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West Dereham

West Dereham is a dispersed village with some very interesting history. In 1851 the population was 643, living in 142 houses and the area of the parish was given as 3500 acres, chiefly in the ownership of G S Kett, lord of the manor (who was resident by then in Brooke, south east of Norwich), William Bagge of Stradsett Hall, and H B Mason. The principal activity at that time was, unsurprisingly, farming with 15 farmers, big and small, listed in White’s Directory of 1854. The largest included Hugh Aylmer at Abbey Farm, Robert Liddelow on 352 acres at Manor Farm, the Stebbings on 710 acres at the Grange, James Lock at White House Farm (146 acres), Daniel Reeve Thorrold (335 acres) and William Turnbull (158 acres).


During the excavation of the Cut-Off Channel in the early 1960s a large number of Pleistocene fossils were unearthed near Wretton Fen Bridge which now form the ‘Wretton Collection’ at the Cambridge Museum of Zoology. The relics are mostly of reindeer (rangifer tarandus) and bison but the wolf (canis lupus) is also well represented. These animals roamed freely into England at the time when the North Sea as we know it did not exist. What other relics were recovered during this excavation and where they went remains somewhat of a mystery at the time of writing.

 The extinct steppe wisent (bison priscus) was similar to the European wisent (bison bonasus)

 As befits a parish rising eastwards from the fen, there are considerable remains from earlier times. Excavations from the Anzac pit on Bath Road have produced many artifacts from the Stone and Bronze Ages. Roman remains from the pit are also numerous including coins, metalwork, pottery and tile fragments and there is evidence of a Roman building and kiln on the site. Roman and Saxon finds have been unearthed throughout the parish including a rare late Saxon or Viking gold ingot which was declared Treasure Trove in 2003 and was purchased by Norwich Castle Museum.

St Andrew’s church is the oldest surviving building in the parish. It stands impressively to the north of the main settlement in an elevated position looking out across the Fens to the south.

  Saint Andrew's from the south west. There is more at http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/westdereham/westdereham.htm

Most striking is the diameter of the massive ragstone tower with its octagonal top made of brick added in the 14th century. Its origins seem to be late Saxon or early Norman and the walls are 1.2 metres thick at their widest. The rest of the church appears Perpendicular in style, built during the 1400s, although the south doorway looks more Early English. The registers date from 1558. There is some ancient stained glass that possibly came from the former St Mary’s Abbey. There are two monuments to the Dereham family. On the north wall there is an alabaster memorial to Robert Dereham (died 1612) and his father Thomas (died 1559) next to which is a very decorative panel to Sir Thomas Dereham (died 1722).

 Detail from Dereham memorial to Thomas (died 1559) and son, Robert (died 1612) www.norfolkchurches.co.uk


Another, most splendid, memorial is to Colonel Edmund Soame of West Dereham Grange who died in September 1706, aged 37, at Torbay on his way to fight the Spanish. Wearing full armour and striking a suitably martial pose it is recognised as being one of the finest in Norfolk.


Soame’s illegitimate daughter Mary married Soame Jenyns (born 1704) in 1726, a wit and politician of some note in 18th century society; she left him in 1742. Jenyns’ father was Sir Roger Jenyns, Receiver of the Bedford Level Corporation. A slab commemorates Gregory Lovell who, dying in 1693, left the then substantial sum of £500 to the poor of the parish. There are also memorials to the families Stebbing (1853-7) who lived at the Grange, Roper (1840-44) at Abbey Farm, and Catton (1792-1824). Thomas Catton BD FRS was a fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, and a distinguished astronomer. He was baptised in West Dereham on 02 Dec 1759, son of Thomas & Mary Catton of Barsale House. In the marriage register Thomas, at the time of his marriage by licence in West Dereham on 03 October 1757 to Mary Dobbs, was resident in the parish of Shouldham. John Dobbs, who witnessed the marriage and was presumably Mary’s father, was buried in West Dereham in 1763. Mary Dobbs, his widow, was buried in 1791, aged 87. Thomas died in September 1792, aged 66, and is commemorated on the south wall of the nave, as are his wife and four of his sons, two of whom, William and John were drowned ‘at an early age’ in May 1780. Son Thomas, already mentioned in connection with Nelson’s education, died in 1838 and is buried in the chapel at St John’s College. Charles (bap 24 October 1770) died in Grenada in 1795 ‘in the service of his country’ and Richard (baptised in January 1770) was a solicitor in Fakenham until his death in 1822.

