The following is condensed from Cattermole, Paul (Ed.) Wymondham Abbey. A history of the monastery and parish church. Wymondham Abbey Book Committee, 2007, Chapter 18, ‘The Archives’, by Paul Cattermole.
Most of the records relating to the Benedictine monastery at Wymondham perished when the abbey was suppressed in 1538. However a cartulary, the Wymondham Register, still exists, in the John Cotton collection at the British Library. This was the working copy used as a reference to the monastery’s properties, privileges and rents, from its foundation in 1107 through to the end of the fifteenth century. A few account rolls went to the Exchequer in London, and records of disputes over the parishioners’ rights in the parish church exist in the court records in London and Rome. Local copies of some documents are in the Muniment Room at the abbey. Although no local chronicle survives, there are many references to Wymondham in the chronicle of St. Albans Abbey, and in the writings of historians who worked there.
The records preserved in the Muniment Room are those of Wymondham parish church. They form the archive of a large parish whose clergy and churchwardens were until 1834 responsible for both civil and church matters.
In 1615 a major fire destroyed a large part of the town and some parish records, including the Parish Registers, were also lost. However Wymondham is fortunate that many pre-Reformation documents, which few churches retain, have survived. Of particular interest are the Petition to Henry VI, written in French, complaining that the parishioners could not hear the church bells, and the original deed conveying land for a new tower in 1445. The rulebook of the Gild of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a rare survival from about 1415; and the bede-roll, drawn up in 1524, is an almost unique list of benefactors to the parish church.
A collection of almost one hundred and fifty charters dating from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century are the title deeds of properties belonging to the town trustees, formerly the property of the gilds suppressed in 1547. These and the account books of five gilds formed the evidence of ownership of the Town Lands.
Tithe records include a unique collection of tithe books from 1640 through to 1836, and numerous papers relating to disputes over the tithes.
Personal papers of clergy, including the Rev. William Papillon, the Rev. Robert Eden and the Rev. Henry Preston, give an interesting insight into their lives; and various service registers and special service forms portray something of the diet they served to their congregations.
Churchwardens’ correspondence files from the 1820s onward cover everything from church repairs to heretical preachers in the town; and minute books of meetings of the Vestry and other bodies illuminate the politics of decision-making.
A fine collection of engravings and lithographs is complemented by photographs taken in the 1890s by Henry Cushing. Maps and plans include the elevations of the church drawn by Frederick Sanders in 1898, and a record of the foundations uncovered by archaeologists in 1834.
The Muniment Room was set up in 1916 by Canon Martin Jones to ensure the safe keeping of the abbey’s archive; and successive clergy and churchwardens have been keen to maintain the integrity of the surviving parish records. The only major parish documents that are no longer kept in Wymondham are parish registers of baptisms, marriages, burials and banns from 1615 (with the exception of those still in use). These and the Town Books which took over the function of the churchwardens’ accounts from about 1880, are held at the Norfolk Record Office: www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk
Visits to the archive can be arranged by appointment.
A charge is made for research carried out on behalf of enquirers.
For further information please contact the Honorary Archivist at the following addresses.
Post: Wymondham Abbey Office, Church Street, Wymondham, Norfolk, NR18 0PH, UK
You can also visit the Website of the Wymondham Town Archives by clicking here