- 1415-1835 (Creation)
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Formerly known as St Giles' Hospital, the Great Hospital in Norwich is still a functioning charitable, residential institution and its archives extend from the thirteenth century to the twentieth century. Prior to the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, the Mayor and Corporation acted as trustees for a large number of City charities. The most ancient was the Great Hospital (founded by Walter Suffield, Bishop of Norwich, in 1249), whose records are the largest and most complete of any of the City charities.
While most English hospitals were dissolved at the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Great Hospital was one of very few which survived. On Henry VIII's death in 1547, it was surrendered to the new Protestant monarch, Edward VI. The Norwich city fathers, however, were sufficiently astute to recognize the important rôle which the Hospital might play in caring for the city's poor (who then posed a serious social problem). Edward VI succumbed to local pressure and returned the ownership of the Hospital and its possessions, land and property to the corporation, which then used it to prioritise and channel charitable work in the community. Thus, through its acquisition by the corporation, the Hospital continued to function and its records became part of the city archives.
By the terms of Edward VI's charter by letters patent in 1547, forty poor people were to be accommodated in the Hospital (then called 'God's House'), looked after by the keeper of the House and a team of four matrons or women keepers, but by the end of the century, the number had risen to 54. In 1633, owing to increased revenues, the numbers of inhabitants had increased to 86 though there were still only four women keepers. Seven years later, there were 95 inhabitants, looked after by five matrons. Of these inhabitants, the original 40 provided for by charter had been augmented by two paid for by legacies in Francis Rugg's will, two more by the will of Alderman Henry Fawcett and the remainder allowed by the mayor and aldermen because of the increase in revenues. Presumably finances were tight when in 1647, numbers were down to 71 and the team of matrons only four women, but by the early Commonwealth period, there were again 95 poor and five matrons. By 1685, a hundred poor folk were accommodated in the Hospital.
The Charity Commissioners finished their enquiry into the Norwich charities in 1833 and a copy of their printed report is to be found at N/TC 63/2. By a Chancery Order dated 18 March 1837, twenty-six Charity Trustees were appointed, with responsibility to manage the charities formerly in trust with the Corporation. The charities were divided into two lists: the Church List Charities (including the Great Hospital, the Free Grammar School, Archbishop Parker's Scholarships, the Preachers' Fund and various other smaller charities) and the General List Charities (including Doughty's Hospital, the Boys' Hospital, the Girls' Hospital, the Barnham Broom Estate and many other smaller charities).
A considerable number of charity records (many of them pre-1835) were deposited in the Record Office many years after the publication of Hudson and Tingey's Revised Catalogue of the Records of the City of Norwich in 1898. They interrelate with the records in the NCR collection and are listed at N/CCH and N/MC.
The medieval records of the Great Hospital were inscribed in the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register in May 2011. The UK Memory of the World Register (established in 2010) helps to raise awareness of some of the UK’s exceptional, but lesser-known documentary riches by awarding them globally-recognised Memory of the World status.
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The first volume is actually a register of acts, agreements, meetings and obligations, either acknowledged, or held and recorded in the presence of the mayor and, depending on the exact status of the occasion, various combinations of the city sheriffs, aldermen and city justices of the peace. It is not a record of the Mayor's Court as it later came to be, but seems to have recorded business undertaken in the early 15th century by the 'City Court', either in full or partial session. The earliest surviving minutes of the convocations or gatherings of the aldermen (presided over by the mayor) and which meetings later came to be known as sessions of the 'mayor's court or 'court of mayoralty', are actually contained in the so-called, 'First Book of Worsted Weavers' for the years, 1495-1504 (NCR 17d/7). These minutes of the meetings of the mayor and aldermen continue in the next surviving volume in this series, from 1510 onwards in NCR 16a/2.
The mayor's court met at least twice each week and fulfilled a variety of functions. It was the City's court of everyday justice, and dealt with many matters of petty crime (trading and street offences) which had long been the preserve of the older, leet courts. After 1547, it was also the initial body responsible for issues concerning the administration of the Great Hospital, such as the appointment of officals, the review of ordinances and the admission of inmates upon the death or removal of existing occupants. The late 17th and early 18th centuries saw the establishment of Doughty's and the Boys and Girls' Hospitals, and these, like the Great Hospital, were overseen by the Hospitals Committee, reporting to the Assembly, but executive orders re the administration and admission of inmates were actually dealt with by the mayor's court. This mirrored the general relationship between Assembly and the Court; the one being the ultimate authority in the City, with the other acting as the Assembly's executive body. In general, the content of these minutes grew to be more administrative than judicial from the later 17th century onwards.
The mayor's court minutes covering the period between September 1646 and February 1654 have been missing since before the time of Goddard Johnson's 'Repertory', or survey of the city records, in 1845-47.
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Full transcripts printed in William L. Sachse, Minutes of Norwich Court of Mayoralty, 1630-1631, Norfolk Record Society, xv (Norwich, 1942), and William L. Sachse, Minutes of the Norwich Court of Mayoralty, 1632-1635, Norfolk Record Society, xxxvi (Norwich, 1967).
Extracts, 1666-1688, printed in Walter Rye (ed.), Depositions taken before the Mayor and Aldermen of Norwich, 1549-1567 and Extracts from the Court Books of the City of Norwich, 1666-1688 (Norwich, 1905).]