When a post on social media sparked a beloved memory from a family holiday, Jessica Macdonald’s love affair with medieval graffiti was ignited. 

At the age of 10, Jess was on a family holiday in Salthouse in north Norfolk when she found her first piece – a ship scratched into the church wall.  

From this bud of interest, sprung a connection that years later would take her to being the leading expert on graffiti in Norwich Cathedral

The youngest of three, she was born in December 1979 at the former Norfolk and Norwich Hospital

Norwich Evening News: Jessica "Jess" Macdonald

A confident child, she grew up to be known for her amazing knowledge, witty comments, quirky sense of dress, Doc Marten boots and infuriating stubbornness.  

She once said to her daughter: “I like to inconvenience as many people as possible.”  

Jess attended Avenue Middle School before moving up to City of Norwich School (CNS), where she finished sixth form with exemplary results and was awarded a Norfolk Scholar Certificate.

Norwich Evening News: Jessica "Jess" Macdonald at school

She was expected to apply to Oxford or Cambridge but did neither saying she felt like “a fraud” because she did not feel as if she had worked hard for her A-Levels. 

Although not keen on sport, she was good at swimming and developed a love of cricket.  

Paying tribute, school friend Jane Sidebottom said: “She was one of those rare types who seemed to have honed her own style and was uninterested in trying to fit in in any way.   

"She was such an important person, turning up just when I needed her friendship and making life infinitely more interesting, cool, and funny. What a privilege.”  

Jess would go on to work in the family farm camp business in Wisbech, making friends with overseas students from all over the world.  

Eventually, her parents retired. With her brother Jamie, she bought her parents out and they ran the camp with their partners. 

Norwich Evening News: Jessica "Jess" Macdonald

A few years later William was born, followed by Delilah who made a dramatic entrance on the bathroom floor.  

During her 30s, she moved to Norwich where her writing took off with a blog, articles for magazines, an award ceremony in London with HarperCollins, and the beginnings of a book.  

She also took to social media, essentially as an outlet for her writing, and made connections with like-minded people. It was through this medium that she discovered medieval graffiti. 

Jess began as a volunteer surveyor for the medieval graffiti project, but her knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject soon led to her leading the specialist graffiti tours of Norwich Cathedral and carrying out training for cathedral guides.   

Her detailed knowledge resulted in her being a key organiser of the ‘Making Your Mark’ international historic graffiti conferences. 

When not leading official tours of the cathedral’s graffiti, she could often be found showing around friends, family, and visiting academics.  

Her last tour took place during the summer of 2023. It had been scheduled to last about an hour, but three hours later they were still in the cloisters laughing and looking at the walls.  

Colleague and friend Matt Champion said: “She will be remembered for her contagious enthusiasm. Not just for the graffiti, but for the cathedral itself.  

“It was, she once stated, her ‘happy place’.”  

Norwich Evening News: Jessica "Jess" Macdonald during her time at CNS

Friend Nick Stone added: “Her verve and energy often focused around noisily getting embedded in things that interested her, giving herself and her humour to whatever daft ideas were circulating, things that sometimes turned into real projects.” 

Jess was involved in a diverse range of projects including digitising the Norwich Bomb Map, cataloguing Great War-returned crosses in churches across the country, and pinpointing and annotating a map of the thousands of alleged Black Shuck sightings over the centuries, to name a few.  

She also worked on the ‘Vanishing Points’ exhibition at Hungate, which studied the changing landscapes of the Western Front. 

Her family said: "We have been overwhelmed by the honest tributes, warts and all, from friends far and wide.” 

Jess died on January 2 with her family around her, following ill health. A funeral was held at Norwich Cathedral on February 16. 

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