People studying many aspects of Norfolk’s archaeology and history owe a great debt to the antiquaries of the 17th and 18th centuries. Their collections of original documents, copies, notes and observations are invaluable sources and are often quoted within the NHER. Francis Blomefield was foremost amongst them and An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk (henceforth History) is still the major history of the county and a starting point for many historians.
As a schoolboy Blomefield travelled around local churches and recorded their details. He continued his antiquarian studies when at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he was a priest in 1729. He became, briefly, Rector of Hargham and then Rector of Fersfield, his father having purchased the living for him. Blomefield continued his antiquarian studies, collecting material for his projected History. He supplemented the information he collected from other local antiquarians with his own observations. He journeyed to churches to copy inscriptions, spent long hours in dusty muniment rooms and kept up an enormous and endless correspondence. However, after a serious illness, he had to curtail his travels, so instead, using a standard questionnaire, he wrote to local clergy seeking further information about their churches.
Because of the difficulty of finding a suitable printer and publisher for his History, Blomefield decided to carry out the work himself and set up a printing press in an outbuilding at his home. The History, with parishes classified by hundreds, was brought out in parts, with the completion of the first folio volume in 1739. Blomefield did not rely on the History as a means of living and is recorded as saying “I fear no loss of reputation”. This was to be his downfall. He had set himself too formidable a task. Volume 2, covering Norwich, was not completed until 1745. Work began on the third volume but Blomefield died of smallpox before completing it. During the preparation of his great work he had mysteriously fallen into debt and the work was left to be finished after his death by Thomas Martin. Martin bought Blomefield’s manuscripts and from these prepared the final volumes which are now housed in the Norwich Castle Museum.
M. Dennis (NLA), 22 January 2006.
Text based on:
Blomefield, F., 1739. An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk. Fersfield.
Green, B., 2002. ‘The Antiquaries’ in Nichols, A.E. The Early Art of Norfolk, Kalamazoo, Michigan, Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.
Ketton-Cremer, R.W., 1952. ‘The Rector of Fersfield – A Bicentenary Tribute’ in Norfolk Archaeology, XXX, 365-379.