This is Paston Year. You may have missed the announcement as the bells rang to usher it in, or maybe it was drowned by the sound of fireworks.
Perhaps you don’t live in Norfolk. Well, that is your bad luck. Norfolk has everything except mountains. Mountains, glaciers, penguins, deserts and … OK, the world is full of things that Norfolk doesn’t have. But we do have a beautiful coastline, lovely countryside, the Broads, a fine city, Keith Skipper and a very relaxed way of life. Oh, and the Pastons.
Exactly 600 years ago the first Paston Letter was written. The country at a literary level was still steeped in French and Latin at the time, and the Paston Letters were among the first written in English, mostly in the 15th century. They were preserved in what might be described as a miraculous way – lost and then found, dispersed and then gathered together.
The Pastons themselves rose from being yeomen farmers in remote North-East Norfolk to court favourites during the time of the Wars of the Roses and beyond. They were often lawyers, and they married very astutely, gathering land and money, power and influence – often in the face of stiff opposition. Eventually they became Earls of Yarmouth and then – out of the blue – they lost everything. It’s a compelling story and one that will be told in many ways this year.
I have to confess an interest. I am a trustee of the Paston Heritage Society, which, together with the University of East Anglia, has been awarded a substantial sum by the Heritage Lottery Fund to run a three-year project involving nearly a dozen centres in the county.
This year the emphasis is on an extensive exhibition at St Peter Hungate Church in Norwich, which was the Pastons’ parish church when they lived in Elm Hill, perhaps the most picturesque street in the city. There will also be a prestigious exhibition at the Castle Museum – an exhibition shared with Yale University in America. It centres on the mysterious painting called The Paston Treasure.
If you are interested, you can read all about this elsewhere, primarily on the Paston website and Facebook page. You can get involved. In fact, please do. I mention it here because it is one of those important and fascinating things that sometimes don’t get the publicity they deserve.
You know – like Norwich City.