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Update on The Medieval Churches of Norwich Research Project

01/18/2016 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, towns and urban environment

The Medieval Churches of Norwich research project had a productive year in 2015 and is already busy planning luckhurst-nchchurches-3events and pursuing partnerships for 2016. Visit our website to see drafts of the project’s case studies, updates on partnerships and cultural engagement funding, and news and events. The Medieval Churches of Norwich is a three-year project undertaken by researchers from the University of East Anglia. The research activity, its dissemination and communication have been made possible through the support of The Leverhulme Trust and the Norwich Research Park Translational Fund.



08/07/2015 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, genealogy and family history, households and the domestic environment, Italian Peninsula, landscapes and pilgrimage, Mediterranean, Other, Parish Research Today, Parish sources, preservation and memory, Projects, ritual, devotion and religious change, The Alpine Territories, towns and urban environment

When I visit the numerous churches and chapels in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland located south of the Alps, I am always struck by their extraordinary artistic and historical richness. One explanation is the flourishing of devotions and religious art which characterised most Catholic countries after the Council of Trent. This is certainly true especially in the Italian area, to whose cultural sphere the Ticino belonged (even though it fell under Swiss political control in the sixteenth century), but there are other reasons. In fact, a crucial further factor needs to be considered: migration. On the one hand, over the centuries, thousands of people associated with the building trades left their homes in the Lake Lugano region to practice their skills as architects, masons, master builders, stucco workers, stonecutters, sculptors and painters abroad. This phenomenon was generally seasonal and whilst staying in their villages, the artisans helped to build or embellish churches and chapels. On the other hand, many migrants associated with other professions donated substantial parts of their earnings to devotional and charitable purposes.

The migrants’ faith and generosity are still visible in many churches and chapels of these territories, particularly in the Pedemonte region, the Centovalli and in the villages surrounding the town of Locarno. Inhabitants of these places had migrated to different Italian cities – especially Livorno, Florence and Rome – for centuries. Exclusively men, they worked as porters (facchini), coachmen (vetturini), chimney sweeps and food-sellers (rosticcieri), to mention just a few professions. In Livorno and Florence they were even able to obtain the monopoly of the porterage trade.

The following pictures shall help to illustrate the impact of migration as it is still tangible today. (Click the thumbnails to enlarge the images.)

§ Figures 1, 2 and 3 – Chapel of S. Rocco (St Roch, 17th century) in the parish church of S. Maria Assunta (Assumption) in Tegna (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno)

On the balustrade of many chapels, and in one case even on a confessional box, we can often find the inscription “B.D.L”, an acronym which means “Benefattori di Livorno” (“Benefactors of Livorno”). The migrants active in Livorno gathered in groups and used to collect money for their parishes and brotherhoods.

§ Figures 4, 5, 6 and 7 – Chapel in Verscio (1740) (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno); and Our Lady of Montenero in Livorno (14th century)

References to migration and urban experiences also appear in specific devotions. In many churches of this region, even in small chapels deep in the forests, dozen of paintings depicting the Virgin of Montenero can still be found. Here we can see the original painting at Livorno and a very ‘rustic” copy in Verscio. The shrine of Our Lady of Grace of Montenero is located on a hill overlooking Livorno. The Madonna di Montenero, nowadays patron saint of Tuscany, was already widely venerated in seventeenth and eighteen-century century Livorno. In the chapel in Verscio, under the picture of the Virgin Mary and two further saints, we can see details of the port of Livorno (lighthouse and ships).

§ Figures 8, 9 and 10 – Parish church of S. Michele (St Michael) in Palagnedra (bailiwick and pieve of Locarno), Virgin of the Annunciation in Palagnedra (Lorenzo Cresci, altar piece, 1602) and Virgin of the Annunciation in Florence (fresco, 14th century)

A similarly imported devotion concerns the Virgin of the Annunciation of Florence. A copy of the famous and miraculous painting kept in the basilica of the Annunciation in Florence (fig. 8) can still been admired in the parish church of Palagnedra (fig. 9 and 10), a village in the Centovalli, also in the bailiwick of Locarno. This work of art was commissioned by migrants resident in Florence, as recorded in the inscription under the painting.

