By Prisina Kemp
Shotesham is a village of around 562 souls; five miles south of Norwich, it has connections, historical, social, political and royal—and that’s where I was heading when I got off the bus at Upper Stoke, a couple of weeks past.
Upper Stoke sits at the highest part of the ‘high place’, the ancient Hundreds of Henstead. I know 90 meters above sea level isn’t exactly ‘high’ but this is Norfolk, and 90 meters is the second highest place in the county. Since I intended to finish my walk in the Tas Valley, at something close to 5 meters above sea level, I expected most of the trek to be downhill. Ha! The land undulates. Unexpected rises and hidden houses in little dips.
I had enticed my daughter into this walk with mention of the rare southern butterfly, the Camberwell Beauty, I’d seen last year  peppering the steep hillside meadow just south of the Stoke to Poringland road. On that occasion, a very hot day, I was climbing the hill on my way home from West Poringland and places beyond. This time, alas, the wind scoured that hillside with far more vigour than forecast by the Met Office. So much for butterflies, rare or common. Moreover, that wind promised a miserable day.
Glad to be off the hillside, we then hiked a short way along a road, busier than expected – and still windy. But there were these Mallows all in flower, and I so wanted a photo. (See Pretty in Pink)
And the windblown poppies were waving their scarlet petals as if flamenco dancers with their dresses. It was as well this walk wasn’t all about flowers. But at least the squirrel kept still while I clicked it!
Turning off road, and into a farmyard . . .
The buildings found around a farm’s yard are not as quaint as they used to be. But certainly functional. Kinda . . . futuristic and Bauhaus together!
And except for a solitary farmhouse almost lost in a dip of the land, there was no other sign of habitation. Just fields upon fields upon fields, all greying into the distance: peas and barley and wheat, and oil-seed rape, now green with their pods, no longer sweet-smelling. But, time to stop waxing lyrical and tell you something of our destination.
… or Scotessa or Scotessam as it was first recorded, which could signify ‘the village of Scots’ (Scots here meaning the Irish pirates who made life hell at the end of the Roman Occupation). More likely it means ‘a gathering of warriors’ pieces’, i.e. land given by some long ago Saxon, or maybe Danish, lord to his fiercest fighters.
I favour that king to be King Cnut; he had much dealings with this area, donating Saint Botolph’s church and its parish as a foundation gift to the abbey of St Benet at Holm (near Acle on the edge of the Norfolk Broads). At the same time, a Saxon named Brictrict gave St Martin’s, another of the Shotesham churches (there were four), to the same abbey, along with the adjoining hamlet of Grenvil. Land around here was held off the abbey until the Dissolution.
So, a Danish king’s land, Shotesham, mostly given in reward to favoured warriors. And then along came William the Conqueror and, after his victory at Hastings in 1066, did much the same thing.
The main manor of Shotesham (later known as Shotesham Hall) included the church of All Saints (still open for business, stood proud upon its hillock).
Taken from its Saxon holder, the manor was delivered into the hands of the Anglo-Breton Ralf the Staller, a former toady of King Edward the Confessor who in 1067 William appointed as Earl of East Anglia. Alas, he died two years later and the land went to his son, Ralf de Gaël—who then was exiled for rebellion in 1075. The land was returned to the king’s hands and placed in the temporary keep of Godric the Sewer. It’s believed that this Godric had been steward to the Anglo-Breton Earl Ralf; regardless, he now was steward to the King.
King William (the Conqueror) had loaded this Godric with more confiscated lands than any decent man could manage. So Godric offloaded a few of the manors—for a fee. This particular manor of Shotesham he leased to King William’s half-brother, Odo, bishop of Bayeux—Who in turn let it to Roger Bigod, sometime sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk—Who in turn let to one of his followers, Aitard de Vaux.