The chancel of St Andrew’s was restored in 1895 and the nave, including a new roof, following a collapse of the old one, followed in 1901-02 when Henry Steward and John Thomas Horn were churchwardens. It will seat a congregation of about 200. The font is dated 14th century and the pulpit from the early 1600s. St Andrew’s was in the news on 08 December 1698 as venue for a debate between the Established church and the Quakers convened by Francis Bugg (1640-1727), the Quaker apostate. Another in the Establishment corner was John Meriton, rector of Boughton, Caldecote and Oxborough.


Faden’s map of 1797 (reproduced by courtesy of the Larks Press) shows West Dereham and the area around in the time of Thomas Catton

The configuration of the roads is of interest, some are merely footpaths today. Note the location of the mill in the north of the parish, the location of Dereham Grange and the gibbet, after which Gibbet Lane is named. Thomas Kett Esq was resident at the Abbey, the moat of which was fed by two streams. Barsale Farm is located on Basil Road and is marked on the modern 1:25 000 OS map.
The extent of West Dereham a century after Faden is shown on the OS 1:10560 map at: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/norfolk/069/se Note the railway line; the road from Hilgay comes in from the left.

There are some interesting headstones in the churchyard, none more so than that of Emmanuel Gaminara.

 The headstone of Emmanuel Gaminara (1794-1892) in St Andrew’s churchyard.

Emmanuel was born in Genoa and was part of the Grande Armée that suffered the retreat from Moscow in the winter of 1812 – reportedly being the last known survivor.  Though estimates vary, of the 690 000 men who set out for Moscow, the largest army ever assembled up until that time, only about 40 000 staggered back to France half-starved and frostbitten. He was later a publican at the Buck Inn, Helhoughton in the 1841 and 1851 censuses.


One of the earliest flowcharts, depicting the Retreat from Moscow published by Charles Minard in 1869. It covers the area from the Niemen River near the Baltic in the west to Moscow in the east. The temperature across the bottom is drawn on the Reaumur scale (0-80 degrees) and reached a low point of -30 (-37.5C) at Molodezno (in Belarus) on 06 December. The grey line shows the numbers in the advance; the black line those in the retreat.

 The Buck Inn, Helhoughton on its 0ne-day opening in 2000 (www.norfolkpubs.co.uk)

 Gaminara moved to Denver before 1861 when he is described as a retired farmer and was an ‘annuitant’ there in 1871. Kelly’s Directory (1858) has him as a farmer in Hilgay; White’s (1883) says that he is now a farmer and landowner in West Dereham. The 1881 census records him as ‘independent’ living in The Row, West Dereham. He died in Downham Market in 1892, a year after the census showed him living in London Road next to Salamanca House at the bottom of Ryston End. His wife Elizabeth (née Brown) was born in King’s Lynn. They married in St Margaret’s on 24 Feb 1929.... All churchyards have their tales to tell.

 A grandson, Emmanuel Gaminara was  killed at the Somme in 1916. His entry in the Roll of Honour reads:

Eldest surviving son of the late Poncrasio Gaminara (who was born in Helhoughton in 1841) of London, and Tumaco, South America, by his wife, Amalia, daughter of Felipe Cabezas of Quito LL.D; and grandson of Emmanuel Gaminara, 2nd Imperial Guards, French Army (a native of Genoa and the last survivor of the Retreat from Moscow). Born Tumaco, 6th December 1878; educated King’s College, London. Volunteered and joined up in April 1916; served with the Expeditionary Force in France from June and was reported missing after the advance on the Somme 25th July, 1916 and is now assumed to have been killed in action on or about that date

A granddaughter, Beatrice Maude, was christened in West Dereham on 06 July 1865, daughter of Livia Gaminara, Poncrasio’s sister. She married James Henry Alflatt, a builder (born in Stow Bardolph, 1854), in 1887 and they were resident in Lynn Road, Stow Bardolph in 1901 with six children. James by then was also a brick and tile maker. James’ mother Mary was living with them, aged 90 (born Watlington) – her husband Goodwin (born North Runcton c1816) died in 1896. Goodwin appears as ‘Goodens’ on his marriage certificate and in the 1861 and 1891 censuses

