In search of the missing of Norwich who were named and shamed

A look at the way Norwich was in the “tough” old days. Photos: Archant library.

A look at the way Norwich was in the “tough” old days. Photos: Archant library. - Credit: Archant

They were named and shamed in Norwich of the 1840s and 50s. Men, and one woman, accused of abandoning their wives and children to the parish or workhouse. Derek James reports.

A look at the way Norwich was in the “tough” old days. Photos: Archant library.

A look at the way Norwich was in the “tough” old days. Photos: Archant library. - Credit: Archant

This rare list of names (pictured right) with such detailed descriptions was discovered some time ago in a box of memorabilia picked by collector Brian Wild at one of the Norfolk auction houses.

'It has always fascinated me,' said Brian. 'I have asked a lot of people over the years if they had seen such a list before but they hadn't.

'There must have been a place somewhere in the centre of Norwich where this list went on display in an effort to find these people,' he added.

'Perhaps your readers can help,' said Brian.

While a small number of people flourished in the good old days these were bad old days for the majority – especially for women left to beg for help from the parish when their husbands or partners walked out of the door... and didn't come back.

At the time Norwich was a city riddled with slums where many people lived in appalling was a daily struggle for survival.

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Then these men, who handed over some of their pennies to look after their offspring, vanished into the night leaving their families to starve.

The descriptions of them were in great detail in an effort to track them down across the country.

And the search went on for many years.

The one woman on the fascinating list, which has somehow survived over so many years, is Sarah Mitchell, who was said to be aged 28 or 29, of middling height, with dark hair and was very thin.

'She deserted her illegitimate child about six years ago, and is supposed to be in service as Housemaid in London. Her child is now chargeable to the Parish of St Michael at Plea.'

Then there was Isaac Cocker, aged 25, by trade a shoe maker who must have stood out like a sore thumb.

'About 5ft 4in high, has dark brown hair and whiskers, and grey eyes, is broad-chested, has an anchor and his initials pricked in Indian Ink on his left arm. He deserted his wife in February last, in New Lakenham, Norwich. His wife and 2 children are now chargeable to the parish of St Stephen.'

And then there was the way some of these deserters walked...and where they went to.

For example:

'Henry Turner, aged 43, by trade a Carver and Gilder, about 5ft 5in high, has light hair and whiskers (the latter inclined to be sandy), and light brown eyes, walks very quick.

'He deserted his wife and children in St Lawrence, in May last, and has been heard from several times from different places; about a month ago he was at Birmingham, and was then going to Manchester. His wife and 3 children are now chargeable to the parish of St Lawrence.'

And the search was on for William Turrell, aged 37 or 38, by trade a Whitesmith, a rather stout chap with black curly hair, and dark brown whiskers and eyes, slightly pitted with small pox, he walked quick with short steps,

A couple of the men were living at the famous old Jolly Butchers in Ber Street, Norwich, when it was a rough and ready boarding house and when they scarpered their wives were forced to go and live in the Norwich Workhouse.

A detailed description of William Kinsley's clothes were also given.

Aged 44 he was a labourer working as a Cokeman at Eastern Counties Norwich Station. He deserted his wife and children and was said to be working in London. When he left he had on...a dark velveteen coat, dark corded waistcoat, plain dark beverteen trousers, dark dirty cloth cap, and Wellington boots.

His wife and two children were chargeable to the Hamlet of Pockthorpe.

Behind each name is a story. One of sadness and makes us think of what became of the women struggling to look after children when in the workhouse or being forced to seek help from the parish. Bad old days.

If you can help with any more information about these lists or names please get in touch at

With thanks to Brian Wild and Bill Smith.