And there it remained, in the hands of the de Vaux family until . . . 1288 when, upon marrying Petronel, eldest daughter and coheir of John de Vaux, a half share was assigned to one William de Nerford who held it off the Lord Marshal aka Earl of Norfolk aka Roger Bigod (a lineal descendant of that C11th Roger Bigod, sometime sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk). Petronel’s sister held the other half; they would eventually be reunited.
The manor remained in Nerford hands through generations until only a lone daughter was left. Margery. Margery died ‘without issue’ in 1390. But, wise woman, before she died (in fact, pre-1388) she sold it on, to—Sir John White, a knight already enfeoffed with lands in Suffolk. And there it remained, in ‘White’ hands, until—
From Bartholomew White (died 1495) to his son Simon White (died circa 1505) to his son, Edward White (died 1521) to his son George White who . . . oops, died without issue.
So a quick backtrack up the tree . . . to Edward White’s brother, Edmund White, who died in 1538, and to his son Edward White, who died in 1558—unwed.
Luckily, for the estate, Edward had a sister, Anne White. Anne White married one Henry Doyly of Pond Hall, near Hadley, in Suffolk. Phew! And Shotesham Manor became the Doyly family’s seat.
By then Shotesham Manor included the former Shotesham Hall, along with another nearby manor, again in Shotesham, of Toft Hall, and also the one named ‘Swans’.
Toft Hall gets a mention in Domesday Book: it had been held, TRE (In the Time of King Edward) by the Anglo-Saxon bishop of East Anglia, Stigand. But Stigand wasn’t to remain in East Anglia, he was destined for greatness. Not only did he become the ‘King’s Bishop’ at Winchester (a much sought-after seat) but also Archbishop of Canterbury. And then was excommunicated for pluralism—at which Toft Hall was taken from him and granted instead to Roger Bigod, that same sheriff already mentioned.
Swan’s Manor had been in the hold of Ulketel (who we’ll meet in a later post, when we finally arrive at the supposed deserted village of Saxlingham Thorpe and its thriving neighbour, Saxlingham Nethergate). William, the wonderful conqueror, assigned Swan’s Manor to Robert Malet, lord of the honour of Eye (Suffolk), someone I don’t intend to deal with here.
But to return to Shotesham Manor, now grown large . . .
The Doyly Family:
Like the Bigods, the Doyly family arrived with the Normans in 1066 (Robert D’Oyley de Liseaux, named for Ouilly in Calvados, Normandy).
At that time the said Robert d’Oyley was given lands chiefly in Oxfordshire where he built a castle (at Oxford) and married the daughter of Wigot, the Saxon lord of Wallingford. Their daughter, Maud, inherited her mother’s land (i.e. Wallingford) which, as was the way, passed to her legal lord and husband, Miles Crispen. But despite when widowed she then married Brian Fitz Count (illegitimate son of Alan IV Duke of Brittany), with neither husband did she produce an heir. Her inherited lands therefore passed to her uncle Nigel, Robert d’Oyley’s brother (Constable to King William Rufus).
And so the successions went in regular fashion until—Henry Doyly married Anne White, heiress of Shotesham in or around 1558.
Knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire, in Queen Elizabeth’s time. Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1578. Sheriff of Norfolk again in 1590. Died 1597 in possession of the manors of:
- Shotesham Hall, Swans, and Toft Hall, Shotesham
- St. Benet’s manor in Shotesham
- Warham manor
- Blackford Hall in Rockley (another Henstead parish)
- Various granges in Shotesham, Stoke Holy Cross, and ‘other adjacent towns’
- And several churches besides
Again, descent reeled through the generations in normal fashion until it arrived at Sir William Doyly (the Elder) who, dying in 1677, left the entire estate to his son. Sir William D’Oyley (known as the Younger) who promptly ‘disposed’ of parts of his assets:
Shotesham Hall, Swans and Toft Hall, and the lease of St. Benet’s manor in Shotesham; Blackford Hall (alias Stoke Holy Cross manor), Rostlings and Gostlings in Great and Little Poringland and Stoke . . .
