Paston Footprints - communities in the past and the present

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The Paston Letters is an historically important collection of 15th Century correspondence between members of the famous and influential Norfolk family and their contemporaries. The Letters are a primary source in understanding the development of the English language and political history of the time, and for the domestic history of medieval English provincial society. 

Community Action Norfolk was asked to Paston Footprints in recognition of our skills and experience in working with community groups in developing local projects. Supported initially by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the partnership between the University of East Anglia and Paston Heritage Society has brought one of Britain’s most prominent medieval families to life for future generations. The Paston Footprints project is inviting anyone who is interested in history, literature, genealogy, landscapes, dialect or architecture to collaborate with academic researchers to reveal more about Norfolk’s famous family. And that last point is important, for this is not  a project solely for academics, historians and heritage enthusiasts – it’s aimed at encouraging people within their own communities to find out more about their local history and that of the wider county, discover the connections between communities, and hopefully understand how our own hopes, fears and aspirations today are perhaps not so far removed from those of who lived in these same places hundreds of years before. 

Paston Footprints has digitisedthe Paston records that are held at Norfolk Records Office. It’s the first ever large-scale community project to uncover the local detail of the Letters and in 2018 marked the 600th anniversary of the first Paston letter.  And now, ‘Finding Paston Footprints: A Medieval and Renaissance Journey through Norfolk’ is the theme of an exhibition planned at Norfolk Record Office – along with a digital version for those who are shielding through Covid-19, or who can’t get to Norwich easily. It’s hoped to run online seminars too, open to anyone who wants to join in. The aim is to celebrate extensive but little-known medieval heritage connections across many local communities, while also re-animating the whole intriguing story of the Pastons from the NRO’s 16th and 17th century archives.  

The invitation is to visit NRO between April- June 2021 to see how 3D reconstructions and peculiarities in the archives leave us reading between the lines when telling the Paston story, such moving up the medieval social ladder to defend their castle against a siege, to defeat Dukes in the law courts, becoming knights on the dangerous Tudor European battlefields, eventually ending up in a shipwreck off Nova Scotia. The project digs deep into the letters to chart how the Pastons made their mark on the landscape and buildings that surround us today.  

The exhibition is complemented by a digital immersive experience which will encourage people to pull on their walking boots and take part in the new Paston heritage trail walks and cycle rides across Norfolk, or become creative in taking part in storytelling and digital activities online. There’s a vast range of learning resources and an exciting choice of online events to be found at www.thisispaston.co.uk   

Community Action Norfolk is pleased to be supporting Paston Footprints, bringing our skills and experience in working with community groups and partners to develop local projects. It’s what we do. If you have a community project or facility in mind and would like advice in how to plan it, fund it and see it happen, call us on 01362 698216 or email [email protected]