A brief history of the City of Norwich

The Domesday Book records that on the eve of the Norman Conquest of 1066, in the reign of King Edward the Confessor, Norwich was already a substantial borough containing 1,320 burgesses.

The earliest document preserved among the records of this borough is its first surviving charter, dated c1158.

The charter (translated from its original Latin) records that King Henry II:

“Granted and confirmed to my burgesses of Norwich all the customs and liberties and quittances which they had in the time of King Henry my grandfather.”

Norwich’s second surviving charter is that of Henry II’s son Richard I, dated 1194.

This is a more significant document as it refers to Norwich as a city and, in addition to confirming existing rights and customs, confers a new measure of independence.

King Richard gave “to our citizens of Norwich” (civibus nostris Norwici) the right to elect their own reeve.

Each year this reeve was to send the city’s ‘fee-farm’ (or perpetual rent) directly to the Royal Exchequer, instead of through the county sheriff as before.

Many more royal charters and letters patent followed. The most significant was the charter of Henry IV, dated 1404, which made the City of Norwich a county in its own right, separate from the county of Norfolk.

The “Citizens and Commonalty” were also empowered to choose a Mayor and two Sheriffs from among themselves every year.

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 reformed local government in cities and boroughs, creating a more uniform system of governance throughout the country.

As a result, this year is usually regarded as a watershed in terms of the arrangement of borough archives.

Records were, sometimes artificially, divided into pre-1835 and post-1835.

The City of Norwich archive is listed under the headings of the pre-reformed and reformed corporation (NCR and N respectively in the catalogue).

Our summary of pre-1835 City of Norwich records provides more information about the main series of pre-reformed records.

On 1 April 1974, under the Local Government Act of 1972, Norwich ceased to be a county.

Its powers to run various services (such as education, social services and libraries) were transferred to Norfolk County Council.