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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

John Pettus

Sir John Pettus and the Plantation Garden

Sir John Pettus (1550 1614), merchant, was the first of his family to be knighted.

He held various offices during his lifetime:-

1598 Sheriff of Norwich. He was one of few men to be sheriff both of Norwich and of Norfolk

1601 - 1611 MP for Norwich

1607  John Pettus, Alderman of Norwich, knighted at Whitehall, on 29th June, in the reign of James I. He was the first member of his family to be knighted.

1608  Mayor of Norwich

1612 became member of the London company which held the 3rd Charter for the colony of Virginia. This company had wide political powers over Bermuda and was an important source of provisions for the floundering colony.

The connection between Sir John and the Plantation Garden at 4, Earlham Road, Norwich, comes through his will, drawn up in 1613, the year before his death.

The will, like those of many of his contemporaries, shows a desire to be remembered for both his charity and his piety. He left cloth gowns and dinners at the 'Maydes Head' to 24 poor men, who were to attend his funeral. And, most importantly for the Plantation Garden, he left 7 acres of land just outside the city walls,beside St. Giles' gate.

Trustees,12 aldermen, were to administer this land so that it produced an income for purposes specified by Sir John. The income was to be used to pay 10s to preachers coming from Suffolk when they preached at the common preaching place in the Cathedral of Norwich on Sundays in summer. Payment would also be made to these preachers for an occasional sermon at his local church of St Simon and St Jude, where Sir John was buried in the family vault.

By 1845 this bequest, with a few other much smaller ones, was known as 'The Preachers' Money'. The land was producing an income of £92 a year from its use as the site of the City Gaol! Further income was obtained from another piece of the Pettus land (an old chalk quarry neighbouring on the Gaol) which was leased to one John Freeman, a bricklayer and builder, who ran his business in the quarry.

In 1855 everything changed. John Freeman's lease ended and the Trustees of The Preachers' Money seized the chance to move upmarket. A lease for nearly 3 acres of the Pettus land, including the old chalk quarry, was granted  to Henry Trevor, a successful cabinet maker and furnishing shop owner of Norwich, and a staunch Baptist known for his interest in Sunday schools and charity. Henry Trevor took on a lease which bound him to build a gentleman's residence to a value of £2000, and he did indeed build a house, with chimneys with date bricks of 1856, which survives to this day, as part of the Beeches Hotel.

A more amazing survival is the Garden which he created in the quarry. He was a man who earned his living by selling fashion, and the Garden shows a consciousness of the broad sweep of fashion in mid-Victorian Britain. Although he only had a lease of the Pettus land, and therefore would have to hand it back to the Trustees after 75 years, Henry Trevor spent lavishly to create the garden which would be described enthusiastically in 1883:-

      'The grounds of H. Trevor, Esq., 'The Plantation', St. Giles' Road, situated in a deep dell, the site of ancient and extensive chalk-pits, is a gem of landscape gardening, and its tropical and sub-tropical collections are in high repute.'

The landscape garden that exists today, lovingly restored for 25 years by the Plantation Garden Preservation Trust, still shows Henry's designs of lawns and formal flower beds, fanciful 'medieval' walls full of 'Gothic' details, the 'Gothic' fountain, steps and balustrades to give views of the carpet bedding, winding paths through trees and shrubs, rockworks and the 'rustic' bridge and summer house. The volunteers who have given so many hours to bring the garden back to life deserve to feel proud of their achievement.

And what would Sir John Pettus make of this use of his land? He would surely be delighted by the comments that visitors make - peaceful, tranquil, a place to refresh yourself. He wanted to do good to the souls of his fellow citizens. In ways which he could never have imagined, his bequest is still doing just that.

Sheila Adam

October 2006