Overview: For those who do not know where Fishley is, particularly its Hall, Wikipedia tells us only that it is in:
“the English county of Norfolk. Administratively, it falls within the civil parish or Upton with Fishley which in turn is within the district of Broadland. Fishley sits a mile north of Acle, roughly halfway between Norwich and Great Yarmouth.”
This information, whilst correct, is something only Treasure Quest enthusiasts would thrive on. Better still, would be an instruction that would actually pinpoint a place that is almost ‘off the map’ – for there is very little there, except the lovely 12th century church of St Mary’s, Fishley Hall itself, a farm and open countryside. The old village of Fishley has certainly been long lost, which for Norfolk, is certainly not unusual for it has numerous other ‘lost’ villages. Villages that were considered ‘lost’ for various reasons; these included desertions; plague, soil exhaustion and probably more. When a village became ‘lost’, and Fishley remains somewhat of a mystery, it often left tell-tale signs of where it was or might have been. With Fishley, all that seems to remain is an open field – for the church and hall, which were both once ruinous at different points, made a come-back!
The village of Fishley:
To find what was once the site of the old village and Fishley Hall, today’s visitor would need to approach it along the B1140, the relative part of which that runs between South Walsham and Acle; they can, of course, approach the relevant turning from either direction. From South Walsham, after passing Church Road (a left-hand turn to Upton) the visitor would soon notice the premises of Hugh Crane Cleaning Equipment on the left, shortly before Acle. At this point, on the right, is a white/black road-sign which says ‘Fishley’ and points for the visitor to turn left – he, she or they have almost arrived! This narrow road, or to some a track, leads first to Fishley’s St Mary’s Parish Church and further on, to Fishley Hall itself with open countryside almost all round.
The old village of Fishley (and nearby Upton) was listed in the Domesday Book within the Walsham Hundred; its recorded population was shown as 33.3 households in 1086, which placed it in the largest 40% of recorded settlements. Fishley also recorded three Manors, for which each ‘holder’ was separately listed as both Tenant in Chief and Lord of the Manor – 1st Manor: – Abbey of St Benet at Holme; 2nd Manor: – King William and 3rd Manor: – William of Ecouis.
Fishley Hall and Estate: It would appear that the Fishley Estate has been a small compact unit of never more than 500 acres since it was first recorded in the Domesday Book; today, it is barely 350 acres. It also has had a long history of ownership by wealthy families who seldom, if ever, lived there, preferring to rent out the farm house and land and live off the rentals received. It also seems that the Hall was once associated with Royalty; King John was said to have hunted at Fishley during his reign of between 1199 and 1216; Ann Boleyn’s family had loose connections there. Clearly, the Estate was once renowned for its hunting and fishing – as well as its good arable land, and there has been a substantial dwelling at Fishley since the days of King John, who in 1201 gave its tenancy to his Falconer Roger de Veile.
According to Francis Blomefield, in his Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, Vol.11, 1810, pp.100-104:
“the manor of Fishley came into the ownership of the de Veile family sometime in the late 12th century. King John, in his 2nd year (1201) had grant and charter of confirmation of this manor, and those of Laringset, Witton, &c. as his ancestors held by the service of being the King’s ostringer (or falconer) dated at Dorchester, April 19, under the hand of Thomas, archdeacon of Wells, witness, William Earl of Salisbury, and in the 13th of the said King (1212), held it by the fourth part of a fee, and Thomas de Veile by the same tenure.
Sir John de Veile and Leola his wife were living in 1277 and gave lands in Fishley and Witton to the priory of Bromholm; in 1300 John*, son of Sir John de Veile, dying without issue, Reginald de Dunham, son of his sister Beatrix (b.1274), was his heir and inherited the manor. By 1316 the manorial rights were in the possession of Peter Buckskyn who conveyed it in 1335 to Roger Hardegrey, a citizen of Norwich. In 1365 license was granted to John Berney and John Plumstede to give the manor of Fishley to Joan, widow of Roger Hardegrey for life.”
*The stone coffin of Roger’s son, Sir John de Veile, was discovered at Fishley church as recent as 2011.
Fishley: The Ann Boleyn Connection: Sir Nicholas Wychingham of Witchingham in Norfolk, who died circa 1433, had a daughter named Elizabeth. She subsequently married Sir Thomas Hoo who, as a result of marriage, came to possess Elizabeth’s inheritance of the Fishley Estate. Sir Thomas, a commander in France, was also rewarded with the Barony of Hoo and Hastings in 1447, thus bringing the total Hoo Estates to cover part of Norfolk, but principally in Hertfordshire and the Bedfordshire border area, which was centred on the family house at Luton Hoo.
Sir Thomas Hoo’s eldest daughter Anne Hoo (1426-1484), by his first wife, Elizabeth, married Sir Geoffery (Bullen) Boleyn sometime before 1448. With this marriage, Lady Anne Hoo as she became, subsequently brought her mother’s inheritance of the Fishley Estate into the ownership of the Boleyn family – and there it remained for a hundred years or so. It therefore followed that the Fishley Estate was in the ownership of the Boleyn family from sometime before 1448 until approximately 1561 when Sir William Boleyn sold it.
Sir William Boleyn was uncle to Anne Boleyn, the same Anne Boleyn who married King Henry V111. From the hundred year or so ownership of Fishley it follows that many of the Boleyn family although they may never have lived there, no doubt would have visited it. However, it remains a matter of conjecture whether, or not, Anne Boleyn ever visited Fishley with her uncle – possibly while staying at Blicking Hall?
Fishley, !8th Century: Fishley Hall has often been referred to ‘as of the Georgian period’; this, however, does not mean that the Hall is Georgian – only the façade can claim such provenance! The fact is that, after a William Luson had purchase the Estate in 1714 (see below), he bricked up the windows at the front of the Hall and added the façade, that was in 1717. This feature is the only part of the building that can be classed as ‘Georgian’; the main front section of the Hall, on to which William Luson added this façade, is probably up to a hundred years older. Indeed, the lower flint sections of the external north wall to the dining room was considered to be older still.
Now, every old Norfolk Hall seems to have a good story to tell – if only their walls could speak! At Fishley Hall there is such a story; it is of a tunnel having once existed which ran from the cellars (which still exist and have brick barrel vaulted ceilings) under the north wing and then to a boat dyke that then directly connected the user to the River Bure – and to the sea beyond. By 1812 the boat dyke, and no doubt the tunnel had long since been disused. The estate map of the same year provides such evidence – the dyke from the River Bure is shown leading up to the Hall, with its own turning basin so that boats could unload, or load, a cargo and turn round and go back to the river. But one may well wonder who, and for what purpose would cargo be transported to and from the Hall during that period – smuggling maybe?
A clue may lie with William Luson himself – pure speculation of course! He was indeed a wealthy merchant who came from a staunchly non-conformist family and lived in Great Yarmouth; he had made his money, legitimately one must suppose, from trading with Holland. He could, therefore, well afford to purchase Fishley Hall; which he did, from the previous owners who were the Pepys family of Impington near Cambridge. They were distant cousins of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepy, and had created their own wealth as lawyers in London. As an aside, the tenants of the Pepys family’s Fishley Hall were said to have been an Edward Deborah and an Edward Jay. Today, there are members of the Jay family buried in the neighbouring Upton Church; they were once a prominent local farming family. James Jay was the Steward of the Manor of Upton with one member of Upton’s Lord of the Manors being Christ Church College, Oxford.
In his Will of 1731, William Luson bequeathed the Estate, along with other land he owned in Gunton near Lowestoft, to his second son, Hewling Luson. Again, none of the Luson family came to live at Fishley Hall. Instead, Hewling lived at Gunton Hall and is credited with the discovery of a seam of clay on his land which was used in the founding of Lowestoft Pottery. His clay was very similar to that used in Holland to produce Delftware. As well as owning the Fishley Estate, the Lusons also had the right to appoint the Rector, and it seems that the Rev Edward Holden, appointed in 1753 was a relative of Hewling’s wife – nothing untoward there we don’t suppose!
Fishley, 1836 to 1875: It is not known when the Fishley Estate came into the hands of the Reverend Edward Marsham; he being a member of the extended Marsham family of Stratton Strawless; and the former incumbent of both Sculthorpe and St Margaret’s Church at Stratton Strawless. However, in 1836, Fishley was considered to be a ‘decayed parish’ and the Hall occupied by a Mrs Elizabeth Taylor; by 1845, a William Henry Grimmer lived there. Nine years later, the parish had reached the point of being referred to as ‘dishevelled’; it would seem that there had been a slow deterioration, which had not been redressed during Edward Marsham’s occupancy. In addition, William Henry Grimmer had departed from the Hall, in favour of Edward Marsham who had himself moved into Hall. Not only that; but Revd. Robert Cooper was no longer the incumbent of St Mary’s church because the same Edward Marsham had also taken on this post; he being a “squarson” – a member of the clergy who was also main local landowner. The farm bailiff was a Mr John Yallow.
Enter Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards of Hardington Hall in 1859, having inherited the Fishley Estate from her late uncle, Reverend Edward Marsham who died that year. She was to prove to be a generous benefactress who did much for the Fishley Estate and return it to a respectable state. It was she who, in 1860, was responsible for the renovation of the Hall, when the north wing (referred to above) was pulled down, and the Hall’s ‘Pistor’ chamber organ was moved into St Mary’s church – this unique 1781 instrument was said to be one of only three organs from this manufacture which is known to still exist and in use today. In addition to all this, Miss Edwards also paid for the extensive restoration and repairs to the church. Then in 1872 she financed the building of the National School at Upton and in 1875, the building of a new Rectory on the South Walsham road leading into Acle; the Revd. David Thomas Barry occupied it as Rector.
With the arrival of Miss Edward, The farm was leased to Mr Henry Read and it was his turn to move into Fishley Hall. By 1865, John Squire had moved into the Hall, where they were to live for the next twenty-six years.
Into the 21st Century: Through the early years of the 20th century other tenants occupied Fishley Hall, but gradually thereafter it was to deteriorate; by the 1980’s the Hall, which had not been lived in for about fifty years, was roofless and dilapidated. Its non-use had ensured that its eventual ruinous state was principally due to water pouring in through a roof that had continuously lost more and more of its roof slates. In the end, some of the bedroom floors had collapsed on to the ground floor – the Hall was a candidate for demolition. But no; in 2013, four years of ‘painstaking’ restoration began and by 2017 the historic building had been brought back to life; fit to take on quite a different role. Today, the property is better-known as ‘An Enchanting Wedding Venue’, and a holiday retreat, with eight bedrooms and all the facilities one could expect.
As for the Rectory; by the 1980’s, it was the Amber Lodge Hotel, subsequently becoming the Manor Hotel & Country Club, with a telephone number of Acle 377 and the Mannings Hotel & Restaurant. The property, in the end, was closed and sold in 2006; today it is in private ownership.
Walkers on Sheringham’s west end clifftop footpath, which leads up to the Coastguard Hut, may not know that this is an area of the cliffs which, during the Second World War was honeycombed with tunnels and heavily defended. What they may also not know is that this elevated position also overlooks the place where, in the early hours of 6 December, 1939, three enemy airmen lost their lives.
This War-time drama occurred during a night of hail and rain and brisk winds. Residents close to the seafront were awakened by the sound of an aircraft, flying very low and with engines spluttering, which went on to crash in the sea on the east side of the Lifeboat Shed. Despite an initial fear that ‘Jerries might be running around in the dark,’ people poured out of their houses in the pitch dark, and the lifeboat crew was ‘knocked up’ to launch the lifeboat into a heavy swell to search for survivors.
