Friday, 1 January 2021


I am now arrived in Exeter. I am now a citizen and what's more a freeholder of this great city and I have been looking at Mr James Cossins' book Reminiscences of Exeter Fifty Years Since, the Second Edition 1878 and I am grateful to Mr Cossins, who died in 1883 and was a tobacconist in Paris Street, for introducing me to the Norfolk Howards. Norfolk Howards, I was delighted to learn, are bugs. No more, no less! Their story starts in 1862 with this hilarious advertisement in the Times of London:

  " I Norfolk Howard, heretofore called and known by the name of Joshua Bug. late of Epsom. in the county of Surrey, now of Wakefield, in the county of York, and landlord of the Swan Tavern in the same county, do hereby give notice. that on the 20th day of this present month of June, for and on behalf of myself and heirs, lawfully begotten. I did abandon the use of the surname of Bug, and assumed, took and used, and am determined at all times hereafter; in all writings, actions, dealings, matters and things, and upon all other occasions whatsoever, to be distinguished, to subscribe, to be called and known by the name of Norfolk Howard only. I further refer all whom it may concern to the deed poll under my hand and seal. declaring that I choose to renounce the use of the surname of Bug and that I assume in lieu thereof the above surnames of Norfolk Howard, and also declaring my determination, upon all occasions whatsoever, to be called and distinguished exclusively by the said surnames of Norfolk Howard, duly enrolled by me in the High Court of Chancery. - Dated this 23rd day of June,1862. Norfolk Howard, late Joshua Bug." 

The originator of this little masterpiece, this prime example of English humour, is apparently unknown but my bet is that it was marinated in wine and/or spirits and penned at either a London club or an Oxbridge college. None of which has anything to do with the city of Exeter except that I first met the Norfolk Howards in Mr Cossins' book where, a decade or more after The Times advertisement, he writes:

"Visitors arriving from London - the great dread was the uninvited ones, 'Norfolk Howards' of which at this time every house in London was suppose(sic) to have more than agreeable, and to avoid any importation of the above-named, trunks, boxes, &c., were taken to the rear of the premises, opened and examined previous to anything being taken to bedrooms, and, if necessary, underwent the process of fumigating with brimstone."

I am alarmed at the idea of these Georgian hotel or boarding-house servants in Exeter rummaging through the trunks and cases of the London visitors and fumigating the contents with poisonous sulphur-dioxide. Yet is there not in these days of plague, someting thought-provoking, perhaps even heuristic, about Exeter's pragmatic attitude to new arrivals?

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