- -1929 (Creation)
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Name of creator
Baptised 12 Nov 1739 at St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, the son of John Fenn (1707-1741) surgeon of Norwich, and Mary (b. 1712) nee Emerson. Fenn was educated at grammar schools at Scarning and Botesdale, Suffolk, then Gonville and Caius Cambridge, graduating BA in 1761 and MA 1764. At university his friends included John Norris (son of the antiquary Anthony Norris) and John Frere. He married Frere's sister, Ellenor Frere (1744-1813), daughter of Sheppard and Susanna Frere, in 1766. The couple settled at Hill House, East Dereham. They remained childless, but brought up an heiress, Mary Andrews, and later their nephew, William Frere (1775-1836). Ellenor wrote instructive children's books under the pseudonyms Mrs Teachwell and Mrs Lovechild.
Fenn served as Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk in 1766; churchwarden of St Nicholas’ church, East Dereham 1768-1775; a director of Gressenhall House of Industry from 1775; magistrate from 1776 onwards; and High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1791-1792. He inherited an estate in Edgefield, including the manor of Edgefield Bacons, after the death of his father in 1741.
A protegee of the antiquary, Thomas Martin of Palgrave (d. 1771), Fenn also helped publish final sections of Parkin’s continuation of Francis Blomefield’s ‘History of Norfolk’. After Martin’s death Fenn catalogued Martin’s library for its new owner, John Worth of Diss, before its sale in 1773-1774. He also listed Worth’s collection after the latter’s death in 1774. Around this time Fenn acquired the Paston letters. He published the first two volumes of the Paston letters in 1787, which proved so popular they sold out within a week. In May 1787 Fenn presented the original letters to George III and was knighted. When the manuscripts disappeared, there were accusations that they were fakes, but their authenticity was proved when the originals reappeared in 1889. Two further volumes of letters were published in 1789. Fenn died from a paralytic stroke on 14 Feb 1794 and was buried at Finningham, Suffolk. His manuscript for the fifth volume of Paston letters was published by William Frere in 1823.
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The contents of cupboard C3, shelves 1-2 (C3/1-2) consist of working papers and correspondence of a number of Norfolk antiquaries. Peter Le Neve (1661-1729), Norroy king of arms, left a vast collection of books and manuscripts. The bulk of his Norfolk manuscripts, intended by Le Neve for deposit in an unspecified repository in Norwich, was 'acquired' by his friend and executor Thomas ('Honest Tom') Martin (1697-1771) of Palgrave who married Le Neve's widow. Martin put the Le Neve papers, and his own, at the disposal of Revd Francis Blomefield (1705-1752) for his 'History of Norfolk'. After Blomefield's death in 1752, Martin, an enthusiastic collector, purchased a number of his papers.
When Martin died insolvent in 1771, his papers were acquired by John Worth of Diss, and subsequently sold in 1773 and 1774. Sir John Fenn (1739-1794) of East Dereham, Martin's protégé, helped to catalogue the papers for the sale, and was given various items and allowed to buy others. Fenn, and his friend the antiquary Anthony Norris, helped William Whittingham to publish a continuation of Blomefield's 'History of Norfolk'.
Given these professional and personal connections, it is not surprising that many of the original folders listed below contain transcripts and extracts written or collected by several of these Norfolk antiquaries and their amanuenses, together with contributions by local clergymen and members of Norfolk families. Most also contain antiquarian slips: notes and references originally written in notebooks, which were then cut into slips for filing.
As well as antiquarian working papers, the collection also includes a large number of original documents. Principal among these are papers of the Gawdy family, Norfolk gentry and magistrates, which may have come to Peter Le Neve through the marriage of his brother Oliver Le Neve of Great Witchingham to Anne Gawdy. These relate mainly to the affairs of the county in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with papers relating to subsidies and local government. A smaller number of documents relating to the Knyvett family of Ashwellthorpe may have come to Le Neve through his brother's second marriage to Jane Knyvett. Le Neve's papers also include letters from various correspondents addressed to his brother Oliver in the late 17th and early 18 centuries.
Sir John Fenn, who was knighted for his publication of 'The Paston Letters', collected material relating to East Dereham. The most significant part of his collection consists of records of the collection and distribution of monies for the repair of the town following a great fire in 1679, with lists of claimants and damage suffered. In addition there are Fenn's own records as churchwarden, and playbills and papers relating to a visit to East Dereham of the Norwich Players in 1792.
The collection also contains a large number of miscellaneous deeds and papers, the most significant of which is part of a journal of an official of the East India Company at Surat in India between 1635 and 1639.