Another headstone, that of Robert Rodwell, buried February 1856, aged 66, was erected 'by his three daughters in Australia'. Son Stephen was buried in West Dereham on 29 Dec 1859, aged 46. There were four daughters in the family. Susanna, married William Green (a baker in Sluice Road) in Denver on 12 October 1844, emigrated in 1852 and settled in Redfern, New South Wales, in the suburbs of Sydney. They lost two of their four young children at sea on the long journey. Susan died in Redfern on 28 Jun 1892; William died in 1883. The other two daughters, by a process of elimination, were Sarah (1823) and Ann (1825) since Elizabeth married Willis Wells (born Snettisham 1821), who was landlord of the Gun Inn in Baxter's Plain, King's Lynn, in 1851 and a cornfactor in Tower Street ten years later. Elizabeth died there in early 1871. Willis remarried and died in King's Lynn in 1902. At the present time there is no evidence of either Sarah or Ann in Australia apart from their father's headstone in West Dereham. Ann must have emigrated between 1851 and 1856 since she was still single and at home with her parents in the 1851 census. Sarah married William Fendick (1819) from Wereham in 1849 and was living there in 1851. Mary, William's blind sister, was living with them 'relieved by the parish'.

There was an earlier church, St Peter’s, that stood just a few metres to the south west of the present St Andrew’s on the same site that had ceased to be a parish church by 1401. The foundations of this earlier church can still be traced and, in 1908, a stone coffin was found on the site only nine inches from the surface.

West Dereham is well known as the site of St Mary’s Abbey, a Premonstratensian house founded in 1188 by Hubert Walter and formed as a daughter house of Welbeck Abbey near Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. It consisted of white canons rather than monks, who often served as parish priests, and there were 26 such canons in the late 1200s. The Premonstratensians, or Norbertines, were founded at Premontre, near Laon in Picardy, north east France, in 1120 by St Norbert who later became the Archbishop of Magdeburg.

  Premonstratensian canons wore white robes. Although this picture is dated after the Dissolution in the later 1530s, the appearance of those at the Abbey would have been in marked contrast to most people going about their daily business in the parish.

Hubert Walter rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury and held the post of Justicar, or Chief Minister, from 1194-1198 – the most powerful man in England, next to the King. This was undoubtedly a reward for raising the huge ransom of 150,000 marks required to secure the release of Richard I who was captured on his way back from the Third Crusade and held initially by Duke Leopold of Austria in his castle at Durrenstein on the Danube and then by the Emperor Henry VI at Trifels Castle and elsewhere. However, he had already assumed posts of great responsibility including negotiating with Saladin on Richard’s behalf. When Richard departed for Normandy in May 1194 Walter was left in charge of the country – John’s attempts to seize power in 1193-94 having effectively been nullified by Walter’s efforts and by Richard’s return to England in March 1194. Richard was killed in France in April 1199 and was succeeded by his brother John, who Walter crowned in Westminster Abbey on 27 May. Walter resigned the judiciarship in July 1198 after Pope Innocent III ruled that his political office was incompatible with his spiritual role, though John appointed him to the office of Chancellor immediately after his coronation. Walter was buried in Canterbury Cathedral in 1205. The year of his birth is uncertain, possibly 1150, and whether this event occurred in West Dereham is unknown. However, it is believed that his mother Matilda, née de Valoines, died in West Dereham in 1198. His father, Sir Hervey Walter, is described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as ‘a Norfolk Knight of middling status’. There appear to have been several sons including Hubert and Theobald. Theobald, born in West Dereham circa 1160, is believed to have accompanied Henry II to Ireland in 1171 (aged 11?) and certainly went there with John in 1285. He was appointed the hereditary Chief Butler (or Botiller) of Ireland, which amounted to Governor, dying in Ireland, aged 46, in 1206. He was granted extensive lands around Ormonde in Tipperary and elsewhere. Although he was buried at Wotheney Abbey, Limerick, he spent much of his life in England in John’s service including an appointment as Sheriff of Lancashire (1194-1199) where he also owned extensive estates. It was King John who, in 1199, granted a charter to the abbot and convent of West Dereham for a weekly market and an annual fair on 21 September and the three days following.

The Abbey was dissolved in 1539 and passed into the hands of Thomas Dereham of Crimplesham in 1541. Thomas had the misfortune to be arrested later that year and taken to the Tower since Catherine Howard, who Henry VIII had married in 1540, admitted having had an affair with his brother Francis. Francis suffered a traitor’s death for his trouble, being hanged drawn and quartered, at Tyburn on 10 December 1541 but Thomas, no doubt breathing a massive sigh of relief, was released. Thomas Culpepper, another of Catherine’s lovers, also died at Tyburn but was fortunate to have his sentence commuted to beheading. Catherine herself was beheaded at the Tower on 13 February 1542. In a confession to Henry in November 1541, she wrote

