Civic and Borough regalia and plate

Evidence from Norfolk and Suffolk 

Mary Fewster

Tuesday March 19 talk in Martham Methodist Church, 7.30 to 9.15 p.m.

Mary Fewster, on her third visit, gave a history of Civic Regalia held by various East Anglia towns. Treasured and greatly valued, it represents the history of Charters given by Kings long ago. Charters allowed cities such as Norwich and towns such as Great Yarmouth to govern themselves. Ours, given by King John in 1208, gave us the right to self-govern.

We are familiar with Mayoral processions wearing their chains of office, which were not introduced until the 18th century, and carrying symbols of their power. “Mayor” derives from the Latin word major, meaning bigger. Mayors are thus the highest ranking officials within a city or town. We studied pictures of various maces and even handled one. Until 17thC they were smaller but weighty and were seen as weapons. Fortunately these days they are much larger and ornate and symbolic of the past.

Housed in the Town Hall in Great Yarmouth, our Mace dates to 1690 and is used in Mayoral processions. Insignias showing ships on Seals represent the importance to coastal towns of shipping long ago.

Great Yarmouth’s sword dates to 1680. This sword, the blade up and sheathed, is carried in procession in front of the Mayor. When entering a church the blade is down to represent a cross. The sword is unsheathed in times of war so in 1945 there was a ceremony to re-sheath it.

Over time many other important items of plate have been collected from Thetford to Kings Lynn and during important banquets these items are displayed, called a Buffet.

Great Yarmouth has a ceremonial key and a silver trowel with the borough arms and the Prince of Wales' arms which had been used for the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone of the Town Hall. There are items dating after 1660. Plate before this date in Great Yarmouth was seized to pay parliamentary troops during the civil war.

Among our town’s greatest treasures are, for me, the keys to the Hutch box, a seven key “treasure chest” where all Yarmouth’s Charters and ancient documents were kept. Long ago the hutch was kept in the Vestry of St. Nicholas, then in the Tolhouse and now safely on the landing in the Town Hall.

Our current Mayor and her Consort accepted our invitation to attend and we were given the privilege of viewing and handling various Great Yarmouth artefacts.

An interesting evening showcasing civic pride in the treasures that are Regalia and Plate.

Noel Mitchell



(Above: Civic regalia)
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