Revealing the amazing tale of one of Norwich’s most famous families

They were one of Norwich's most famous families and theirs is a classic story of the average man made good.

And now, Dragon Hall on King Street, Norwich, will celebrate their legacy of medieval life left behind in a series of letters.

The affluent Paston family of the 15th and 16th centuries, who elevated from landholding peasantry to influential, English gentry, left behind a wealth of private and business correspondences that still survive today and provide a fascinating insight into medieval life and the often turbulent political landscape of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The family moved through the ranks of post-plague English society as a result of the increase in trade and an unstable King troubled by turbulent nobles. Clement Paston is the earliest known, a peasant who owned 40 hectares of land in the village of Paston, 19 miles North East of Norwich, and made sure his son William – born in 1378 – received a good education. William became a sought after expert in law, and married a nobleman's daughter.

William's son, John Paston, received a large inheritance and also excelled in law, and was held close by knights and nobleman.

From there, the Pastons became heavily influential and began trading in the emerging goods of the day, including spices, dyed cloth and glassware from Europe. John was in favour with King Edward IV, and himself rose to become a knight.

'The Pastons were very good at networking,' said Sarah Power, Dragon Hall's learning manager.Everyone wanted to know them, they were influential at the king's court and in their own county.

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'These families wrote extensively, to other members of the court and to each other. Their wealth meant power and they were loyal to the king, but there were arguments, they knew a lot of people. Some of the letters are very everyday, for example just wishing someone well, but others are incredibly important to our country's heritage.

'By looking at the family and their correspondences it brings that period and the city of Norwich alive.'

The Pastons founded the Paston School in North Walsham in 1606, now Paston Sixth Form College.

From Monday, November 14, Dragon Hall, which in 1430 was paid for and used as a place of work by Robert Toppes, a trader with the Pastons about whom the Hall's researchers are eager to learn more, will be holding a full week of events.

Among the events will be a look at the Paston letters, an evening of create-your-own poetry and printing and on the weekend of November 19, the Paston Heritage Society Re-enactment will include authentic medieval food, winter-warmer drinks and fifteenth century music.


Are you holding a historical event in Norwich? Email Joe Wilkes at or call 01603 772443.