5. Norwich (5 of 12)

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Francis Christian and his descendants (2 of 4)

No more is heard of the boarding school. It had certainly ceased to exist by 1735 when Willian and Abigail Wicks became the occupants of Strangers’ Hall. The boarding school may have failed by 1732 when there is first a mention of Mr Christian’s Dancing School at Redwell Street. Perhaps Mrs Christian senior had died, and Francis I and II, ineligible to run a girls’ school, were now jointly running a dancing school, possible also teaching music and French, but probably not needlework.

Up to November 1735 the interest on Francis II’s mortgage was paid alternately by ‘Mr Christian junr’ and ‘Mr Christian’. Either the father was helping the son or this was an arbitrary way of referring to the same person. It is without doubt that it was Francis II who mortgaged his wife’s property. The interest entries for 1736/7 are illegible. From 1738 the firm hand of John Boseley of Terrington receives interest from ‘Mr Francis Christian’ as if there was one Francis only active in the matter.

Boseley of Terrington, as Trustee for Mary Jenney, became the Christians’ landlord when Boseley senior died on 28 December 1739. Either Francis or both father and son may have been tenant-bearers at the funeral with mourning and gloves paid for under the terms of Boseley’s will.. ‘My tenant Mr Christian’ was a minor beneficiary, receiving ‘a guinea for a ring’ as did ‘William Brook Esq. Steward of Norwich’. Francis I would be more equal in status with a civic dignitary; the tenancy may refer back to Strangers’ Hall, or to the Great Room, or to housing within Mr Boseley’s holding at St Michael at Plea.

On 6 October 1741 Francis II and Ann discharged their debt to Boseley by remortgaging Ann’s property to Anne Norris, widow, of Norwich. On 12 October 1748 Anne Norris surrendered the property to Francis II who sold it to the Rt. Hon. Horatio Walpole. The Christians evidently got by financially by the skin of their teeth but they styled themselves ‘gentlemen’.

For the next decade we learn little about the dancing school, although it certainly continued, and more about peripheral activities. On 4 December 1742 ‘Mr Christian Junior’, ie Francis II, advertised that he ‘will open a Boys’ School near the Red Well, dancing not obligatory.’ Given the unenthusiasm for dancing of the average Englishman – and Boy – this is a curious way to advertise oneself to advantage. Where was the school? Probably occupying the Great Room when it did not hold a dancing class, and paying the rent. It cannot have been in Francis II’s house which teemed with five young Christians: Francis III now eleven and probably under parental training, Humfrey aged ten, later a clerk at Bawburgh, and their three sisters. The Boys’s School is not heard of again. It may have underwhelmed the local Boy and his parents.

As in Boseley’s time and in common with many dance practices, the Great Room was let for concerts. Francis I advertised on 4 December 1742: ‘Mr Christian will let his Great Room for Concerts at 2 guineas a night’, from which we can gather that the dancing school was not paying its way. The Great Room was also let for meetings of philosophical and debating societies. At this period such meetings had not acquired the notoriety they achieved thirty years later, when ‘debating society’ in Norwich meant ‘Jacobin’. The Christians do not seem to have taken part in dangerous political activities.

Early in 1754 Francis 1 died and was buried at St Michael at Plea on 2 February. At what date he moved into the parish, possibly to his son’s house, is not clear. No burial record has been traced for Mrs Christian senior and no will is extant for Francis I. Francis II continued the practice at the Great Room but for some years we know little about what happened there, either because Francis II did not advertise, or because the local press had no space or time for such notices. Occasionally a concert was advertised in a laconic manner as in the Norwich Mercury 29 July 1758.

‘Concert at Mr Christian’s Great Room at 12 noon because of Plays and Assemblies in the evening.’

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