Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi

Medieval Stained Glass in Great Britain

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Norfolk: Norwich, Guildhall, Mayoral Council Chamber

O.S. TG 229086

In 1404, Norwich was granted its first charter of incorporation, giving it the right of self-government; these powers were clarified and consolidated by a further charter in 1416. A mayor was elected annually and there was a mayor’s council of twenty-four aldermen and a common council of sixty councillors. Before that date, the city had embarked on a campaign of civic renewal and construction in the city centre, and the building of a large new guildhall next to the market in 1407–13 can be seen as response to both initiatives. Facilities for both councils, a sheriff’s court, and prisoners were supplied. Fitting out took much longer, and the windows of the mayoral council chamber were not glazed until 1453. 1 A chapel for the prisoners dedicated to St Barbara is said to have been founded in the reign of Henry VI, but was not equipped or supplied with a priest until after 1472. In 1511, the roof of the mayoral council chamber collapsed, and the treasury tower at the west end fell at about the same time. The recorder James Hobart gave 40 marks to the reconstruction in 1512, but the work did not begin until 1534, instigated by Augustine Steward, a pro-active alderman, three times mayor, who also bought the Dominican friary for the city at about this time. Work was completed in 1537 at a cost of £208. 10s. 0d., mostly coming from gifts from individual aldermen. 2

Blomefield and Parkin give details, taken from the ‘City book’, of the sixteenth-century glazing of the council chamber. The four-light east window (I) was glazed by the executors of John Fuller and contained in light a a figure of St George with ' Domine Salvum fac Regem '; light b had azure a cross between five martlets or (Edward the Confessor), with ' Vive le Roy '; 3 in light c were the royal arms of France and England quartered in the garter; and in light d were the city arms, Fuller’s merchants mark, and the mercers’ arms. Window nII was glazed by Thomas Nectun, alderman, and contained a shield with the mercers’ arms impaling Thomas Nectun’s mark and another with his rebus of ‘Nec’ placed on barrel or tun. 4 Window nIII was glazed by Robert Ferrour and had a shield with ‘R. F.’ and also his arms, or a cross flory argent, his mark, and the date ' Ao Domini Millesimo cccccxxxiiii '; 5 Also in this window were the city arms, St George’s cross, and the drapers’ arms. This three-light side window also depicted the story of the corrupt judge whose skin was flayed and placed over the chair on which his son was ordered to sit as a judge as an example to him. The story comes from Herodotus, but the verses in English that accompanied this scene are given by Blomefield and Parkin with the reference from Valerius Maximus, who repeats the story. The verses in the window were:

Lette alle Men se, stedfast you be,

Justice doe ye, or els loke, you fle.

Yow that sittyst now in Place,

See hange before thy Face,

Thyn own Faders Skyn,

For Falshod; this ded he wyn.

Window nIV was given by Master Robert Jannys, grocer, who was alderman for Fyebridge 1513–29 and mayor in 1517 and 1524. In the window were his mark, the arms of the Grocers’ Company, the city arms and the mercers’ arms, together with another admonitory scene. In it also was a king, with a large body of armed men, placing a person before him on his knees. On the other side is the man in a shroud, sitting in order to be shot dead with arrows and with the words ' Jesu Miserere, Fili Dei, miserere mei '. Under the picture is

For all, Welth, Worship and Prosperite

Ferce Death ys cum, and rested me,

For Jannys praise God, I pray you all,

Whose Acts do remayne a Memoriall.

Blomefield and Parkin mention that in the council chamber was also Jannys’s portrait, one of a large collection of civic portraits owned by the city and painted in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth. The portrait is extant and shows Jannys in his aldermanic robes holding a skull and with a skeleton behind him. 6

Window sII was also given by Thomas Nectun, but no mention of its content was given. Window sIII was given by Nicholas Sotherton, alderman for the ward of Middle Wymer 1531–41 and mayor in 1539. It depicted the story of the Judgement of Solomon, with the text:

The Trewe and counterfeit to trye,

She had rather lose her Ryght,

Seying, the Soulders ware redy

To clyve, with all ther might.

Blomefield and Parkin add to their description: ‘But the glass hath been so often broken and misplaced, and other painted glass added, brought from other places, that little of the original designs can now be perceived.’ 7