To Samuel Verdon, sometime under-sheriff of Norfolk. (We will meet with the Verduns when we arrive at Saxlingham Nethergate). By 1689, the widow of Samuel Verdon had these manors in mortgage.
However, the term ‘disposed’ apparently does not mean sold. For in 1699, Robert Davy, trustee to Sir Edmund Doyly (grandson of the frittering Sir William the Younger), baronet and one-time resident of my birth-village of Costessey, sold those very same manors to Christopher Gibbs, worsted weaver of Norwich.
But here I confess to encountering confusion.
For this historical account, I’ve been following Francis Blomefield’s ‘Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 5′ (London, 1806), pp. 503-519, to be found on British History Online.
As with all writers, Blomefield was a man of his times. A clergyman, born of a Thetford family, and by now (post Cambridge degree in Divinity) with a living in South Norfolk. His style tends towards convoluted sentence structure with punctuation that would give any modern editor a nervous breakdown. So, Blomefield says first of Robert Davy, trustee to Sir Edmund Doyly, selling these manors. And then seems to contradict himself by saying that ‘the lands and estates continued in Sir Edmund’.
Moreover: ‘In 1739 Christopher Barnard of Yarmouth was lord, and his widow now holds it for life, and at her decease it goes to her husband’s two sisters, who are both married.’ Amazing. For in 1731 it is known that Shotesham Hall (and lands etc) was bought by William Fellowes; he was then aged 26 and was destined for a distinguished career as a philanthropist.
The Fellowes Family:
Locally, William Fellowes is most noted for his role in establishing the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. But even before that, together with local surgeon Benjamin Gooch, he had set up what must have been one of the very first cottage hospitals in the country, in his own village of Shotesham. As Lord of the Manor—and he was very much lord of that manor, owning almost all the land, and the houses (though those were sold off during the 20th, century)—he cared for the people in his charge. Yet William Fellowes is not the most notable of that family and I did promise you royal connections.
Robert, Baron Fellowes of Shotesham:
According to ‘thepeerage.com‘ the former ‘Lord of the Manor’, Robert, Baron Fellowes of Shotesham was:
- Assistant Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1977 and 1986.
- Deputy Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1986 and 1990.
- Privy Counsellor (P.C.) in 1990.
- Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1990 and 1999.
He was created:
- Knight Commander, Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O.) in 1989.
- Knight Commander, Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) in 1991.
- Knight Grand Cross, Royal Victorian Order (G.C.V.O.) in 1996.
- Knight Grand Cross, Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) in 1998.
- And received Award of the Queens’ Service Order (Q.S.O.) in 1999.
On 12 July 1999, he was created Baron Fellowes, of Shotesham (U.K. Life Peer). But none of this mentions his own, personal, royal connections.
In 1978, he married Lady Cynthia Jane Spencer, daughter of Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer & Honourable Frances Ruth Burke Roche. For those who don’t recognise the name, Lady Cynthia Jane Spencer is elder sister to the late Princess Diana. This makes Robert Fellowes uncle to the Princes William and Harry. Moreover, through his mother, Jane Charlotte nee Ferguson (b.1912 d.1986) he is first cousin once removed of Sarah, Duchess of York, divorced wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York. And further, through his great grandmother, he was related to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Mother.
Considering the painful events of August 1997, during which period Robert Fellowes was Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II, it is not surprising that he announced his retirement from the Royal Household that following year, in 1998. But to believe that was the end of his public career is a mistake. Amongst his several appointments since, as listed by Wiki, the one I noticed was Chair of the Prison Reform Trust, in 2001.
But to me, Robert Fellowes will always be known as the landowner who allowed me to freely walk his land (providing I kept to the designated footpaths, of which there are plenty). And that land contains so many gems by way of wildlife (many of the flower photos I posted last year were taken around here), not to mention the wealth of history, two of my passions compactly catered in one.