New Norwich Society booklet looks at life in Norfolk during killer plague

Stained glass window showing death seizing a bishop

Death seizing a bishop, from the “dance of death” in the medieval stained glass of St Andrew’s church, Norwich. - Credit: David Bussey

 It is a story which now has more importance and interest then ever…and if you want to discover more about the Black Death Derek James suggests getting a copy of a new booklet which costs…just £3.50.

There are no less than nine fascinating articles in the latest offering from the Norwich Society and that includes one written by Mark Bailey, Professor of Late Medieval History at the University of East Anglia.

Not so long ago we may have thought the plague of 1346-53 had nothing to do with us living a comfortable life in the 21st century.

Times have changed.

As Mark writes in the new Aspects of Norwich book: “Conspiracy theories abound claiming that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory, but history provides a number of global pandemics caused by a pathogen crossing over from mammals to humans.”

And he says the best example is the Black Death which was caused by a bacterium found in the blood stream of marmots and gerbils and which mutated to become a killer disease of humans.

“We now know that this was bubonic plague,” he writes.

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In a thought-provoking article Professor Bailey says the Black Death killed around half of the population of the known world and had a profound effect on the economy, with English GDP falling by 30 per cent between  1348 and 1350.

“The changing behaviour of the disease was linked to a sustained period of extreme weather and major climate change, heightened level of global trade, and over-population and impoverishment.

Book cover After the Black Death

The book by Mark Bailey, Professor of Late Medieval History at the UEA: After the Black Death. - Credit: Mark Bailey

“Sound familiar?” he asks.

He writes in a way we can all understand and learn from, painting a vivid picture of what life was like in Norfolk and Suffolk as the Black Death spread through our communities.

In 1885 the great Norfolk historian Augustus Jessopp, wrote about the Black Death and dated its earliest arrival in Suffolk to March 1349, and to north-east Norfolk the following month.

“Understanding the Black Death underlines the interdisciplinary nature of history, the ever-changing nature of historical research. And, in the face of Covid-19, the subject’s continuing fascination and importance.”

His book After the Black Death, published by Oxford University Press, is based on lectures in British History at Oxford in 2019: see:

Aspects of Norwich book cover

The latest offering from the Norwich Society features this photograph of the railway station by the great George Plunket in 1955. Did you know it had been compared to a Versailles ballroom? - Credit: Norwich Society

Norwich Society chair Barry Howell says: “We’re pleased to release the latest in the Aspects of Norwich series. As usual, it covers a real variety of topics about the city’s history, from a look at why Norwich Railway Station has been likened to a ‘Versailles ballroom’ to a re-assessment of a 17th century crime scandal.

“I hope it encourages readers to learn more about the fascinating history and architecture of Norwich and consider joining us to support our work,” he adds.

Radicalism in Norfolk

Norfolk and Norwich have a long history of radicalism and occasional rebellion, writes Paul Burall in his article in the book entitled Fighting for the Right to Vote.

City suffragettes were among the leaders of the  movement that, in 1918, led to women gaining the right to vote…just so long as they were aged more than 30 and met a property qualification.

One of the Norwich Suffragettes was Violet Aitken, the daughter of the Canon of Norwich Cathedral,  who was born in 1886 – a high-profile campaigner who was arrested three times.

Suffragettes in the prison yard in 1913.

Suffragettes in the prison yard in 1913. Grace Marcon is on the left:(Police surveillance picture) - Credit: Supplied by Paul Burall

Paul writes about the Colman family who supported the movement and how Laura led her sisters and cousins to establish the Norwich Women’s Suffrage Society in 1909.

Probably the best-known Norwich Suffragette was Grace Marcon, daughter of Canon Walter Marcon. Arrested several times, she went on hunger strike in prison. “As a result, when she was released in June 1914 she was delirious with hunger and she cut off her long hair,” writes Paul.

She died in Norfolk in 1965 but her memory lives on.

 Other stories in the book are about:

  • The Rosary Cemetery by Nick Williams.
  • Lost in the Wonder of Colour by David Bussey looking at more recent wonderful windows at Norwich Cathedral.
  • Did They Hang an Innocent Man? by Pete Goodrum investigating the case of Thomas Berney in 1684. Thrown from a ladder to die a terrible death in front of a wailing crowd
  • A Black History by tour guide Paul Dickson which tells the story of black people in Norfolk and Norwich and how the city was one of the centres seeking the end of the slave trade.
  • General Sir Robert John Harvey by Pat Wagstaff, the life and times of the most distinguished member of a family which left its mark on the life and landscape of Norwich for more than 200 years.
  • Against The Grain by Matt Williams, geologist, cycle instructor, and author investigates controversial Anglia Square and surrounding area and what lies beneath our feet.
  • A Versailles Ballroom by Paul Burall who tells the story of Norwich’s Thorpe Station, former stations, and asks what the future may hold for the railways.

Aspects of Norwich is on sale at both Jarrold and the City Bookshop, priced at just £3.50