The story of rough justice handed out to the people who had the misfortune of appearing at the dock at Norwich Guildhall.

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By the 16th century Norwich was the largest and wealthiest provincial city in England and some of the richest men were Justices of the Peace who ruled with a rod of iron and showed little mercy.

The story of rough justice handed out to the people who had the misfortune of appearing before them at the Guildhall is told in a new book Nothing But The truth by magistrate and journalist Dick Meadows.

It’s 600 years since prisoners first arrived at the Guildhall. The building at the heart of city life.

From the 16th through to the 18th century the Mayor’s Court was the magistrates court of its day and justices dealt with a wide range of offences including assault, drunkenness, theft, debt, using seditious words, breaches of craft regulations, begging and family matters such as adultery.

By 1665 all but two of the city’s J.P.s were among the wealthiest citizens. It was claimed most justices were worth at least £10,000, a huge amount at the time when most people lived in appalling poverty.

Records show that worsted weavers were the biggest group of J.P.s, followed by grocers, merchants, brewers and hosiers.

As the city grew in size and wealth so, too, did the number of vagrants who arrived. Enormous wealth and grinding poverty existed side by side in Norwich.

In 1600, more than 150 “foreigners” were brought before the court for illegally entering the city and punishments were savage.

Vagrants and beggars were whipped and ordered to return to their home counties. Giving to beggars was also an offence.

The case of Robert Morgan was typical:

“Committed to prison for harbouring young and idle vagabonds. And to promise that if he at any time after be taken lodging any stranger or vagabond then he is contented to lose one of his ears.”

<t>A blind, crippled woman found begging in Magdalen Street was put on a cart and ordered back from whence she came - Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

<t> An eight year old girl who had somehow travelled from Staffordshire and an 11 year old boy from London were whipped and ordered out of the city.

And it wasn’t just “foreigners” who received rough justice.

A pillory and stocks outside the guildhall were on constant use along with whipping rods, branding irons and implements for chopping off ears.

A man and his mistress, who had posed as his wife, were whipped around the market place along with the woman’s parents and he was forbidden contact the women again - except in church.

As well as being ducked adulterous women were paraded around the market with a sign reading “for keeping a house of bawdry.”

By the end of the 18th century Norwich’s prosperity was waning as places such as Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester grew but there were troubled times ahead...Norwich has a long tradition of riot and civil disorder.

<t> Nothing But The Truth: A History of Norwich by Dick Meadows is in the shops now.

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I have four copies of this fascinating book to give away.

Answer this question.

When did the first prisoners arrive at the new Guildhall.

Was it:

1> 1404.

2> 1412.

3> 1512.

Send your answers, along with your address and phone number to me at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email derek.james@archant.co.uk

They should arrive by Monday October 29 and usual Archant rules apply.

1 comment

  • And to think there were some city councils in this Fine City of ours, who actually once wanted to demolish the Guildhall.

    Report this comment

    kenneth jessett

    Thursday, October 25, 2012

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