5. Norwich (1 of 12)

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Mr Boseley’s Dancing Room (1 of 3)

John Boseley (c1660–1739) opens the account of the Norwich dancing masters in fine style, but remains an enigma. He was a well-to-do property owner with a coat of arms on the considerable amount of plate detailed in his will. He styled himself ‘gentleman’, but whether as befits a property owner or from hereditary entitlement I don’t know. I don’t know his origins; he had relations and property interest in and around Terrington St Clement but his birth is not registered there. He was evidently a dancing master of repute but I don’t know who trained him or where. For all we know about the man of property there is little to identify his profession. He grew up with the coranto and would have taught the minuet, but we learn nothing about his syllabus.

He is first known to be in Norwich in 1693. He and his wife Abigail (b.1667) lived in St Andrew’s parish where the birth of two of their children was registered: John on 13 September 1693, Thomas on 9 September 1694. Boseley was probably working as a dancing master but nothing is known of his practice at or before this time.

By 1695 he had moved to the adjoining parish of St John at Maddermarket and lived in the building known today as Strangers’ Hall, which he owned. Strangers’ Hall, on Charing Cross, is a composite building with medieval origins, a Tudor hall and later additions. It had been a merchant’s house and, in 1660, it belonged to Sir Joseph Paine, hosier and Mayor. In Boseley’s day it was in multiple occupancy: as well as Boseley’s house, there were tenements, warehouses and a frontage of shops, each section known by the name of the current or previous occupant. At least, that is the general rule. As it happens there is no reference to ‘Mr Boseley’s house’ but Land Tax assessments prove that he owned the property, and the Churchwardens’ Accounts prove that he lived there from 1695 to 1714. There are maps on which this site is called ‘the Dancing Master’s estate’.

Tradition asserts that Boseley practised there. As he was in practice at his next address we have to argue backwards to a previous practice, probably in the hall which has space but a paved floor, rather than in the smaller rooms with board floors.

The property, which I shall call ‘Strangers’ Hall’ for the sake of clarity, lies in two parishes: St John Maddermarket and St Gregory’s. The parish boundary divides the site unequally. The Boseleys registered the birth of their next two children at St John’s: William on 10 March 1696 and Abigail on 23 March 1697. Both babies died within weeks of their birth. It looks as if Boseley lived in the East wing of Strangers’ Hall, but he may have preferred the vicar of St John’s. A second Abigail was born in 1699; her birth was not registered at St John’s, but she died in this parish in 1728 aged 29.

In the early 1700s, we meet Boseley the dancing master – after a fashion. He figures as ‘Mr Boseley of Norwich’ in the list of dancing masters who subscribed to John Weaver’s Orchesography; or the Art of Dancing (1706). This was a translation of Feuillet’s Choreologie with the author’s new system of dance notation, published in Paris in 1701. ‘Mr Boseley’ was also among the masters subscribing to Edward Pemberton’s Essay for the improvement of dancing (1711). Both works included a short treatise and a collection of dances.

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Labec Steps 3A