The word strangers is derived from the Middle French word ‘estrangier’ or its modern form ‘étranger’, which translates as foreigner. In the sixteenth century the word was used to mean anyone from out of town, but in Norwich came to be the name applied to the protestant incomers from the Netherlands, Belgium and France who came to the city to flee religious persecution of the catholic Spanish occupiers of their lands. Today we would call them immigrants or refugees.
We have two books that tell the story of the Norwich Strangers: Frank Meeres’ The Welcome Stranger, originally published in 2018 by Lasse Press, but now reprinted by Poppyland, and Jeni Neill’s The Devil’s Dye, a fictional account of a Dutch family that comes to Norfolk.
The Welcome Stranger – Frank Meeres
Frank Meeres is well known for his thorough and detailed books exploring the history of Norwich. His long career at the Norfolk Records Office has given him a detailed knowledge of the archives and The Welcome Stranger delves into the archives once again to tease out the stories of the incomers to Norwich in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In 1566 the mayor of Norwich, concerned about high unemployment in the traditional weaving trades, obtained approval from Queen Elizabeth to invite 30 families to come to Norwich and set up their businesses. In the end many more came and established communities of Flemish (Dutch speakers from the Netherlands), Walloons and Huguenots (French speakers from Belgium and France) with their own churches and trading groups. This reached a point where nearly a quarter of the population were ‘Strangers’ and this naturally had a significant impact on the city’s industry, trade and public life. There were also of course conflicts, and the parallels with immigration today are obvious.
This is a detailed and thorough book with lots of insights into the ways of life of the period. It is also important for anyone whose family history has links to the incomers of Norwich.
The Welcome Stranger by Frank Meeres
Paperback 207 pages; Poppyland Publishing
ISBN 9781909796836; RRP £10.95
The Devil’s Dye by Jeni Neill
The Devil’s Dye is a fictional interpretation of the story of the de Hem family who come from Amsterdam to Norwich in 1566 to escape the Spanish persecution. While Leivan de Hem sets up his weaving business in Norwich, his son Jowan marries local girl Eliza, the daughter of his father’s business partner. Jowan has taken up dyeing as his trade and is enthusiastic to learn about the latest developments. He has an obsession with sourcing the elusive indigo blue dye, the devil’s dye of the title – an obsession which takes him on travels across Europe whilst Eliza tries to cope in their home in Bungay.
This is a well-written tale which brings the Strangers’ story to life and the reader begins to feel what it must have been like to experience life in sixteenth century Norwich. It has a few twists and turns along the way, and even offers an explanation of the Black Shuck legend of 1577. Jeni Neill acknowledges Frank Meeres’ book as the inspiration for this story, and the two books complement each other perfectly.
The Devil’s Dye by Jeni Neill
Paperback 426 pages; Fen Tiger Press
ISBN 9781838149208; RRP £9.99