Wymondham Abbey has a unique and renowned collection of manuscripts and historic artefacts acquired over the centuries. Each month we feature one of these objects as 'Treasure of the Month' on this website. As the list builds up, you will be able to scroll down on this page to reveal selected treasures from previous months.
The charter of 1440 from King Henry VI to the inhabitants of Wymondham, granting them the right to hold a market each Friday and two fairs per year. The charter specified that all men attending the fairs were to be free from arrest or other molestation. The seal appended to the charter is the king’s privy seal.
A market was first granted to Wymondham by King John in 1203, and that in addition to the above fairs there was another held for three days around the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary (7-9 September). Many market towns petitioned (and paid for) the renewal of market and fair privileges, and possibly the 1440 Wymondham charter was an instance of this.
In the eighteenth century several convicted men and women were publicly whipped at Wymondham on market day, the authorities hoping this punishment might deter others. The importance of the market for corn dealing had been lost by the 1840s, and in 1850 it was reported as exhibiting ‘little of the activity and bustle usually manifested by other towns on market days’. Nevertheless the Wymondham Friday Market continues to this day, with stalls filling the Market Place.
The numerous alterations to the dates of the fairs during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were seemingly made under the provision in Henry VI’s charter which stipulated that Wymondham fairs could be held on the given dates unless they were to the detriment of neighbouring fairs.
The ‘little Candlemass fair’ and the May Fair were principally for dealing in livestock, though stalls and shows were an added attraction. Travelling animal menageries and other forms of entertainment visited the fairs. Inhabitants of Georgian Wymondham could see elephants, lions, tigers, antelopes and other exotic creatures from far distant lands. All three fairs became largely pleasure fairs with penny shows, rifle galleries, sweet stalls, pedlar’s goods and merry-go-rounds. In the 1870s they were moved to the Fairland, and by 1900 almost no animals were offered for sale.
You can download a translation of the charter (written in Latin) by clicking here.
This burse was made around 1300 and is one of the oldest pieces of English embroidery in existence.
A burse was a pouch used at the Altar to hold a special piece of linen called a corporas. The cup and paten were placed on a corporas to catch any crumbs or drips as the bread and wine were consecrated.
The burse should have been destroyed during the Reformation. Parish tradition is that it fell into the bottom of a chest, and was not discovered for three hundred years. Then, a stiffening was inserted and the open edge was sewn up.
It is worked in silk on linen in what’s best described as a compressed herringbone stitch.
The upper panels show three versions of the “tree of life” pattern.
The shields belong to East Anglian families who seem to be connected to the Bigod family. Bigods were Earls of Norfolk until 1306. But although the monastery’s founder, William d’Aubigny, married Maud Bigod, his arms don’t feature.
The Bigods held lands in Thetford and in Bungay, both towns about thirty miles away. That was not local in 1300. The families which are represented, Warrenne, Say, Molintune, Gurney and Leuknor seem to have belonged more to Suffolk than to Norfolk.
The colours on the shields have helped us learn how bright a piece of work it was, as you can see in the handling copy pictured below.
There are many errors in the stitching, and where over time it has been mended, the colours have faded unevenly.
Who made it? Was it given? Was it purchased?
We guess that this burse may have been an apprentice piece, or something picked up relatively cheaply “on the market.” Most parishes had several burses. Long Melford had twenty four. On the other hand, there are months of work in it, and it would have been done in very poor light.