A Father of Norwich – by Oli Picton

by | Jun 17, 2024

Norwich is home to a few famous fathers that are of historical importance. Men like John Gurney, partner of Gurneys’ Bank and father of celebrated prison reformer Elizabeth Fry or Robert Suckling, father of John Suckling, the creator of the card game Cribbage. To celebrate Father’s Day this year we wanted to highlight one father in particular that has gone under the radar. By the end of this blog you can decide for yourself whether this father should be spoken about more or less, we will leave that up to you. 

Instead of talking about specific father figures in Norwich’s history, we are going to be focussing on a religious Father. Now there is a rather obvious father-son duo we could talk about when it comes to biblical stuff but instead, we are going to talk about fathers. As in priests. See what we did there? 

Home to both a Church of England Cathedral and a Catholic one as well, Norwich has a strong link to Christianity. It was even said once that ‘Norwich had a pub for every day of the year and a church for every Sunday’, we will return to the first portion of that quote later.  

A historical Father of Norwich

A very interesting Norwich Father who you may have heard of was Joseph Leycester Lynne also known as Father Ignatius of Jesus, known locally as just Father Ignatius. Lynne was born in London in 1837 as the second son of seven children and joined St. Paul’s School, an independent school in 1847. He was later removed from the school when he was 15 after being subjected to corporal punishment for an alleged lack of discipline. A biographer writing about his life before he died said that the cruel punishment ‘was the cause of a distressing condition of nerve collapse, the effects of which he feels to this day’. In other words, it really messed him up. 

He went on to study Theology in Scotland and regularly irritated his teachers and Bishops with his lack of discipline and being rather eccentric. You will probably sense a theme here. He was ordained in 1860 but with conditions attached designed to keep him in check, he was to remain a deacon and was forbidden from preaching for three years. Naturally, he started a society instead, called the Society of the Love of Jesus and placed himself in charge. In 1862, Lynne started going by the term Father Ignatius, and began calling for the return of monastic practices, that being the return of the monasteries, which were dissolved and physically destroyed by Henry VIII. This was badly received, as the monasteries had become to be thought of as corrupt and there to service themselves rather than the people. This idea was widely criticised and Ignatius was ridiculed. 

Two years later, Ignatius bought a property on Elm Hill, roughly opposite the Britons Arms, signalled today with a sign dedicated to him, where he began to give sermons and lead masses. Unsurprisingly, Ignatius was told not to do this, but did it anyway. The Bishop of Norwich at the time, John Pelham, refused him a licence to operate in the city, but Ignatius set up shop and upset pretty much everyone around him very quickly.

It was typical of the time that preachers would go around to those who attended their sermons and give them sweet cakes or hot tea as a thanks for joining him. But this doesn’t sound like Father Ignatius’ style does it? Instead, Ignatius would often stand outside the door and shout at people that if they didn’t partake in one of his sermons they would go to hell. Not exactly the ideal way to endear yourself to people who didn’t want you there in the first place. 

A bad reputation

Passersby reported that Father Ignatius would stand at the top of Elm Hill, clutching a bible bound in black cloth, a sign that he was Benedictine, a group of monks who follow the teachings of St. Benedict. There he would stand, and shout at people and threaten them with eternal damnation amongst other things. Ignatius would also regularly get into arguments with the locals, an often reported incident was that of two gardeners who he fell out with. How this argument started isn’t clear, but it ended with the troublesome priest cursing them, and they were found the following morning dead in their beds. 

This incident began to circulate rumours that Father Ignatius was a partner with the Devil himself and was sent to terrorise the people of Norwich. Deciding their best case was to stand up against him, the local people marched up Elm Hill, torches lit and attempted to chase him from the city. As they approached the monastery at the top of the hill, the clouds grew gloomy and dark and gale force winds blew the flames out, scaring the locals enough to abandon their march. 

Mercifully for the people of Norwich, in 1866 Ignatius was kicked out and dispossessed of his property using what was described as a ‘flaw in the title deeds’ i.e. not reading the small print. 

After realising he was wanted in Norwich no longer, not that he ever was, Ignatius left, briefly going to the Isle of Wight, and preaching in London as well. He was later suspended from preaching owing to ‘extravagant behaviour.’ Ignatius later became a proponent of the flat Earth theory and died in 1908, Myself and the other guides here at The Shoebox were very surprised by that date owing to the sheer number of people he managed to upset.

Not all of the Fathers in our fine city had quite the terrible reputation that Ignatius did, many of them were respected scholars and recorders of history, translating important scriptures from Latin into Old English and vice versa but also transcribing important historical events so that we could study them (and present them to you in a funny and informative manner). 

Of course, Norwich’s two cathedrals and myriad of churches are a testament to the religious fathers we once had but that was one half of the quote I mentioned earlier. The others were pubs. This is actually down to the fathers of Norwich too. It was the monks and friars and religious people around the city who grew apples in orchards which they would sell in the market. The fruit that didn’t sell would be mulched and juiced, fermented and turned into cider. Monks were given a daily allowance of eight pints of cider a day, which they would start before breakfast. Impressive work.

The other alcohol of choice amongst Norwich’s holy men was beer. Norfolk grows a huge amount of Barley, one of the most important ingredients in the brewing process. Water is added to germinated Barley, called Malt, then yeast is added and fermented. This Malt was taken and added to a second batch of water to be brewed again, producing what is called Small Beer, a lower alcohol beverage that children would often drink straight after coming off of breastmilk.

You may think the obsession with drinking is typical of Norwich (it is) but in fact there were health benefits to drinking as much as they did back then. When we say benefits, we mean not dying. Consuming this much alcohol wasn’t down to it tasting nice, it was down to the fact drinking the water would make you extremely poorly. The water was full of waterborne diseases and also sewage leaving you in a very bad state. It was the boiling of the water in the beer making process and the fermentation of the sugars in cider brewing that would ensure no nasty pathogens would be getting in the way of you and a nice cold pint. It’s no wonder then that we had so many pubs. But was it really one for every day of the year? No, it was actually many more, in the late 1800s we had nearly two pubs for every day of the year! Cheers to that!

We hope you had a Happy Father’s Day – by Oli Picton


Haunted Norwich, David Chisnell

The life of Father Ignatius, Baroness Beatrice de Bertouch

Dictionary of National Biography, Smith and Elder