13th March 2017
You may have spotted the merchants’ marks dotted around this website. These strange markings were used by merchants, most of whom were freemen of Norwich, to identify their goods. between 1300 and 1600.
“It was undoubtedly the practice for each merchant to cause his own (mark) to be affixed to this bales of goods, that they might be distinguishable from those of his neighbour, and this was the more necessary when very few could read or write,” says the book Notices of the Merchants’ Marks in the City of Norwich.
It adds that it wasn’t just the ‘opulent’ merchants who used them, but every shopkeeper of any standing in the city. Perhaps, they are a little like the branding or logos that contemporary businesses use.
Many of these marks still remain in Norwich, painted in the windows of churches, carved on to monumental brasses or carved on the doors and panels of old houses, such as Strangers’ Hall. Next time you visit Stranger’s Hall, ask the staff to point them out to you because there are plenty dotted around the building.
You can see the mark of the successful merchant Augustine Steward outside his house which is opposite Norwich Cathedral. It is embossed on a corner stone, together with the date 1549 and another mark of the mercer’s guild.
Schoolchildren will have fun making their own merchants’ marks as part of the Freemen educational days at Norwich Museums this summer.