BALH – The Local Historian – Review – The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey Volume VII 1614–1622

The British Association for Local History recently published a review of THE PAPERS OF NATHANIEL BACON OF STIFFKEY Vol. 7 1614-1622 edited by Barry Taylor and G. Alan Metters in The Local Historian (Journal of the British Association For Local History), Volume 54, No. 1 (February 2024).

Dr Heather Falvey is the Reviews Editor of The Local Historian, and has given us permission to reprint that review on our website.

Completing the series of Nathaniel Bacon’s edited papers, the first volume of which was published in 1979, volume 7 covers the last years of Bacon’s life. The format of the published papers varies depending on their type: some, mostly personal correspondence, have been transcribed in full; others in summary; some are calendar entries; and some brief entries (court rolls, account books, sets of parish accounts, etc). Various papers relate to family matters, in particular Bacon’s will (no.21, written in 1614), wherein he recognised that a bitter dispute would ensue after his death regarding the distribution of his landed property. Indeed, many of the papers relate to the management of his extensive estates, including bailiffs’ accounts (e.g. no.181, for Eccles, Hemsby, Langham, Morston and Stiffkey). Some rents were being paid in kind, namely hens and capons, for certain lands in the latter three places (nos.88, 89 and 186).

Despite close connections through his extended family with leading figures at Court, including Sir Thomas Gresham and Robert Cecil, Bacon remained essentially a county figure. His time as an MP was covered in the earlier volumes (knight of the shire for Norfolk in 1584, 1593 and 1604; burgess for King’s Lynn in 1597). Having been appointed to the commission of the peace for Norfolk in 1574, he continued in that role, and on many other commissions for the county, until his death in 1622. Accordingly, some of the papers record matters of national importance, such as defence; for example, the siting of a warning beacon at Hunstanton where recently ‘Dunkirkers’ had planned to go ashore and take prisoner ‘some persons of good worth’ (no.64).

But, as in the previous volumes, a large proportion of the documents relate to Bacon’s role as an active justice of the peace, providing many details of the work of justices both together in sessions and individually at home. Among the former are records regarding poor relief, such as no.17, giving the names of overseers and churchwardens and value of stock in hand for the poor in their parishes and no.18, summarising poor relief accounts from 10 parishes, giving (in the originals at Norfolk Record Office) names of ratepayers and monthly payments. On his own, or acting with another justice, Bacon dealt with at least twenty cases regarding bastardy and paternity, such as that of Alice Robinson and Stephen Taylore of Corpusty (no.73). As well as Taylore being ordered to pay Robinson 12d per week to bring up the child, the constables of Corpusty were ordered to whip both parents ‘upon their bare showlders in the open streetes’ of that town.

Criminal activities were usually dealt with at sessions or assizes (depending on the severity of the crime) and justices might commit offenders to gaol to ensure their subsequent appearance. On 14 January 1620/21, Bacon received a letter from John Fountaine, gent, asking him to bail the sons of Mr Wilde, who had been apprehended on suspicion of stealing six sheep, because if held in gaol they would ‘receive much hurte by lyinge in a place soe dangerous for boddie and soule’ (no.282). Bacon, however, preferred to disregard this request, writing the same day to the gaoler at Norwich Castle commanding him to take custody of Richard and Stephen Wilde from the constables of Thimblethorpe and Sparham, until they were delivered from there ‘by due course of lawe’(no.283). Justices were also responsible for licensing alehouse-keepers and punishing those who ran unlicensed premises, such as John Adkins of Brinton, who had purchased five barrels of beer from Mr Thomas Jenner of Blakeney, at 7s 6d per barrel, and proceeded to sell beer both ‘within the house & out of doores’ to townsmen and ‘strangers’ (no.286).

The various editors of these volumes have sought to reassemble Bacon’s fascinating and informative archive, which is scattered over at least twelve repositories on three continents. They suspect that up to 30 per cent of that archive remains untraced; nevertheless, this series is a huge achievement.