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Historic 'first' gets a showing in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 09:21 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:31 02 July 2010

Jon Welch

Norfolk has achieved some notable firsts in its history, including providing Great Britain's first prime minister Robert Walpole and being the site of the UK's first holiday camp at Caister.

Norfolk has achieved some notable firsts in its history, including providing Great Britain's first prime minister Robert Walpole and being the site of the UK's first holiday camp at Caister.

But how many people would know that the oldest act of parliament kept at Westminster relates to the county?

Now the 500-year-old document can be seen for the first time outside London in a new exhibition at Norfolk County Council's Archive Centre.

For the next few weeks, visitors to the centre in Norwich will be able to see the document, An Act for taking of Apprentices to make Worsteds in the County of Norfolk.

Passed in 1497, it is written in medieval English on parchment and features the initials of the reigning monarch Henry VII. It is usually kept in the Parliamentary Archives at Westminster, but is on loan to the county council until March.

It is the centrepiece of the Archive Centre's People and Parliament exhibition, which explores the centuries-old connections between Parliament and the county.

The document relates to attempts to regulate the number of apprentices in the worsted industry. Initially entry was limited to those boys whose fathers had at least 20 shillings in disposable income earned through land, but this was leading to a shortage of apprentices.

To address the problem, this stipulation was abolished, but each worsted maker was banned from taking on any more than two apprentices.

County archivist Dr John Alban said: “This document is extremely significant from a parliamentary point of view, because it's the first surviving act in the Parliamentary Archives. It's also significant from Norfolk's point of view because it's a Norfolk act.”

David Prior, assistant clerk of the records at the Parliamentary Archives, said: “We're now making a determined effort to display our items and collections outside London so that we can engage with a wider range of people.

“One of the things the project is trying to do is put a local perspective onto these items.”

The exhibition is at The Long Gallery, Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich NR1 2DQ. It runs until March 27. It is open from 9am to 5pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; from 9.30am to 5pm on Tuesday and from 9am until midday on Saturday. Admission is free. Visit www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk for further details.

Have you uncovered something interesting from the past? Contact reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email jon.welch@archant.co.uk

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