Ashore, flickering lights and torches picked out a parachute which was draped over the promenade, near the Whelk Copper. About 50 yards from high-water mark was the equally ominous sight of a swastika-adorned plane rolling in the sea. Despite the wind, hail, rain, topped with the stink of aviation fuel, some men bystanders waded into the sea with ropes and managed to secure the wreckage to the breakwater, to prevent from being driven away.
It was left for daylight to not only bring further detail, but also a flood of military guards, officials and aviation experts. They identified the aircraft as a Twin-Engine Heinkel HE 115 Float Plane, which may have been laying magnetic mines – who knows? Apparently, the story went round that the aircraft had been ‘downed’ by one of our ‘secret weapons’; subsequent opinion suggested that it had possibly clipped one of the Chain Home Radar Towers at West Beckham. The Press at the time sensationalised (what’s new!) the news with headlines such as “Nazi Plane Crashes into the Sea”. It was said that the Heinkel also boasted self-sealing fuel tanks, a system which would have been of interest to the on-the-spot officials who were poking around the wreck; but also of great interest to British boffins back at base who were working on their own version. Eventually, of course, the wreckage was cleared away, though one of the engines is said to be still there – lying in about 20 feet of water.
But what of the German crew of three? The body of the pilot was discovered immediately and subsequently buried, with military honours, at Bircham. The other two bodies were washed ashore several days later. They too were given military funerals, this time at Sheringham’s Weybourne Road cemetery. After the War, they were said to have been exhumed and re-buried in the German cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffs.
It is an odd fact that if the Heinkel had come down at low water, it might well have been recorded as the first German plane of World War Two to have crashed on British soil.
Footnote: RAF West Beckham, which had close links with the local fighter station RAF Matlask, was opened in 1938 and comprised a transmitter and receiver site, a generator site and underground reserves. It reported to the filter room at RAF Watnall which was the HQ to No. 12 Group RAF, and the station was originally parented to RAF Bircham Newton, followed later by RAF Wittering and finally RAF Coltishall.
The radar site was located at Bodham Hill and was known as A Site. During World War II the station was commanded by the famous dance band leader Marius B. Winter and because of his background the soldiers based at the camp were said to have been ‘very well entertained’. The Site closed in 1956.
There were also two other separate camps: B Site, near Baconsthorpe, provided accommodation for the WAAFs and airmen from 1939 to 1946. It was also known as “The Marlpit Camp”, due to its close proximity to a disused marl pit – which is now a fishing lake. The camp was closed down in 1958.
C Site was home to the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1940 and in 1941 was used by the Military Police, followed by an RAF regiment from 1942 until 1945. After the war the site went into care and maintenance. Today the station is privately owned and many of the buildings are still in existence.
Apart from an ‘Introduction’, The story contained herein is a Myth! – maybe based on a traditional story where ghosts emerge out of the sort of variable weather that one can find at Skiffkey! It is a story that may once have been widely believed – but possibly false or, at best, a misrepresentation of what may have happened sometime in the distant past. You decide!……..
Introduction; The village of Stiffkey lies on the North Norfolk coast, along the A149 coast road between Wells-Next-The-Sea and Morston. The name of Stiffkey derives from the tree stumps that are found in the marsh – the area of which is referred to as ‘tree-stump island’. Skiffkey is a beautiful village consisting largely of flint and brick cottages, built on the banks of the charming River Stiffkey which is bridged just into the Langham road. The river, with its little, narrow, confining valley is quite attractive during summer months and never seems to lose its way as it flows through the village on its way to the sea at Stiffkey Freshes. There was once a harbour at Stiffkey, but it has long been completely silted up – the reason why those ‘Blues’ of old grew so fondly attached to the area.
The main street of Skiffkey is narrow and winding and is bordered on both sides by high walls – making it a dangerous place for pedestrians, also something of a nightmare for motorists – especially in the busy summer months when tourists pass through from afar. In fact, for those who venture through the village by car, van or lorry for the first time they would immediately notice one thing – the road is not only extremely narrow, but has no pavement between the flint walls and road. In the height of the summer tourist season this feature sometimes contributes to the occasional ‘incident’ caused by vehicles which choose to joist with others, often resulting in damaged paintwork at best or dented bodywork and, frequently, displaced side mirrors. It is also not the place for the faint hearted or for those who like to test their prowess at speeding. Patience is required!
Our Story: In the small village of Stiffkey, out on the salt marshes is a large mud bank called Blacknock, which is the site of a ghostly haunting. Stiffkey is famous for its blue cockles, and in the 18th century these were gathered by the women of Stiffkey. It was hard and potentially dangerous work as the tides race in, cruel and fast over these marshes. But the Cocklers of Stiffkey were tough women, they had to be. With their weathered faces, dressed in pieces of sacking for warmth, they trawled the marshes for cockles.
Once collected, the cockles had to be hauled back in large sacks to the village, without help of man or beast. It was no wonder that the women of Stiffkey were known thereabouts as Amazons, given their strength and hardiness. You had to be tough to be a Stiffkey Cockler. On one particular day the Stiffkey women were out as usual gathering the ‘Stewkey Blues’……
We all told her, but she wouldn’t listen, not her. Her mother was the same, stubborn as a mule. Her mother was a Stiffkey Cockler as well, but at least she died in her bed, not like her poor daughter.
It’s hard work cockling. You get paid by the sack so if you come back with only half a sack then you, or one of your children, might have to go hungry. We have to carry those sacks, full of cockles, all the way back to the village; you can’t get no mule out there, not out on those sand banks. But we’re tough, tough as old leather. That’s why they call us Amazons hereabouts. Though being tough don’t make it any easier when we lose one of our own.
But she wouldn’t listen……
We all saw that the tide was turning; turning fast and the weather was closing in quick. That’s why we packed up. None of us, apart from Nancy, had a full sack – but half a sack, your life and a night with an empty stomach is better than no life at all. So, we left the girl. Left her out there by herself still gathering cockles out on Blacknock whilst we all came back; came back home to our families and to safety.
There was nothing we could have done, she wouldn’t listen. Who could have known it was going to get that bad – and that quickly. Of course, when she realised the danger it was too late, the roke (fog) had descended. No way could she find her way back. I don’t even think Nancy could have found her way back in a roke like that. Not even with all her years of experience.
Our men folk tried to get to the girl. Well they could hear her see! Out there in their boats on the sea they could hear her calling and a screaming for help. My man said he even heard her cursing and swearing; raging against the roke and the tide – even against God himself! Then all of a sudden, he said, there was silence and he could hear her no more, none of them could. So, they turned back – had to – too risky in all that roke in a boat when you can’t see where the mud banks be.
She’s still out there of course! No, not her body; No!, that we found the next day. Still had her knife clasped in her hand and her sack, a way off still just half full. Seaweed there was, all tangled up in her hair and her eyes. Well, her eyes they were open, glaring one might say, glaring at the injustice of it all. No, it’s not her body out there, that be in the churchyard, but her spirit, her restless spirit, that’s still out there. Now I can’t spend my time gossiping I’ve got to get on, got to get back and feed my family.
No, it’s not ‘cause of the tide; the tide has already turned and it’s on its way back out…… But there’ll be a fog tonight; you can already see it beginning to roll in from the sea……It’s her, she’s always much worse on foggy nights, much more restless and noisier – probably ‘cause it was foggy when she drowned……No, she’s far worse on foggy nights. On foggy nights you may even see her; with all that seaweed still in her hair. So, you don’t want to be thinking about going out there, not by yourself, not out on Blacknock sandbank!
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The first 3 weeks of February 1916 were very unsettled, and often windy and wet; but it was very mild for that time of the year so it was confidently predicted by the weather forecasters of the time that ‘there was no chance of snow’ – sounds familiar! By 16 and 17 February, the temperature did settle close to 12°C in many places and there was heavy rain. However, on the east coast of England conditions were to be far worse – with gale-force winds and snow!
It was on Thursday 17 February 1916 when newspapers gave accounts of the ‘violent weather conditions which beset Britain’ and the ‘extensive damage to property and the loss of life as a result’. The “windstorm”, as it was called also resulted in ships being lost at sea, as did the Lowestoft trawler, ‘Narcissus’, which went aground and sank. The “Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal” of Friday 18th February gave a local report of ‘a violent gale, a hurricane and snow across Norfolk and Suffolk and described the damage which was caused by the extreme weather conditions and the ensuing floods.
But it was on the morning of Wednesday 16 February 1916 when, amid those strong gale force winds and very rough weather, the “the large steamer SS Hjørdis” set off from the Alexandra Dock in Hull bound for Calais; it was fairly fully laden with a cargo of 495 tons of coal. In charge, as skipper, was Captain Jensen; his crew amounted to ten men, made up of nine Norwegians and one Dane. Of the Norwegians, Thor Halnessen was the Chief Mate, Peter Hammer the second engineer, Eugenen Andersen an ordinary seaman, and Nilsen the steward. Ralf Petersen, from Denmark, was the boatswain.
The SS Hjørdis seemed to have had very competent skippers throughout its forty-three years of battling the North Sea, skippers who had managed to survive the sort of extreme weather conditions of 1916, conditions that were forcing some ships to run into harbour to avoid being sunk or run aground. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to see the Hjørdis leaving port that Wednesday morning, and the best that could be said about Captain Jensen’s decision was that it reflected his feeling that his ship had an obligation to fulfil her charter as it headed due south along the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire shoreline. In due course, the ship passed the Wash and prepared to round the Norfolk coast towards the North Sea; she was, after all, sailing during wartime when movements may well have been restricted. It was a direct route which would have taken her north of Sheringham to arrive off Cromer, before continuing to follow the coast, to Great Yarmouth and then south to Calais.
Captain Jensen’s planned route for the Hjørdis would suggest that he intended to hug the shore, coming in to the lee of the land to take advantage of the shelter which the North Norfolk coast can offer from south-westerly gales; the plan and the worsening conditions left little room for error. The weather was expected to hinder the ship’s progress but, surprisingly perhaps – and based on the 75-nautical mile distance travelled between Hull and Blakeney and the twelve hours it took her to reach the North Norfolk coast – the Hjørdis had travelled at close to her normal cruising speed of 6 knots. However, the added loss of visibility seriously impeded the Captain’s knowledge of the ship’s true location.
About twelve hours later, shortly after seven o’clock in the evening, the ship did go aground at the west end of Blakeney Bar and was wrecked; only one of the eleven-man crew survived despite the Captain and crew managing to launch and take to a lifeboat. Unfortunately, the boat was swamped within minutes by a large wave; it was a matter of speculation whether the ten men were drowned in the lifeboat or when they might have taken to the water in an attempt to swim ashore. Ralf Petersen, the boatswain from Denmark, had the presence of mind to take off his boots and most of his clothes before striking for the shore.
Against immeasurable odds it would seem, he reached the beach and struggled along it for nearly two miles – apparently by following the telegraph poles which were positioned along the beach – before reaching the Blakeney Watch House. From there, a Mr Strangroom, a 45-year-old Auctioneer and Draper of Cley who was acting on behalf of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society, arranged for Petersen to have new clothing and be taken to the “King’s Head” public house in Cley’s High Street. There, he was cared for by Frederick Baines, the 40-year-old Licensed Victualler. The “King’s Head” was the place to which bodies of those lost at sea were traditionally taken to be coffined before burial.
