- nd [c 1158]-1974
The records of the pre-1835 unreformed Corporation. Some series were continued after 1835. This archive also includes medieval and early-modern records relating to the Great Hospital charity, previously known as God's House, and before 1547, called St Giles' Hospital.
The following notes are adapted from the introduction to W.H. Hudson and J.C. Tingey 'Revised Catalogue of the Records of the City of Norwich, as arranged in the Muniment Room, in the Castle Museum' (1898) section V - Successive Changes in the constitution of the City Government:
A short summary of these is added for the better understanding of the documents.
1 A copy of the account of Norwich in the Conqueror's 'Domesday Book' is in Case 8a. Neither it, nor the Charter of Henry II contains any direct reference to methods of government. The burgh was part of the ancient Demesne of the Crown, and would no doubt be governed by a Reeve (Prepositus, Provost) appointed by the King, and subordinate to the Earl or Sheriff or Constable of the King's Castle. There are no other documents of this period.
2 In 1194, by the Charter of King Richard I, the citizens obtained a grant of the city at a fee-farm (or fixed rent) of £108. They gained the right of choosing their own Reeve and retaining the tolls, rents, fees, fines of court, and other profits of city business. It is probable that at this time the four well-known geographical divisions of the City were organised as four administrative districts called the, 'four Leets of Conesford, Mancroft, Wymer, and Ultra Aquam' (Over-the-Water). This period lasted till 1223, but no contemporary records are preserved, except King Richard's Charter.
3 In 1223, instead of one Reeve, the executive headship of the City was vested in four Bailiffs who were elected by the Freemen of the four Leets, one for each Leet. They conjointly (a) presided over the Leet Courts, or Courts for the presentment of petty offences and their punishment by amercement under the Frank Pledge or Tithing system (Leet Rolls, NCR 5); (b) presided in the City Court to receive recognizances (Enrolments and Deeds, NCR 1 to 4); or hear Pleas (NCR 8); (c) presided over the City Assembly; and (d) they were responsible to the King for all moneys due to him (Estreat Rolls, Pipe Rolls, NCR 7). The receipts and expenditure of the Commonalty were in the hands of two Chamberlains (Account Rolls, NCR 7 and books, NCR 18). The Government of the City during this period, which lasted till 1404, may best be described as communal. It rested entirely on the resolutions of the Assembly, at whose deliberations (in theory) every admitted citizen (not every inhabitant) had a right to attend and take part. It admitted 'foreigners' to the 'freedom,' appointed committees to assess rates or taxes, and carry out all public business, and appointed 'burgesses' to attend Parliament. For public convenience, a custom arose in the 14th century of electing annually '24 citizens' who were specially bound to attend assemblies, but not to the exclusion of other citizens. In 1378, they were officially recognised as a 'Council' of the Bailiffs.
4 In 1404, by a Charter of King Henry IV, the form of government was again altered, the City was established as a County in its own right, and in place of the four Bailiffs were instituted a Mayor and two Sheriffs, the 24 citizens becoming the 'Mayor's Council.' A consequent period of unsettlement resulted soon afterwards in the institution of a representative Common Council of 60 citizens annually elected to attend assemblies (to the exclusion of all others.) At the same time the '24 citizens' became the '24 Aldermen' elected for life. Furthermore, the Aldermen became Justices of the Peace, or Borough Magistrates. These various changes were really the result of underlying influences and conflicting interests, which were at work almost from the middle of the 14th to the middle of the 15th century, and were not finally completed till the Charter of King Henry VI in 1452. From that time the form of Government continued to be by a representative Council, and under the control of a permanent magistracy, until 1835.
The records of this long period are to be found throughout the whole collection. As the various modes of procedure became so much more assimilated to modern practice, it is unnecessary to draw special attention to any of them. It may be observed that, because of the early establishment in Norwich of a strong central authority to which everything else was subordinate, there was no Gild Merchant and there are few records of the proceedings of Trade Gilds. The Gild of St George may be called at first a religious, and afterwards a social, department of the City government.
By an Act of 5 & 6 William IV [1835-6], entitled, 'An Act to provide for the regulation of Municipal Corporations in England and Wales', the title of the corporate body of Norwich was changed from, 'The Mayor, Sheriffs, Citizens and Commonalty of Norwich' to that of, 'The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Norwich'.
Norwich Corporation; 1404-1974; Norwich, Norfolk