Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Norwich - Pettus Family Roots #1

While in London for my first visit with Kathy, I had toyed with the idea of traveling north to Norfolk and the City of Norwich. The reason was that my mother, whose mother's maiden name was Pettus, had traced her own Pettus ancestors back thirteen generations to a Thomas Petyous. Originally from London, he had been "admitted to the freedom of the city" in Norwich in 1491. However, we instead ended up heading west to Wales, Kathy's ancestral homeland, for a weekend of hiking.

The call of the Pettus ancestors proved to be too strong to resist the second time around. Passing up a chance to visit Lord's Cricket Ground with Kathy and her students, I took the tube to Liverpool Street Station and caught a train to Norwich. Upon arriving at Norwich Station, pictured below, I went to the railway office to fill out a "delay/repay" form. Because of a delay of more than thirty minutes due to a mechanical problem along the way, I was entitled to receive a partial refund of my ticket price. Not sure what I will do if a check in British pounds arrives in the mail back home!

My guidebook for my "roots" trip was Mom's account of her visit with her cousin Betty Calvert to Norwich and the nearby countryside in February of 1993 to view various sites related to the Pettus family. They had spent three nights in Norwich. In the medieval city itself, they had seen the Pettus House, the nearby Church of St. Simon and St. Jude with its memorials to various Pettus family members, and Blackfriars' Hall with its portrait of Sir John Pettus (4) as Mayor of Norwich in 1608. Using Norwich as a base, they had also visited the nearby towns of Rackheath to the north, close to the Pettus country estate, Rackheath Hall, and All Saints Church, also known as Rackheath Church, with its memorials to family members, and Caister St. Edmund to the south, the location of Old Hall, another home built by the Pettus family. Except within the City of Norwich itself, Mom and Betty had traveled by car. I would be relying upon my feet and whatever public transportation I could find.

Note: The number in parentheses following a name indicates the number of the generation, starting with Thomas Petyous, the first known Pettus, as the first generation. For example, the reference to Sir John Pettus (4) above indicates that, as a great-grandson of Thomas Petyous, he is a member of the fourth generation.

While in the station office, I asked for directions to Elm Hill, my first destination. The clerk responded that she could easily direct me there, because her mother and aunt had once lived on that street. She also commented that I must be interested in seeing cobblestone streets. I replied that, actually, I was looking for a particular house on Elm Hill - the home in which my Pettus forebears had lived. That seemed to catch her by surprise. Imagine my surprise when she informed me that the small apartments in which her mother and aunt had resided were originally part of the Pettus House. She knew exactly where I wanted to go.

As I left the station, the busy street on my right was Thorpe Road. I followed it to the west and crossed the River Wensum. The photo below was taken from the bridge, looking back at the station.

As with most streets in Norwich, Thorpe Road soon changed names, and became Prince of Wales Road as it crossed the river and started up a hill. At the busy intersection near the top of the hill, I followed Bank Plain as it angled off to the right. Then, after a few short blocks, I veered off to the right again onto narrow (and short) Redwell Street and headed downhill. As Redwell reached Princes Street, it jogged to the right at the Elm Hill Brasserie (a french restaurant) and became Elm Hill.
On the right is the church (St. Peter Hungate, with a tower built of black flints in 1431) at that intersection, and the first street sign declaring my destination. As I headed downhill on cobbled Elm Hill, I passed the east end of St. Andrew's Hall on my left (just past the pedestrian in the photo). At the white building towards the bottom of this hill, Elm Hill bends to the right.

Note: Left click on any photo to enlarge.

Shortly after it turns to the right, Elm Hill opens up into a small public area that once was the site of one of its namesake trees and still contains an old pump where an open well was originally situated.

Right: To the right of the pump is the quaintly-named Waggon & Horses Lane, running parallel to Elm Hill. It has been reported that at least some of the homes fronting on Elm Hill once extended all the way to this narrow lane. Perhaps a rear entrance or barn on this side of those Elm Hill properties gave this lane its name.

Below: As I headed to the left of the pump and down picturesque Elm Hill, I unknowingly caught my first glimpse of what remains of the Pettus home, the two cream-colored buildings on the right.

The two buildings now serve as an antique shop.

The historical marker for the Pettus House, and the entrance to Wright's Court just to the left of the House.

I walked through the portal into the yard known as Wright's Court, which is believed to have been the courtyard of the original Pettus House. Looking up to the second floor, the older, large windows, quite appropriate for the working place of a tailor or weaver, can be seen. In Norfolk Families by Walter Rye, published in 1913, both Thomas Petyous and his son, John Pethouse (2), are described as tailors. It has also been said that the Pettus family were Mercers (traders in fine fabrics), and that the family occupied a preeminent position in the clothing trade in Norwich.

