BIXTON, Walter (d.1403/4), of Norwich, Norf.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. (1) Ellen; (2) bef. Aug. 1379, Katherine, s.p.
Bailiff, Norwich Mich. 1357-8, 1362-3, 1369-70, 1376-7, 1383-4, 1391-2;1 treasurer 6 Nov. 1381-Mich. 1382.
Tax controller, Norwich Dec. 1380.
Commr. of array, Norwich Dec. 1386.
J.p. Norwich 27 Nov. 1391-Apr. 1397.
With 15 elections to his credit, Walter Bixton has neither superior nor equal in the parliamentary history of Norwich during the Middle Ages. Yet, at the time of his first return his family was not well established in the city: there is no evidence of antecedents, only of contemporaries, among whom Roger and William Bixton were his fellows as bailiffs in 1357-8 (his own first term of office) and 1362-3, respectively. Walter held the bailiffship six terms in all, being as such responsible for returning himself to the Parliaments of 1362, 1383 (Oct.) and 1391. Even in the years when he held no official position, he was much employed in the community’s affairs. In May 1371, when ‘a grievous dispute ... between certain citizens and the commons’ compelled the former, under threats of violence, to take refuge outside the city, Bixton, the bailiffs and other responsible inhabitants were ordered by the King to take steps to ensure ‘its safe-keeping, peace and tranquillity’. Some years later, shortly before they left Norwich for the Parliament of October 1377, Bixton and his colleague Peter Alderford†, after discussion with the bailiffs, were instructed to raise ‘matters touching the community’; in other words to present a petition in Parliament praying that the charters, privileges and customs previously granted to the citizens would be renewed. This matter took Bixton back to London in December following and again in January 1378, his mission eventually being achieved with the confirmation of the charter on 26 Feb. Shortly after the dissolution of the Gloucester Parliament of November 1378, to which he had been re-elected, Bixton was appointed to a committee of 16 citizens under the chairmanship of two of the bailiffs, which decided to apply future offerings and gifts to the purchase of property for the general benefit of the commonalty. Accordingly, he is recorded as a trustee of a large number of properties, many of them in the marketplace in the parish of St. Peter Mancroft, which the committee leased out for the city’s profit. Furthermore, in 1379 he and his wife conveyed to this self-same body a messuage, garden, quay and crane in St. Edward’s parish. In November that year, he served on another official body, which removed control of the butchery stalls from the bailiffs to the community as a whole. When the rebels entered Norwich in 1381, Bixton’s house was among those sacked, and money was extorted from him under threat of death. During the year 1381-2 he was one of eight notables who temporarily took over the functions of the two city treasurers.2 In May 1386, when a French invasion from Flanders appeared imminent, Bixton was among those citizens of Norwich nominated to act as counsellors to Bishop Henry Despenser in his role as the city’s ‘governor’, the object of their appointment being to hasten the array of the inhabitants in readiness for defence. At the same time he and William Everard* were entrusted with the delicate task of seeking from the King’s Council in London relaxation of a recent demand for a loan of 500 marks; and it was no doubt held to their credit that their arguments resulted in a reduction of the amount requested to £100. Later in the year, however, Bixton and his parliamentary colleague, Walter Niche, were obliged to conclude negotiations for additional loans to the Crown.3
Bixton is the only Norwich MP of whose political sympathies — at any rate, at one period of his career — we can be certain. During the great constitutional crisis of 1386-8, which led to the summoning of the Merciless Parliament with its wholesale proscription of Richard II’s friends and advisers, Bixton openly adhered to the party led by the King’s uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, and was with him when, in the autumn of 1387, Gloucester rose insurrection at Harringay, there to be joined by his closest allies, the earls of Arundel and Warwick. This action of Bixton’s, though in itself unequivocal, is none the less puzzling. Nothing has been found to connect him with Gloucester, who himself had no special interests either in Norwich or in Norfolk, and Bixton’s presence at Harringay cannot readily be explained. Mere chance can hardly have brought him to the duke’s side. It certainly looks as if this episode and Bixton’s election in the following year to the Merciless Parliament, which was completely dominated by Gloucester and the other Lords Appellant, were not unconnected. Yet he later sat too in the Parliament of 1397-8, which Richard II used to destroy or overturn the surviving Appellants with as little consideration as they had shown his friends nine years before. On 20 May 1398 Bixton was formally pardoned for having supported Gloucester in 1387, no doubt at the expense of a fine and a pledge of future loyalty to the King. In 1399 probably — in September — he acted as a deputy bailiff in Norwich while the bailiffs themselves were in London making representations to Henry of Bolingbroke, soon to reign as Henry IV, for the furtherance of their ambition to have Norwich made a shire-incorporate with a mayor and its own sheriffs.4
Over the years Bixton had acquired a number of properties in Norwich. Early in his career he lived in Wymer leet, appearing in 1365 at a view of arms for that part of the city, making an array with its constables and, in 1369, being elected by that leet as a bailiff. There, he had messuages, shops and a grange in the parishes of St. Gregory and St. Giles, while elsewhere in the city he owned property in the parishes of St. Mary Combust and St. Michael Coselany. In the suburbs he held land at Earlham and Heigham. Little is known about his trading or commercial activities, although his service on the committee in charge of the city’s holdings in the market-place and his participation in a 60-year lease of two stalls there acquired from the cathedral priory in 1385, sufficiently indicates where they were focused. He is recorded in 1392 making a shipment of cloth, including kerseys, from Great Yarmouth in a vessel probably destined for Danzig.5
Bixton drew up his will on 8 Dec. 1403 and died a few weeks later. He was buried next to his first wife in the church of St. John the Baptist, at that time attached to the Dominican friary. All of his properties were required to be sold for pious uses after his widow’s death.6