A Vicar in Victorian Norfolk

September 2018
37 black and white, 1 line illustrations
317 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781783273300
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS037060, REL015000, REL081000

A Vicar in Victorian Norfolk

The Life and Times of Benjamin Armstrong (1817-1890)

Susanna Wade Martins

An engaging account of the life of a nineteenth-century priest.
The Revd Benjamin Armstrong, for many years vicar of the market town of East Dereham, Norfolk, is best-known for what have been described as "one of England's greatest clerical diaries", eleven volumes spanning his whole adult life, between 1850 and 1888. This first full biography puts his story into the context of the period in which he lived: a time of turmoil in the church, with its conflict between high and low forms of service, and theological arguments, stirred up not least by controversies over Darwin's theories of creation. It also vividly portrays rural life at a time of great change, when society became more fluid, railways allowed the economy to grow and develop, and the vote was extended. We see this through the eyes of Armstrong himself, a fine example of the then "new-style" Church of England clergy who lived in their parishes, took more services than their predecessors, supported their schools and showed a genuine concern for the well-being of their parishioners. By the time he retired, church life in Dereham had been transformed, with congregations typically of 1,000 at each of the Sunday services.
Armstrong also served on various Local Boards, as well as setting up the Literary Institute, the Rifle Volunteers and supporting musical and cultural events. He also had a full social life; his friends included prominent townspeople and the local clergy, gentry and aristocracy -- and there are incisive pen portraits of many of his associates and their eccentricities. These activities are set against the background of his family life, with its moments of tragedy and worry, including the death of a young child and the elopement of another.

Dr Susanna Wade Martins is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of History at the University of East Anglia. Her previous publications include The East Anglian Countryside: Changing Landscapes 1870-1950 with Tom Williamson (2008), Coke of Norfolk, 1754-1842 (2009) and The Conservation Movement in Norfolk - A History (2015).

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Table of Contents

Early life
The move to Dereham
The Norfolk Clergy
Church life
The Building Legacy
Town life
Family life
The later years
Armstrong, a man of his time


In these pages, we encounter elopement, child and adult mortality within the family... the birth of trade unions and political wrangles...This is more than a biography: it is an interesting contribution to the social history of Victorian Norfolk, and, indeed, to the changes in rural life more widely within 19thcentury England...An excellent read. CHURCH TIMES

Provid[es] a fascinating window into the experience of a Victorian middle-class family...clearly written with many illustrations including old maps of Dereham...a thorough and enjoyable biography. DEREHAM ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY

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