Fonds NAS 1 - Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society: Frere Manuscripts (Topographical Section)

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Reference code



Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society: Frere Manuscripts (Topographical Section)


  • 12th century-1874 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

40 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

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.

Archival history

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Content and structure area

Scope and content

The Frere collection of antiquaries' papers constitutes a part of the huge collection assembled by Peter Le Neve (1661-1729) as the basis of a projected history of Norfolk. From Le Neve the whole collection passed to the antiquary, topographer and historian of Norfolk, Francis Blomefield (1705-1752), and then to the antiquary, Thomas Martin (1697-1771). Martin resisted attempts to have it placed in public ownership and it was sold and dispersed on his death. The bulk, however, passed to the antiquary, Sir John Fenn (1739-1794), who added material of his own and of the antiquary, Antony Norris (1711-1786), whose papers he had acquired.

From Fenn part came to John Frere of Roydon (Norfolk) and part to William Frere (1775-1836), antiquary and Master of Downing College, Cambridge. In 1889 representatives of the latter presented his part to the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society. In 1926 further papers, most probably derived from John Frere, were presented to the Society by the antiquary Prince Frederick Duleep Singh (1868-1926). (Duleep Singh also retained a quantity of items deriving from Frere, and these were deposited at Norfolk Record Office in 1969).

The history of the collection as a whole is summarised in the published Calendar of Frere Manuscripts: Hundred of Holt (B. Cozens-Hardy, Norfolk Record Society, I, 1931) and in D. Stoker 'The ill-gotten library of 'Honest' Tom Martin' (in R. Myers and M. Harris ed., 'Property of a Gentleman', Sir Paul's Bibliographies, Winchester, 1991, pp. 90-111).

The Frere collection comprises antiquaries' notes and transcripts, with which are placed many original documents of dates mostly ranging between the late 13th century and the early 18th century. Some of these documents (for instance a county militia rate list 1659) were sliced up for filing. Much of the material is arranged topographically in parish and hundred bundles. For one parish there are sometimes several hundred slips and several dozen original documents. The rest remains in miscellaneous bundles.

The Frere collection is predominantly that of Le Neve, with substantial additions by Blomefield, Martin and Fenn, though Fenn added to the topographical section (except perhaps for Northwold and Edgefield). Martin arranged unsorted matter in his own series of folders, by hundred but not by parish. Other frequently occurring hands are those of Le Neve's clerk Thomas Allen, John Kirkpatrick (1685-1728, antiquary) and Thomas Tanner (1674-1735, antiquary and Bishop of St Asaph). The antiquary Benjamin Mackerell (d 1738) acted as Le Neve's assistant (see Norfolk Record Office, Hamond Collection, HMN 7/309, NRA 40234) and his hand occurs (see Lynn bundle) as do those of the antiquary Edward Steele (flourished 1705-1760) (e.g. Banham, South Lynn bundles), of John Hare (d 1720), Richmond Herald (e.g. Wilby, Broomsthorpe bundles), of the herald and antiquary John Anstis (1669-1744) (e.g. Pulham bundle), and of local antiquaries such as Guybon Goddard (Lynn bundle), John Borret (d.1698) of Griston (hundreds of Wayland and South Erpingham bundles), John Holmes, the Holt Schoolmaster (Holt hundred bundle) and James Baldwin (Bunwell bundle). (For identification of some minor figures see J. Blatchly, 'The Topographers of Suffolk' (Suffolk Record Office, 1976).) Blomefield's questionnaire of 1734 and other requests for information brought replies from clergy and gentry, the most notable that of parson John Russell of Postwick (Blofield hundred). Hundreds not covered in the topographical section are those of Clackclose, Clavering, North Erpingham, East and West Flegg, South Greenhoe, Loddon, Mitford and Walsham, while Blofield is very thinly represented.

By far the greater number of original documents came to Le Neve from two sources, the family collections of the Knyvetts of Ashwellthorpe and the Gawdys of West Harling, both concentrated in the period 1580-1680, those of the Knyvetts including papers of their predecessors in title at Ashwellthorpe and elsewhere. Le Neve was obliged to disgorge part of the Knyvett archive and that part (with some of Le Neve's slips and other additional material) now forms a section of the Knyvett-Wilson collection in the Norfolk Record Office (see NRA 17855). Members of the Knyvett and Gawdy families were justices and filled other county offices. Consequently the collection includes a quantity of JPs' papers, notably for the hundreds of Diss, Earsham, Eynesford, Guiltcross, Shropham and Wayland. These are filed in the appropriate topographical bundles or more generally by subject and place. They include: constables' returns concerning such matters as the poor, apprentices, alehouses, and tobacco vendors in the period 1625-1635; accounts rendered by parochial keepers of the poor 1599-1641 (mostly of the 1630s); muster papers; subsidy and other tax and rate assessments; hearth tax assessments, with lists of exemptions; and petitions and letters to the justices. From the Knyvett archive also came estate, manorial and suit papers (for instance of the manor of Colkirk 1590s), papers relating to the associated families of Appleyard and Flowerdew (including a 16th century coal delivery account), and correspondence with Sir Arthur and Sir John Heveningham, the Hollands of Quidenham and the Branthwayts of Hethel. Amongst the Gawdy papers are letters (filed under Hempnall and Diss) from the Earl of Sussex recommending Sir Bassingborne Gawdy (d.1606) in the county election of 1601.

In this report the several hundred topographical bundles are described briefly and the miscellaneous bundles are listed more fully, box by box. The box numbers reflect shelf locations in the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society Library and they overlap where bundles are boxed out of numerical sequence. There is also a section summarising the manorial and hundred records found in the Frere collection. Changes to the archival arrangement of the papers made during the Society's custodianship include sorting out some of the bulkier items in the topographical sequence and separate series and, in seven hundreds, the pasting of slips onto foolscap sheets, sometimes in this way obscuring the antiquaries' re-use of ephemera as scrap paper. There are sixty boxes of papers and the condition of the documents is generally good.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

This list covers the part of the Frere MSS that was arranged topographically (by Hundred and Parish) by Peter Le Neve and others. It included original documents as well as antiquaries' slips and transcripts. In some Hundreds some of the documents were in the 1930s-1960s sorted into a separate series and in some others documents and slips and transcripts were pasted down onto large paper sheets. The original documents have now been removed from the other Hundred packets and these are listed under a similar arrangement of Hundred and parish together with the loose documents previously removed and the paste-downs. The slips and transcripts remain in their original packets and form the second section except for the Hundreds where they are pasted down with the original documents and in these cases they are included in the first section. The slips and transcripts are not calendared. In a few instances original documents are physically attached to items in the second section. These are listed in the first section but remain of course in the second.

Care is needed in requesting these documents. Read any advice at the start of the Hundred and remember that unnumbered items are in the second section.

Draft list compiled by Paul Rutledge 2003.

numbers not used: NAS 1/1/8/14, NAS 1/1/15/21, NAS 1/1/15/76, NAS 1/1/20/3

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Finding aids

There are Persons, Places and Subject indexes included in the searchroom catalogue.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

A calendar of part of the topographical series of the Frere collection is published in Norfolk Record Society, I (1931).

Related units of description

For strays from the collection, see MC 148.

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