As I entered the courtyard and looked to my left (east), I spotted what remains of the tower of the Church of St. Simon and St. Jude, which contains some impressive monuments to the Pettus family.

Looking back (north) through the entrance to Wright's Court and towards Elm Hill. Originally, the front of the Pettus House extended all of the way to the church.

The buildings across Elm Hill from the Pettus House back onto River Wensum. I walked across Elm Hill and through the entrance to a park-like courtyard with buildings on three sides and the river on the fourth. There is a boat dock nearby, and it appears that you could take a boat from here to another dock near the rail station.

After a brief view of the river, I returned to Elm Street in order to continue on to St. Simon and St. Jude. On the left is the building that now stands between the current Pettus House and the church, and which covers an area that was originally part of the family home.

As I approached the bottom of Elm Hill, where it dead ends into Wensum Street, the church was on my right. I turned right onto Wensum, walked past the east end of the chancel with its large window, and took the photograph below of the south and east sides of the church.

Upon returning to the corner of Elm Hill and Wensum, I once again viewed the north side of the church's chancel and nave, as pictured below.

The entrance to the church is through this door on Elm Hill near the west end of the building. I proceeded through the iron gate and, because it appeared that some lights inside the church were on, rang the doorbell and knocked (actually, pounded) on the large wooden door, hoping to gain access and a chance to view the Pettus memorials inside. Although I had convinced myself that I could hear faint traces of music from inside and above, there was no answer. After about five minutes, I retreated back to the street to take even more photographs. As I was close to departing, the door opened and ....... No, before I continue, I should first review some of the interesting history of the church, so please be patient. I promise that it will be worth the wait!

Most of my information about the Church of St. Simon and St. Jude comes from the website of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust (the "Trust"), in whose care the church now rests, and The Norfolk Churches Site (the "NCS"), a website run by a man from Ipswich by the name of Simon Knott. In addition, Mom's journal of her 1993 trip to Norwich with Betty, their research notes and copies of pages from miscellaneous publications (many unidentified) collected by them during that trip, and the Pettus genealogy chart prepared by Mom in 1979 provided information not only about the church but also about other sites in the area and the Pettus family.

It is believed that St. Simon and St. Jude is located on the site of an earlier church, one that predates the Norman Conquest of 1066. According to the Trust, the architectural style of the chancel reflects that of the early 14th century, while that of the nave suggests that this part of the church was constructed in the late 14th or early 15th century.

The church is located within a few blocks not only of Norwich Cathedral, but also of five other churches. So it is not surprising that it was declared redundant in 1892. According to the Trust's website:

In 1892 worship ceased and the building fell into ruin. In 1911 the tower partially collapsed. In 1913 it was renovated for use as a Sunday School, but after the Great War decay again set in until in the 1920s demolition was proposed. This was successfully contested by the Norwich Society... In 1952, it was leased by the Church to the Boy Scouts Association for use as a shop. The Association's need for additional space and some smaller rooms led to the modern insertions. Some of these would almost certainly not be permitted today, but at that time they enabled the building to be used – and saved.
The so-called "modern insertions" were quite drastic. A concrete floor was installed, dividing the full length of the nave into two stories, effectively cutting the tall windows into two, and various stairways and partitions were added. The chancel is now separated from the nave by a wall, with only a small door permitting access between the two on the lower level.

The NCS is more brutal in its assessment, referring to "this poor, battered little church." It does note the importance of the church to conservation efforts in Norwich, stating that it was the church's

...projected demolition in the 1920s that galvanised the Norwich Society into action. After a fierce battle against the City Council, they saved St Simon and St Jude along with the rest of Elm Hill. After the war, their reputation made them a powerful voice against the lunatic policies of Norwich planning officer Herbert Rowley and his attempts to turn the centre of the city into some kind of soviet-inspired industrial zone.
The NCS website has some wonderful photographs of the church taken by George Plunkett in 1938. These show how the abandoned, ivy-covered church was falling into ruin. They also quite remarkably show the interior of this medieval church prior to the "brutal modernisation [that] carved up the interior in the most unsympathetic way," as described above. The photos show how the two Pettus memorials were impressively mounted at the front of the nave, on either side of the narrower, arched entry to the chancel. Click on this link to the NCS website to view the page on St. Simon and St. Jude Church. And here is the link to the Trust's website.

The church was still being used by the Norwich Boy Scouts, with the upper floor serving as the location for the organization's "Outdoor Centre" equipment shop, when Mom and Betty visited in 1993. The scouts departed in 1997, after using the building for 45 years, and the church was vacant when Mr. Knott toured it in late 2005.