The Rescue Attempt: The newspaper reports which followed gave no information as to how emergency assistance was summoned, or the sequence of events which cause it to be instigated. The men in the Watch House may have seen the Hjørdis from their upstairs “look-out” room or it may not have been until Ralf Petersen reached the Watch House that the men there raised the alarm. What is known is that the Cley ‘Rocket Brigade’ was hastily assembled and hurried to the beach with five horses; under the supervision of Henry Parker, a 58-year-old Journeyman Butcher from Cley, and the rocket apparatus which was carried on a cart lent by John Everett of Hall Farm nearby. Battling against the gale, the Brigade’s progress along the shingle would have been slow, but they did manage to get to within 300 yards or so of the SS Hjørdis, but there was no response to signals sent up and the Brigade returned to their base.
Explanation of the Cley ‘rocket apparatus’: The system was simple but effective for the rescuing of shipwrecked mariners from the safety of the shore – lifeboats themselves would ground in shallows or be beaten back by crashing breakers. The system was invented by Captain George Manby, barrack master, of Bauleah House on St Nicholas Road in Great Yarmouth. In 1807 he witnessed scores of ships and crews being lost in appalling weather. One in particular was the gun-boat ‘Snipe’ which ran aground at Gorleston. Manby galloped there on horseback, seeing “entreating men clinging to her rigging and women thronging the forecastle with the most piercing shrieks, imploring our succour and assistance.” As he watched, helpless and frustrated, exhausted men were falling from the rigging into the cauldron of a sea which was sweeping women overboard to their deaths. That night 147 souls perished… all within 50 yards of safety!
Manby set to work. After much frustrating trial and error, he devised a system under which those being rescued were hauled ashore in a breeches buoy which hung beneath a pulley on an aerial line fired across the stricken vessel by mortar or rocket. He demonstrated it with himself as “the endangered mariner”, and also created a star shot for work in darkness. It was put into use for real in 1808 when the brig ‘Elizabeth’ grounded 150 yards offshore in a blizzard. The line was successfully fired across the brig and secured, and seven relieved seamen were hauled to safety by pulley-on-line through snow, sleet and rollers.
It would seem that, during the interval between the SS Hjørdis faltering on to the beach and the Rocket Brigade being summoned, the ship’s crew – possibly thinking that rescue from the shore was hopeless or would be slow to execute – took to their own lifeboat. They may well have been clear of the ship for a short time before the huge fateful wave overwhelmed them; some may have tried to swim to shore, others may have chosen to remain in the lifeboat – who knows?
While the Rocket Brigade was returning from the beach, which would have been about 11.30pm, a body was found by Corporal Bertie Hale of the 67th Provisional Battalion, approximately 150 yards east of the Watch House. An hour later, a second body was found about 2½ miles east of the wreck by a James White, Naval pensioner of Church Loke, Cley. Both bodies were recovered from the water and taken by the Rocket Brigade’s cart to Cley. They were examined the following morning by Police Constable Hewett, a retired (possibly because it was wartime) 56-year-old police officer from Norwich; he had them removed to Blakeney. Two more bodies were discovered soon afterwards at Salthouse.
News of the Disaster: Early, brief reports of the SS Hjørdis appeared in regional newspapers in the days following the ship going ashore. The extent of the loss of lives was feared but not confirmed:
“Lloyd’s Blakeney (Norfolk) message to-day says the Norwegian steamer SS Hjørdis, from Hull for Calais, went ashore on Blakeney Point last night. The crew left in a boat, which was swamped. It is feared that ten lives have been lost. One man swam ashore.”
Ralf Petersen’s own account of his courageous attempts to save his fellow crew members and of his own survival was recorded in the “Eastern Daily Press” of 18th February, two days after the disaster. According to the newspaper, Captain Jensen had said “Hard a starboard” (this was incorrectly recorded in the press report; it should have read “Hard a port”) in order to get into deeper water but the ship struck twice more and then a fourth time, so hard that the compass fell off the wheel. Ralf Petersen’s account suggested that Captain Jensen had been overwhelmed by events and that it was Thor Halnessen, the Chief Mate, who took control.
Within a few days of the SS Hjørdis being wrecked, the scale of the disaster quickly became clear, and the newspapers reported accordingly. However, no mention was made of a lifeboat being launched from the shore which prompted a Mrs Susie Long to write to the “Eastern Daily Press” two days after the Hjørdis was wrecked to state that a boat did in fact go out to offer assistance:
“Sir – In your report in the “Eastern Daily Press” I see no mention is made of the lifeboat crew of this parish, who went out at 8pm and arrived home at 4am in the old lifeboat “Hettie”, belonging to Mr Holliday. They went up to the steamer, where all the lights were still burning both inside and out, and could and would have saved all the crew if they had not previously left. The steamer is ashore on East Point, (later corrected to say ‘West Point’). I may say that the men went on their own initiative, having had no orders. I think it is only fair to mention this. – Yours faithfully”,
Mrs Long’s husband, Charles Long, and her father-in-law, George Long, were both crew members of the RNLI Blakeney lifeboat ‘Caroline’. The “Mr Holliday” referred to was Richard Holliday, a Fisherman, aged 50, of High Street, Blakeney, also a crew member of the ‘Caroline’. At the time, the ‘Caroline’ had a crew of mainly fishermen who were too old for active war service; of eighteen crew members, the majority were over the age of fifty.
Plaques in Blakeney Church commemorate the Blakeney lifeboats and their rescues, up to 1924, but none refer to either the ‘Hettie’. or the ‘Caroline’ going to the aid of the Hjørdis, and it remains a matter of speculation as to how the fishermen of the ‘Hettie’ were alerted to the disaster; perhaps it was by communication from the Watch House or from the Rocket Brigade – and why did the “old lifeboat”, rather than the RNLI lifeboat ‘Caroline’, go out to the SS Hjørdis rather than the ‘Caroline’; was it because the latter was probably in the Lifeboat House and would have taken longer to launch?
The Lost Crew – Inquest and Burials: Of the ten men who drowned, the bodies of only four crew members were recovered and taken to the Guildhall in the High Street, Blakeney and where the sole survivor, Ralf Petersen would identify them. The bodies of the remaining six sailors would, probably, never found. On the Saturday following the disaster,19 February 1916, the inquest into the deaths of the sailors was held at the ‘Ship Inn’ in the High Street, Blakeney. It was conducted by the Coroner of East Dereham, Mr Walter Barton.
The ‘Thetford & Watton Times” of 26th February reported on the inquest:
“……. Ralf Petersen, boatswain on the Hjørdis, and the sole survivor of the crew of eleven, said …… When she first struck the captain said, “Hard a starboard”, to get her into deep water. The order was obeyed, but she struck twice more, and then she struck so hard that the compass fell off the wheel. The chief mate came up from below and said, “The only thing to do is to get the lifeboat out before it is smashed.” But the captain did not give the order as he was on the bridge crying like a little boy. They got the lifeboat out, and all got into her, but as soon as they had got clear of the bow of the steamer the sea half-filled the boat. Then another went right over her, almost filling her, and most of them were washed into the sea………He identified the bodies washed up at Blakeney as Thor Halnessen, aged 34, chief mate, and Eugenen Andersen, aged 20, ordinary seaman. Witness had also seen two bodies that came ashore at Salthouse; they were Peter Hammer, second engineer, and Nilsen, the steward.”
Following further evidence, the jury returned a verdict of “Death by drowning through misadventure at sea” and on their behalf the Rev. Gordon Rowe – Rector of Blakeney and Glandford who expressed great regret at the sad occurrence, and deep sympathy with the bereaved parents. The affair, he said, was “all the more deplorable in that if the men had kept on their ship for an hour or so after she struck all their lives might have been saved.”
Burials: At the time of the SS Hjørdis disaster, legislation – in the form of the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808 (also known as Grylls’ Act) and the subsequent Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 – ensured that the bodies of those lost at sea were decently, appropriately buried. The 1808 Act provided for “suitable interment in Churchyards or Parochial Burying Grounds in England for such dead Human Bodies as may be cast on Shore from the Sea, in cases or Wreck or otherwise”. It required that unclaimed bodies of dead persons washed ashore from the sea should be removed by the churchwardens and overseers of the parish and decently interred in unconsecrated ground. This act was amended by the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 to extend its applicability to bodies found in, or cast on shore from, all tidal or navigable waters.
Historically, fishing and merchant seafaring were the most dangerous of all professions and each year many fishermen, mariners and ships’ passengers lost their lives at sea. Prior to the 1808 legislation, it was customary to unceremoniously bury drowned seamen, without shroud or coffin, and in unconsecrated ground. Uncertainty about the religious faith of those washed ashore, the considerable financial burden which burials placed on the parishes, and the pragmatic local response to these losses, resulted in the widespread practice of shoreline burials in all coastal communities.
The Parish Registers for Blakeney recorded that Eugenen Andersen and Thor Halmersen/Halnessen, whose bodies were recovered by the Rocket Brigade, were buried on 21st February; the Parish Registers for Salthouse recorded that Peter Hammer and (name) Nelsen/Nilsen, whose bodies were found on the beach at Salthouse, were buried in Salthouse churchyard on the same day. It is believed that the men were all buried “with a minimum of ceremony” in probably the equivalent of a pauper’s funeral – in a grave marked, if at all, with just a wooden cross.
The Cause of the Disaster? With only the one first-hand, contemporary account of the disaster, conjecture still remains about what caused the ship to go aground in 1916. Other ships had been sunk during that particular gale so, the disaster could have been caused by weather conditions alone. However, in his statements at the time, Ralf Petersen made no mention of any panic or efforts to prevent the ship floundering on a lee shore; he also stated that the ship’s position was not known when she went aground and that, on leaving the ship, the crew did not know which direction to strike for. Does this confirm that it was a navigational error which was to blame?
According to Sue Gresham of the Blakeney Harbour Association:
“The two – East and West – towers of Blakeney Church were used to guide ships into the navigable channel between the inlet’s sandbanks, the light on the top of the East tower serving as a leading light to guide vessels into the harbour (the “leading light” practice later achieved by using pairs of lighthouses at different levels). When viewed from the sea, in daylight and in darkness, Blakeney Church is the only prominent point on a barren stretch of coastline and a visual aid for mariners to easily identify their position for many miles. If the Hjørdis was closer to the shore than Captain Jensen thought, it is possible that he mistook the light on the smaller, East tower of Blakeney Church for the Cromer lighthouse, further along the coast. This would explain why the Hjordis was so close inshore; the water is very deep close in to Cromer, but not close in at Blakeney.”
Petersen had also described the Hjørdis bumping over a sand bank, then of having only a few moments to alter course and attempt to get seaward into deeper water before the ship struck for the last time. The press reports, based on Petersen’s remarks, referred to “the tide carrying her in… … she struck the west side of the bar and came over it”.
The press reports of the time were somewhat misleading. Reported high water that day was at approximately 5.00pm so, at the time of the grounding, the tide would have been flowing from west to east along the coast and flowing out of Blakeney Harbour. It is more likely, therefore, that the Hjørdis struck one of the many sand bars in that area and then bounced over the first bar into deeper water and pushed on by the east setting tide. This would have made it more difficult for Captain Jensen to have altered course in order to save the situation before Hjørdis grounded on the next sand bar.
There also appeared to be an anomaly in Ralf Petersen’s account of Captain Jensen having given the order, “Hard a starboard” to get the ship into deep water; this would have put the ship further on to the shore! The words might, of course, have been either a reporting error by the newspaper – for the assumed order would be “Hard a port” – or an early indication of the Captain’s confusion or panic in the unfolding disaster. Then there was Peterson’s account of the lifeboat being carried out to sea after the crew had abandoned the Hjørdis; this would further support the fact that the wind direction was south-west and not west-north-west as local newspapers had reported. Therefore, the greater likelihood of the Hjørdis grounding as the result of navigational error was indeed borne out by the lifeboat being carried out to sea. This too would further support the belief that the gale was south-westerly, rather than west-north-westerly.
