The Norwich Plague of 1666: Anne Beckett's Last Wishes

Having just organised a series of events looking at the plague, medieval diagnosis, medicine, and doctors and nurses, I had to post the following transcript from a probate entry I found this morning while putting together displays for the 'In Sickness and In Health' series.

I had hoped to find a will belonging to a plague victim based on a list of burials at St Peter Mancroft church, Norwich. As it happened, browsing through 1666 probate for anyone noted as being of 'St Peter Mancroft' I struck gold virtually straight away. Ann(e) Beckett was buried at St Peter Mancroft church on 07 July 1666 (register online here: Comparing the burials July/August 1665 to those a year later is staggering.

Anne's probate brings her story to life in a way I never quite expected, as it turns out her last wishes were expressed while she was effectively on her death bed:


Memorandum That on or about Friday the Seaventh of July in the

year of our Lord One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty & Six Anne Beckett late of

the Parish of St Peters of Mancroft within the City of Norwich Singlewoman being

sick of the sickness whereof she dyed with a mind to dispose of her Estate being

of p[er]fect mind and Memory did dispose of her Estate as followeth viz:- I give and

bequeath unto Jane Hawes the wife of John Hawes of the City of Norwich

Butcher all that I have desiring her to provide a Coffin for me and did cast the

Keys out of a Window to her and bid her to be take the Keys of what she had for

that she had was hers after her Death or words to that effect In witness

whereof we whose names are here undersubscribed have set to our Markes the

one and Thirtieth Day of July in the year of our Lord 1666.


Somehow, just a few lines bring to mind a woman desperate to be buried decently at a time when several funerals a day were being performed at most city churches. A woman unwilling (or unable) to let friends into her house for fear of infection - preferring to cast the keys into the street from her window - and a woman certain of her own imminent demise from the plague (the church register confirms hers as a plague death). Incredibly, if the date given in the probate entry is correct, then she was buried the same day as her last wishes were expressed. I wonder if she ever got her coffin?

I think wills are fabulous sources for local and family history, and this example just strengthens that opinion.

If you'd like to find it yourself, the Norfolk Record Office catalogue reference is: NCC Stockdell 281. It's on MF/RO 237/7 at either Norfolk Record Office or Norfolk Heritage Centre.

All Norfolk wills are name indexed at - spanning 1276 to 1858 when the court system changed from ecclesiastical to civil. The main courts are the Norwich Consistory Court (Bishop's Court), Archdeaconry Court of Norwich and Archdeaconry Court of Norfolk. There are also some peculiars, which are also name indexed. If you can't find the will in Norfolk courts, make sure you check in case the person you're looking for had their will proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. If you find one proved in Norfolk between 1800 and 1858, you can even view it online for free at 

If you'd like to see the items on display for 'In Sickness and In Health' you can visit the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library between this evening (27 September) and 13 October. There are also talks during the series, details here: The two on the plague are already fully booked, but those by Dr Joy Hawkins and myself still have a few spaces.

Go #explorearchives! 

Thoughts on...Moving House

It's supposed to be one of the most stressful things you can do, but at least as someone with an interest in local history, moving house gives you a new avenue of research.

I regularly speak to people who are checking up on a potential new purchase (chalk workings around the Norwich area are a particular favourite) and might soon be back in this position myself.

When you buy a new property, you get environmental searches done, which generally point out any possible contaminated land, flood risk, radon levels etc. What these don't necessarily tell you is the historical detail; but there are ways for you to make your own investigations to find out more about the history of your plot...

Take for instance a site nearby identified as an old industrial working. The search report might not tell you what it was beyond a general description, nor when it was operating, who operated it or for how long. A visit to a local studies library or record office to view various editions of local OS maps and trade directories would be a great start to get a more accurate description to add to an overall history of your home and the land that it sits on.

As for flooding, you may find the following page useful, which currently has Surface Water Management Plans for Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn: as well as links to other pages. For historical flooding events you know of, you may wish to consult minutes of various organisations as well as old newspapers. 

If you're interested in street names, if no one locally can provide you with an 'answer' as to why a street is called by a particular name, then go looking for published sources. In Norfolk for instance, we have a whole index of mini descriptions of streets as well as several printed volumes, although it must be said these are particularly comprehensive for Norwich, and inside the city walls. Planning Committee minutes may also be worth a try and detective work of your own can also be fruitful. For example, on investigating Trory Street I searched the NRO catalogue to find a particularly influential Trory in that area, who it appears, owned the land before it was developed. Mayors, politicians, reformers and otherwise well known individuals are also often commemorated in this way, so Le Strange's Lists may be a handy text for inspiration.