The more recently updated account on the Trust's website notes that, following the departure of the scouts, the "Trust has carried out repairs to roofs, flint work, stonework, glazing and gutter. Repairs are now been undertaken inside the church prior to it being occupied by The Anglia Academy of Dance." It goes on to state: "The historically important Pettus family memorial ... has been restored as part of a £70,000 project funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund and other bodies including the Leche and Francis Coales Trust. The restoration was completed early in 2008." Note the fortunate timing of my visit with relation to the restoration.

We now return to my exciting adventures.

..... the door opened and I was greeted by Mark Hudson, who is associated with the Anglia Academy of Dance and Drama. Note the giant skeleton key used by Mark to lock and unlock the door. He apologized for the fact that he had been upstairs on the telephone, and thus could not respond sooner to my rings and knocks. He also explained that it was unusual for someone to be in the church at that time of day, and that he was leaving soon. However, he kindly offered to show me the lower level with the Pettus memorials. More fortunate timing!

While knocking on the door, I had been berating myself for failing to bring with me from London my hiking kit with its small flashlight. From Mom's description of being "taken down the steps to the first floor" and the unlocking of wooden doors "built to protect the Pettus crypts," I had mistakenly concluded that the memorials were underground in a catacomb-type setting. Actually, the wooden doors did not lead to some underground passage, but instead were part of cabinets built around the memorials. These cabinets had since been removed, probably as part of the recent restoration project mentioned above. And the reason for going "down the steps" was that Mom had started her tour at the boy scouts store on the second floor, the level created by the "modern insertion" or "brutal modernisation" - the addition of a raised concrete floor. So what is now the lower level is simply the floor of the original church.

As I entered what had been the nave of the church, I was in a well-lit room (no need for a flashlight). Facing me were the two Pettus memorials, standing on either side of the now-blocked arched passage to the church chancel. These are described on the Trust's website as follows:

But now for the surprise and the church's greatest treasures. At the far end of the large room ... are the Pettus family monuments. The family lived in Elm Hill and then at Rackheath in the 16th and 17th centuries. To the right of the blocked chancel arch are Thomas Pettus (Mayor 1590, died 1597) and his wife, kneeling at a prayer desk, their boys to one side and their girls to the other. North of the arch is Sir John Pettus (Mayor 1608, died 1614), reclining uncomfortably on one elbow, in full armour with gauntlet in hand. Above him are his two sons and four daughters. Higher still are his son, Sir Augustus Pettus, (died 1613) and his wife Abigail. The upper monument extends above the inserted floor.

The Thomas Pettus (3) memorial.

The two inscriptions on the lower part of that memorial.

The Sir John Pettus (4) monument, which is described by Knott as follows:
To the north of the arch is the recumbent figure of Sir John Pettus, his son, mayor in 1608. He looks really uncomfortable, not least because he has his children pressing down on him, among them in the recessed arch above Sir Augustine, his son, with wife Abigail.... To the north of them is an older tomb recess, now filled in.
Two inscriptions on the north wall adjacent to Sir John's monument.

When enlarged (remember, left click), the plaque above is easily read. However, it appears that the smaller one (here to the right, but mounted directly above the larger one on the north wall) is written in Latin.

Passing through the door in the wall which otherwise blocks the arched passage, I came to the chancel, with its large east-facing window. Probably because of being less tall than the nave, this section of the church escaped the insertion of a raised concrete floor for a second level. It appears to be used for storage. As seen on the north wall, there is still at least one memorial preserved here. A list of the monuments in this church to "many other Norwich worthies, who were part of this church and community" can be found at this link to the Memorials page of the Trust's website.

Sir John Pettus (4) was the eldest of the four sons (there were also four daughters) of Thomas Pettus (3). The second son was Thomas Pettus (4), who was born in 1552 and died in 1620. This Thomas Pettus (4) served as Sheriff in 1601 and as Mayor of Norwich in 1614. He and his wife, Cecily, are both buried in St. Simon and St. Jude. They had seventeen children, all of whom were baptized in this church. According to Mom's family genealogy chart, it is the twelfth child of Thomas and Cecily, Colonel Thomas Pettus (5), born in 1598, who came to Jamestown, Virginia, in about 1637, and who is our direct ascendant and American link to the Pettus family of Norwich.