These are two very good examples of religious and devotional transfers. Further evidence can be found in rural brotherhoods, where migrants followed customs and devotions they had come across in major cities.


Adamoli Davide, Fratelli per l’eternità. Storia delle confraternite nei baliaggi sudalpini in epoca moderna, PhD presented at the Université de Fribourg and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, April 2014 (forthcoming).

Beard Geoffrey, Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe, London, Thames & Hudson, 1983.

Damiani Cabrini Laura, Seicento ritrovato: presenze pittoriche “italiane” nella Lombardia svizzera fra Cinquecento e Seicento, Milano, Skira, 1996.

Gambi Lucio (ed.), “Col bastone e la bisaccia per le strade d’Europa: migrazioni stagionali di mestiere nell’arco alpino nei secoli XVI-XVIII: atti di un seminario di studi tenutosi a Bellinzona l’8 e il 9 settembre 1988”, in Bollettino storico della Svizzera italiana, vol. 103, fasc. I-IV, gennaio-dicembre 1991.

Muchembled Robert (ed.), Cultural exchange in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006-2007.

Orelli Chiara, “Migrazione e mestiere: alcuni percorsi di integrazione nelle città lombarde e toscane di “migranti” dalla Svizzera italiana (secoli XVI-XVIII)”, in Meriggi Marco, Pastore Alessandro (ed.), Le regole dei mestieri e delle professioni, secoli XV-XIX, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2001.

Rüsch Elfi, I monumenti d’arte e di storia del Canton Ticino IV, Distretto di Locarno IV (La Verzasca, il Pedemonte, le Centovalli e l’Onsernone, Berna, Società di storia dell’arte in Svizzera SSAS, 2013.

The Medieval Churches of Norwich: City, Community & Architecture

07/13/2015 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, towns and urban environment

The Medieval Churches of Norwich Project Team announces the launch of its new website. The project was undertaken by researchers from the University of East Anglia in September 2014 and is scheduled to run through August 2017. The research activity, its dissemination and communication have been made possible through the support of The Leverhulme Trust and the Norwich Research Park Translational Fund.

Our website offers more details on the project and keeps you up-to-date on our public events. We also welcome comments and suggestions on our case studies and research queries, which we will be posting very soon.

Please have a look and we look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Event: ‘The Parish Clerk and the Parish Record in Early Modern London’

04/25/2014 in British Isles, Events, literature and the liturgy, officeholding and local government, Parish sources, Secular law and regulation, towns and urban environment

This coming Monday 28 April, Dr Andrew Gordon (University of Aberdeen) will be giving a seminar paper on ‘The Parish Clerk and the Parish Record in Early Modern London’. The seminar is part of a series of Open University Book History Research Group seminars co-organised with the Institute of English Studies at the University of London titled ‘Paper, Pen and Ink: Manuscript Cultures in Early Modern England’.

The seminar will take place between 5.30 pm and 7 pm at in Room 234, Senate House, Malet St, London, WC1E 7HU.

For more information on the Open University Book History Research Group, please see their website here.

The full list of  ‘Paper, Pen and Ink’ seminars, with details, can be found here.

Two forthcoming events at the Warwickshire Record Office

02/16/2014 in British Isles, Events, officeholding and local government, Secular law and regulation, towns and urban environment

Two forthcoming events at the Warwickshire Record Office might interest locally-based My-Parish members. On Saturday 1 March Dr Gillian White will be giving a talk on The Great Fire of Warwick (1694). The fire destroyed much of the centre of town and gave rise to an ambitious rebuilding and restructuring project. Today the town centre remains an excellent example of the late-seventeenth century ‘English urban renaissance’. The talk will be held at the Warwickshire Record Office between 2pm and 5pm and costs £3.