A Different Outcome Maybe: Mrs Susie Long’s letter to the “Eastern Daily Press” suggested that the crew of the old lifeboat Hettie “could and would have saved all the crew” of the Hjørdis. When the ship struck, the tide was ebbing; therefore, could the crew have remained on the ship and awaited rescue, or simply waded ashore at low tide?
Ralf Petersen’s accounts conveyed the desperate situation which the crew encountered, where events were happening quickly, in uncertain circumstances: one of their lifeboats had been smashed before she grounded; there was no time to send up flares; the ship was taking in water; the crew did not know where they were; the skipper had lost control; and the ship was showing signs of breaking up. With the benefit of hindsight and with clearer heads at the time, there would have been little doubt that if the crew had remained on the Hjørdis, they would probably have survived – either by being rescued by the “Hettie” or by remaining on the Hjørdis until low tide.
The SS Hjørdis Now:
The wreck of the SS Hjørdis still lies off Blakeney Point. Gradually, over the years, it sank beneath the sand, with more local sand regularly moving in to almost completely covered it. Eventually, in September 1960, a survey from an unknown source produced a report which is held by the Blakeney Harbour Association; it gives the following information about the wreck:
“Iron Norse steamship 200 ft long 30 ft beam lying in a deep pool on dry bank heading 20 deg true with a list to port and one mast standing at the fore end. The hull, which is broken in two amidships, is about 9ft out of water………The boiler and engines are showing, also a cat davit is standing near the stern…… The wreck extends approximately 40 ft North West and 130 ft South East of pole carrying a light erected on wreck position…….(Trinity Superintendent Great Yarmouth 13.11.58).”
Apparently, the position of the wreck was checked again by Trinity House on 2 October 1969 when the SS Hjørdis’s position was found to lie 259 degrees 1.75 cables from position 525902N 005825E in position 525858N 005812E. Then in October 1993, Trinity House – in whose possession the wreck then was – carried out another survey which showed that the wreck was lying in a NNW/SSE direction in depths of between 2.0 to 2.5 metres at low water springs.
A further observation made by Trinity House in 1995 – referred to a suspicion that Hjørdis had been ice strengthened for the Baltic winter trade – suggesting that this would account for the fact that her low section had lasted for so long. In August 1995, a proposal was submitted to Trinity House by a local company, offering three options to remove the wreck between the “fair weather months” of April to October 1996. In the event, the Hjørdis was not removed and the wreck has remained in situ off Blakeney, always marked with a buoy, which was continually destroyed by the strong tides. It was removed but continues to serve a useful purpose – more than 420 miles away in a Cornish coastal village. It is now securely fastened on dry land and put to use as an honesty box at a car park in Porthallow on the Lizard peninsula. As for our Norfolk wreck, it is marked with a Trinity House beacon.
Aerial photographs commissioned by the Harbour Association in 2016 showed that much of the ship’s structure still remains, despite the fact that the Blakeney Harbour mouth regularly changes position. Currents push the mouth towards the east, producing a lengthening peninsula of sand between the entrance channel and the sea. Tidal currents then break through towards the west and the eastern mouth fills up again.
In recent years, the harbour entrance channel has been moving towards the east, bringing it nearer to the wreck. In April 2016, this movement reached the wreck, scouring through it, so that SS Hjørdis lay in the middle of the channel at the entrance to the harbour; by December of the same year, the channel was moving east of the wreck and beginning to bury Hjørdis in the sand once again. The movements in the sand peninsula and the changing position of the harbour mouth determine whether Hjørdis is either almost completely covered by sand and lost to view – or is still a visible reminder of the lost ship jutting from the sea.
The Hjørdis has lain off Blakeney Point since 1916 and, as the local sand moved in, the wreck became almost completely covered. Between 2015 and 2016, the channel moved half a mile to the east and the flow of water over the wreck scoured her out. Large sections of the vessel’s hull and deck were uncovered. It would appear poignant that, in 2016, one hundred years after the ship went down, the SS Hjørdis showed herself once again.
Source: This blog is based almost exclusively on Sue Gresham’s research and subsequent report written for the Blakeney Harbour Association in 2016/18. The full report can be viewed via the following link:
Banner Heading Photo: An Aerial photo of Blakeney Point, Norfolk – by Mike Page
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From the moment he was christened, or baptised – whatever you prefer, Onesiphorus Randall was destined to succeed in this world; it may appear to some that, as far as money was concerned, his destiny was pre-ordained – for ‘Onesiphorus’ means “bringing profits”! This is certainly how the future turned out for this splendidly named Norfolk lad who, almost from the moment he moved from the County to London, began his journey towards amassing a fortune.
From an almost relatively inconspicuous start of becoming a publican within a year of his arrival in Poplar, in east London, he soon began dabbling in the building trade thereabouts. He must have realised, even then, that there was money to be made as a fully-fledged property speculator there for the Poplar district was ripe for development. It so happened that he was ‘in the right place at the right time’ and clearly took full advantage of a growing situation. Later, as an increasingly rich man, he was to find time to regularly return to Norfolk and spend some of his wealth on ‘indulgences’ in the County of his birth.
Onesiphorus Randall was born in Cley, Norfolk on August 11, 1798, the youngest of five children. If ‘Ancestry’ records are to be believed then it would appear that his parents were John Randall and Elizabeth, nee Hook. The family were considered to be natives of Holt and, again, it would appear that Onesiphorus’s father, John, was born there in 1756; however, nothing further is known about Onesiphorus’s mother, Elizabeth. The boy’s upbringing and education is also unknown but in 1819, three years after the death of his father, Onesiphorus moved to the Poplar district of London; he was 21-years old. One can only speculate as to why he felt compelled to move, and why he chose Poplar, one of the poorest districts in the capital. Did he strike out blindly when he moved, or did he simply believe that opportunity lay waiting in such a place?
It is known that events moved rather quickly after he arrived in Poplar. Within one year, and barely 22 years old, he was settled as a publican of the Silver Lion in Pennyfields, and ran it until 1831 when he followed a William Blundell to become the licensee of the Globe Tavern at 33 Brunswick Street in Blackwall – that was until 1835. However, in between and sometime around 1825 whilst at the Silver Lion, he became involved in building speculation in the area and he was not alone in doing this. Maybe, over the flowing pints, the word was out that real money was to be made from the land that was increasingly becoming available for house building. Clearly, the area was desperate for cheap houses for rent, to at least those on the bottom of the ladder and the lower middle classes. Here, it should be borne in mind that the opening of the West India Docks in 1802 stimulated a rapid growth in housing development of predominately ‘mean terraces of rented cottages’. Poplar Fields, of which we speak, was the area north of East India Dock Road, and was developed as Poplar New Town from the 1830s to the mid-1850s – see below. By the late 19th century, poverty and overcrowding were rife and firmly established.
Randall’s Estate: Onesiphorus’s initial scheme begun rather modestly in 1827 when he took a lease of land to the south of East India Dock Road. There he built a terrace of four houses, numbered 179–185 East India Dock Road, but known from 1832 as Randall’s Terrace. Onesiphorus occupied the then No. 185 (it later became No. 4) for himself in 1831, and where he was to remain until his death in 1873 at the age of 75.
Then, apart from building ‘modest houses in the adjacent parish of St Leonard’s, Bromley’, Onesiphorus’s began to build his ‘Randall’s Estate’ as part of Poplar’s ‘New Town’ to the north of the East India Dock Road, commonly known as ‘Poplar Fields’ until it was renamed ‘Poplar New Town’ in the 1830s. This land had previously been given over to market gardening and pasture, apart from a potash factory between Upper North Street and the ‘common sewer’ which drained the area. Development of the district east of the sewer began during the 1820s, but the major phase followed the release of the remainder of the area for building from the mid-1840s – this was when Onesiphorus became seriously involved, along with a series of other speculators who had leased areas of land which made up the whole. Within three to four years building of the whole area was ‘carried on with rapidity, equalled, perhaps, by no other suburban district of the metropolis’. The name ‘New Town’ was in use by 1836 and was applied generally to all the developments north of the East India Dock Road.
Onesiphorus ‘Randall’s Estate’ was in the centre of New Town, on a seven-acre field called The Grove. The southern section of this land had been held as copyhold of the manor of Stepney by the Smith family. In 1847 Richard Smith, junior, leased the land to Onesiphorus, having obtained a licence to demise the land for 90 years from Midsummer 1846. To the east of The Grove ran the ancient Black Ditch or common sewer, which formed the eastern boundary of the estate, while its western edge was along Upper North Street. Those boundaries merged at the north and south to form a lozenge-shaped area developed by Randall between 1850 and 1857.
Randall’s Estate was developed in the usual manner of building leases, most of them on terms of 80 years. A variety of local builders and craftsmen were involved in the construction of his estate. Among the most important were George Lester, carpenter; James Harpley Leake, joiner – who later ran the Estate Office for Randall; John Banbury and William Wickes, both bricklayers of Poplar; and Henry Clarke, a local builder. When finished, the development comprised 188 dwelling houses, 42 shops and houses, 49 lock-up shops in Randall’s Market and a large premise, formerly known as the Market House Tavern.
The southern portion of Randall’s Estate was built first, with the Market, which Randall also built, in the centre; streets ran from the market on an east-west axis. But from the outset, the standards of the new buildings were criticised. Randall himself was accused by the district surveyor of building a:
“fourth-rate dwelling house in Market Street of unsound materials and not in a manner to produce solid work, and on insufficient foundations”.
One wall was said to contain a large number of brickbats, and Randall was ordered to rebuild it. Despite this, he seemed to have little intention of making improvements; why should he when there was more money to be made by keeping the cost of his materials as low as was practical – he ‘got away with it’ and was not alone. In 1857, when the Estate was well advanced, the Building News still expressed concern when stating:
“a great number of new streets are in progress, but we regret to observe that they are anything but what they ought to be as regards design, materials and workmanship, being run up in a very paltry style”.
By means fair or foul, the whole estate was completed by the end of 1857. Grove (later Bygrove) Street was developed between 1849 and 1855, with 21 houses erected. Richard (later Ricardo) Street was built between 1851 and 1853, and Randall (later Augusta) Street between 1848 and 1854, with 24 houses constructed. On the south side of the Estate was a terrace of 11 houses, known as King’s Terrace, which was built by 1851 and named after Thomas Henry King, an architect and civil engineer of Spitalfields, who leased the site from Randall in 1851. Market Street included a terrace of nine two storey houses.
All the houses were similar in style and building materials. They were built of greyish brick, two storeys high and enriched with compo dressings which the ‘Building News’ again thought ‘preposterously too heavy in their proportions’. Towards the end of the 19th century, after Onesiphorus Randall had died, the streets of his Estate were described as “mostly straight dull rows of two-storied houses with a frontage of from 14-16 feet containing 6–8 rooms … most of them rise straight from the pavement in their grimy ugliness. There is generally a back yard of varying size and capabilities behind”. It was also self-evident that gardens did not flourish in this part of the east End!
On the north side of Market Street was a terrace of nine houses. The three houses at the centre of the terrace were built beneath a high pediment on which a market clock was placed. Both the pediment and the cupola of unusual shape on the roof were Classical in design. The northern vista of Randall’s Market was close by these houses.
Randall’s Market: At the centre of the development was Randall’s Market. It consisted of a north-south street of lock-up shops with a circus in the middle, where it was bisected by an east-west street. It was an ambitious scheme to establish a shopping area north of East India Dock Road. Costermongers, who were felt to lower the social standing of the area – as if the area had any more ‘slack’ to fall further, were prohibited from trading there. In some of the early deeds, the scheme was called Trinity Market, no doubt on account of its close proximity to the recently built Trinity Chapel in East India Dock Road. But this name was never adopted, and from its first appearance in the Post Office Directories in 1854, it was called Randall’s Market.
