Meet the Pastons - new exhibition reveals the secrets of famous Norfolk family

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The Paston Footprints Exhibition tells the story of the Paston family from the Middle Ages to the Stuart period. The Pastons are most famous for their family letters, the largest and earliest collection of its kind in the world.

The exhibition, which runs until 29th October at Norfolk Record Office, shows how the family rose from farm labourers to become knights, owning castles, but there is a twist in the tale as they fell from power. Colourful 15th-century heraldry records and manor maps help chart the family’s rise, whilst 17th century letters about alchemy and spiralling debts reflect how they desperately tried to rescue their failing wealth.

Gary Tuson, County Archivist at the Norfolk Record Office said 

“The exhibition will give visitors an intimate insight into the lives of this famous family and show how the Pastons made their mark on the landscape and buildings that surround us in Norfolk today. It’s wonderful to be able to accompany the exhibition with a series of talks and courses which will help anyone explore their own stories from Norfolk’s past.”

Display items will also include a reproduction crossbow and recreations of costumes and surgeon’s tools.  Alongside the more traditional displays will be 3-D digital reconstructions of major Paston homes and buildings including Paston and Oxnead Halls, Gresham Castle and Bromholm Priory. Visitors can also scan QR codes that link to letter readings, music and even early dance moves.

Karen Smyth, Paston Footprints Co-Director and Associate Professor of Literature at UEA, said

“The stories of the ‘Paston family bubble’ and the ‘un-silencing of Paston women’s voices’ illustrate how a family living during the Wars of the Roses and in an Age of Plague can still have a connection to us today.”

Margaret Dewsbury, Cabinet Member for communities and partnerships said

“The exhibition is a fantastic mix of the old and new, telling an important story from Norfolk’s past. Our county’s archives are a real treasure trove of local stories and this is perhaps one its most significant collections.”

There will also be a series of talks, workshops and 'In Conversations' by academics, creative and digital practitioners to accompany the exhibition. Book your visit here

Those looking for an excuse to don their walking boots can learn more through the newly-launched Paston heritage walks and cycle heritage rides. One route takes you through Norwich while the other six Paston walks take you off the beaten track deep in the Norfolk countryside, where each location reveals another chapter of the Paston story.  Find out more here

Paston Footprints is supported by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, and is a collaboration between the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA, the Norfolk Record Office, the Paston Heritage Society and Community Action Norfolk.