Very little of this 1534 glazing scheme survives among the Guildhall fragments. The two most obvious subjects are the allegorical figures of Justice and Religion now in I, B1 and B2. They have been cut down, but may be in situ; they were not mentioned by Blomefield and Parkin. Four other fragments are probably also from this glazing. The first, in I 1b, shows part of a figure dressed in a fur-trimmed coat sitting at a table writing. On the table are scrolls, and to left and right are visible faces of figures on the other side of the table looking at the central figure. The second piece, from I 1a, has a bearded man in a coat with fur collar and a soft hat standing behind a balustrade with a column on the left. To his left stand two further men. The one in front is clean-shaven and wears a coat with a fur tippet and a soft hat; he places one hand on the balustrade and the other on the bearded man’s shoulder. The third shows the head of a man on a larger scale than the other fragments, facing left in profile and wearing a bonnet. The fourth fragment has the arms of the city of Norwich, one of five instances of the arms in the three windows, and is closest in style to the other fragments described. All are painted on white glass with trace-line, stipple-shading and yellow stain. A small Flemish rectangular unipartite panel in 1c has been thought to depict one of the Judgement scenes, and to show Otanes sitting on the seat of Judgement with the skin of his flayed father Sisamnes, the corrupt judge, hanging above. However, this identification must be rejected for a number of reasons. The seated figure is clearly a king and wears a crown. The ‘hanging skin’ is part of a curtain, and the sources say that the skin was placed on the judgement seat, not above it. Finally, the style is very different from the other fragments, being Flemish of c.1530–40.

Blomefield and Parkin’s description makes it clear that the mayoral council chamber, used among other things for the administration of justice, was glazed in the sixteenth century with a series of images related to justice. Many town halls in the Netherlands and Germany had such paintings, usually on canvas or wall, although some later ones on glass survive at Emden. 8 Such series are not recorded in England apart from the present case, but it is not surprising that Norwich should have been influenced by Continental examples, in view of the close trading connections it had with both Germany and the Netherlands.

It is possible that some of the heraldic glass in the council chamber is also from the 1534 glazing. The royal arms in the garter recorded by Blomefield and Parkin are presumably those in I 3a, but these are later than 1534, but the arms immediately below could date from 1534, or rather earlier. The city arms in sII 1a, mentioned above, are of small size, but those in I 2a are larger and could have come from I, as could the arms of the Merchant Adventurers in I 2c, also recorded in this window. All three are also to be seen on the carved dado behind the mayor’s seat, of c.1534. Kent presumed that, because the mercers’ arms were recorded in I, John Fuller was a mercer. It has been suggested above that it may have been Henry Fuller who gave the window, and, in any case the most likely John Fuller to have been involved was a grocer. 9 Fuller’s merchant’s mark is not given by Ewing, the only one of the donors’ marks not identified, and the possibility arises that the shield in I 1c of the Grocers’ Company’s arms impaling an unknown merchant’s mark may be for either John or Henry Fuller, although the occupation of the latter is unknown.

There is a large amount of fifteenth-century Norwich glass by the workshop of John Wighton in the windows here. It has been suggested that this came from the chapel of St Barbara, the prisoners’ chapel. However, it is recorded that the mayoral council chamber was glazed in 1453, the year John Wighton became an alderman and began to attend the mayor’s court here, and the glass is in exactly the same style as that produced by the Wighton workshop in the church of St Peter Mancroft, just across the market, which is datable to c.1450–55, probably 1453–55. As mentioned above, the chapel was fitted out after 1472 (which probably means that it was also glazing equipped with glazing), but this date is too late for the glass under consideration. 10 It may be that all or some of the glass of this date in the Guildhall came from the original glazing, some of which may have survived the collapse of the roof in 1511 and have been re-used, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that it came from an unknown source; some may also have come from St Barbara’s chapel. One possible indication that John Wighton may have been a donor is that the surviving fragments suggest that a window was made depicting the life of St John the Baptist. In I 1d is a figure of St John wearing a camel-skin and holding the Lamb of God with ' Ecce agnus dei ' over him. This comes from a large quatrefoil tracery opening. That there were main-light scenes relating to St John as well is suggested by the demi-figures of angels in I 5a and 5d. The second of these holds a biblical text about St John, from John, I, 6: ' Fuit homo '; the other angel holds the last two words of that verse, 'Erat Joh(ann)es'. The intervening words ' Missus a deo ' and ' Cui nomen ' would have been held by two other angels in a four-light window, presumably the east window of the council chamber. 11 It is very probable that these texts referred to the iconography of the main lights below. A gift of a window or windows by John Wighton, referring to his name saint, would have been very understandable in the year in which he became an alderman. Part of a series of the twelve Apostles by Wighton’s workshop also survives. This could have been in the two three-light windows of the north side of the mayoral council chamber.

Other iconography discernible in the fifteenth-century glass attributed to Wighton includes an Assumption of the Virgin Mary, now divided between nII 1a and sII 2a; several angels, including musical angels playing a psaltery and bagpipes, in nII 1a; part of a Gnadenstuhl Trinity, from a similar tracery opening to that which contained the figure of St John Baptist; the names on scrolls of St Nicholas (the patron saint of judges, as well as of other groups), and of St Luke; and the head of a veiled female saint, now placed on the Virgin of the Assumption. A few pieces of fifteenth-century heraldic glass are present, including two covered cups in sII 1a, from the arms of the Goldsmiths, and a roundel with the Prince of Wales’ feathers and two gold wells, the rebus of James Goldwell, Bishop of Norwich 1472–99. Work of another Norwich glazier’s workshop is also present. Sunbursts from borders are in all three windows, and in sII are some border pieces either side of the large late shield that probably derive from a fleur-de-lis pattern and which are seen alternating with the sunbursts in a number of places, most notably at Ringland in glass of c.1460 – c.1470. Research by the present author currently under way indicates that this glass may be the work of Thomas Goldbeater.