(Randall’s Market, built 1851-52, looking north in the 1920s.)
The Market was showy in style but, again, constructed of cheap materials. An ugly cement drinking-fountain was erected at the centre of the market and was surrounded by a punched-metal and glass canopy. Above the fountain was a gas lamp supported by dolphin brackets. The fountain was said to be in a state of rapid decomposition as early as 1857. Despite its architectural pretension, it was a market in a very humble area. The shops were a series of lock-ups with frontages with double-doors and a facade constructed mostly of wood. The roof of the single-storey shops was finished with a low parapet decorated with pierced stucco-work and concrete statues. In the centre of the market stood the Market House Tavern. This was a three-storey brick building with rendered walls. Italianate in style, the Market House had pedimented and embellished windows and the façade was decorated with a niche containing a statue.
Onesiphorus and his Excursions Back to Norfolk: Almost nothing is known of the man himself, except that Onesiphorus Randall was ‘the most eccentric of men’ who, from the very beginning of his property exploits in London, certainly lived up to the meaning of his name. He was said to have married an Anna Pattenden, who was born somewhere in Middlesex in 1780, and was therefore some eighteen years older than Onesiphorus. Again, this calls into question ‘Ancestry’ records which show that a son was born in 1861, also named Onesiphorus – this fact, if that’s what it is, also calls into question the impression that Anna was the mother. Impossible one would say since, in 1861, Anna would have been at least 80 years old! It would seem therefore that Onesiphorus married for a second time – and the best fit here seems to be a Mary Anne Vousley, who was born in Bermondsey in 1839; making her 22 years old when Onesiphorus junior was born at No.4 Randall’s Terrace, Poplar – the father, Onesiphorus Sen. was 63 years of age – some catch with his money!
During this period of a probable re-marriage and birth, Onesiphorus’s wealth continued to grow substantially and he was able to begin his return trips to Norfolk; whether he made these trips alone or with his wife we just do not know. However, it was again during this period that something happened for which he later became long-remembered in the County. Firstly, he bought Woodlands House in Holt (now part of Gresham’s School), before acquiring the ruined Kelling Old Hall and with it, the associated title Lord of the Manor.
Randall’s Folly: The truth is that, while still Lord of the Manor, Onesiphorus’s local ‘fame’ found its root when he built himself a ‘castle-styled folly’ at Salthouse, on the North Norfolk coast. Unusually perhaps, the Folly was located on a mound of land called the ‘Great Eye’, right on the beach rather than in or even near the village. The square two-storey stone structure was named, and always referred to thereafter, as “Randall’s Folly”. and was connected to a large expanse of grass called the ‘Flat Eye’ on which the village cows often grazed. The Folly was fitted with large double carriage doors front and back on the lower floor.
A member of the public, writing to a local paper in 1922, said:
“The familiar square-built stone house standing alone on the beach at Salthouse has been responsible for numerous questions as to its origin, and so many enquiries have been made regarding its association with smugglers and such romantic enterprises – one is sorry to destroy the illusion”
Just why Onesiphorus fitted double carriage doors front and back on the lower floor remained unclear. Although, his reputed penchant for entertaining the ladies, as spread by local gossip, has been suggested as one reason! As one local lady once put it – long after such rumoured events happened:
“I shouldn’t say this perhaps, but – Randall was very fond of women – that’s what that house was built for! It had a big door either end, and he used to drive up in his carriage and round into the house and right through the house with his coach and horses. The coach used to stop in the house till he was ready to go” …. Nod Nod, Wink Wink perhaps!
Certainly, those doors were real and enabled Onesiphorus to drive straight through in order to turn his horses and carriage round ready to return through the house and out over a bridge connecting ‘Flat Eye’ with ‘Great Eye’ and on to join Beach Road. He could bring the ladies into the house in his carriage and on leaving, open the seaward door, drive over the bridge and turn the carriage around on Flat Eye and depart back through the house! One may well wonder where Onesiphorus’s wife was while these alleged romantic dalliances were taking place in that remote Folly – and for which locals had a much saucier and descriptive name! Had anyone, at any time, given thought to the possibility, remote as may have been, that these ladies were images of no other that his wife?
With that thought, fast forward towards the end of the 19th century after Onesiphorus had died. This was when the Folly was bought by the Board of Trade and used as a coastguard station, housing the village life-saving brigade’s rocket cart and associated equipment. The rocket itself was launched from a cannon firing a Breeches Buoy to those in distress; in fact, saving many lives around the turn of the century. These duties gave the Randall’s Folly a new name of the “Rocket House”. By the early 1920’s however, the property had been sold off to become a holiday home, ending its life as a Rocket Brigade House. Nevertheless, the “Rocket House” name stuck until 1937 when it was privately purchased and renamed ‘Great Eye Folly’. The novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) rented the Great Eye Folly from 1950 to 1951 while working on her final novel ‘The Flint Anchor’ published in 1954. She did not live at the Folly alone; Valentine Ackland, her lover, also stayed with her.
Sylvia Townsend Warner described her first impressions of the Folly in a letter to Alyse Gregory – written in 1950:
“…. I think Valentine will have told you about the Great Eye Folly. I have the oddest impressions of it, since we were only there for about fifteen minutes, and conversing all the time with its owners. But the first five of those minutes were enough to enchant me. It is the sort of house one tells oneself to sleep with, and sometimes I almost suppose that it is really one of my dream-houses, and no such solid little assertion of the rectangle breaks the long sky-line of salt-marsh and sea.”
However, by 1937, the great expanse of “Flat Eye” had been lost to the sea but the folly remained, until seriously damaged in the 1953 flood. Surging water way above any normal height, removed half the building. Deemed unsafe, what remained was demolished. Subsequent storms and surges gradually removed all but a small mound of earth of the “Great Eye”, leaving “Little Eye” to the west as a former memory. In the 1600’s, Little Eye was about two thirds of the distance between the coast road and the shingle ridge and from Little Eye to Great Eye. Great Eye merged with Flat Eye which in turn merged with the shingle ridge, this forming a continuous barrier from near the Dun Cow pub, which didn’t open until 1786.
For nearly 100 years, Randall’s Folly had been a well-known landmark between Little Eye and the Beach Road car park. For many years, some local folk could still remember the iconic building rising high above the shingle on the horizon but, the former folly has not been entirely forgotten. That’s because locally, one local tradition still continues. Today, the local Holt Sea Angling Club holds an event at Salthouse Beach on the day after Boxing Day. Conceived by local fisherman and boat-owners, the annual ‘Rocket House Open’ fishing match is held in memory of the Folly which once stood on the “Great Eye” mound, facing seaward.
FOOTNOTE: Onesiphorus died at No. 4 (previously No.185) Randall Terrace Poplar in November 1873 at the age of 75 years. At the time of his death, his income from leasehold houses in the East End of London was said to have amounted to £3,000 per annum. His young son, also Onesiphorus jnr, eventually inherited the estate (for he was only 12 years old at the time of his father’s death – and 14 years when his mother died) after a protracted Chancery case; he died in 1913 at the age of 52 years.
The painting depicted below is of a derelict cottage; a once former “Tea House” in equally once rambling and romantic gardens in Norfolk. The painting is by James Mayhew who, as a sixth former, submitted it as part of his then ‘A’ Level examination. His choice of subject was well chosen because of its personal and family association with the garden in which it stood.
This association began, for him at least, after his Great Aunt and her husband had bought the gardens and moved into the estate’s “Redclyffe House”. In James’s own words:
“In the mid-1960s I would be taken to these grand, elaborate gardens and lose myself amongst the camellias and rhododendrons, the tumbling “Cinderella” steps and tiers of shrubs that possibly rivalled Babylon.”
To think that the boy’s imagined ‘Babylon’ would not have been possible had it not been for an enterprising Norfolk-born pioneer in preventive medicine, by the name of Dr Michael Beverley who, in 1881, purchased seventy-six acres of land on the western end of Brundall and built what was to become Brundall Gardens. Because of its wooded but unusually vertiginous picturesque slopes, the gardens became known locally as ‘Little Switzerland’, and people loved them – proof of this being the numbers that flocked there in their hey-day!
(Two views further of Brundall Gardens out of season. Photos: Justin Franklin.)
After many years of dedicated work, Dr. Beverley eventually transformed those seventy-six acres into the magnificent garden that it became. Magnificent because it contained a variety of features which included the rockeries and three-stepped ponds which led down to a vast expansive lake; the lowest pond was said to have contained a large and ‘legendary pike that could never be caught’. Around this landscape he planted shrubs and trees – many of them still surviving as specimen trees towering above lake and garden. Along with the original plantings was a collection of exotic birds to excite the visitor. He also built a somewhat luxurious log cabin as a weekend retreat for him, his family and friends.
However, thirty-eight years after his dream first found reality, Dr Beverley’s wife died. This was in 1919 and from that point he must have lost interest in the gardens and estate for he began the process of selling them off – ‘lock,stock and barrel’. This took time and it was not until 1921 when Frederick Holmes-Cooper, who had made his money from the cinematic industry, bought the complete package. He was clearly an entrepreneur in the strictest sense for he lost no time in developing the estate further for, presumably, no other reasons than to generate an increased number of visitors and a greater return on his investment.
One of his first projects was to replace the Log Cabin, which had burnt down just after he had bought the estate; this replacement came in the form of the impressive three-storey ‘Redclyffe House’ built within the grounds for his family; it was high above the vast expansive lake, the three stepped ponds leading down to it – and the large ‘legendary’ pike which could never be caught. Nearby, also overlooking the ponds and lake, was a ‘stone hart’ which was to become more than a feature of the garden. It was often upon this cooperative creature that children were sat to have their photographs taken by Khodak ‘brownie’ box cameras for the family album back home.
Further additions to the Gardens included the Tea House with its genuine Delft tiles placed around the fireplace; these depicted sailing boats . Further down on the river bank was a dance pavilion alongside the landing stage, plus a magnificent Hotel, unsurprisingly named the Riverside Hotel, since that is where it was – on the banks of the River Yare! In 1922, it was said that in excess of 60,000 people visited the Gardens. The sun was to shine in so many ways for both the owner and visitors.
Frederick Holmes-Cooper investments in the vincinity of Brundall did not stop with his Gardens; he also owned the Brundall Gardens Steamship Company and the postcard below was actually an advertisement for day trips on the SS Victorious from Great Yarmouth to the gardens, where entrance fees were 3/6 for adults and 2/- for children under twelve. The reverse of the card told them:
“Any person taking a trip by the SS Victorious leaving Southtown Bridge any morning except Saturday (weather circumstances permitting) to Brundall Gardens, “The Switzerland of Norfolk”, will be amply rewarded. Luncheons and teas at the commodious riverside restaurant at moderate prices.”
Frederick Holmes-Cooper’s enterprising exploits did not stop with his purchase of the Gardens or his ownership of the local steam company. Such was the Garden’s popularity that he was also successful in negotiating for trains on the Norwich to Yarmouth line to stop at what was a bespoke station. It was opened on 1 August 1924 as the ‘Brundall Gardens Halt’ station; its installation costing £1,733, on top of which Holmes-Cooper gave LNER £150 per year to fund a stationmaster – everything seemed complete. The station would be renamed as simply Brundall Gardens in 1948.