“…Francis Derehem by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose, and obtained first to lie upon my bed with his doublet and hose, and after within the bed, and finally he lay with me naked, and used me in such sort as a man doth his wife, many and sundry times, and our company ended almost a year before the King's Majesty was married to my Lady Anne of Cleves [Henry's preceding wife]…”

The Abbey fell into disrepair and was replaced on the same site by a grand house in the 1690s built for Sir Thomas Dereham who had served as a diplomat in Genoa in the previous decade. The Italian influence in the design is considerable and it must have looked somewhat incongruous in 18th century West Dereham. It later passed into the ownership of the Earl of Montraith, according to White’s Directory of 1854, about who very little is known other than he was one of the 24 members of the Swaffham Coursing Club! The mansion was largely in ruins by 1810 though part of it was still occupied as a farmhouse into the early 1900s. Only the splendid gateposts now remain in the north east corner of the grounds. The ruins have been incorporated into a new dwelling undertaken by the Shropshire family in the 1990s.

 The rebuilt West Dereham Abbey c1690

 Gate posts c1690, opposite Abbey Farm. The bridge, visible beyond the posts, spans the ancient moat that surrounded the abbey.


 Abbey gateway from the west. The rectangular moat around the site is over two kilometres in length.

 The remains of the Abbey c1970


West Dereham Grange, north of the route of the A134, was the principal grange to St Mary’s Abbey. It was replaced by a mansion in the 1600s, not finally demolished until 1947. Grange Farm includes the site of an ancient moat, generally thought to be medieval, although it may have been part of the garden landscape of the mansion and, therefore, later.


There are several other buildings of interest in the parish. White House Farm barns date back to around 1800 with much re-used medieval material. They were ruinous in the early 1990s but are now restored for residential use. To the north is White House farmhouse, dated 1698.

College Farmhouse, named after Caius College, on Basil Road is an early 17th century timber framed house with carstone and flint gable walls added later, the north of which carries the date 1626. West of Church Road is White Hall. It appears Georgian but is, in fact, an earlier building much modified in 1780. It was formally a single storey thatched dwelling of flint, brick and re-used medieval stone presumably from the Abbey.

South of Lime Kiln Road is a square lime kiln. The bell of the kiln has collapsed but it is still recognisable on three sides with tap holes. Other buildings of note, now demolished, include a railway engine shed at the junction of the Wissington branch and the ‘main’ line and a steam drainage pump destroyed when the Cut-Off Channel was excavated in the early 1960s.

Hubert Walter was without equal in the hierarchy of famous sons of the village but another was the Revd Thomas Catton BD FRS (see above). Thomas Tusser (c1524-1580) farmed for some time at the abbey farm in West Dereham, probably around 1564. Tusser's husbandry manual in verse was developed by the author over the course of two decades. It was first published in 1557 as ‘A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie’. The second edition of 1562 was enlarged so as to consider more fully the rural labour of women; as the title-page announces, the original text is here ‘maried unto a hundreth good poyntes of huswifery’. The text was expanded for publication in 1573 as ‘Five Hundreth Points of Good Husbandry United to as many of Good Huswiferie’. At the heart of the book is a calendar of information and advice about the farming year; in the latter part are the ‘points of huswiferie’, loosely arranged around a working day; and framing these principal sections are a number of miscellaneous poems, generally concerned with household management and rural customs, and including Tusser's autobiography. After some minor changes in the edition of 1580 ‘Five Hundreth Points of Good Husbandry’ remained popular among succeeding generations. Its publication in eighteen editions between 1557 and 1599 makes it probably the biggest-selling book of poetry during the reign of Elizabeth I, and it was issued in a further five editions up to 1638. A fuller account of Tusser’s life is available in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Also in the same Dictionary is a long account of the life of Elias of Dereham who died c1245. Described as an ecclesiastical administrator, he owes his rise to pre-eminence to the patronage of Hubert Walter. After Walter’s death, he was employed as steward to Archbishop Stephen Langton in Canterbury and helped build the shrine to Thomas Becket. He also played a leading part in the circulation of Magna Carta around the shires in 1215 which got him into trouble when the royalists enjoyed a resurgency in 1217. For the last twenty years or so of his life he was closely associated with the construction of Salisbury Cathedral but was also involved in many other ecclesiastical building projects to such an extent that he has been canvassed as one of the leading influences in the development of the 13th century English Gothic style of church architecture. Not as a craftsman, architect or mason but as an administrator and facilitator. His appeal to such a wide range of patrons must reflect a rare skill.

