A Brief History of Norwich Mayors 1403-2013

By Wayne Kett

In our superstore we have an amazing collection of ceremonial sword rests; when not being used in processions these resided in the parish Church of each Mayor, past and present.

One of our many sword rests.

One of our many sword rests.

This Coronet sat at the top of a sword rest.

This Coronet sat at the top of a sword rest.

These sword rests have a fascinating history, and are directly related to the story of Norwich Mayor’s. This story is over 600 years old, and represents centuries of local tradition and governance in Norwich.

When I started studying these sword rests more closely my first instinct was that I wanted to learn about the people they represent.

Barnabas Leman, Mayor (1813 & 1818). Painting by Joseph Clover c.1819

Barnabas Leman, Mayor (1813 & 1818). Painting by Joseph Clover c.1819

Barnabas Leman's plaque on sword rest.

Barnabas Leman’s plaque on sword rest.

I thought I would share with you a few interesting facts and stories I have unearthed about the history of Norwich’s Mayors and who they were.

From 1403 until 1835 Norwich appointed a Mayor, this was a position of great power and influence and would have been occupied by a propertied man of significance. In 1835 with the passing of the Municipal Reform Act, much of the power was taken away and the position became increasingly ceremonial and non-political. In 1909 King Edward VII elevated the position to the status of Lord Mayor, one that only 31 UK cities have.

The first mayor of Norwich was William Appleyard, he served 1403/04 and actually lived in the building that now houses our very own Bridewell Museum. 610 years later and the current Lord Mayor of Norwich is Ralph Gayton who will stand down for a new Lord Mayor later this year.

Other Mayor’s of Norwich include:

Robert Bene (1710): Robert Bene ran a local brewing business which he inherited from his father. As well as being Mayor he also served in parliament as a Tory (1710-15). He is buried at St Martin at Oak Church in Norwich where there is a memorial to him. His monument is inscribed:

‘his industry rendered him wealthy; his integrity, liberality and munificence, esteemed; his affection to his friends, and his benevolence to all men, beloved, and his death lamented’

Starling Day (1782 & 1812): Starling was a merchant who went on to found a bank called Starling Day & Son, this fell on hard times and in 1825 had to be bailed out (not just a modern phenomena then!) The bank was based at his house 103 Pottergate. In 1813 Starling Day started a subscription to help poor Russians who were suffering during attacks by Napoleons forces.

Starling Day's pocket book, dated 1755. We hold this item in our collection: NWHCM : 1928.135 : A

Starling Day’s pocket book, dated 1755. We hold this item in our collection: NWHCM : 1928.135 : A

Day appears to have been a reluctant mayor, at first stating he did not wish to be considered as he was too old at the age of 78. This did not stop him being voted in. Apparently shocked at his victory “Mr. Day sent a message to St. Peter’s ringers ordering them to cease their triumphant peal, on the ground that he had declared his intention not to serve.” He did eventually relent and was signed into office for a 2nd time on the 16th May 1812.

John Patteson (1788): Patteson was a wealthy man whose father died when he was aged just 9 years old. He subsequently spent time living in Greenwich and then Leipzig before returning to Norfolk. At 19 he inherited his uncle’s estate, and later bought several brewing concerns, owning 17 of Yarmouth’s Public houses. The Patteson name lived on after his death through the brewery, which became Steward & Patteson Ltd in 1895 and traded until 1966 when it was taken over by Watney Mann.

His family history is rather tragic, all seven of his children died before him and his wife Elizabeth. Four of his children died before they were 13. They lost three of their children in the month of August 1796.

St Peter Mancroft Church, where John Patteson and his family are buried. Drawing dates to 1828.

St Peter Mancroft Church, where John Patteson and his family are buried. Drawing dates to 1828.

Like Robert Bene he also served as an MP, his parliamentary record shows that he spoke out in defense of the slave trade. He also tried to stop a bill that would have levied a tax upon the people of Norwich to contribute towards paving and street lighting.

Every object we hold in our social history collection was at one time important to its owner. It is not always possible to know very much about who these people were. It is fantastic that we can directly link these sword rests to their owners and learn a little about their lives.

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3 Responses to A Brief History of Norwich Mayors 1403-2013

  1. Pingback: Sword Rests, Mace-Rests and Civic Ceremony | Shine A Light Project

  2. Pamela Summers says:

    Thanks for the very interesting article. I wondered if there is a painting in your collection of John Whitaker Robberds who was Mayor in 1814 (his name can be seen on the sword rest illustrated in your article above)? He was my 4 x greats grandfather. Although I’ve found many other interesting resources about him, I’ve never seen his image. Thanks for answering this! Regards, Pamela in Sydney, Australia


    • Hello Pamela, Thank you for your comment.

      I have searched our object database and unfortunately we do not have a painting of John Whitaker Robberds.

      We do however have two books that a John Whitaker Robberd (Junior) contributed towards, published around 1834.

      We also have a memorial stone laid by a Miss L Robberd in 1884 – Unsure if this is linked to your family in any way?

      Search Robberd on our collections website for more details: http://norfolkmuseumscollections.org/


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