However, in 1937, the entire gardens were sold and its gates firmly closed to paying visitors. Over future years, serious neglect set in and some sections of the land were ‘gifted’, or used for downsizing with the remnants sold off to a builder. By the time of the Garden’s last sale in 1968, the original 76 acres had diminished to just 18 acres. Then, in 1969, some fifty years after the Garden’s creation, the impressive ‘Redclyffe House’ was destroyed by fire and the once magnificent gardens sank further towards total neglect.
(Two aspects of the neglected Brundall Gardens. Photos: James Mayhew.)
Unsurprisingly, when there is neglect, vandals soon emerged from wherever they fester and did their worst. In the case of the Gardens, they invaded the area, destroying the Tea House and the stone hart before moving on. The stepped-ponds, the lake and the legendary pike remained but were almost completely forgotten because everywhere became overgrown; shrubs ran wild and the ‘cinderella’ stone steps leading from the house covered in ivy. Everything that was once neat, tidy and attractive became overgrown; sparking at least the imagination of children seeking excitement and adventure amongst the undergrowth. Even the stretch of riverbank, which lies between the Yare and the lagoon, became suffocated with the highly invasive Japanese Knotweed – which one would hope has now been completely eradicated! It was a legacy from the days of Dr Beverley when the plant had been extremely popular from Victorian times.
So, what, if anything, remains of Brundall Gardens? The Lily Lake still lies alongside the railway line, and a small area of the original gardens managed to survive the developer’s bulldozers to become the private gardens of the houses which surround it. The “Cascades” which were a series of ponds leading down to the lake, plus the remains, of what is believed to have been a Roman dock, were restored and now lie in the grounds of Lake House. This property is owned by Janet Muter who, at this point, takes up her story:
“on a chilly March afternoon in 1994, I first saw, quite by accident, the overgrown remains of what had once been the famous Brundall Gardens. By the next summer my husband and I had bought and later acquired three acres of the garden with its beautiful forest trees and water features. I was not young and planned to plant mainly small native trees, shrubs and bulbs, so keeping the area the wildlife haven that it had become. Beneath the trees I grew easily maintained perennials, such as Japanese anemones hardy geraniums and hellebores. I uncovered rockeries and boggy areas creating further interest and added a waterfall and a fountain. For twenty-five years we have opened the garden for the National Garden Scheme sharing it with thousands of visitors.”
Finally, the yacht basin became home to the Brundall Gardens Marina, whilst the landing stage and riverside tearoom site was developed some years ago to house a small marina/ boatyard and holiday cottage complex which seemed, for a long time thereafter, as unoccupied. As for the Riverside Hotel; that was renovated in the 1970s by Colin Chapman, of Lotus fame, but was later declared unsafe and it too was destroyed by fire in 1993 after a reputed lightning strike.
Last words are left to James Mayhew:
“A couple of years ago I visited Brundall Primary School. Instinctively I had parked outside where my aunts and grandparents’ “new” houses still stand (although they died long ago and I hadn’t been to Brundall since I was 18 and produced [my] ‘A’ level work). And by pure chance, one part of the garden, with the three descending lakes, was having an open day for charity.
And so, stepping back in time, I briefly revisited the re-imagined gardens. I was overwhelmed with memories; it was hard to make it seem real. Last of all I found the place where the stone hart once stood. It was probably the last time I will ever see anything of Brundall Garden. At least until I close my eyes and dream. Then I can run around, as a child, those stately trees and play in the tea house again, and sit once more on the back of the stone hart.”
In addition to those photographs kindly supplied from the gallery section of the Brundall Local History Group website, there is also their history of Brundall Gardens in “The Book of Brundall & Braydeston: A Tale of Two Norfolk Parishes” which was produced by the Group and published by Halsgrove in 2007.
In all probability, if the Queen had not visited the Strangers’ Club at 22-24 Elm Hill, Norwich in early May, 1935, Mrs Simmons, of Beckenham would never have attracted the attention of the local Eastern Daily Press. By picking up the ‘scent’ of a local-interest story and linking it with the Club to which Royalty was favouring a visit, the newspaper brought Mrs Simmons into the limelight and to the attention of its readers. The EDP also laid the basis of an unique window into a few small aspects of life in and around the city’s Elm Hill area between 1860 and 1870 which would never have seen the light of a future day had it not pursued the story and the Norfolk Record Office had not filed it for posterity.
Mrs Simmons, for we know nothing more of her identity, lived on Elm Hill from the time when she was a very young girl, through to when she was approaching her 21st birthday. During that time, she, her parents and siblings lived at 22-26 Elm Hill, the very house now occupied by the Stranger’s Club; also, once known as the Paston house, which was rebuilt after the fire of 1507. Mrs Simmons, therefore, probably knew more about what the area was like than anyone else living in those pre-WW2 days. These writings of hers were originally intended only for the amusement of her family as they grew up; however, since they had long flown the nest and the Queen was coming, maybe she was flattered by the attention of the local press – because, it was at that point, she consented to the publication of her personal reminiscences. The opening paragraph was as follows:
“Norwich was my birthplace and Elm Hill my cradle. My earliest home was an old house, there belonging to my grandfather, at least 300 years old [and] once the residence of Augustine Steward, Mayor of Norwich 1545, and now called the ‘Strangers’ Club’. In the lounge is a 20-light window frame of moulded oak from the adjacent building, occupied in the 15th century by the Norfolk family of Pastons and from here some of the Paston letters were written, headed “at Seynt Peter of Hungate” 1479. According to tradition, Queen Elizabeth I looked through this window when visiting the city in 1578……… Be that as it may, I loved the old house, where I spent a very happy childhood. I loved to look from the open window down upon the hill with its great elm tree in the middle of the plain and shading the parish pump (now gone). I can only picture it in bright sunshine, as there were to me few dark clouds in those early days.”
Father Ignatius: Maybe it was inevitable that Mrs Simmons would make an early reference to Father Ignatius O.S.B, since he was quite a controversial during her childhood; his real name was the Reverend Joseph Leicester Lyne. It was while she was living in Elm Hill that Father Ignatius and his Anglican monks first came to open his monastery in 1863. It seems that from the outset of his arrival, she painted a positive and rather charismatic image of Ignatius:
“Indeed, it was through my father, John Bishop, that Father Ignatius founded his monastery at Elm Hill. [The Reverend’s] aunt, Mrs [Julia] Utten Browne,[ wife of Edward Utten Browne of All Saints Besthorpe], called upon my father to ask if he knew of any premises to let suitable for a religious community, and he took her to Samson and Hercules House, then vacant, but as it did not suit he [her father] brought her back to Elm Hill and showed her a big old mansion, entered through an arched doorway into a paved courtyard with buildings around it, and it was here [at No.16 Elm Hill] that Ignatius soon founded his monastery.”
Thereafter, Mrs Simmons would recall that Elm Hill witnessed rare scenes during a period when often the street was crowded with sightseers; sometimes:
“Ignatius would come out and speak to the people, who were often more scoffers than hearers, and when the noise became too much for his voice to be heard he would lead his choir with his beautiful voice and sing a hymn and then retire through the arched gate behind him and the nail-studded door was shut and barred……on Easter morning, long before it was light, the monks came out in procession with banners and cross, dressed in their vestments and carrying lighted candles and censers, and would parade round the Parish singing hymns. I thought it “Beautiful”!
But maybe because Mrs Simmons was writing for her children, she never mentioned the more contentious aspects of Brother Ignatius’s activities, such as the community hostility towards him and his monks, and the fact that opinion was greatly divided towards the principle of accommodating a monk community in Norfolk. Specifically, she did not mention that he had caused outrage in the November of 1863 when it was reported that here was;
“a clergyman of the English Church, who has the temerity to come before a public audience attired as a Benedictine monk, with bare head and bare feet, carrying a rosary and crucifix, which in this country are regarded as symbolic only of the Romish Church, and calling himself by a name not accorded to him by his godfathers and godmother,”
On 13 February 1864, after Brother Ignatius had purchased No.16 Elm Hill as part of his attempt to revive a form of monasticism by forming a religious order, or brotherhood in the city, he was labelled as “notorious” in the press. This preceded his actions of 24 February when he dedicated the building as the “Benedictine Chapel of the Priory of St Mary and St Dunstan,” From this date scenes of disorder and riot were a frequent occurrence in the neighbourhood and the monastery. Directly, or indirectly the existence of the confraternity gave rise to several remarkable incidents; such as the daily procession by the brethren to and from St Lawrence’ church to celebrate Communion – this was met by a mob assailing and insulting them. The protection of the police was demanded by Ignatius, and the magistrates were frequently engaged in the hearing of cases of riot and assault arising out of the proceedings at Elm Hill and St. Lawrence’
Four months later, on 28 June 1864, the wide-spread public outrage at the activities of Father Ignatius and his Third Order on Elm Hill spilled over into actual violence. According to the Baroness de Bertouch, in her book ‘The Life of Father Ignatius’, 1904, it was triggered by the previous day’s pilgrimage of ‘over four hundred enthusiasts’ to St Walstan’s Well at nearby Bawburgh – as a challenge to the Bishop’s authority. The crowd had ‘moved as one long flexible column through the town’ and services were held at the Well, vials and vessels being filled with its holy well water. On their return to Norwich cries of ‘No Popery’ were heard and Ignatius received an anonymous letter telling him that his priory would be set on fire, together with anyone who happened to be within its precincts. A mob of many thousands gathered and detachments of police began to arrive. The brothers barricaded themselves in and some of the sisters arrived to lend support. The authoress lent a degree of humour to the incident when she stated that the sister’s armoury was mixed: “Sister Faith brought her rosary; Sister Hope carried a magnificent rolling pin; but Sister Charity was made of sterner stuff – she brought a kettle filled with vitriol (sulphuric acid).” In the event, the Elm Hill monastery was closed in May, 1866, and the building work of a proposed new chapel to be erected by Father Ignatius was suspended and he left Norwich.
St Peter Hungate Church: Today, at the top of Elm Hill, stands the church of St Peter Hungate. It is not the original church you understand, that was demolished way back in 1458; but the one that was there in the mid-19th century and to which Mrs Simmons attended as a youngster; this was in fact a rebuild by John Paston and Margaret his wife by 1460. Fast forward to 2011 when Simon Knott wrote of it:
“Although St Peter Hungate is right in the heart of the urban area, its setting is idyllic; 16th and 17th century cottages flank the north and east sides, and then beautiful Elm Hill drops away below it. To the west is the magnificent chancel window of the Blackfriars church………. Hungate itself no longer exists, but was formerly ‘houndsgate’ – the street of dogs. In this conservation area the roads are cobbled, and it is an oasis of charm in the middle of East Anglia’s biggest city.”
As a child, Mrs Simmons remembered her father discovering a rude (sic) carving on the stone shaft in the north porch; it was of an acorn with an oak tree growing from it and he thought it probably was to indicate that the present church was built on the site of an older one. St Peter Hungate then, as now, was built of black flint, cruciform in shape and having a nave, chancel, transepts, and square tower with two bells. The roof of the nave was ornamented with figures of angels and with ‘a fine east window filled with ancient glass’; the church also had squints, spy-holes.
In 1861 the interior of St Peter Hungate was much improved and we find that the church also retained what may have been a unique three-tiered pulpit. According to Mrs Simmons:
“the clerk’s desk at the base, and above this the reading desk, equivalent to our lectern, and still above this the pulpit and over all a big sounding-board.”