On Wednesday 9 April Christine Hodgetts will be giving an illustrated talk about poor relief from the Middle Ages to the New Poor Law of 1836, titled ‘”On The Parish”: The problem of poverty’. This will also be held at the Warwickshire Record Office, from 7pm to 9pm, and costs £5.

More information on events at the Warwickshire Record Office can be found here. Directions can be found here.

History and Heritage in a Norfolk Market Town

07/29/2013 in British Isles, Parish sources, preservation and memory, towns and urban environment

(c) Glen Denny @

Wymondham Parish Church of St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury, commonly known as Wymondham Abbey, from the south (c) Glen Denny @

Wymondham (pronounced Wind-um), a market town and parish 15 kilometres south west of Norwich, has a rich and important history. Home to the Parish Church of St. Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury, commonly known as Wymondham Abbey, as well as the leaders of the 1549 Norfolk Rising, Robert and William Kett, the scene of a devastating fire in 1615, and the site of ‘one of the vilest prisons in England’ which spawned early comprehensive prison reform in the 1780s, Wymondham has a lot of history to preserve and to remember. Just how it does this is remarkable in itself.

Muniment Room poster

Wymondham Parish Records 23/51, ‘Poster advertising the opening of the muniment room, ?1913 (c) Wymondham Abbey, used with kind permission

Whereas most parishes deposited their records with diocesan and subsequently county archives in the mid-twentieth century, Wymondham retained most of its records at the Abbey . A strong archival culture had existed since the early twentieth century, with the opening of the muniment room in 1913. The archive remains today, and many important documents relating to the history of the parish are still held in the picturesque setting of the muniment room. Housed above the north porch of the Abbey and accessed via a spiral staircase, the muniment room contains documents relating to the religious life of the town and parish, as well as much of its civic life in its early modern records. Alongside files, displays and archive boxes is an original parish chest, still used to house parish documents, and replete with its three locks, originally intended for the two churchwardens and vicar.

The Abbey has recently been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to develop the ‘Abbey Experience’. This project is aimed at strengthening the Abbey’s relationship with the town, and includes funds to create a new reading space for the archives.

23/36 Poster advertising Old English Sports kept as a record of the celebrations in Wymondham for the  Coronation of George V and Queen Mary, 22 June 1911.

WPR 23/36 Poster advertising celebrations in Wymondham for the
Coronation of George V and Queen Mary, 22 June 1911. (c) Wymondham Abbey, used with kind permission.

In addition to its parochial archive in the muniment room, Wymondham retains an independent town archive, housed in the council offices. This archive was established after historically minded residents noticed a local solicitor dumping volumes of old, superfluous documents in a skip. Having been rescued from disposal, these mainly nineteenth century documents were preserved and now form part of the core collection of the town archive.

Much of Wymondham’s material heritage is housed in the Heritage Museum. The building the museum occupies is an old bridewell. The first bridewell, which the current building replaced, was described in 1779 by prison reformer John Howard as the ‘one of the vilest prisons in England’. The bridewell was subsequently rebuilt following Howard’s plans for a ‘new model prison’. The Heritage Museum documents much of Wymondham’s past, including its industrial heritage as once a capital of brushmaking.

Details of the archives and museum can be found at: – Wymondham Abbey Muniments – Wymondham Town Archive – Wymondham Heritage Museum

BOhisto – Bolzano-Bozen’s History Online

06/24/2013 in Italian Peninsula, officeholding and local government, Parish sources, The Alpine Territories, towns and urban environment

Title Documents

Visit the wonderful new research resource BOhisto – Bozen-Bolzano’s History Online. “Some dozens of the old Minutes of the Municipal council of Bozen-Bolzano are freely available to you. The manuscripts digitised up to now span from 1470 to the late 17th century and shed light on the administration, the economy and the townspeople´s life of one of the main urban centres of Tyrol, situated on the most important transalpine route between Germany and Italy. The rich database offered by the archival data is an unique playground to further explore the urban history of a central European area.”

