Transcription of NRO Chamberlains' Accounts


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  • Almost all these transcriptions, undertaken by Professor Carole Rawcliffe, are taken from the account book covering the period 1538-1547 (Norfolk Record Office, NCR, 18A/6), when the ‘turmoileng’ involved in restructuring the friary began, and whole swathes of the city must have come to resemble one vast building site.
  • As well as helping us to understand how the various medieval buildings were adapted to different uses, the accounts provide a wealth of other information on such topics as wage rates, working practices, the cost of materials such as brick, lime and timber, and the physical impact of the Protestant Reformation upon Norwich and its people.


Quick Overview of the Major Changes 



Augustine Steward did not visit the duke of Norfolk empty-handed, as the city’s expenditure on spiced wine (ipocras), live game birds and fruit reveals.  In this period, swans were highly prized both as a mark of status and as a delicacy for consumption at feasts.    




Once it had obtained the duke’s support for the acquisition of Blackfriars, the city had to ensure that the king’s agents were amenable to the scheme.



Some parts of the newly acquired precinct, notably the great garden and a few free-standing buildings, could be farmed out fairly quickly to raise money, and receipts of just over £4 helped to offset the cost of emergency repair work, such as thatching the roof after the lead had been stripped off.  The unusual number of corrections suggests that some leases were still being negotiated.   



A substantial rise in receipts to £9 did not suffice to cover the mounting cost of ‘reparacoons’ to the steeple, masonry and windows, some of which had been damaged before the Dissolution.  The removal of quantities of rubble and ‘muck’ from the site gives the impression of long term neglect.  It is interesting to note that some of the stone used by the masons came from the Franciscan priory (Greyfrairs), which was then being demolished.  Steps were also taken to equip a chapel for civic use, and to repay some of the expenses sustained by Augustine Steward. 



Having doubled to almost £19, the rental income from Blackfriars (including a lease of the lodgings formerly occupied by the anchoress, Katherine Manne) still made only a partial contribution towards the ambitious rebuilding programme now begun by the civic authorities at a cost of well over £55 in this year alone.  The ‘common hall’ and chapel were paved, at least 4,000 new paving tiles being shipped from Yarmouth for the chapel alone, where a priest now prayed for the rulers and residents of Norwich.  As a centre for civic ceremonies and feasts, the hall needed excellent catering facilities, which demanded the construction of a buttery, pantry and kitchen, and for which the advice of the duke of Norfolk’s architect was sought.  Meanwhile, the chapter house sustained extensive damage as the buttresses were demolished and the roof and cellars collapsed.  Part of the cloister was likewise razed to the ground and levelled, while nine carpenters spent a week ‘takyn doun the olde dorter’ (dormitory).  Among other activities, lead was removed from the library roof, the schoolhouse was tiled, gutters were laid and a new tenement was built at considerable expense.  Not surprisingly, it proved necessary to repair the labourers’ pickaxes.  The performance of an ‘enterlude’, or play, at the hall must have provided a welcome break from so much hard work. 




By this date, so much work was being done on the common hall and other buildings that the accountant found it easier to record expenditure on a weekly basis.  The receipts of £14 from land and houses in the precinct barely dented the substantial outlay of just over £128, which represented over one third of the chamberlains’ entire budget and reflects the scale of the rebuilding programme. The new kitchen, with its enormous ovens, the bakery, pantry, larders, scaldinghouse (where the carcasses of slaughtered animals were prepared), bultinghouse (for the sifting bran and flour), survey house, water cisterns, well, conduit and landing stage began to take shape, as a small army of sawyers, masons, carpenters, plumbers and labourers transformed the monastic complex.   No less than £11 was spent on carved seats with ‘double benches’ for the common hall (which now had marble steps), while the chapel was equipped with organs, a hearse for civic funerals and a chest in which to store plate and vestments.  It was now possible for guilds, such as those of the smiths and masons, whose members had played such a prominent part in all this activity, to meet here for their annual ceremonies.  The St George’s day celebrations, which dominated the civic calendar, were held at the hall this year, along with a special sermon in the preaching yard.  ‘Preching dayes’ were also staged there to disseminate the new Protestant faith.




This year’s rather more modest outlay of £65 included work on  various properties that might be leased out to tenants (including a house and tenement next to two elm trees), as well as the extensive reconstruction of what had been the friars’  dormitory, vestry, library and infirmary, along with their respective cellars, or ‘voultes’, to create storerooms.  In a number of places around the cloister, and in the building that had been temporarily set aside for a schoolhouse, grain could now be stockpiled for sale in the city market at subsidised prices in periods of dearth.  Inevitably, a great deal of cleaning was needed as old furniture, rubble and ‘muck’ were carted away, new floors laid, chimneys built, windows fitted or replaced, stairways inserted and walls replastered to create adequate warehouse facilities.  It is interesting to note that some of the paving tiles used for this purpose came from the aisle of the former Benedictine nunnery at Carrow, which met the same fate as Greyfriars.  The workmen engaged to repair the steeple and to replace the cross and weather vane received extra wages for their ‘paynes and dangerous clymynges’, while others were busy constructing a new porch from the hall into the preaching yard and a swan pit where cygnets could be raised (and eventually eaten at feasts).  A wide gateway for the use of carts was also begun, with the city’s arms proudly emblazoned above it, and the common hall was equipped with tables.  The chamberlains’ incidental expenses record a visit by ‘my lord of Sussex pleyers’, who performed at the hall, and also a handsome fee of £5 paid to the king’s surveyor when he came to value the lead.              



At its highest level since the city’s acquisition of Blackfriars, this year’s outlay of £190 (offset by just £14 in receipts) included the substantial sum of £152 paid to the king’s receiver, as agreed, for the value of the lead removed from the church and steeple, in addition to the cost of making good any ‘lyte coins’ which the latter refused to accept.  Meanwhile, work continued on the new houses by the elms (notable for their elegant bay windows) and the gateway giving access to heavy traffic.  A new vestry and stables were built, staircases were constructed in one of the cellars, and a massive oak dresser inserted into the masonry at the end of the common hall, which now also boasted a high table.  The storehouses were clearly being put to good use, as one of the workmen was now paid to sell grain twice a week at subsidised rates in the market.



By this date the accountant was in the happy position of recording a slight profit, as new work on the precinct wound down, and it was possible to concentrate more on the upkeep of the grounds and buildings.  Even so, a number of glaziers, carpenters and masons were still busy finishing off the new buttery and other projects, glass needed replacing and large quantities of grain had to be transported for sale in the market.  In addition, fees and rewards were paid to staff in the Court of Augmentations for discharging Augustine Steward from his securities regarding the value of the lead from the friars’ church. The common hall and chapel must now have presented a suitably imposing background for civic ceremonies, the fresh sedge strewn on the paving stones serving to sweeten the air during the Rogation tide festivities.