Series NCR 4a - Norwich title deeds, leases and agreements re the Corporation's estates, including deposited so-called, 'Private Deeds'

Identity area

Reference code

NCR 4a


Norwich title deeds, leases and agreements re the Corporation's estates, including deposited so-called, 'Private Deeds'


  • 1240-1655 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

13 boxes of aproximately 1602 deeds

Context area

Name of creator

(c 1249-)

Administrative history

Established in c 1249 by the then Bishop of Norwich, Walter Suffield and originally known as the Hospital of the Blessed Mary and St Giles, and afterwards, simply as St Giles's Hospital, Norwich, in the parish of St Helen in Holmstrete, now Bishopgate in Norwich.
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.

Archival history

Goddard Johnson arranged these deeds by parish, thereby forming the series known thereafter as 'Private Deeds'.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Being over sixteen hundred, mainly medieval deeds, many with seals (usually pendant) present, but many also with seals missing. They include deeds of grant deposited with the Corporation (the so-called 'private deeds') in the process of their acknowledgement in the full court of the City, as recorded in the city court rolls in NCR 1. However, the collection here appears to consist largely of deeds of title to such Corporation properties as, to name a few examples, the city's market stalls in St Peter Mancroft (over a quarter of the total number of deeds here relate to properties in this parish), the Blackfriars' house and church and the Bridewell in St Andrew's parish, the common staithes and cranes in the parishes of St Edward and St Julian, and to the Cow Tower. Also present are title deeds to St Giles' (aka, the Great) Hospital precinct in Ss Helen and Giles of Holmstreet and to that hospital's estates throughout the City, all which were inherited by the Corporation in 1547 or acquired in subsequent years.

It would seem, therefore, that the mingling of the city's own title deeds kept in the city treasury, with those deposited for safe-keeping, occurred at an early stage, certainly at least before the time of the several reviews of the city's archives by Goddard Johnson, Hudson and Tingey and Frederick Johnson from the 1840s onwards. By the time of Hudson and Tingey's 'Revised Catalogue...' published in the first few years of the 20th century, this collection was already misleadingly described as 'Norwich Private Deeds', the implication being that, in the main, they were records kept for safe-keeping as a result of the activity of the full court of the city in acknowledging private citizens' deeds of conveyance. Without further analysis it is difficult to be certain of exact percentages, but it now seems clear that the deposited 'acknowledged' deeds that are present in NCR 4a form only a minority of the records in this series.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Arranged, at an unknown date, chronologically within city parish/hamlet categories, apparently largely without reference to their relevance to the estates or properties concerned, or to the deeds' possible relationships with fellow documents. However, there are still some references to 'parcels' within some of the parish categories, and these probably relate to bundles of related deeds, though descriptions or titles to parcels in general have not survived. At the time of calendaring in the early 20th century, individual deeds were numbered in a simple, running number series under each parcel or parish name, though, oddly, there remain, many groupings of unnumbered records in the calendar. Perhaps these were discovered only after the numbered deeds had been calendared?

At the time that Tingey and Johnson undertook their calendar, these deeds were arranged alphabetically by the parish name under the references, NCR Case 3g-i and Case 4a-f. Later archivists consolidated these so-called private deeds under one reference, NCR Case 4a, thereby dropping altogether the references, Cases 3g-i and 4b-f.

Note that in these deeds, the initial letters of surnames have been capitalised, regardless of whether or not they were in the original text.

Conditions of access and use area

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Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • Latin
  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Parchment deeds with pendant wax seals, but there are many deeds whose seals are missing, and seals relating to notable persons or institutions are usually among the missing.

Finding aids

Manuscript calendar (arranged by parish) by John Cottingham Tingey and Frederic Johnson at NCR 4a/box 13.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

The documentary research of the Norwich Survey (MC 146) includes indexes to the medieval private deeds and 137 maps showing property ownership, 1285-1341, based on information obtained from the private deeds and other sources.
See also miscellaneous medieval deeds to Norwich properties belonging to either the city, St Giles's Hospital or to the Priory of Norwich referenced, MS 12118-12168, 30E2.

Related descriptions

Publication note

Tingey and Johnson's calendar has been typed into a WORD table, and it is intended, at a later stage, to convert the descriptions of individual deeds in this to CALM entries. To date (Nov 2016) only a few such descriptions have been added to the public NRO catalogue.

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Dates of creation revision deletion

Created 22/02/2007 by Droip. Modified 18/09/2019 by Droip.


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