A further unidentified coat of arms requires mention. It is placed inside-out in nII 1a and has a quarterly coat impaling another quarterly coat. The only quartering to be identified with certainty is quarters 2 and 3 of the dexter impalement, which is the arms of Toppes, adopted by Robert Toppes in about 1445, so the shield may be that of his grandson, who is unknown. Part of a shield with sable a bar wavy argent in I 4a, is probably part of the arms of Robert Toppes, who was mayor in 1453, when the council chamber was glazed.

A number of post-medieval shields of arms complete the window, mentioned and blazoned in the catalogue, plus a very large amount of tiny fragments cut up to make up the background of the panels.

The date of the glazing of these windows with their lozengy background of fragments of several periods is unknown. There were a number of stained glass firms working in Norwich that glazed windows with arrangements of panels of medieval and more recent glass with fragments in the background or border. The most long-lasting of these was the firm of J. and J. King of Norwich, which started in the 1830s and was wound up in 1927; G. A. King (1861–1925) was working for them from about 1880. 12 He made drawings and watercolour copies of much of the medieval glass that passed through the workshop, including several pencil drawings of the Guildhall glass, some of individual pieces of glass from dismantled panels. 13 It is possible that some, possible many, of the cut-up fragments in these windows came from the piece-box of this glazier’s workshop.

The G. A. King collection of drawings includes many of quarry patterns, one of which, labelled ‘Queens’ College Library, Cambridge’ with the note ‘c.1448’, the date of the college’s foundation, is of a quarry type seen several times in the Guildhall fragments, most completely in I 2a; these were perhaps left over from work by J. and J. King at Queens’. However, quarries of the same Queens’ College pattern, probably nineteenth-century copies, are seen in the east chancel window at Mulbarton. The arrangement of medieval glass there was installed in 1815, probably by Dixon of Norwich, and other fragments used in the window are of a type seen in the Guildhall, so Dixon may have been responsible for the Guildhall arrangement. Kent stated in 1928 that the Guildhall glass has been in its present position for 150 years, that is since c.1778, but he gives no reasons for this statement, and in his account of the fabric of the Guildhall he mentions no repairs or alterations between the reign of George II and 1857, although he states that ‘other repairs and alterations have taken place, both before and after 1857’. In 1778, there were no craftsmen in the city with the necessary skills to do the skilled, if misguided, arrangement now seen in the windows.


In 1410–11, Thomas Dorham, glazier, was paid 13s. 4d. for glazing the porch; King 2006, p. 137. Return to context
The executors of Thomas Aldrich, late mayor, gave £20, as did those of Robert Jannys, late mayor; the executors of Gregory Clerke, late mayor, gave £10 and those of John Marsham, late mayor, gave £2; the following late mayors gave as indicated: Edward Rede, £5; Thomas Pickerell, £5; Robert Greene, £2; Reynold Littleprowe, £1; Thomas Bawburgh, £1, and Master Alan Percye, priest, gave £5, etc. Blomefield and Parkin 1805–10, IV, pp. 228–29. Return to context
Several John Fullers are recorded in Norwich in the 15th-c and 16th-c; the most probable is the one who was a councillor for the northern ward in 1522. However, as all the other donors were mayors or at least alderman, one wonders whether this was a mistake for Henry Fuller, alderman for Fyebridge 1531–36 (during which time the chamber was glazed), and mayor in 1544. Return to context
Thomas Nectun was alderman for South Conesford 1530–1522 and a candidate for mayor in 1541. Return to context
Robert Ferrour, draper, was alderman for East Wymer 1514–1543 and mayor in 1526 and 1536. The cross on his arms should be gules, but was presumably painted in yellow stain as this was technically easier. His coat of arms can still be seen on one of a set of four shields now in St Andrew’s chapel in Norwich Cathedral, but originally in the deanery; see King 2004, p. 135. Return to context
See Roe 2006, pp. 231, 246. Return to context
The glazing of the London Guildhall, none of which survives, was paid for by various aldermen, whose arms were in the windows. The mayor’s court was glazed by the executor’s of Richard Whittington (d.1423); Barron 2004, p. 121, n. 46. The Norwich Guildhall was the largest in the country outside London, and original glazing of 1453 of the Mayoral Council Chamber may have been influenced by that of London. Return to context
Lederle 1937. For Emden, see Korn 2004. Return to context
Hawes 1986, p. 64. Return to context
Opinion varies as to the exact size of the chapel, which was on the south side at first-floor, to the west of the porch. Return to context
Woodforde (1950, p. 142) suggests that this glass came from St Barbara’s chapel, but the historical link with Wighton, of which he was unaware, suggests otherwise. Return to context
Haward 1984, p. 235. Return to context
The collection is owned by the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society and has recently been deposited in the Norfolk Record Office, Norwich. It was being catalogued at the time of writing. Return to context
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