The Pastons are returning to Norfolk!

One of the most prominent Norfolk families is getting a huge boost from the Heritage Lottery Fund – and it will enable people across the county and beyond to join up the dots in its 300-year history.

The family is the Pastons, and their rags-to-riches story is enthralling. Now a National Lottery grant of £374,400 has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the 600 Paston Footprints project, which will open the doors to a new understanding of what made them tick, and the people they influenced.

The project, led by Dr Rob Knee of the Paston Heritage Society and Dr Karen Smyth of UEA, with the help of multiple partners, will cover a great deal of ground, ranging from digitally augmented reality to opening up access to ancient documents.

Chairman Rob Knee as John Paston 3 receiving the HLF letter of approval (see below for full details)Thanks to National Lottery players, the HLF grant allows the project to engage with local "Paston" communities in Norfolk to produce the first-ever lasting, visible and accessible legacy of the amazing Paston story. Next year is also the 600th anniversary of the writing of the first of the world-famous medieval Paston Letters (the earliest collection of family letters in the world), and will be celebrated with a festival, including many performances, workshops, exhibits and alternative story-telling formats[].

During its two-year development phase, the project has grown and been enriched through the process of public consultation. Further collaborations have been established with Broadland District Council, North Norfolk District Council, Norfolk Libraries, the Diocese of Norwich, Norwich Writers’ Centre and a number of churches, schools and local community organisations. A project manager will be appointed to oversee the project.

A key feature of the National Lottery-funded project will be free opportunities for the public to work alongside and be supported by agencies such as archivists at The Norfolk Record Office, St Peter Hungate Medieval Museum in Norwich, Community Action Norfolk, The Norfolk Heraldry Society, professional dramatists, artists and writers, the Paston Heritage Society and academics from the UEA.

The 600 Paston Footprints Project will, over a three-year period, engage with 11 key centres in Norfolk (Paston, Bacton, North Walsham, Gresham, Mannington, Oxnead, Hellesdon, Blofield, Mautby/Caister, Norwich and Dereham) to work with and support local community groups, schools, walkers, churches, museums and the owners of key sites, to provide resources, information boards, events, activities, workshops, podcasts, booklets, and maps of heritage trails and cycle routes.

The National Lottery grant will also enable state-of-the-art 3D digital reconstructions of Paston properties and to develop a website that finally provides a comprehensive resource for all those, in Norfolk and across the world, who have an interest in the Paston story. The site will also provide digitised versions of the two 17th century collections totalling over 1,000 letters.

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England, said: "The Paston Letters are a truly fascinating record of a local family’s extraordinary journey from peasantry to aristocracy. I’m delighted that money raised by National Lottery players can support UEA and the Paston Heritage Society to make this collection accessible through digitisation and an immersive programme of events, particularly ahead of the 600th anniversary next year."

The Paston family, the most prominent in Norfolk in the 15th-17th centuries, is considered the country’s first modern family. The intriguing characters within the family who, remarkably, in less than four generations, rose from the lowest to the highest ranks of society, leap out from the pages of the Letters, their footprints traceable across the landscape, through the many villages and estates which they owned. The challenge is to unearth the many colourful characters that have yet to be adopted and showcased, which will bring to life many buildings and landscapes that we live with on a daily basis today.

In the autumn of 1448, a Norfolk woman wrote from Gresham Castle near Cromer to her husband John to "pray get some crossbows … and two or three short poleaxes’’. This was Margaret Paston, and her household was under siege by an army of around 1000 men led by Lord Moleyns. Later in her letter she adds a request for sugar, almonds and material for her children’s clothes.

Such was the character of this brave and resourceful woman, who was subsequently dragged from her house by the soldiers. What other stories of heroic and daily life co-existing have yet to be unearthed? The Paston Letters contain many similarly vivid images to feed the imagination and illuminate the history of Norfolk and life in war-torn, plague-ridden medieval England, with empowering female characters, wayward children, and a family with a thirst for learning and innovation.

For further information please see the Footprints pages on this site and follow us on twitter @pastonfootprint and email Rob Knee (Chair of the Paston Heritage Society) or Karen Smyth (Senior Lecturer in Literature, UEA) at

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLottery and #HLFsupported.

The photo above shows chairman Rob Knee as John Paston 3 receiving the HLF letter of approval outside a 3D reconstruction model of 15th century Paston Hall. Photo by Peter Stibbons, 3D Imagery by James Mindham