5. Norwich (2 of 12)

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Mr Boseley’s Dancing Room (2 of 3)

Boseley figures in these lists among an elite: four court dancing masters, the best stage dancers, the best teachers of social dance (see Appendix 2 for details of the subscribers). They cover interesting times. Josias Priest danced in the Duke’s Playhouse in London in 1667 but is better known for his girls’ school in Chelsea where Dido and Aeneas was performed. Mr Isaac was Queen Anne’s dancing master when she was a child and at her court. The significance of the lists to this story is that Boseley must be presumed to be among equals. He may have risen so high in his profession that he now practised only privately. We know much less about such practices, and we have learned nothing about Boseley ’s life in Norwich.

In 1715 he let Strangers’ Hall to a Mr Bateman and moved a few hundred yards east into St Michael at Plea parish where he had a property which included what came to be known as ‘Mr Boseley’s Yard’, in which stood ‘Mr Boseley’s Dancing Room’. The contemporary direction was ‘by the Red Well’. Chase’s 1783 Directory identifies it as at 3 Redwell Street, opposite the church, in a yard which would be gentrified as Clement Court in 1816 and demolished in slum clearance c.1950. A photograph c.1939 shows the yard looking towards the entrance. Unfortunately the photographer has his back to the public health laboratory, which was once Mr Boseley’s Dancing Room. A dwelling on the left may have housed the Boseley family, but we know only their parish, not their home address. They were certainly nearby in a parish of only 113 houses and 482 souls.

Family misfortune pursued Boseley to his new address. His son Thomas died on 17 May 1715 and was buried at St Michael at Plea. John also predeceased his father, but when and here is not known. On 8 April 1718 Boseley’s daughter Abigail married Thomas Jenney at Colney which may have been Thomas’s parish. There was evidently no paternal disapproval for Thomas and Abigail became the occupants of Strangers’ Hall or a part of it. Three of their children will play a further part in this tale: Abigail born in St John Maddermarket parish 1 April 1719, Thomas born in St Michael at Plea parish 17 March 1727; and Mary whose baptismal record is not to be found. Their mother died on 26 March 1728. Thomas soon remarried but his wife died in childbirth on 20 October 1729. Thomas vacated Strangers’ Hall, but we shall meet its next occupants shortly.

Boseley’s professional life, meanwhile, continued in his new Dancing Room where concerts were advertised on 24 November 1716, 5 January 1717, 6 August 1720 and 7 January 1721. This is the first evidence of his profession in Norwich, even if it tells us very little. Nor do we learn much more except for the conclusion 14 of his professional life when Francis Christian advertised on 29 July 1732 that he would move his dancing school ‘to the Great Room in Mr Boseley’s Yard.’ Mr Christian is the second half of this story and we will return to him with reference to Boseley as his landlord.

Boseley remained in St Michael parish, where his wife died on 10 April 1738, aged 71. Boseley himself died on 28 December 1739 aged 79. At his funeral the coffin was borne by six of his tenants, two of whom may have been Francis Christian and his son. Boseley had expressed a wish to be buried with his wife but their grave is not to be found in the churchyard. The church has long been deconsecrated; the churchyard, whose surface is high above the road, has been pared away for road widening. The Boseleys are either hidden by later burials or somewhere in the ether.

Boseley’s will reveals the man but barely hints at the dancing master. He was a godly man and began the will with an extended statement of his faith. He was charitable and asked for his poorest tenants – paying less than thirty shillings a year – to be excused a quarter’s rent. He left a shilling each to ten poor widows in the parish.

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