Quest for Bishop’s burial site

Derek James tells the story of how the Evening News helped solve a mystery.

This is the story of former Tower of London prisoner, the 'delinquent' Bishop Joseph Hall and of one man's 12-month quest to find his 'lost' burial site at Norwich Cathedral.

And later this month historian and author David Berwick will be telling the fascinating story of the troubled life and times of Joseph Hall, a truly brilliant man and Bishop of Norwich from 1641 to 1656.

It was a story which finally came together thanks to the Evening News. Our pictures, of what was described as a unique re-interred ceremony at the cathedral in 1975, were the final pieces of the jigsaw.

'The 12-month investigation was finally over. It was a joyous and emotional moment,' said David, a 66-year-old retired print executive who lives in the city.

So who was Joseph Hall?

He was born on Monday, July 1 1574 in Leicestershire. He left home aged 15 having obtained a place at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Elected a Fellow in 1595 in the course of eight years he excelled as a brilliant scholar.

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Joseph was ordained into the Priesthood in 1600 at Colchester and appointed Rector of Hawstead in Suffolk – it proved a testing time for the high-flying academic as some of the congregation were not too keen on him.

He married Elizabeth Bambridge in 1603 and they had six children – four boys and two girls. His youngest son Edward died in 1642, aged 23, and there is a brass plaque raised by his grieving parents dedicated to his memory just before the high altar in Norwich Cathedral.

In 1612 he moved to Waltham Abbey Holy Cross as Curate. He had a good relationship with King James I and worked across the country and abroad.

His fine Latin addresses were always advocating peaceful tolerance between churches in dispute.

He also shared common interests with King Charles I who he had known since he was a young prince.

By now Joseph was climbing the ladder. He became Dean of Gloucester and then, in 1627, was installed as Bishop of Exeter. Trouble was, the powerful church leaders considered him too minded towards Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud even sent spies to watch Joseph in action.

In November 1641 he agreed to become Bishop of Norwich. It was thought he would be the ideal man to calm what had been troubled waters in the city.

Joseph and his family didn't reach Norwich until Whitsuntide 1642 as he was locked up in the Tower of London on trumped-up charges of treason for almost six months.

These were times of great unrest. Joseph had enemies in high places and from 1642 onwards he was cruelly mistreated by elements within the church and Parliament who named him as 'a delinquent' and sequestrated just about all his lands and personal goods.

At one stage he was forced to humiliate himself before local investigators by begging that he and his wife were allowed to retain the clothes they were actually wearing that day.

All the family possessions were confiscated and publicly auctioned. His income of �4,500 a year was cut to �400 and then completely taken away.

When a distraught Joseph asked how he was going to provide for his family he was told: 'go and eat your books.'

Over-zealous Parliamentarians did much damage to the fabric of Norwich Cathedral during 1643. Their wanton vandalism can still be seen today.

Eventually the poor bishop and his family were evicted from the Bishop's Palace. He 'retired' to the parish and Hamlet of Heigham were he assisted at St Bartholomew's and lived in the house which became The Dolphin Inn – this was his palace and Old Palace Road is named after this building.

Joseph loved this part of the city and, although ill in his latter years, he was often seen making his painful way around the parish delivering monies to poor widows and others in need.

He died in 1656 and his body was laid to rest in a vault at St Bartholomew's.

In 1975 there were plans to redevelop the graveyard so his remains, more than 300 years after his death, were re-buried in the Cloister Garth at the cathedral.

The unique service was conducted in a 'quiet sunny corner' by the then Bishop, the Rt Rev Maurice Wood. Although he had done much to honour the memory of this great man, no-one David Berwick spoke to knew the exact whereabouts of his remains.

After a long search he turned to the Archant archives. Had we covered the unique service? Yes, we had. Did we have photographs of the event pinpointing where the burial took place? Yes, we did.

It was an emotional moment for the author who had spent so much time researching the life and times of this remarkable man.

'Bishop Hall said on many occasions that he did not particularly hold with burials inside churches. In his will he asked for this to be honoured. It wasn't.

'However, we now have the great comfort of knowing that the remains of this fine and honourable man are now not only reunited with his last cathedral, but they are also resting in a wonderful and holy open space. We also know precisely last!' added David.

If you would like to know more about the extraordinary Bishop Joseph Hall head for the cathedral on Tuesday, May 17 at 1pm. David Berwick will be giving an illustrated talk about his life and times in the Cathedral Library. The talk is free but donations for library funds would be gratefully received. If you would like to go please contact the library staff in advance on 01603 218443 or