The city of Norwich opened its gates to Geoffrey Lister’s rebels. This all happened during what is now known as the ‘Peasants’ Revolt’, a few days after the men of Essex and Kent had marched on London, and Wat Tyler had been killed.
The unrest affected much of southern England, and Norfolk and Suffolk were no exceptions. Geoffrey Lister, ‘king of the Commons’, was a successful businessman and property owner from Felmingham, near North Walsham. No peasant then, but a substantial character, as were many of the insurgents in 1381.
Most of them felt justice was on their side, and they were redressing the balance against over-mighty, corrupt royal officials and churchmen, particularly in the wake of the hated poll tax. Like so many, they misread the signals coming from the young king, Richard II, unaware savage retribution was at hand.
After seizing property rolls and records at ecclesiastical sites, such as Binham and Carrow, the rebels marched on Norwich. Lister seized Norwich Castle and imprisoned some of the gentry and judiciary.
It was the Bishop of Norwich, Henry Dispenser, who led the counter-attack. Lister and his rebels withdrew to the north. The bishop’s army caught up with them on the road to North Walsham, where they were defeated.
Lister was captured, and hanged, drawn and quartered on the spot. His quarters were sent to Norwich, Lynn, Yarmouth and his home village, Felmingham.
Bishop Henry put up three crosses to mark the battle site, one of which can be seen just off the Norwich Road.
On July 2, 1667, a desperate battle was fought on the Suffolk coast. Landguard Fort, south of Felixstowe, was attacked by the formidable forces of the Dutch Republic. Defending it was a detachment of marines, a then experimental branch of the English army who fought off a force four times their size.
Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter had his tail up. His fleet had just sailed unopposed to Chatham and burnt 13 English warships at anchor. On their way back from this victory, a 2,000-strong Dutch force landed at Woodbridge, and attacked the vital strongpoint at Landguard from the landward side.
The fort controlled access to the Harwich estuary. If it fell, the dutch fleet could rampage inland and add further injury to the English humiliation at Chatham. Landguard’s English garrison was commanded by Captain Nathaniel Darell. He had 100 gunners and 51 cannon, plus 400 men of the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment – the Marines.
The Dutch were beaten off following fierce fighting. The Marines had saved the remainder of the fleet, the port of Harwich as well as the towns and ports along the Orwell and Stour rivers.
King Edward VI died, aged just 15. A vicious succession battle soon began.The Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley, a seasoned soldier and the power behind the throne, engineered his teenage daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey onto the throne as queen. Jane was the young king’s cousin.
Mary Tudor, eldest daughter of King Henry VIII, stood in the way. She rallied her forces in East Anglia. At Framlingham Castle in Suffolk, she raised her banner – and the gentry of the eastern counties rallied to her cause. At Great Yarmouth the royal fleet mutinied and defected to Mary. From Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, Tudor loyalist Sir Henry Bedingfeld brought 140 armed cavalry to defend the woman they regarded as the true queen. Mary’s forces grew by the day.
Northumberland marched to confront them, but his army deserted. Courtiers flocked to Framlingham to confirm Mary as queen. Jane abdicated after a reign of just nine days, and Mary rode in triumph to London.
During her five-year reign she attempted to restore England to the Catholic faith. Had she lived longer, and produced an heir to her throne, our history could have been much different.
A crowd of up to 20,000 boxing fans gathered near North Walsham. They were there to see Norfolk fighter Ned Painter box an opponent named Oliver on a specially built platform. Bare knuckle boxing was in its golden age, and was adored by fans of both high and low status.
According to a report in the Norfolk Annals: “A staging about 100 yards in length was erected for the accommodation of spectators, for whom, also sixty waggons were formed in a circle round the outer ring; £50 was collected at the gate, and the sums charged for admission to the seats on the staging produced £80. The greatest order prevailed among the 20,000 persons.”
Punters had come from London, and lost heavily as Painter won in 12 rounds.
“His colours (yellow) were hoisted upon a waggon, and he was everywhere greeted with loud cheering.”
The Norwich man subsequently announced his retirement during a special dinner held at North Walsham. The writer George Borrow later immortalised this fight in his book Lavengro.
You can read all about bare knuckle boxing in East Anglia during the early 19th century in my book A Moment in Time.
The summer of 1816 was a disaster. According to the Norfolk Annals, on July 18, “after a week’s continuous rain, which greatly impeded the hay harvest, a severe thunderstorm occurred”. Crops were beaten down, acres of turnips were washed away and in several villages the lanes were full of water.
This went on not just in Norfolk, but throughout much of the country, for months. It was later known as the ‘year with no summer’. In fact, bad weather was a worldwide thing that year, with effects felt as far away as North America.
Experts now believe it was all due to a massive volcanic explosion in Indonesia. In April, 1815, Mount Tambora erupted. This 13,000ft tall mountain on the island of Sumbawa, blew its top in what is reckoned to be the greatest volcanic event in 1,600 years.
Vast amounts of volcanic dust had gone into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, effectively blotting out the sun. The world’s climate was disrupted for years to come. It devastated harvests, leading to near starvation for some, as well as social and political unrest.