Fonds DCN - Records of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral

Identity area

Reference code



Records of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral


  • nd [c 1095]-2012 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

Approximately 23 cubic metres (estimated December 2011).

Context area

Name of creator

(c 1096-1538)

Administrative history

The Benedictine priory of the Holy Trinity was founded by Bishop Herbert Losinga on his removal of the seat of the bishopric from Thetford. According to the chronicler, Matthew Paris (followed by the Norwich chronicler Bartholomew Cotton), this took place on 9 April 1094, but it was more probably at some time in 1095 (see B. Dodwell, 'The Foundation of Norwich Cathedral', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., vii (1957), 1-18). The priory had a population of about 60 monks and, by the mid twelfth century, had small dependent cells at St Leonard's in Thorpe, Yarmouth, Lynn, and Aldeby in Norfolk and at Hoxne in Suffolk. It also administered the hospital of St Paul in Norwich. Bishop Herbert granted estates to the priory, including the profits of the Whitsun fair at Norwich, the manors of Hindolveston, Hindringham, Hemsby and Martham, and parts of the manor of Thorpe next Norwich. King Henry I had granted the latter to the bishop for the expenses of building the new cathedral, but Herbert retained part of it, giving to the monks instead the manor of Gnatingdon in Sedgeford and land in Thornham and Mintlyn. The largest early grants by private persons were the manor of Trowse Newton, given by Godric, and the manor of Eaton, given by Alan son of Flaald. By the fourteenth century, the priory had sixteen large estates - Plumstead, Monks' Grange (in Pockthorpe on the edge of Norwich), Eaton, Catton, Hindolveston, Hindringham, North Elmham, Gateley, Thornham, Trowse Newton, Hemsby, Martham, Taverham, Gnatingdon and Sedgeford, all in Norfolk, and Denham in Suffolk: these were known as the prior's manors. It had smaller estates and rights in churches in about thirty parishes in the city of Norwich and about 100 parishes in Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as at Chalk in Kent and Scampton in Lincolnshire.
The monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII and a capitular body of dean and prebendaries or canons established: the estates of the former priory were granted to them. There was considerable continuity of personnel: the last prior became the first dean, five of the six prebendaries were former monks and sixteen more of the monks became minor canons or lay clerks. However, the surrender to Henry VIII was considered to be invalid because the bishop of Norwich (as successor to the founder) had not given his consent. The chapter surrendered to Edward VI, who reformed the capitular body granting to it most but not all of the estates they previously held: some, such as the manor of Hemsby, were kept by the Crown and later sold, but the Cathedral also gained some estates, such as the rectory of Scalby in Yorkshire, formerly belonging to Bridlington priory. The cathedral was originally governed by statutes of Henry VIII. In 1619, Bishop Harsnett stated that no statutes had been legalised by Edward VI, Mary or Elizabeth I: James I therefore formally issued a body of statutes on 9 August 1620 and the Cathedral was from then governed by these.
The Dean and Chapter was abolished by Parliament in 1649 and by Act of Parliament cathedral estates were seized for sale on 30 April 1649. Cathedral records were then stored centrally with episcopal records in London. In November 1660, Parliament declared all sales of church land during the Commonwealth period void. Records of dioceses and cathedrals were transferred to Lambeth Palace and there sorted before being returned to their respective reinstated owners. Inevitably, there was some intermixing of the archives and over the last hundred years medieval records have been returned to Norwich from Canterbury, Lincoln, Hereford and Windsor.
The priory had peculiar rights (exempt from the jurisdiction of the archdeacon, but not that of the bishop) over the parishes of Arminghall, West Beckham, Catton, Eaton, Hindolveston, Martham, Lakenham, Great Plumstead, Sedgeford, Sprowston, Trowse Newton, Hemsby, Hindringham, Scratby, Taverham, Winterton, all in Norfolk, and the parishes of St Helen, St Mary in the Marsh, St James Pockthorpe and St Paul in Norwich. After the Reformation, the dean and chapter had peculiar jurisdiction over these parishes, apart from Hemsby, Hindringham, Scratby, Taverham and Winterton. Many of the records of this peculiar jurisdiction passed to diocesan officials and are listed among the diocesan and probate archives, but some material remained with the cathedral archives and is described in this guide.
The priory had jurisdiction over the cathedral precinct and before 1524 claimed it over other parts of Norwich, although this was disputed by the city. Jurisdiction over the leet of Newgate (Surrey Street) was granted to the citizens in 1305. The priory continued to claim jurisdiction over Tombland, Raton Row, and Holme Street (all just outside the cathedral precinct), St Paul's parish and Magdalen Hospital, while it also claimed the right to hold a fair on Tombland each Whitsun and rights over grazing land at Eaton and Lakenham. By agreement made under award of Cardinal Wolsey in 1524, the priory gave 80 acres of land (later called Town Close) in Eaton to the city and the city surrendered its claim to grazing rights elsewhere in Eaton and Lakenham. The priory also surrendered its right to hold the fair and its claim to jurisdiction beyond the precinct. After the Reformation, the dean and chapter held sessions courts with jurisdiction over the precinct, including that of coroner.
The history of the Cathedral is described in 'Norwich Cathedral: City, Church and Diocese, 1096-1996', ed. I. Atherton and others (London, 1996). The architectural history is given in detail in E.C. Fernie, 'An Architectural History of Norwich Cathedral' (Oxford, 1993).