The church’s Rector at the time was the Rev. Samuel Titlow M.A. who was first appointed to the post in 1839. He was, according to Mrs Simmons: “a confirmed old bachelor who, was very pompous and stern”. She also remembered how the Reverend would preach in his college gown – after taking off his surplice in the vestry! Always, around his neck he wore white ‘Geneva’ bands; these were two bands or pendent stripes made usually of white lawn and worn at the throat as part of the clerical garb, originally worn by Swiss Calvinist clergy. Then there was her father, John Bishop, who was a churchwarden at St Peter Hungate and he, together with his fellow wardens would sit in special high pews at the west end of the church. Whilst all pews were square with high board screens around them, a warden’s pew had a padded arm-rest, just like an armchair and above the pew door was a green curtain, which the clerk drew after everyone had entered and before the service begun. According to Mrs Simmons:
“We, my brother, sister and I, sat opposite to our parents. I could not see over the pew, even [when] standing, so father used to lift me on to the seat, and I well remember an old chap in front who used to lay his wool glove on the top of his bald head to keep off the draughts. I used to hope it would fall off, but it never did.”
She also noticed that on the wall, at the end of the pews, were pegs for the men to hang their hats on. She also witnessed the ritual these men went through before entering their pews; still standing, they would hold their hats before their faces to pray into; only then did they hang them up and then proceed to their seats:
“How queer we should think it now to see a collection of tall hats hanging round a church during a service………[then] Once a month, on the first Sunday, there was Holy Communion after morning service. The bell would be rung on Saturday afternoon to announce the fact. Then, when the service had ended, father and the other warden stepped out of their pews and, armed with big brass bowls, would stand on either side of the porch to receive the alms of the departing congregation.”
It is sometimes amazing how the smallest of memories can be permanently locked into one’s mind. This seems to have happened with Mrs Simmons who, from her recollections of St Peter Hungate, remembered one little incident between the old Rector, Samuel Titlow, and Father Ignatius, who attended one particular service, along with his band of monks:
“The Rector did not approve, but they were parishioners and he could not exclude them – and our father liked Ignatius and showed them into pews in front of the pulpit. All went well until the Creed. The Rector began in his severe style, reading “I believe”. The monks took it up and intoned it. [There was] a pause, the Rector started again and read it deliberately by himself. I do not remember anything else during the service and do not think the monks ever came again.”
Father Ignatius, instead, had a chapel fitted up in his ‘monastery’ and continued to have regular services there. These drew crowds of people; so much so that not all could be accommodated. The solution was for admission tickets to be issued. We are told that Mrs Simmons’s father, John Bishop, did ‘business with Ignatius’, and presumably on that basis he was given a family ticket for any service.
“By the way”, quoted Mrs Simmons at one point, “a funny thing happened one day: Ignatius wanted to see my father and, as he could never appear without a crowd mobbing him, he opened our private door and walked into the house. Our maid was on her knees at her work and, hearing a sound, turned her head and saw (to her) ‘an awful figure clad in black with a cowl over his head’. She fled in fright to my mother, exclaiming: “Oh! Mam, I believe it is the Devil now come in.””
Mr and Mrs Trory:
Mrs Simmons’s reminisces were not, however, confined to the controversial figure of Father Ignatius and his activities. She remembered her music master, Mr Trory who was “a dear old man with a stately wife”, both of whom lived at the top of Elm Hill; he played the violin and his wife sang at the Triennial Festivals. Mrs Simmons recalled that this couple use to recall ‘earlier days when several neighbours owned horses and carriages.’ But Mrs Simmons could only recall one, a Mr Able Towler, of the firm of Towler, Rolland & Allen; manufactures, specialising in crepes, bombazines and Paramattas – and earlier than this in producing the noted Norwich Shawls. Their factory was next to Mrs Simmons’s parent’s home in what is known as Paston House behind which was Crown Court.
She had a very vivid memory of one large room in Paston House which had a beautiful moulded ceiling, from the centre of which hung “a wonderful wrought-iron snake to support the original oil lamp”. It has been said that when Queen Elizabeth I stayed at the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace nearby, she and her courtiers walked through the gardens by the riverside and held court in that very room. On what would have been the same occasion, the Queen was said to have also watched a pageant from the existing first-floor window of the same building – now known as the Strangers Club. Hence the origin of the name “The Crown Court” since applied.
Mrs Simmons eventually brought her newspaper reminisces to an end with a late reference to the Rev. Samuel Titlow and Mrs Trory. The readers are told that Mrs Trory met the Reverend out walking one day and respectably smiled at him and bowed. However, he, looking his grimmest and taking no notice passed her by:
“Soon afterwards he called upon her [Mrs Trory] for a subscription and, before the bell could be answered, he opened the door and met her in the hall. He began in his pompous manner: “Excuse me, Mrs Trory ——,” She took him by the arm, turned him round, saying: “You do not know me in the street and I do not know you in my house,” and she showed him out! The old man was very indignant and afterwards told my father how he had been treated…. When we heard the tale, we were much amused as we could picture the scene and the performers”.
The ‘Minstrel’ was typical of the ships that once provided the bread and butter trade of the Norfolk ports. This topsail schooner was said to have been a handsome and very safe and reliable vessel, which traded along the English coast between the years 1847 to 1904; during its life, it regularly tied up at Burnham Overy, Blakeney, Wells-Next-the-Sea and other ports around the English coast and over the horizon.
Built at Wells-Next-the-Sea in 1847; it emerged at a time when there was a trend towards building larger vessels, capable of trading in much deeper seas and at further distances; vessels such as sloops and schooners of up to 100 tons. The Minstrel went against this trend, being smaller at almost half the size and typical of those that formed the backbone of the Norfolk coastal trade. Minstrel was built at a time when she was able to profit during the best times of 19th century trade, but also becoming old enough to experience its decline. Today, there are but a few 19th century photographs of this ship, accompanied by taped conversations and various written records, all of which is well preserved by the Norfolk Record Office and the Blakeney Area Historical Society (BAHS).
In the Beginning: During the mid-19th century there were two principal shipyards in Wells-Next-the -Sea, those of John Lubbock and Henry Tyrrell; the ‘Minstrel’ was built by the latter, who’s yard was at the East End of the harbour, just past the Jolly old Sailor’s Yard. The Norfolk Chronicle recorded the ship’s launch thus:
“Yesterday afternoon (25th August) at six o’clock, a very pretty schooner called the Minstrel was launched from Mr H T Tyrrell’s shipyard. She is the property of T.T. Mack Esq. of Burnham.”
Jonathan Hooton, writing in his book ‘Minstrel, Biography of a Sailing Ship’ stated:
“A few months earlier, in April 1847, Tyrrell had launched the ‘Countess of Leicester’, the largest vessel to be built at Wells to that date and described as “a splendid brig” and “the finest specimen of shipbuilding ever constructed at Wells.” The event was also recorded, probably by Tyrrell himself, in a two dimensional ‘model’, consisting of a series of cut-outs mounted on a square baseboard [see photo below]. The relevance of this to the Minstrel is that her construction was well underway by the time that the ‘Countess of Leicester’ was being launched and she must be the vessel shown in the model under construction next to the ‘Countess of Leicester’. She is shown stern on with the hull ready for planking. To have such a representation is very rare…..”
The surveying officer at Wells in 1847 was a Charles Claxton; he was there to witness the registration of the ‘Minstrel’ on 4 September; it being the seventeenth vessel registered at both Wells and Cley that year. Eight of these were small fishing craft built at Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Ludham; but four were larger vessels built elsewhere, bought second hand and re-registered at Wells; the remainder had been built at Wells. This was, indeed, a prosperous period for the Wells shipbuilders. In 1847, Tyrrell had built and launched the 151-ton ‘Countess of Leicester’ and the 95-ton schooner ‘Teazer’, whilst, during the same period, the John Lubbock shipyard had built the schooners ‘Sydney Claude’ (84 tons) and ‘Edward Coke’ (87 tons).
The 59-ton Minstrel had two masts and her measurements were; length 57.3 feet, breadth 15.3 feet and depth 8.4 feet. They say she had a graceful square stern and was carvel built, which meant that her planking was laid flush and not overlapped; she also had a scroll rather than a figurehead. She was something that any owner would be proud of, so it was probably inevitable that Thomas Thurtle Mack would commission a painting of ‘his’ Minstrel for posterity. He would have been no exception for it was commonplace throughout the 18th-century for proud masters or owners to purchase a painting of their vessel from one of the artists frequenting major ports who earned a living by faithfully reproducing ships. Here, the ‘Minstrel’ was no exception – and it had an added advantage – the painting would show the vessel in full sail, which is not the case with all the photographs taken of this vessel while in port. By looking at the following painting of Minstrel, the two square sails on her mainmast show that she was a topsail schooner. Two crewmen are shown on deck but it is known that she was in fact crewed by four men.
The vessel was entirely owned by Thomas Thurtle Mack of Burnham Thorpe and her first master was a Henry Howell, who also came from Burnham Thorpe. Thomas Mack himself seems to have advanced his prospects over the years, for whereas he was once described simply as a merchant, he became referred to as a ‘Ship Owner’ with the launch of the Minstrel. His new status went hand-in-hand with his business dealings with Henry Tyrrell, whom he clearly knew and trusted. Thomas Mack had previously dipped his toe into investments when, along with two other business colleagues from Burnham Overy, he had bought a third share in another of Tyrrell’s ships, the 51-ton sloop ‘Hopewell’, which had been built a year earlier in 1846. Mack was obviously happy with his investment, for as well as financing the whole of the Minstrel, he had also taken eight shares in the ‘Countess of Leicester’.
Burnham Overy: The vessels mentioned above traded from Burnham Overy which had long been under Wells jurisdiction. Although never as important as Wells, Burnham had a steady trade during the first half of the 19th century. White’s Directory of 1845 describes Burnham Overy Creek as:
“navigable for vessels of 60 or 80 tons up to the Staithe, where the spring-tides rise 9 or 10 feet, and where a considerable trade in Coal and corn is carried on, as well as in oysters, of which there is an excellent bed in the offing, where 5 boats and 15 fishermen are regularly employed.”
Thomas Mack was, up until 1846, in partnership with a local person named Wiseman at Burnham. Their business was known as Mack & Wiseman, Corn and Coal Merchants. However, that partnership was dissolved in 1846 – as recorded in the London Gazette of that year:
The timing of what was clearly a change of business direction coincided with Mack’s growing shipping investments which, from now on, did not included Wiseman. Instead, it was possible that Mack was strengthening his business links with a John Savory, miller & maltster of Burnham who, along with Mack, partly owned the ‘Hopewell’ which, together with the Minstrel, were built in order to control the shipping of their produce. The ‘Minstrel’ itself was primarily involved in trading from Burnham, although there was clearly a constant interchange between Wells and all of the North Norfolk ports, with the vessel only taking cargoes to and from Wells when it was not needed at Burnham.
Trading – Overseas: But Minstrel was not just involved in the coasting trade; occasionally she ventured overseas. In 1863 for instance, she went from Hartlepool to Hamburg and returned to Burnham. Later that year she made two separate trips from Hartlepool to Memel, Klaipeda, in present day Lithuania. The first was when she returned to Blakeney; then, in the September, she made the return journey to Wells, where the crew were discharged. The crew for these voyages were all from Burnham. They were the Master, 44-year-old Henry Howell; Mate, 26-year-old William Smith; Seaman, 23-year-old Joseph Scoles; and Cook, 21-year-old Henry Howell jnr. On his first trip oversea, the latter received a wage of only £1-15s, the lowest of the crew. However, either he must have creditably discharged his duties or, benefitted from his family connection with the Master – or both, for on his second trip his wages rose to £2-00 – more was to come! However, in between these overseas voyages, the Minstrel did undertake nine coastal voyages that year, all but one starting from Burnham, visiting Hartlepool four times and Newcastle once. It may well have been that she was carrying grain north and returning to Norfolk with coal. Also, the crew had joined the ship at Hartlepool at the beginning of May that year, which may be an indication that the ship had over-wintered at a northern port.
