Francis at home and at work

In the previous chapter I located Assembly House Yard as if it were a proved fact. In fact I think I have located it, after a great deal of help, and I stand by my assertion.

Assembly House Yard has disappeared to the extent of not even appearing on lists of disappeared Norwich Yards – re-named, rebuilt, blitzed and demolished. It was in St Stephen’s parish, near the Assembly House and the theatre and it opened off Chapelfield Lane, which was later re-named as Theatre Street. The O.S. map of 1883, scale 1:500, shows a block of buildings on the corner of Theatre Street and The Chantry (later Chantry Lane). There is a yard in the middle of the block with access to Theatre Street and to Chantry Lane.

2-10 Theatre Street - click to enlarge

Figure 7.1. Theatre Street (once Chapelfield Lane) c. 1950. On the right is Chantry Cottage. Beyond the turning to The Chantry and two doors down is the entrance to Chantry Court, which may once have been Assembly House Yard.
Photograph by George Plunkett. Reproduced from the Plunkett archive www.georgeplunkett.co.uk, by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.

A photograph from George Plunkett’s archive (figure 7.1) shows the block of buildings well before they were demolished c.1964. An old road sign to The Chantry is still present. On the Theatre Street side of the block, reading from L. (St Stephen’s church) to R, there are two arched entries, the rectangular entry to 8 Theatre Street, and then an entry to a yard of Georgian buildings (figure 7.2) then known as Chantry Court. This may have been a gentrification contemporary with Mr Christian’s yard at 3 Redwell Street becoming Clement Court in 1816. In both cases a new street frontage hides older buildings accessed by an archway with a grille in its head. Chantry Court did not get a dated keystone.

2-10 Theatre Street - click to enlarge

Figure 7.2. The entrance to Chantry Court. The Noverre’s house may have been the one straight ahead.
Reproduced by permission of Norfolk County Council Library & Information Service, www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk.

A photograph of the interior of Chantry Court shows one dwelling on each side and one ahead, facing the entry, which was then the Mass Radiography Unit: it has a handsome Georgian entrance, a tablet between the lintel and pediment which may have held a signboard. I think this was 2 Assembly House Yard. A map of 1957 shows that the Radiography Unit occupied the width of the block, the entrance section is the middle third. Eileen Pennington, who remembers visiting the Radiography Unit, recalls a handsome interior with panelling.

Returning to the Theatre Street photograph: to the right of the yard entrance is 10 Theatre Street, once occupied by Mr and Mrs Back, the managers/caretakers of the Assembly House. No.10 occupies the site on the corner of Theatre Street and Chantry Lane beyond which is the garden wall of Chantry Cottage which abuts the east side of the Assembly House. Mrs Milligan’s house was once off the left hand side of the photo but had been demolished by 1850.

2-10 Theatre Street - click to enlarge

Figure 7.3. Chantry Court interior.
Reproduced by permission of Norfolk County Council Library & Information Service, www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk.

Now, back to 1797 when Augustin left London to live with Francis – and it is possible that this was when Louisa came to Norwich. Father and son were assessed for Poor Tax on the basis of rent. Francis’ rent was £8 per quarter, Augustin’s was £10. The assessments were bracketed to show joint occupancy.

On 18 March 1798 Francis married Harriet Brunton, daughter of the manager of the Theatre Royal, at St Stephen’s church. The witnesses were Augustin, Louisa Brunton, the bride’s actress sister, and John Brunton, the bride’s father, who signed the bond of consent as Harriet was only nineteen years old.

Not all of Francis’ and Harriet’s children survived to adulthood: Augustin, b.29 December 1798, became a dancing master in Bury St Edmund. He married a music impresario’s daughter and became locally known as a violinist. He moved to Kennington, London, c.1840 and emigrated to Toronto in 1855 where he was dancing master at a girls’ boarding school and ran a dancing academy. Of his eleven children, two daughters taught music but none of his sons followed their father’s profession. Augustin taught dancing and calisthenics until 1880 and died in 1883.

Harriet Finch, b.6 September 1804, died aged 14. At the age of 8 she finished a sampler which now hangs in Strangers’ Hall, Norwich.

Francis, (known as Frank) b.24 August 1804, succeeded to his father’s practice. He married Sophia Swallow by special licence on 26 June 1833 at her parish church, St Pancras, London. Of their eleven children, his sons were musicians and dancing masters and two daughters taught music. C E Noverre was Frank’s son.

Louisa, b.8 March 1809, remained single and became a governess, living for a time with her widowed mother.

John, b.10 April 1811, inherited his grandfather’s talent for unintended GBH; he shot a man in the eye at a shooting party – a pratfall in the pursuit of upward mobility. He bolted to Canada and later settled at Wayne, Indiana, where he still lived in 1870.

William, b.1 June 1813, may have died in childhood. Nothing more is known of him.

Elizabeth, b.25 August 1819, became a governess. She retired to Cley with her sister Louisa who died in 1897. Elizabeth died in 1900.

Finally, Charles Cornelius, who presents us with a puzzle. C E Noverre and Lynham put him at the head of their lists of Francis’s children, as if he was the eldest child, but neither account gives Charles’ date of birth. His baptism was not registered at St Stephen’s church. But not all births were registered and not all parish registers have survived. C E Noverre says Charles Cornelius became a dancing master in Kensington, and Ancestry.com lists Chalres C. Noverre of Kensington who died in June 1857. Perhaps he was born in London at the house of his Uncle Charles who became his godfather and for whom he was named.

