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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
Norwich textiles
© Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, pattern books in Bridewell Museum collection
The Elizabethan Strangers

Why Norwich?

Norwich textiles
A spotted camlet textile pattern representative of the New Draperies.
© Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, pattern books in Bridewell Museum collection
Strong trading links had already existed between Norwich and the Low Countries for centuries, and evidence from wills shows a Dutch and Flemish presence in Norwich prior to the 15th Century. But, on this occasion, the immigrants were officially encouraged to move to the area.

Since the Middle Ages, Norwich had been at the centre of an extensive textile industry in woollens and worsted. By the 16th Century, however, this industry was in crisis, with competition from cheaper and better quality merchandise from Flanders - a region in the south west of the Low Countries now split between Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Skilled immigrants from the Low Countries could provide a solution to the economic crisis. At a time when skills were handed down through apprenticeships, the Strangers could teach local workers to produce new types of cloth, giving fresh impetus to Norwich's flagging industry.

Interior of Strangers' Hall, Norwich
© Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service (Strangers' Hall)
In 1565, the city authorities sent a representative to Queen Elizabeth I, asking for permission for immigrant workers to settle in Norwich. Later that year, the queen issued a royal "letters patent", allowing "thirtye duchemen" and their households - totalling no more than 300 people - to settle within Norwich's city walls. Twenty-four of the householders admitted were Dutch and six were Walloon.

The Strangers also had their own, pressing motives for emigrating. The anti-Protestant policies of their Habsburg ruler, Philip II of Spain, together with economic hardship and war, forced many people to leave the Low Countries. Between 50,000 and 300,000 refugees sought religious freedom elsewhere, many of whom came to Protestant England, settling in towns like London and Southampton, as well as Norwich.

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