Name of creator


Administrative history

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Received by the Norfolk Record Office on 29 January 1975, 6 and 27 March 1996, 22 May 1996, 9 April 1997 (ACC 1997/4), 26 November 1997 (ACC 1997/150), 7 January 1998 (ACC 1997/169), 13 April 2000, 29 August 2001 (ACC 2001/139 numbered DCN 166/1), 9 December 2002 (ACC 2002/222 numbered DCN 167/1-11), 22 January 2007 (ACC 2006/280 numbered DCN 166/2-3), 14 March 2007 (ACC 2006/370 numbered DCN 166/4), and 26 April 2007 (ACC 2007/25 numbered DCN 166/5, ACC 2007/27 (numbered DCN 168/1/1-4), 18 March 2009 (ACC 2008/423 numbered DCN 30/15), 19 March 2009 (ACC 2008/425 numbered DCN 31/11), 16 June 2011 (ACC 2011/71), 24 July 2013 (ACC 2013/128 added to DCN 26/74) and 8 Septmember 2016 (ACC 2016/152, added to DCN 166/15) Catalogue last amended September 2016 (AB)

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The records described in this collection are those of the priory of the Holy Trinity, Norwich, and its successor body the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral. The episcopal records of Norwich diocese are a separate archive.

The main series of pre-Reformation records are: deeds of title - royal, papal, archiepiscopal, episcopal and private grants or confirmations of grants to estates and to churches [DCN 41-45]; cartularies, known in Norwich as registers, with which are included a fourteenth-century letter book [DCN 40]; obedientiary rolls - account rolls of the monastic officials recording income and expenditure on the estates and churches in their care and the expenses which were the responsibilities of their department [DCN 1]: account rolls for the dependent cells and for the hospital of St Paul in Norwich [DCN 2]: bailiffs' accounts and manor court rolls for the sixteen prior's manors and a smaller quantity for other cathedral estates [DCN 60-66]; rentals, surveys, and extents of the estates [DCN 51-52]; accounts for charities [DCN 4]; acta and comperta rolls - visitation records of parishes within the jurisdiction of the priory on which wills are endorsed [DCN 67]; records concerning legal disputes with the city and other institutions about jurisdictional rights [DCN 84-89]. Pre-Reformation records among the collection not related to the cathedral include records to the bishopric and of St Benet's abbey [DCN 40/8, DCN 95], deeds of other religious houses in East Anglia [DCN 46]; title deeds for episcopal and private estates that have become mixed with the cathedral title deeds [DCN 44]; records of ecclesiastical and lay taxation including the ninth of 1297 [DCN 5-8]; an account roll of the steward of the Great Hospital, Norwich, 1515 [DCN 9/4]; and a deposited account roll of the debtors of Alderman Robert Toppes of Norwich, c 1467 [DCN 9/5] (an endorsement records that this was placed in the priory in 1492).