But I am not convinced Francis had a son called Charles Cornelius. I think C E Noverre confused his relations and his readers by transferring biographical details from Charles son of Augustin to a non-existent son of Francis. There are two possibilities:

There was one Charles Cornelius, son of Augustin, b.1770, practised in Great Marlborough St, married Ann/Anna Tadwell (possibly Anna Matilda Noverre, d. Clerkenwell 1851). In the 1851 Census return Charles C Noverre, widower, and his daughter Mary live as visitors/annuitants in a boarding house in Thames Ditton. They may later have moved to Kensington where Charles C Noverre died in 1857. He does not appear in the 1861 Census.

Alternatively, there were two Charleses, but they were father and son. As we have seen, the Noverres liked to pass on family names in identical order. Grace Mary A Noverre’s daughter was – Grace Mary A, which must have led to fun at home. I can identify four, perhaps five, of Charles senior’s children from genealogy websites (not always reliable) but not, as it happens, a Charles jun. I think there was one Charles, son of Augustin, born in 1770.

The Noverre portraits in the Assembly House include Opie’s undated portrait of two of Francis’ children as infants. Both wear high-waisted nursery frocks and could be boys or girls. It is not possible to identify them.

By the time this portrait was painted Francis had gone up in the world professionally and domestically. The Universal British Directory 1793–8, lists him in the Trades section at Chapelfield Lane (ie Assembly House Yard). He was not in Peck’s Directory, 1802, but was working as usual. By 1803 he advertised his practice twice a year and his pupils’ ball annually. He was now well established and had given up puffs and capital letters. The Chronicle, 15 January 1803, advertised ‘Mr Noverre’s Academy will open on Tuesday 18 January.’ A similarly bald notice appeared in July. His pupils’ balls were held in winter on his teaching circuit, advertised in the Mercury, 26 November 1803:

‘Mr Noverre’s Balls, Yarmouth 1 Dec. Beccles 2 Dec. Norwich 8 Dec. Tickets from Mr Noverre 5/- ’

His circuit remained the same for years; he held classes in Beccles and Bungay on the morning and afternoon of he same day.

By Christmas 1803 Augustin had leased a house in The Chantry a short distance from his son. Which house it was is a mystery; it is never named or numbered. In Augustin’s Will it is ‘the house in which I now live’. The Chantry consisted of six dwellings of which Chantry Cottage, abutting the Assembly House, is the sole survivor.

At his new address Augustin paid £10 quarterly rent. Francis paid £8 as before, but he also paid £9 land rent, which must have been for Augustin and by an agreement with his father, for when Augustin died in August 1805 he left the lease of his house to Francis ‘to reside therein’. It is clear from the Churchwardens’ Accounts that Francis moved to The Chantry by midsummer 1805 when he paid £10 rent (rising to £12 in 1806) plus £9 land rent. He was now the leaseholder of a home with stables and a garden and more space for his family. And immediate proximity to the Assembly House.

C E Noverre says that Francis lived for time in the East wing of the Assembly House. I think he means Chantry Cottage, which abuts the East wing.

Seventy years later Frank W B Noverre (Francis’ grandson) lived at 3 Chantry Lane, which can be identified from Colman’s Directory 1879. It was on the East side of Chantry Lane, facing the East wing of the Assembly House and Chantry Cottage and it was not Augustin’s former house.

Francis’ practice expanded to a partnership, first with Mr Nicholson in 1805 and, after Harwood’s defection, with Francis Lambert. In 1805 Lambert published his Treatise on Dancing. It shows an understanding of the physiology of movement whether applied to dancing or the correction of knock-knees. It was probably derived from Augustin’s ‘simple and scientific method’ as handed on by Francis, who may have followed his father and his uncle in the study of anatomy.

Francis became a respected citizen of Norwich and in 1809 became a director of Norwich Union, founded in 1797. For a few years he and his brother-in-law Richard Bacon had an interest in Taverham Paper Mill.

In 1812 Francis moved his family into the West wing of the Assembly House. He now lived and worked at a very elegant address, and he was shortly to re-brand himself. In his son William’s baptismal registration in 1813 Francis’ occupation is that of ‘dancing master’. In Elizabeth’s baptismal registration Francis is a ‘gentleman’ though still in practice as a dancing master.

This brings us to the familiar argument: could a dancing master also be a gentleman? They had long claimed such status on account of their profession. They feature in parish registers as gentlemen/dancing masters – as if the clerk was not too sure. The gentry whom they taught ridiculed them as ‘hop merchants’ and paid them for a service; they were not their equal but they might be gentlemanly.

Pigot’s 1822 Norwich Directory made one decision regarding status as a matter of changing social outlook: dancing masters, Francis included, were raised from the Trades section to that of Teachers and Professors, which suggests the discarding of the hop-merchant image.

Pigot’s 1830 Directory listed Francis and Frank as dancing masters. Frank succeeded to the practice when his father retired in 1837 but Francis lived in the West wing until he died on 5 January 1840. Frank and his wife then moved to the West wing from the hotel in which they had been living in Rampant Horse Street, the Eastern continuation of Theatre Street and about 100 yards from the Assembly House.

Frank, a man of substance and another director of Norwich Union, bought the West wing of the Assembly House and added to the west side his own Assembly Room which, at 70 x 30 ft, was larger than any other room in the Assembly House. He sold his stables and part of his garden during the development of the area south of the Assembly House, which became more urbanised but even now is still known as Chapelfield Grove.

Frank’s Assembly Room later became the Noverre Cinema and is now a multi-purpose function room of the Assembly House. The Noverre portraits hang on the walls and survey meetings, examinations and, very properly, Playford Balls and the more festive of the Norwich Historical Dance’s occasions. On the base of an exterior door jamb are carved the initials of male Noverres of Frank ’s generation and their descendants.

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