You might also like to find out roughly when your home was built as this will come in useful, particularly when you come to apply for home insurance. There are many records which may be useful for this, not least the deeds if you have sight of them, and the source that gets you closest to the build date will vary a little depending on the approximate age of your home. Maps are an obvious place to start, particularly if your home has been built since the first edition OS maps of the 1880s. Before this date you still usually have access to tithe/enclosure maps and in Norfolk Faden and Bryant will also be useful as earlier reference points.

You may also find the census useful, if your house was built before 1911 and was described well enough to identify the right building - you will usually find you need to cross reference with other sources. In the city, trade directories may show lists of residents on the street, or when the street appears. Also in the city, you may find a reference in the City Engineers building control plans which arrived following the Public Health Act of 1875 (try NROCAT using 'N/EN' in the CatRef field and the name of your street etc. You'll also find land tax (c1782 onwards), electoral records (1832 onwards) and poll books/hearth tax handy. Visit your local record office or local studies library for more details.

Even if your house is a new build, you'll find that often the land it sits on has a tale to tell. For my current home, I ended up researching the farm the land once belonged to instead!

Norwich Bomb Damage

Recently, I've had a lot of queries about bomb damage in Norwich, so I thought it might be worth a quick post to point out some of the first ports of call if you're looking for resources.

From home, you already have access to some fantastic free online resources, some of which are:

  • Norfolk's Historic Map Explorer, which includes a 1946 aerial photograph layer ( Granted this is a little after the war, but 'gaps' can give you clues as to the level of damage in a particular area, and this is a County wide layer, giving more than just central Norwich coverage.
  • Picture Norfolk, which includes hundreds of photographs of bomb damage, many by George Swain (, also on twitter @PictureNorfolk)
  • East Anglian Film Archive, including all sorts of digitised footage, for example 'Captain Rowsell's Norwich' in 1945 (
  • Interviews with those that remember the bombing in the Norfolk Sound Archive. Search 'bomb damage' on NROCAT ( and you'll be able to listen online in some cases. In others, you can use the equipment off the NRO searchroom.
  • Some trade directories are available at or which might give an insight into which street numbers were unoccupied after the war (although coverage is patchy during). Personally I still prefer taking a volume off the shelf because it's the easiest way to navigate them.


  • Maps are a great resource for this type of research. One of my favourite items at the Norfolk Heritage Centre is 'Wally's Map', drawn by Wally as a 14 year old boy in 1942, cycling around Norwich and marking the damage from the Baedeker Raids. The same map is reproduced at the Bridewell Museum. To order the map up from the store, just ask at the desk and take along your Norfolk library or CARN card.
  • A 1944 bomb damage map is also available at Norfolk Heritage Centre.
  • Norfolk Record Office have electronic access to another bomb map in their searchroom, of a slightly more official variety.
  • Ordnance survey maps are available in large numbers across many editions at the Heritage Centre, too. A key is on open access for 6" and 25" maps up until OS went metric, starting in 1969, after which you need a key from behind the desk to order up your areas of interest.
  • Scrapbooks, diaries, books, ephemera and newspapers (sometimes less information than you might think during WWII) are all available at the Norfolk Heritage Centre. Search the library catalogue for details at
  • Various committee minutes at the Norfolk Record Office, use NROCAT or finding aids in the searchroom (N/EN 1 is a good place to start, also N/TC 28).

Collections at both NHC and NRO occur twice an hour. You just need a CARN card, which works in many other archives across the Country.

Happy researching!


Summer Time!

Hi everyone,

Having now got my final project out of the way, it's finally the summer, and aren't we having a great one so far?

Just the dissertation to go now before my MSc is completed, and until then I'll be trying to blog more often. Hopefully I can bring you new sources, interesting finds and thoughts of a local and genealogical nature.

For now, I'll just say that I have a few talks coming up this summer, including one on Assisted Emigration from Norfolk in 1836/7 at Norfolk Record Office, and another about my illegitimacy case study based around Shipdham 1785-1834 at Norfolk Heritage Centre. I'll tweet details nearer the time, and both locations will advertise their full programmes on their websites ( and

Happy researching!