Tuesday, 4 April 2017

No Alums, Veri Pore: The Norwich Census of 1570

Going through some old history notes recently, I came across this little gem of a document. I've no idea how I came by it, (I have a facsimile; I don't think I'm on any museum or library 'wanted' list!) but as an historian who has close ties with Norfolk, I found it of great interest. I know Norwich very well, and I also love to pick at primary source documents to see what they can tell us of the people who lived in centuries past.

It contains details of the Parishe of St. Stevenes. The chancel of St Stephen's Church dates from 1522, and the church is one of three in the 'New French Borough', an area near the castle where 98 Saxon homes were demolished to build the stone edifice which signalled that the Normans were here to stay.

St Stephen's Church, by Ian Capper via CC Licence

In the later medieval period, around a third of the population of Norwich was made up of 'Strangers', Flemish Protestant Refugees. The famous Strangers' Hall in Norwich is only a five minute walk from St Stephen, but the first census entry I looked at was of the Rowe family, who have dwelt here ever, in other words, they were 'natives'. The head of the family, Robert Rowe, was 46, a glasier, and in no worke. His wife Elisabeth that spinne white warpe had five children. They lived in Thomas Mason's house and received no alms.

Strangers' Hall  - Public Domain Image

John Hubbard, 38, was a butcher and he and his wife had also dwelt here ever, but unusually for a butcher, his status was registered as no alums but verie poore.

Thomas Pele, 50, was a cobler in worke and Margarit his wyfe of the same age that spinne white warpe had three children. The elldist of the age of 16 yeres that spinne, and the other of the age of 12 and of 6 yeres that go to scoole, and have dwelt here 9 yeres and came from Yorkshere. Thomas and Margarit both had work, and the youngest children went to school, and yet they lived in the parish house, with no allums but verie pore.

John Tastes, a cordiner (cordwainer), and his wife who sewed, had two children at school, and lived in Mrs Broune's house with no alums, indifferent.

Mousehold Heath, Norwich - John Crome, Public Domain

John Burr was a 54 year old glasier, but verie sicke and worke not and his wife Alice that spinne had 7 children. The youngest was 2 yeres that can spinne woole. They lived in John's own house and had dwelt here ever.

The eldest on this document is John Findley, who at 82 years was not registered as 'past work' as some other elderly residents of Norwich were, but simply listed as a cowper not in worke along with his wife, Jone, who was siklie and yet spinne and knitt. They also had dwelt here ever, but in the church house, with a payment of 4d, and they were verie pore.

A quick scan of the whole Norwich census reveals that very few people, if in receipt of any payment at all, had any more than 4d.

To give an idea of the amount 4d would buy,

In another part of Norwich, in the Parish of St Gregory's, a poor man died, and his property was valued in an inventory taken by William Rogers and Gregorye Wesbye on 15th October, 1599.

St Gregory's by Adrian S Pye, via CC Licence

One borded bedsted 3s. 4d
One mattress and one under cloathe 1s. 6d
One flocke bed 2s. 6d
One bolster 2s. 0d
One downe pillowe and an old cushaigne 1s. 6d
Two leather pillowes filled with feathers 3s. 4d
One payer of shetes 2s. 0d
One bed blanket 1s. 8d
One old cofer 2s. 0d
One drye barrell 3d
2 salt boxes 1s. 0d
One hake, a fyer pann, a payer of tonges and a rosting yron 1s. 6d
One litle ketle, a sawer and 3 pewter spoones 2s. 6d
3 little boles 1s. 0d
One ketle, one potspone, 28 trenyens 1s. 0d
2 woodinge platters and 5 dishes and twoo erthen potts 8d
a stone pott and 5 galley pottes 4d
a hamper and certen old washe 6d
4 frayles and 2 stooles 3s. 0d
3 chiselles, 2 hamers and a perser 3s. 0d
(suggesting he was a carpenter by trade)
3 old cushings 6d
2 payers of hand cuffes and one dozen of hand kerchers and an old pillowbere 2s. 6d
2 old shirtes 1s. 8d
One old forme and 2 old cappes 1s. 0d
Total: £1 18s. 5d

Strangers' Hall Museum - a richer setting than our census houses

Ever wished to go back in time? Much as I love Norwich, I think I'd go back as a wealthy merchant. At the very least.


  1. Interesting post Annie - loved reading and yes, have always wanted to go back in time. Love the 'old language' too.

    1. The spelling is somewhat erratic, isn't it? But I loved reading about these real people and getting an insight into their lives.

  2. Love how your posts take me back in time!! ❤

    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it :-)