As busy as trade might have been during that period, we do find that the following year, on 23 August to be precise, Thomas Thurtle Mack, sold his substantial share stake in Minstrel; 32 shares went to his fellow Burnham merchant, John Savory, and a further 32 shares to Henry Howell, the Master of the Minstrel – it has been speculated that this portion may have been passed on to his son, Henry Jr., mentioned above. This shift in ownership did not seem to change Minstrel’s trading habits; it still remained engaged largely in exporting grain from John Savory’s granaries in Burnham and returning with coal from the north. When not needed in Burnham, Minstrel would visit other ports along the north Norfolk coast which were involved in a similar trade. However, one wonders as to the degree of profit being made at this time, now that growing competition was being felt from the railways; a trend that would eventually lead to an irreversible decline in the cargoes being shipped to and from the North Norfolk ports.
For nigh-on 44 years, Minstrel had been a family concern and a very reliable vessel, skippered also by only two masters during that time – Henry Howell senior and Henry junior. But in 1891 the father decided to sell his half share in the ship. John Savory, clearly still with full faith in the vessel, bought 16 shares of it, increasing his own share of the ownership to 48 shares. The other 16 shares were bought by a new name on the block, Minstrel’s new Master William Temple – he another Burnham man! Temple had already been in charge of the vessel for at some 4 months prior to the purchase, shipping malt to Newcastle and returning to Wells with coal. However, Minstrel, with Temple in charge, did not sail again until after the change in ownership when she left Wells for Blakeney.
Future Voyages: Throughout the 1890’s her voyage pattern seldom varied, with the carrying of coals, seed cake or barley, from Wells to Hull, Sunderland and North Shields, with trips to Burnham and Blakeney on the Norfolk coast in between. However, by the end of the 19th century the vessel’s trading pattern was forced to change by the terminal decline which was beginning to grip the North Norfolk harbours. This effectively meant that there was not enough trade to keep the Minstrel permanently employed and she had to go seeking trade wherever it occurred; this meant an unfamiliar coarse setting along the east and south coasts of England. Of the eighteen journeys made in 1901, only four were in Norfolk and, when she left Blakeney in the April, Minstrel did not return for the rest of the year. She ranged from Sunderland in the north to Cowes and Southampton in the south, none of them to Norfolk.
Minstrel’s master, William Temple who described himself as being from Wells and Blakeney – probably depending on whichever place he considered to be home – saw very little of his native Norfolk now that his vessel had to sail the south and east coasts of Britain to search for cargoes. The nature of his crew had changed too. Whereas in 1863 the crew remained the same all year and were all from Burnham, only William Temple came from Norfolk by 1901. One could say that the source of the vessel’s crew was now nationwide, if not international.
The Minstrel’s Demise: By 1904 the Minstrel was in its 57th year of what some would term an impressive service, but one which required a continued need to travel further afield for employment. Such was the case when she embarked on her final voyage; leaving Woolwich in the February of 1904, bound for York with a cargo of government stores. But disaster struck on 17 February when she became stranded and lost in a Force 7 easterly gale at Chapel Point, near Chapel St. Leonard in Lincolnshire. The crew were all saved, but not so the 57-year-old vessel which was thought not to be worth repairing. She was broken up in the May of 1904 by J. J. Simons of Sutton, Lincs.
It is said that its master, William Temple, went on to become master of the ketch ‘Admiral Mitford’ and it was rumoured that he became famous for sailing her single handed up to the north-east and then returning to Norfolk where he would moor and sell coal out of the ship, often remaining in one port until all the coal had been sold. Allegedly, he would combine this little bit of business with what became his frequent visits to the nearest quayside pubs. With such a development, it was always likely that tale such as this would have a sequel; in William Temple’s case it was an alleged theft from his vessel at Morston. It happened during one of Temple’s lengthy sojourns there, when someone by the name of Billy Holmes was said to have gone aboard the ‘Admiral Mitford’ and stole money. The case was brought to court, but a local merchant by the name of Gus Hill ‘stood up for Holmes and the case was dismissed’. However, William Temple would have none of it; he felt that Holmes was guilty and, in protest, refused to drink in Morston again, instead confining his drinking to the Blakeney pubs. As an aside, it was said that Temple was also the Master of the ‘Reaper’, as well as the ‘Minstrel’ and the ‘Admiral Mitford’.
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There are parts of South Norfolk that, even today, can seem remote – like those that have a maze of lanes, particularly between Diss and Thetford where the villages hide. It is surprising therefore that one of those villages, Fersfield, holds an important place in the history of Norfolk; but not necessarily because of the village itself, or its parish church. Fersfield is famous because of an 18th century incumbent of its church, St Andrew’s
The church of St Andrews at Fersfield sits where some of those lanes mentioned come together, its truncated, pencil-like tower a beacon across the fields and farmlands. According to Simon Knott (2018):
” The capped tower is reminiscent of Culpho and Thornham Parva in Suffolk, and probably dates from the early 14th century. If so, it is probably later than the bulk of the church against which it sits. There were further improvements: money in the late 15th century brought a fairly imposing south aisle and porch, and the chancel is entirely Victorian, I think. But it all works well together, especially when seen from the south-east.”
This church is depicted on the village sign at Fersfield, and stands next to it. At the brick base of the sign is a metal plaque which reads:
“This sign was given by the people, to the people of the village of Fersfield. 31st July 1988.” Then, in two columns the plaque includes the names of ten individuals before concluding. ‘Between the faces lies our village history.”
Taking this as a guide, it is clear that the residents of Fersfield have every right to celebrate the village’s past. More importantly however is that it was at Fersfield where the first major work on the history of the entire county of Norfolk was written; its author was Francis Blomefield, the 18th century incumbent of St Andrew’s Church who happened to have been born in the village on 23 July 1705.
Francis Blomefield was the eldest son of Henry and Alice Blomefield, who were yeoman farmers nearby. Later biographies record that he developed a fascination for visiting churches as a child, when he began recording their monumental inscriptions, covering Norfolk, Suffolk and later Cambridgeshire. At the same time he began his education at Diss and Thetford Grammar Schools; then, in April 1724, he was admitted to Caius College, Cambridge from where he graduated BA in 1727 and MA in 1728. While at college, he also began keeping genealogical and heraldic notes relating to local families; then, soon after leaving university in 1727 he was ordained a priest whilst continuing with collecting materials for an account of the antiquities of Cambridgeshire.
On 13 September 1729 Francis Blomefield was ordained as an Anglican minister when he was ‘presented by his father, Henry Blomefield, Gent’. His first appointment was a very brief affair as rector of Hargham before moving on to become rector of Fersfield, his father’s family living. According to Simon Knott, it was at Fersfield where:
“……. he would spend the rest of his life. He was not always a well man, and although he visited many of the churches himself, the bulk of his work involved sending questionnaires to Rectors of other churches. Because of this, and because Blomefield himself did not always understand what he was seeing or reading about, the survey needs to be used with care. Moreover, Blomefield did not finish it. I always tend to think of 18th century antiquarians as be whiskered old men sitting with quill pens at high desks, but Blomefield contracted smallpox and died at the age of 47. His work was completed by friends, most notably Charles Parkin and William Whittingham.”
It was on 1 September 1732, when Francis Blomefield married Mary Womack, the daughter of a former rector of Fersfield. They had three daughters, two of whom survived him. It was also in 1732 when the project of collecting materials for an account of the antiquities of Cambridgeshire was deferred when he was given access to Peter Le Neve’s huge collection of materials for the history of Norfolk by Le Neve’s executor “Honest Tom” Martin.
It is said that during a visit to Oxnead Hall in 1735, Blomefield found a vast number of written correspondences among the papers of the country house. Of the discovery, Blomefield wrote in May 1735:
“There are innumerable letters, of good consequence in history, still lying among the loose papers all which I layd (sic) up in a corner of the room on an heap, which contains several sacksful, but as they seemed to have some family affairs of one nature or other intermixed in them I did not offer to touch any of them…”
This collection, known today as the ‘Paston Letters’, is now regarded as one of national significance. These papers date from the period of the Wars of the Roses and the Black Death and reveal details of everyday life of a notable East Anglian family.
Before his untimely death, on 16 January 1752, Blomefield wrote just three volumes of his ‘An Essay towards the Topographical History of the County of Norfolk’. Determined to protect and control the production of this work, he also installed a printing press in his own home. The first volume, covering his own Parish of Fersfield among others, was completed on 25th December 1739. He was nearing completion of his third volume – having reached page 678 – when he contracted the deadly smallpox during a visit to London. He died in Fersfield on 16th January 1752 aged 47. The Rev. Charles Parkin, the rector at Oxborough and a friend and fellow history enthusiast, was the first to continue Blomefield’s work. He not only completed Blomefield’s third volume but went on to write two further volumes. This initial set of three was subsequently published in various forms.
This portrait of Francis Blomefield is positioned on the south side of St. Anne’s chapel in St. Andrew’s Church, allowing him a pleasing opportunity to look down on a memorial which he himself took great pains to conserve. In his own words, from Volume 1 of his work:
“In the south side of St. Anne’s chapel, in the south isle, under the window, in an arch in the wall, lies an effigies of a knight, armed capà-pié, cut out of one piece of oak, which being in a dirty condition, I had it taken out and washed very clean…..… After removing the seats that stood before it, I caused it to be painted in the same colours, as near as could be, and added this inscription:
‘Sir Robert du Bois, Knt. Son of Sir Robert, and Grandson of Sir Robert du Bois, Knt. Founder of this Isle, Lord of this Manor, and Patron of this Church, died in 1311, aged 43 Years.’
He, the most famous medieval survival is the man in a glass case and represents someone who was probably responsible for the rebuilding of the church’s tower. He lies with his legs uncrossed, a rather surprised buck at his feet. Nearby is a relatively plain Norman font. After his own visit to St Andrew’s in 2018, Simon Knott also wondered:
“…… how much Blomefield would recognise his own church if he came back to it today. The furnishings are all modern, and the feel is of a pleasantly light space of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His memorial is in the rebuilt chancel, a fairly simple ledger stone set, not inappropriately, beneath the kind of 17th century panelling which must have been familiar to him. Less happy is the clumsy reredos, which looks as if some of the panelling had been left over and cobbled together with a picture of the Last Supper…… Even today, St Andrew is not without Antiquarian interest. Above Blomefield’s memorial in the east window are three roundels of glass, all of which are continental, I think. They depict St Andrew, St Gregory, and the eagle of St John. They were probably placed here by the Victorians at the time of the rebuilding. Curiously, Blomefield records quite a lot of medieval glass at Fersfield, mostly from the narrative of the Blessed Virgin, which is now all gone……… But despite the modern ambience, this is a church in which to recall the 18th century. The south aisle contains more Blomefield memorials, curly ones on the walls and simple ledgers on the floor. And, looking down on them all, the great royal arms of Queen Anne dated 1703, two years before Francis Blomefield was born.”
Of Francis Blomefield, it has been said that he was one of a generation of 18th century historians who ultimately saved that past belonging to Norfolk churches from being consigned to oblivion – with no thanks to the 16th century Anglicans and 17th century Puritans who seemed ‘hell-bent’ in doing just that. He was a giant among Norfolk antiquarians!
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. Further Note: If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction. Also: If this blog contains any inappropriate information please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for review.
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.
Shotesham …: … 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—
Dynastic Disasters! 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.
Henry Doyly: 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
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.