Searchable in Italian, German and English

Nine noggins of brandy in a Cumbrian parish

06/05/2013 in British Isles, drink and sociability, Parish sources, towns and urban environment

Parish registers continue to fascinate me with their idiosyncrasies and personal stories of often only local significance. My recent research has taken me to the parish of Hawkshead, Cumbria (unfortunately not physically, but digitally, due to the excellent resources on One entry from 1686 jumped out at me immediately because of its unusual language and subject matter: an early modern drinking game. The entry records the burial, and circumstances of death, of the apprentice Bernard Swaineson, who had ventured into the town of Hawshead with his master…

December 16 : Bernard Swaineson who was Edward Braithwaite Apprentice went with William Stamper a greate while within nighte into William Braithwaite shopp in Haukeshead for to beare him Company a little, and att there meeteinge these three younge youths were all very sober and in good health : and Aboute twelve o’th Clocke o’th nighte ; they made a Bett : that if this Bernard Swaineson coulde drinke of nyne noggins of brandy : then William Braithwaite and William Stamper was to pay for them ; but if Bernard fayld and Coulde not drinke of nyne noggins of brandy then hee was to pay of his owne Charges for that hee drunke : now this Bernard drunke of those nyne noggins of brandy quickly : and shortly after that fell downe upon the floore : and was straight way carried to his bed where hee layde two and Twenty houres : dureinge which tyme hee coulde never speake : noe nor never did knowe anybody though many Came to see him and soe hee dyed

A noggin was a considerable amount of alcohol – a quarter of a pint, rising to a half pint in northern England!

Women and the Politics of the Parish

03/19/2013 in Blogs, British Isles, gender and the family, Media, officeholding and local government, Projects, Secular law and regulation, towns and urban environment

This is a guest post by Dr Sarah Richardson, Associate Professor of History at the University of Warwick. Her book, The Political Worlds of Women: Gender and Politics in Nineteenth Century Britain, discusses the rich female political culture in Victorian Britain, including women’s participation in parish politics.

Women and the Politics of the Parish

The parish electorate in England and Wales was generally broad and inclusive. There was the potential for elections for a range of parish officers including constables, highway surveyors and overseers of the poor. Parishioners could also vote for parish servants such as beadles and sextons. Although there were attempts to reform and codify this system in the early nineteenth century, in reality, in many parishes, democracy was in the ascendant. What is less appreciated is the fact that women ratepayers were able to participate in these very local elections. There are many reasons for this oversight. First, two landmark pieces of legislation in the 1830s, the Reform Act and the Municipal Corporations Act, restricted the right to vote to ‘male persons’. Second, the story of female enfranchisement has been dominated by the women’s suffrage campaigns at the end of the century. And, third, there is little direct evidence of women voting, therefore, historians have assumed they were effectively barred from the polling booth.

The discovery, in a box of solicitors’ papers, of a poll book for the election of overseer of the poor for St Chad’s parish in Lichfield, provided the missing link between the theoretical right of women to vote, and their practical application of that privilege. The poll book listed over 300 voters and among them were the names of 30 women. Ironically, they were almost equally split between the Tory and Liberal candidates. The women came from all walks of life, from wealthy businesswomen to lowly paupers. The fact that they were able to participate and make choices in this parish election has important implications for our understanding of female citizenship in this period.

To learn more about the poll book and its implications, see the following:

BBC Radio 4, Document: Victorian Women Voters (available on iplayer)

The Victorian female franchise (Victorian Commons blog)

Women voted 75 years before they were legally entitled to in 1918 (Daily Telegraph blog)

Where are all the women in politics? (History and Policy policy paper)

Greifswald Glosses

10/20/2012 in Blogs, towns and urban environment

I’ve started a blog on life as a research fellow at the Alfried-Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg in Greifswald. My (ir-)regularly updated musings appear here.