Norris, Antony (DNB00)
NORRIS, ANTONY (1711–1786), antiquary, of Barton Turf, Norfolk, descended from a merchant family of Norwich, different members of which had filled most of the municipal offices of that city, was the third son, but eventual heir, of the Rev. Stephen Norris, by his wife Bridget, daughter of John Graile, rector of Blickling and Waxham, Norfolk. John Norris (1734–1777) [q. v.], founder of the Norrisian professorship, was his cousin. Born 17 Nov. 1711, and baptised at St. George Tombland, Norwich, Antony was educated at Norwich grammar school, proceeding to Cambridge 4 April 1727 as a pensioner at Gonville and Caius.
On 3 Nov. 1729 he was admitted of the Middle Temple, going into residence 27 April 1730, and being called to the bar 29 Nov. 1735, at the age of twenty-four. He married Sarah, daughter of John Custance, J.P. of Norwich (who had been mayor of that city), on 18 May 1737, and had one son only, John, born 28 Jan. 1737–8, and educated at the same school, college, and inn as his father. This son, who was apparently a young man of the greatest promise, a prize-winner and a fellow of his college, fell into a consumption, and died 19 March 1762, to the great grief of his father, whose laments are touchingly expressed in his history of Tunstead (p. 74). Norris, left without child at the comparatively early age of fifty-one, had little to solace him but his love for genealogy and county history.
Possessed of ample means and leisure, ‘Nature having given him,’ as he says, ‘an almost irresistible propensity for inquiries after the ancient state and inhabitants of Norfolk, his native county,’ he devoted an immense deal of time, trouble, and money to compiling what is in some respects, the most perfect piece of county history ever compiled.
There is no doubt he intended to write a complete county history of the whole of the eastern part of Norfolk, a part sadly neglected by Blomefield, and succeeded in completing the Hundreds of East and West Flegg, Happing, and Tunstead, but died before he had done more than seven parishes in North Erpingham. What he completed covers 1,615 very close-written folio pages, and is now ready for the press if the public spirit of the county called for it.
Norris worked in the most systematic and laborious way. Being a friend of the Bishop of Norwich, and a man of some position in the county, he was actually allowed to take home the original register books of wills from the Norwich registry, and went through them minutely, taking most copious shorthand notes from them in Dr. Byrom's system, the notes covering 1,753 folio pages, and containing references to certainly not less than sixty thousand surnames. These he indexed up carefully from time to time, and was thus enabled to give details and correct pedigrees in a way no one else could possibly have done. Painfully and dispassionately he demolished, for example, the forged pedigree of Preston of Beeston, and dispelled the myth of a royalist ancestor present on the scaffold with Charles I, by proving step by step their real descent from a puritan.
He also collected in six volumes 2,818 pages of close notes of monuments and arms in Norfolk, containing very many thousand beautiful pen-and-ink sketches of arms and monumental brasses, and five books of extracts from Norfolk deeds, consisting of 472 pages of notes. From these and other sources he compiled two volumes of Norfolk pedigrees (305 in all) most elaborately worked out. He died 14 June 1786, aged 75, ‘his faculties having become exhausted and his mind having ceased to be active’ before his death, as we learn from his monumental inscription in Barton Turf Church; his widow survived him a year only.
The greater part of his collections, which belong to the writer of this notice, are minutely described and calendared in ‘A Catalogue of Fifty of the Norfolk MSS. in the Library of Mr. Walter Rye,’ folio, privately printed in 1889.
[Private information and Norris's manuscripts in the possession of the writer.]