The story behind Norwich’s man of mystery

Derek James takes a look at a fascinating new book about the people remembered in the city's blue plaques

He is a man of mystery who stars in a new book - a highly talented sculptor who arrived in Norwich from Italy where he made his mark and raised a family before disappearing.

And he ended up living in a workhouse where he died in poverty.

His name was Pellegrino Mazzotti.

Former city sheriff, author and historian Nick Williams has written a fascinating new book all about the blue plaques of Norwich telling the extraordinary stories behind the men and women and the places they honour and remember.

'One of the most interesting people featured in Pellegrino Mazzotti. So many questions remain about his life,' said Nick.

Born in around 1795 in Tuscany he exhibited with the Norwich Society of Artists in the 1820s making many excellent busts of well known people.

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The Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service has five of his busts - John Crome, Lord Nelson, William Shakespeare. Henry Bathurst, Bishop of Norwich and John Wesley.

It is not clear why he came to Norwich but it February 1822 he married Mary Leeds at St John Maddermarket.

It appears he took a studio beside the former catholic chapel (now the Maddermarket Theatre) behind Strangers' Hall and later at Goat Lane. The plaque remembering him is on the wall outside Strangers' Hall.

He then disappeared for a good ten years. His wife and three daughters, Maria, Caroline and Rosina, can be found in the 1841 census living in Lower Goat Lane.

By 1850 he was known as Pilgrim Mazzotti and he was living and working in Cambridge. There are various references to his work and his name is on a bust of Nelson made at Wisbech in 1854.

That was where he lived, using various first names, until he died in the workhouse in 1879.

'Why did he never return to Norwich (his wife died here in 1861)? Why are there several versions of his first name? And why did he come to Norwich in the first place?' asks Nick.

One thing is certain - he left us his work to admire.

So does else did Nick really love researching and writing about in this brilliant book produced by Norwich HEART the organisation dedicated to promoting the history of our great city?

Herbert Rumsey Wells (1877-1937) beside the entrance to Rumsey Wells Place, St Andrew's Street.

Colourful Rumsey was one of the most flamboyant characters ever to walk the streets of Norwich - he told everyone he was the most famous capmaker in the world... and he was.

'He is someone who is still remembered for his approach to selling caps and whose sense of showmanship was like that of a circus proprietor. I can still remember walking past the shop in St Andrews although at that time he was long dead,' said Nick.

'Writing this book really was a labour of love and I hope anybody who buys it enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it,' added Nick, who does part-time voluntary work for HEART.

The Blue Plaques of Norwich. A Guide to the 39 Plaques Around the City of Norwich is published by Norwich HEART and is in the shops now at �5.95. You can also get a copy by calling HEART on Norwich (01603) 305575.