Campaign to bring home Diss archive

An urgent fundraising campaign has begun to bring home dozens of historical documents relating to swathes of land owned by a south Norfolk town 700 years ago.

Fears have been raised that the records concerning the 'Town Lands of Diss' could end up abroad when they go under the hammer on the open market next week.

The collection of 90 documents tells the story of the town's ownership of agricultural land 25 miles away at Framlingham in Mid Suffolk between 1303 and 1700.

But the valued archive, owned by a private collector, is set to sell for about �10,000 at a Shropshire auction house on November 18, prompting concerns that it could go to an overseas buyer.

Town leaders in Diss only found out about the sale this week, but have already secured pledges totalling �6,000 from two anonymous donors to secure the papers.

Historical documents expert Richard Westwood-Brookes, of Mullock's Auctions, in Ludlow, said the collection had received 'considerable' interest from abroad, but its loss to local heritage would be 'incalculable.'

'This archive is unique and provides a considerable amount of information about an area belonging to Diss over a period of 400 years.'

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'What makes it so special is that the documents chart the history of the same territory covering the ages from before the Black Death, through period of the Wars of the Roses then through the period of the Tudors and Stuarts, the Civil War, the Renaissance and then into the end of the 17th century,' he said.

Mr Westwood-Brookes added that the Medieval deeds were in 'fine condition' and many of the 15th century documents retained their seals. The papers also document a long running court action in the late 16th century between Thomas Mildmay and the Town of Diss regarding the ownership of Diss Town Farm in Framlingham.

'The documents contain a wealth of personal and place names and some surnames can be traced over a period of two to three hundred years,' he said.

Deborah Sarson, Diss town clerk, said she hoped a generous resident could help buy the documents for the town and the Norfolk Record Office. She added that the collection was of huge significance to the history of the Diss Corn Hall.

'It would not be impossible; within an hour of knowing about the auction we had two anonymous donors pledging �6,000.'

'It is about the ownership by the town of Diss of lands in Framlingham and the relation to Diss is very strong. It is fascinating that Diss owned lands in another parish,' she said.