The main series of post-Reformation records are the cathedral statutes [DCN 27]; chapter act books and supporting papers [DCN 24-26]; treasurer's and receiver's accounts, audit books with related financial records and bundles of audit papers [DCN 10-23]; registers of leases of estates, known as ledger books, which also include institutions to benefices in the gift of the cathedral, patents and miscellaneous material [DCN 47]; rentals, surveys and valuations of estates including the Parliamentary Survey of 1649 [DCN 51, 52]; estate leases and papers [DCN 48-59] containing much miscellaneous material including a building account for the house of Sir John Fastolf at Earlham of the fifteenth century [DCN 59/11], the farming account book of a Mr Aldrich of Eaton, 1664-7 [DCN 59/12/13], Wacton vestry minutes and poor rate accounts, 1769-1798 [DCN 59/40], water colours of Fring parsonage [DCN 49/19/6]; maps and plans [DCN 127]; records of appointments of cathedral officials [DCN 30-39]; patent books recording diocesan appointments and leases which were subject to confirmation by the dean and chapter [DCN 93]; documents concerning the cathedral fabric from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries [DCN 102-108]; records of the various deans, including 'Dean Suckling's Book', diaries of Dean Prideaux, correspondence of Dean Pellew, and sermon notes of Dean Beeching [DCN 113-124].

Other series include records of peculiar jurisdiction [DCN 67-78]; records of precinct jurisdiction, including sessions rolls and coroner's inquests [DCN 79-83]; returns of scholars maintained at Trinity College and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, 1586-1683 [DCN 100]; records relating to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Norwich charities [DCN 96-99]; and records of the cathedral school collected by Canon E.A. Parr [DCN 101]. There are a number of antiquarian papers, including two volumes of nineteenth-century drawings of the cathedral and four watercolours of 1830-2 painted by David Hodgson [DCN 125, 127]. Stored with the cathedral archives are a quantity of family and business records of the Thurlow, Kitson, Rackham and Bensly families, who acted as diocesan registrars or chapter clerks [DCN 126] and of the architect John Brown and his two sons, employed as cathedral surveyors [DCN 131].

Some manor court records among the cathedral archives continue into the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries [DCN 60], but most post-Reformation manor court records, together with plans of the chapter estates and many leases, passed into the hands of the Church Commissioners: these records are also in the Norfolk Record Office.

The inhabitants of the precinct were parishioners of the church of St Mary in the Marsh. The church itself was pulled down in 1564 and the parishioners then used the chapel of St Luke in the cathedral. The parish records of St Mary in the Marsh are now on deposit in the Norfolk Record Office. Certain clergy and other persons, by special permission, used the Cathedral proper; their baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded in the sacrist's registers. A transcript of the sacrist's marriage register, 1697-1754 is in the Norfolk Studies Library in Norwich and cathedral marriages between 1754 and 1906 were recorded in the registers of St Mary in the Marsh. There are two lists in the cathedral archives of monumental inscriptions within the cathedral [DCN 112].

Later deposits are listed from DCN 132 onwards.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

The method of storage and classification of medieval charters in the cathedral is described in B. Dodwell, The Charters of Norwich Cathedral Priory, Part One (Pipe Roll Society, new series, xl, 1974). The archives were reorganized in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries by Dean Prideaux: many charters have annotations by him and he was probably responsible for the present numbering of the registers and for the binding up of documents into four Libri Miscellaneorum. The obedientiary rolls and early manor court rolls were numbered and described by Dr Saunders in the early twentieth century. Barbara Dodwell, as honorary cathedral archivist, numbered almost every document while the archives were still in the cathedral in a room over St Luke's chapel and she began the long process of sorting and classifying the records.

Numbers not used- DCN 48/18, DCN 48/22, DCN 131/137, DCN 44/85/16 renumbered with tithe agreeements,

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Finding aids

'A Guide to the Records of Norwich Cathedral' by Frank Meeres (1998)

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Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

The library of Norwich Cathedral remains in the cathedral. For library material deposited with the Norfolk Record Office see list DCL. Some probate and other material can be found in the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter: see list PDC.
For records of the Church Commissioners (Chapter) see searchroom catalogue CHC.

Related descriptions

Publication note

B. Dodwell, 'The Charters of Norwich Cathedral Priory, Part One' (Pipe Roll Society, new series, xl (1974).
H.W. Saunders, 'An Introduction to The Obedientiary and Manor Rolls of Norwich Cathedral Priory' (Norwich, 1930).

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