Events for Footprints began at Hellesdon Library in 2018 when Richard Calle, alias Rob Knee of the Paston Heritage Society, gave a talk at the library. He recounted the siege of Hellesdon manor. Perhaps the most striking moment was when a member of the audience, after the talk, produced a cannon ball that had been found in a garden nearby, and wondered if it was from the time of the siege!
A big Hellesdon History Live! event centring on the Paston family took place on July 14, 2018. Instigated by Danny Buck, it was described as an immersive and fun-filled family day out and involved the Hellesdon Community Choir and the local youth club, as well as the UEA and members of the Paston Heritage Society. About 200 people attended, and there was a big response of over 120 on Facebook.
The idea was to meet the ”infamous medieval Paston family” and find out more about the dramatic siege of their house in Hellesdon by the Duke of Suffolk and his men in 1465. Included were displays of 15th Century firepower and interactive medieval crafts.
Organised by Hellesdon Community History, the event celebrated the 600th anniversary of the first Paston letter, showing how the Pastons were Norfolk’s most influential family at one time and how their correspondence through the Wars of the Roses years has helped historians understand the period.
There was also a one-day event on one of the Heritage Open Days in 2021, at St Mary's Church in Hellesdon, the site of the brutal end of the sacking of the Pastons’ Hellesdon estate, with a focus on Margaret Paston. The aim was to look at “imagining and remembering 1000 years of Hellesdon lives”, with display boards and a new art installation containing drawings inspired by some of the church monuments.
The Pastons’ connection with Hellesdon developed through their close relationship with Sir John Fastolf, a wealthy knight and landowner. John Paston’s wife Margaret was Fastolf’s cousin, and John soon became Fastolf’s lawyer. On Fastolf’s death in 1459 John claimed the knight had made a verbal will giving his wealth and estates to John. The estates included Caister Castle, Hellesdon and Drayton.
Fastolf had built a large manor house in Hellesdon and a fortified lodge in Drayton – built with bricks made in Caister as part of the construction of the castle there. The manor house in Hellesdon was accompanied by a lodge and warren near the church.
The Pastons built a chantry at the church for Sir John Fastolf. A chantry was a side chapel where prayers would be spoken for the deceased to help them get through purgatory. Seven poor men were paid yearly to pray for Fastolf’s soul: “The prestes of the chauntry of Heylesdon had, and that vij pore men shull also be founde yerly in the seid plase inperpetuité to pray for the sowles abovesayd and aftir, that is to sey the Satirday, Sonday,and Monday next.’
The young Duke of Suffolk, John De La Pole, contested the Pastons’ inheritance of Fastolf’s land. The case began in the courts in 1460, with the Duke’s mother Alice leading the effort to claim Fastolf’s estates. But despite being arrested, John Paston successfully held his own in court. On October 15 1465 matters escalated with the Duke leading a 300-strong army from Costessey to occupy the Pastons’ lodge at Drayton.
With John Paston in London arguing his case, it was left to his wife Margaret to defend the manor house in Hellesdon against the Duke of Suffolk’s men. As John was both an MP and a JP for Norfolk, Margaret initially sent a man of business to Norwich to get the support of the local justices, but he was ambushed in the city by supporters of the Duke of Suffolk.
Finally, the Duke’s supporters snuck into Hellesdon at midnight on October 15, pulling down the lodge and what was left of the manor house, bringing a cart and fetching away nearly every fitting they could find. After this they moved on to St Mary’s Church, which had been used as a store for tools and weapons by the Pastons. The Duke’s men locked the priest outside the door and robbed the church, stealing the silver and vestments left by the pious of Hellesdon.
As the Duke of Suffolk had royal support, when the royal progress (tour of the kingdom by the King) was shown the damage in 1470, the King declared the damage must have been caused by the wind, and the manor house was abandoned.
Much of this information can be found in Margaret’s many letters to her husband throughout this period, initially seeking his advice and then later describing the siege and its impact on her and the household.
The above information was researched and put together by local historian Danny Buck and made available to the people of Hellesdon.