Henry John mimics Sir John, minus the armor, gauntlet, and wealth. Sir John Pettus (4) was the first member of the family to gain this rank, having been knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. The portrait of him as Mayor, in his red robes, hangs in Blackfriars' Hall. To see the portrait, as well as additional information about the monument and family, click this link to the "Monumental Norwich Characters" page of the Trust's website. However, despite the statement there, it was not Sir John Pettus (4) who purchased what became the family estate outside Norwich, at Rackheath. Rather, it was his father, Thomas Pettus (3), who made the purchase in 1591. My attempt to visit Rackheath Hall will be covered in the post for tomorrow.

After departing the church, I headed back up Elm Hill the short distance to the Pettus House and the Tea House coffee shop next door in Wright's Court. I had been waiting for the 3 o'clock kick-off to "happy hour" before grabbing something to eat for lunch, so I was quite hungry. The coffee and cake special was pretty good, and a large bowl of soup really hit the spot. Shown below are the Tea House and its friendly proprietor. By coincidence, it appears that this structure previously housed the small rooms or apartments once occupied by the rail station office clerk's mother and aunt.

The entrance to Wright's Court and the Pettus House as dusk approaches.

After the very late lunch, I decided to walk the few blocks to Norwich Cathedral. Its construction commenced in 1096. According to the brochure "Norwich 12" published by Norwich HEART (Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust), most of the cathedral's "Norman architecture is still intact and it forms one of the finest examples of the Romanesque style in Europe." It was constructed of flint and mortar and faced with Caen limestone transported from Normandy.

I entered the cathedral grounds from Tombland (the area and street to the west of the grounds, and also the site of an Anglo-Saxon market place) through Erpingham Gate. This arched entry gate is shown above, with the cathedral's tower and spire in the background.

The West Door to the cathedral, with the visitor's entrance on the left.

The nave with its vaulted roof, and a bishop's tomb in the presbytery of the cathedral. With several few minutes to spare before the start of the Evensong service, I exited the cathedral proper and made a quick round of the cathedral cloister. The photo below was taken through one of the arched openings onto the cloister. The spire is the second tallest in England.

The Evensong service included performances of Walmisley in D minor and Philip Radcliffe's Fecisti nos. The performance by the Cathedral Choir, consisting of boys, girls, and men, was very nice. However, I guess it would be unfair to compare it to that by the all-male King's College Choir which overwhelmed Kathy and me during our visit to Cambridge (see post for November 20).

A strange coincidence: The composer Thomas Attwood Walmisley (1814-1856) is buried in London's Brompton Cemetery (see post for December 2).

Left: The choir performs.

Right: I stayed for the organ voluntary after the service.

Leaving the Cathedral and its Close, I couldn't resist passing by Elm Hill once more. The lights were on in the Church of St. Simon and St. Jude, and I could see Mark Hudson (striped shirt barely visible in top right window) practicing, or perhaps teaching, a dance of some kind.

The Pettus House and the rest of Elm Hill were quite beautiful, and much less crowded, after dark.

On my way to find the library and an internet connection, I passed by St. Andrew's Hall. It is the centerpiece of The Halls, which also includes Blackfriars' Hall, the location of the portrait of Sir John Pettus (4) as Mayor.

The City Hall (built 1936-1938), in the center, and its predecessor on the right, the Guildhall (built 1407-1424), were festively lit.

The striking Forum, a landmark millenium project, houses the Norfolk and Norwich Millenium Library. It took me only a few minutes to obtain a free library pass and access to one of their many computers. I used it to catch up on my emails. I noted that the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library, where Mom and Betty did some of their research on Rackheath Hall, occupies a room in the library.

Since it was already early evening and I did not yet have lodging for the night, I had telephoned Kathy on my walk to the library to obtain her assistance, and to ask her to check for an available room. I now called her back, and received directions to the Abbey Hotel, which seemed to be the most promising prospect from her search. The hotel was two long blocks east of the rail station, my starting point in Norwich. Some confusion about the directions to the hotel added about a mile to my journey, but I eventually did find the establishment and was provided with a room for the night, one with two beds and a shared bathroom just a few steps down the hall.

My cozy room was on the third floor, the one with the large dormer window. After checking in, I wandered back to the rail station area to look for a restaurant. I ended up at Thai on the River Restaurant, a very nice floating restaurant on the River Wensum just a short distance past the station. I understand that the boat is an old grain barge, and it's possible that a very tall person would have had trouble with the access.

My dinner was tasty, and I headed back to the Abbey Hotel to do a little research about Rackheath Hall, one of the Pettus country estates, and hopefully catch up on my sleep. I had pretty much decided that I would strike out for Rackheath in the morning, weather and transportation permitting. Was is just another coincidence that the hotel is on Stracey Road, a name intricately linked to Rackheath Hall?