Walter Hall; he was succeeded in

1547, by Mr. Bird, and he by Mr. Buck.

1562, Mr. Walter Hawe was elected by the court, and the salary advanced to 20l. per annum; see p. 19.

1570, Mr. Stephen Lymbert, who died Oct. 10, 1589, on whose stone the following inscription was fixed on a brass plate:

Stephano Limberto.
Here resteth the Corps of Mr. Steven Limbert, Maister of Artes, in that renowned Universitie of Cambridge, who taught and governed the Free-School here at Norwich five and thirty Years, and died in the Year of our Lord 1589, full of Dayes, and of Comfort in the Multitude and Proficiencie of his Scholars.

Limbertus jacet hic, Quis ille, quæris? Frustra. Major enim ille quam referro; Major quam capere et queamus illum, Æra, aut marmora quanta, quanta totum, Pergin' quærere? plura Sciscitator? I, porrò lege, perlege alteram illam Quam NAUNTONIVS addidit propinquis Votivam Parietibus Tabellam, Triste Mnemosynum Optimi Magistri.

Dilectissimi Præceptoris Sanctissimæ Memoriæ Posui Robertus de Naunton, Miles.

1602, Mr. Richard Briggs, at whose election the salary was raised to 26l. 13s. 4d. per annum; and in 1610, it was settled at 40l. per annum.

1636, Mr. Thomas Lovering, A. M. at whose admission the salary was raised to 50l. per annum, and the usher's house was joined to the master's, in recompense of which, they added an annual allowance of 6l. a year to the usher. See p. 18.

1664, Mr. Henry Mazey. See p. 9.

1667, Mr. John Burton. (See p. 18.) He was author of the Antiquitates Capellœ D. Johannis Evangelistœ. hodie Schole Regiœ Norwicensis, which is always bound up with the Repertorium. He was a most noted schoolmaster, and was succeeded by

Mr. Samuel Hoadly, (father to the present Bishop of Winchester,) who died in 1705, for whom see p. 9; being succeeded by

Mr. Robert Pate, who in 1713 published "a compleat Syntax of the Latin Tongue, compared with the English, principally designed for the use of Norwich School." It was printed by John Collings at the printing-house near the Red-Well, and was sold there by Francis Collins. In 1722, it was republished at London, for Mrs. Frances Oliver, bookseller in Norwich. There is also in print, "an Exposition of the Church Catechism for the Use of Norwich School."

I have seen a sermon preached at Thetford assizes, March 17, 1703, on Mat. v. 5, by John Robinson, A. M. rector of Reepham, and some time usher of this school, published at the request of Richard Knights, Esq. high-sheriff, printed at Norwich by Francis Burges, quarto, 1704.

Mr. John Reddington, A. M. succeeded; he was rector of Rackhithe and Hethill in Norfolk, and resigned the school in 1737, as did the Rev. Mr. Cory, then usher:

And the Rev. Mr. Timothy Bullimere, vicar of Olton, and rector of Plumstead in Norfolk, the present [1744] master, was elected; whose son,

The Rev. Mr. Ellis Bullimere, is the present usher.

The master's salary being now 50l. pounds a year, besides his house; and the usher's 30l. per annum, but no house.

For scholarships belonging to this school, see Pt. I. p. 300— 310.


  • 1. Wharton, vol. i. fo. 493. Antiquitates Capellæ Divi Joh. Evang. p. 16.
  • 2. Hist. Norf. vol. ii. p. 349.