Augustine Steward was born in 1491 in the Tombland house opposite the Erpingham Gate of Norwich Cathedral. His father, Geoffrey, was a Norwich mercer and alderman. Shortly after Augustine's birth the family moved from Tombland to a prestigious, stone-built house (Suckling House) in St. Andrews. Augustine was apprenticed to his father, who died in 1504. Augustine's mother then married John Clerk, a rich merchant and grocer. John was mayor of Norwich in 1505 and in 1510. Augustine's mother traded as Cecily Clerk with her own registered merchant's mark.
Augustine, known as Austen, became a highly successful Norwich mercer, who signed himself Awstyne Styward. He married twice and lived in the Tombland house where he was born. His first wife was Elizabeth Read of Beccles with whom he had a family of two sons and six daughters. His second wife, Alice Repps, from West Walton gave him a son and two daughters. Augustine was a Norwich councillor from 1522 to 1525, an alderman from 1526 to 1570 and Sheriff in 1526, He was Mayor in 1534, 1546 and 1556, a record that was only equalled by two other men within the sixteenth century. Augustine was also M.P for Norwich in 1542 and a Burgess in Parliament in 1547. During the sixteenth century, the office of mayor meant undertaking a demanding, full-time task for a year. A mayor's own business had to be successful and so arranged that it could run without him. The mayor was expected to use his personal funds for some civic hospitality. However, the Corporation did stage a three-part show to mark Steward's third term in office. It was recognised that Augustine had 'allwayes ben a good and modest man, hee was beloved of poore and rich'.
Steward's influence was prominent in the 1534 rebuilding of the Council Chamber of Norwich Guildhall. He was involved with purchasing Black Friars Church, (St. Andrew's Hall), from the Crown, for Norwich. A 1540 charter conveyed the Black Friar's Monastery to the city for £81, paid by 'our beloved Augustine Steward, of our city of Norwich, merchant.' A portrait of Augustine in his mayoral robes can be seen in the Blackfriar's wing of St. Andrew's Hall.
During Kett's Rebellion in 1549, Augustine Steward played a leading part in negotiations between the rebels and the King's army. Mayor Thomas Codde, who had been taken prisoner on Mousehold Heath by the rebels, appointed Steward his deputy. The Marquis of Northampton, representing the King, was entertained in Steward's house. A plaque on the cathedral wall marks the spot, not far from Augustine's house, where the rebels killed Lord Sheffield and Sir Thomas Cornwallis. Some of Kett's followers ransacked Steward's house but did not harm him. The Earl of Warwick used the house as his headquarters when he put down the rebellion.
Steward's home, opposite the cathedral, is a fine, surviving example of a successful Tudor merchant's trading-house with goods stored in the stone undercroft and a shop or workshop at street level. The family lived in the upper storeys. Augustine's house is jettied, and the timbers have warped over time giving the house a crooked appearance. An upper wing of brick, timber and plaster is built across Tombland Alley. Here you can see Augustine's merchant mark and that of the mercer's guild embossed on a corner stone, together with the date, 1549. Through the arch, the old house timbers are exposed and the carpenters' marks can be seen, denoting the order in which the timbers were assembled on-site after being pre-cut in a timber yard. After Steward's death in 1571, the house became in turn, a butcher's, a broker's, an antique dealer's, a bookshop and a coffee house. At present it houses several antique dealers. Allegedly, there are underground passages leading from the crypt to the Cathedral and also to St. Gregory's church. The ghost of a 'Lady in Grey,' a 1578 plague victim, is said to haunt the house.
Augustine Steward owned Norfolk manors at Gowthorpe and at Welborne. His estate around Tombland extended along the north and west sides of St. George's churchyard into Prince's Street and included the site of an ancient inn. In later life he resided in a large, quadrangle house that he had built on Elm Hill, on the site of Paston Place originally owned by the Paston family. In 1507 all the houses on Elm Hill, except the modern Briton's Arms, had been destroyed by fire. Augustine's new house occupied the area now sub-divided into numbers 20, 22, 24 and 26. The carved beam over the archway of Crown Court bears Augustine Steward's merchant mark on the right and the arms of the mercer's guild on the left. Augustine Steward was buried in the church of St Peter Hungate.
The house on Tombland where Augustine Steward was born still exists and has been called Augustine Steward House. It is generally reputed to date to 1530, however Marion Hardy, in an unpublished biography of Steward, discloses an earlier date for the house in the 1504 will of Augustine's father, in which the house was mentioned as the location of Steward's birth in 1491. Perhaps the 1491 house was damaged in the 1507 fires of Norwich and Augustine Steward re-built in 1530.
Virtual Norfolk, History on Line: for information on Augustine Steward's part in
Kett's Rebellion. http://www.virtualnorfolk.uea.ac.uk