Norris, John (1734-1777) (DNB00)

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NORRIS, JOHN (1734–1777), founder of the Norrisian professorship at Cambridge, born in 1734, was the only son of John Norris, (d. 1761), lord of the manor of Witton in Norfolk, by his wife, a Suffolk lady named Carthew. He was educated at Eton and at Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1760 (Graduati Cantabr.) He was member's prizeman in 1761. On leaving the university he settled at Great Witchingham, Norfolk, and built a house which he partly pulled down on the death of his first wife in 1769. Coming to live at Witton, he began in 1770 to build Witton House and to lay out grounds. About 1773 Richard Porson [q. v.], who lived in the neighbouring village of East Ruston, was brought to his notice by the Rev. C. Hewitt. Norris caused Porson to be examined, and, on a favourable report, raised, and contributed largely to, a fund for sending him to school. By this means Porson went to Eton (J. S. Watson, Life of Porson). Norris died of fever on 5 Jan. 1777 (Gent. Mag. 1777, p. 47) at his house in Upper Brook Street, London. He was fond of inquiring into religious subjects. He is described as being of a gloomy and reserved disposition, and it is said (Europ. Mag. 1784, p. 334) that though he was ‘respected by all, there were few who were easy and cheerful in his society.’

Norris married first, in 1758, Elizabeth, only daughter of John Playters of Yelverton. She died 1 Dec. 1769, leaving one son, who died in infancy, and Norris erected a monument to her with an eccentric epitaph in St. Margaret's Church, Witton (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 286). Secondly, on 12 May 1773, he married Charlotte, fourth daughter of Edward Townshend, D.D., dean of Norwich, and by her had one daughter, Charlotte Laura, who married, 17 Nov. 1796, Colonel John Wodehouse, afterwards second baron Wodehouse. By his will, dated 26 June 1770, Norris charged the Abbey Farm, in the parish of Bacton, Norfolk, with an annuity of 120l. for the foundation of a professorship of divinity at Cambridge, and of an annual prize of 12l. in money and books for an essay on a sacred subject, and also for providing a sermon at Great St. Mary's every Good Friday. The 105l. annually assigned to the professorship has since been augmented from other sources, and the prize is (by statute of 6 April 1858) now awarded every five years. The first ‘Norrisian’ professor was appointed in 1780, and the ‘Norrisian Prize’ was first awarded in the same year. Norris also left 10l. per annum to the vicar of Witton for the performance of service on every Sunday during Lent, and endowed two schools for twelve children each at Witton and Witchingham. Norris's estate of nearly 4,000l. per annum descended to his daughter.

[European Mag. May 1784, pp. 333–4; Cooper's Annals of Cambridge, anno 1777; Blomefield's Norfolk; Norfolk Tour, i. 237–9, ii. 966; Cambridge University Calendar; Potts's Cambridge Scholarships.]

W. W.