The parish registers, as always, provide information of interest. On 19 November 1794 was buried John Filbee, a farmer, aged 52, murdered by his servant:


The said servant Henry Bennington was convicted of murder at Thetford Assizes the following March and was duly hanged a few days later.

Later in the burial registers we find Catherine Becket who was interred on 20 June 1813 ‘aged 80 years and upwards’, presumably the widow of John Becket, a thatcher, buried as a pauper in 1792. James Ollet (spelling as in the register) was another senior citizen of the village buried on 27 April 1814, aged 90. His son, also James, buried on 15 October of the following year aged 58, had a daughter, Jane, who married William Ambrose in West Dereham in 1822. They together ran the smithy and post office in Denver (see above), followed by their son, Ollett William, who carried on the business until his death in 1895. William Dungey, aged 90, was buried a few months later on 15 August 1815 having lived the last part of his life in Wereham. He was presumably the grandfather of Moses and Aaron Dungay, mentioned elsewhere in this book, both born in West Dereham in the early 1790s.

John Lampson was buried on 03 January 1827, aged 84. His grandparents, John & Grace Lampson, lived in the village in the first decade of the 1700s, being buried there in 1711 and 1714 respectively.

Alice Watlin, née Leverington, widow of John Watlin, farmer, was buried on 15 June 1828 aged 80. Their son Henry, who died aged 55 in 1833, is mentioned below as a ‘principal inhabitant’. John & Alice were married in 1786 after the baptisms of their six children that occurred over the preceding decade. Alice was previously married to John Wilkinson in 1770 but for reasons unknown was probably not free to remarry earlier.

There is no mention of cholera affecting West Dereham during the 1832 outbreak though, between 01 June and 19 November of that year, there are unexplained crosses against six burial entries.

There are several surnames, such as Merrison, Bushell, Armstrong, Nurse, Thorrold and Ewen, which can be found frequently in the registers. For example, Samuel Ewen was buried aged 82 on 15 October 1833. His paternal grandparents, Samuel & Frances Ewen, brought up their family in West Dereham in the early 1700s, including son Bernard, Samuel’s father, who was born in 1707. Bernard married Mary Brogden in Downham in 1755.

Sarah Merrison, buried on 19 February 1851, aged 87, was the wife of John Merrison who she married in 1790; eight children followed. Sarah was one of the eight children of Richard & Anne Capps.

Rebecca Thorrold (née Locke) was buried on 21 January 1876, aged 72, the widow of Daniel Reeve Thorrold. They married in West Dereham in 1825 and had twelve children.

Frances Bushell, daughter of Henry Johnson, and husband of John Bushell was buried on 22 March 1882, aged 62. John’s ancestors in West Dereham go back to the marriage of his great grandparents William Bushell & Frances Whiting on 18 April 1777. William’s father appears to be Thomas Bushell, baptised in Stradsett on 27 June 1701, son of Richard Bushell and Jane Kime who were married there on 29 September 1699.

Most Armstrong families in the village can be traced back to Thomas Armstrong who was buried in December 1812, aged 96. He married Elizabeth Lampson on 30 May 1749, one of the eleven children of John & Mary (née Heath) Lampson.

Christopher Butters was buried on 14 February 1883, aged 93. J H Clarke, the vicar, has helpfully written in the margin of the register ‘baptised at Fincham 08 September 1791, son of Christopher & Ann’.

There are some very detailed terriers included in the parish chest. One, dated 28 June 1806, explains that ‘there is no parsonage house or other building nor any glebe land in the said parish of West Dereham except the church yard which contains about one acre by estimation in the possession of the said (Revd) Hardy Robinson or his tenants whereon (there are) no timber trees growing’.

‘The church is a lay impropriation held by the Reverend George Jenyns, the representative of the late Soame Jenyns Esquire by virtue of a leave from the right Reverend Father in God James Lord Bishop of Ely to the said Soame Jenyns and his heirs which said Soame Jenyns in October 1783 nominated the said Hardy Robinson to the perpetual curacy and appropriated the tithes of the said parish to his use for serving the said curacy during the time of his natural life. The stipend due from the impropriation to the perpetual curate being otherwise only £18 per annum’.  However, Revenues due to the curate were augmented by the sum of £400 (£700 in 1854) from the governors of Queen Anne’s Bounty. There is considerable detail in this terrier of the tithes payable, such as ‘all the milch cows fed within the said impropriation pay three pence each except the first cow of each owner that calves which pays four pence.....’ There is also due to the perpetual curate from every person of age to communicate two pence yearly, due at Easter. For every wedding by publication of banns, five shillings; by licence, ten shillings and sixpence; for every funeral without a sermon, one shilling and twopence; and an oblation of six pence at every churching of women’ (thanksgiving in church after childbirth).

