Saturday, July 21, 2018

Strangers Hall in Norwich

In the middle of Norwich is the wonderful Strangers Hall museum which is located in a majestic townhouse, first built some 600 years ago. The museum takes its name from the Dutch, Flemish and Walloon immigrants or Strangers who came to Norwich in the sixteenth century to escape the religious and economic turmoil in the Low Countries that was the prelude to the Eighty Years War. However, there was always a question mark over whether Strangers actually lived in the house … until now. Thanks to the work of Alastair Duke and latterly myself, we have established with a fair degree of certainty that they did live there. The evidence comes in the form of a letter that one of the Strangers wrote in Flemish to relatives back in Flanders. He describes the house in which he was staying in a manner which fits its layout in the sixteenth century. Furthermore, he mentions the High Street, the former name of the road on which the house stands and he says that the owner was Master Thomas – this I realized one day was Thomas Sotherton, a leading citizen of Norwich who owned the house when the letter was written. The letter only survives in a transcription tucked away in a relatively obscure mid-nineteenth century Dutch journal, but this example perhaps shows how such a letter can be of use for historical research and tell us about the world we live in today.

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