The Rev. William Hudson included a transcription of the Latin custumal and an English translation in the compilation of selections from medieval documents that he and J.C. Tingey edited (The Records of the City of Norwich, 2 vols., Norwich: Jarrold & Sons, 1906-1910). As a local vicar and officer of the county archaeological society, Hudson and his numerous articles and books about medieval Norwich beginning with the history of his own parish (St. Peter Parmentergate) in 1889 and continuing up to his major work compiling the Records may be considered part of the tail-end of the "antiquarianism" whereby enthusiasts, mostly residents, examined (and sometimes catalogued) the archives of their counties, towns or villages and used their contents to write local histories. The quality of the work of these antiquaries, which began in the early modern period and climaxed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (when local history became a major enthusiasm) was mixed, although the historian is nonetheless indebted to these men for drawing attention to and making more widely available primary sources related to medieval boroughs, some of which have since been lost. Norwich in particular is a borough that has been well-served by its antiquaries, and Hudson's work represents the best of antiquarianism. Indeed, it may be doing Hudson a disservice to lump him in with mainstream antiquarianism, for he was trained in history to the postgraduate level, and his work was of such a learned quality that in many fields of local study he remains the authoritative source not least his extensive introduction to the Records. (On a personal note, Hudson's impressive reconstruction of the administrative history of medieval Norwich was a factor in persuading me to focus my own attentions on urban history).
The text of Norwich's medieval custumal is to be found in the Records, vol.1, pp.132-199. This publication is not, however, available in many library collections. Consequently, even though I have not examined the original document myself, I think it worthwhile (not least for purposes of comparison with the customs of other towns, transcribed or calendared on this site) to provide a calendar of the Norwich custumal. For the original text or a precise translation, you should refer to the Records. Here I provide an abstract of each capitulum, to communicate in (for the most part) modern English the sense of the chapter.
Hudson found the custumal in a mid-fifteenth century volume of memoranda known as the Book of Pleas, and this was the version he included in his publication. Only as the Records was close to completion did there come to light an older, long-missing volume entitled the Liber Consuetudinum (Book of Customs referred to in 1344 as the "Book of Ancient Usages of the said City") which, from internal evidence, Hudson deduced to have been written ca.1308, with minor later additions within the following few years; the custumal whose primary focus is legal procedures and regulation of commerce was the initial and principal feature of this volume, with various local agreements and national laws added, which only increase the impression that this may have been intended as a formal compilation for the reference of city administrators. Hudson's comparison of the two versions led him to suspect that the later was not copied directly from the earlier, but probably through an intermediary copy possibly made (as some medieval memoranda books were) for the personal reference of an individual city administrator who held office during the 1330s and '40s. Hudson further believed that the Book of Customs was itself probably a copy from an even earlier document, and hypothesised that this version may have been compiled in consequence to a withdrawal and restitution of the city liberties in 1285 as also happened at Ipswich.
|Created: November 29, 1998. Last update: January 29, 1999||© Stephen Alsford, 1998-2003|