Soame Jenyns (1704-1787) was a distinguished literary figure and Member of Parliament. George Jenyns (1763-1848), his second cousin and heir, was vicar of Swaffham Prior from 1787 until his death and prebendary of Ely from 1802. One of his sons, Leonard, was a clergyman and naturalist of note who was originally selected to go on the second voyage of HMS Beagle in 1831 but he changed his mind and was replaced by one Charles Darwin. The rest, as they say, is history! Leonard Jenyns took over the advowson after George died in 1848. In 1871, Leonard inherited property from his father’s cousin Francis Blomefield. As a condition of the inheritance he changed his name to Blomefield by Royal Licence. It is interesting to note that the West Dereham church records for 1865 have been amended accordingly.

There is mention of Gregory Lovell Esquire of East Harling, born in West Dereham in 1631, who, by his will dated 15 August 1693, bequeathed the sum of £500 to the town of West Dereham for the purchase of an estate, the revenues from which would cover forty shillings each for divine service and sermons on St Thomas’s Day, Lady Day, and Midsummer’s Day and the residue to be distributed amongst the poor people of the town. This later became known as ‘Lovell’s Dole’. In 1701, executor Sir John Buckworth placed this land, which was purchased in the parish of Upwell, in the care of feoffes named as Edmund Land, Robert Johnson, Robert Skelton, William Boyce, Thomas Shorten, John Land and John Samson. The land at that time was in the occupation of Thomas Lister who paid rent of £54 annually.

There are details of two purchases of land in Hilgay made by the Revd Hardy Robinson. One, of 14 acres known as Rush Close, for £350 from Mr Thomas Holman, a bankrupt, and the other, containing 3 acres 3 roods and 30 perches, from Mr Edmund Saffery of Downham Market, for £50. The bounds of these lands are defined by reference to Hilgay landowners William Jones Esq (Woodhall), Robert Hanslip, deceased, and Zachary Clark.

The church plate is described in detail, including a silver flagon given by Mrs Mary Green of Dereham Grange in 1706, weighing 2lbs 5oz 15 pennyweights (she was buried in 1710).

This 1806 terrier was witnessed by the Hardy Robinson, perpetual curate; William Boyce, churchwarden; and principal inhabitants John Land, feoffee, John Roper, Henry Watlin, Thomas Shorten (marked ‘X’) and Thomas Armstrong (marked ‘A’).

In another terrier, dated 1813, the feoffees are named as Edward More, Robert Thorrold, William Roper, John Roper, James Ollet, Henry Watlin, Robert Johnson, William Boyce, Thomas Shorten, John Land and John Samson. A further piece of land of 3 acres and 35 perches has been added in Stoke Ferry called Kemp’s Closes, defined partly by reference to Long Lane and the property of Sir Charles Ethelstone Nightingale, Bart. The churchwardens were now William Roper and Robert Thorrold. Hardy Robinson conducted his last baptism on 19 October 1817 (Charles Collyer, father in law of Revd Samuel Colby Smith, rector of Denver, had stood in for three baptisms in January 1817)

The next terrier refers to the appointment of the Revd Charles Mann (see Denver) to the perpetual curacy in January 1818 – his first baptism was on 05 April. In 1819 the two pieces of land in Hilgay were exchanged for two pieces of land amounting to11 acres 3 roods and 23 perches of land on the King’s highway leading from West Dereham to Hilgay (Hilgay Road) in the ownership of William Jones, Woodhall, lately purchased by him from the devises of John Wardell, deceased. Charles Mann remained in post until October 1842; he died in 1848 and was buried in Denver.

By 1845, the perpetual curate was Edward John Howman (his first baptism was on 06 November 1842) and the churchwardens were George Latham Press and W L Stebbing. Leading inhabitants signed as James Lock, John Benstead (X), Hugh Aylmer, John Roper, Daniel Thorrold and William Turnbull. There are very detailed records of a meeting held in the vestry on 31 August 1849 whereby it was resolved to levy a rate of sixpence in the pound on all eligible parishioners and inhabitants for the purpose of effecting necessary repairs to the roof and outside of the church. A full list of 138 contributors is given, the largest levies falling on Hugh Aylmer (£14/7/3d) and William Long Stebbing (£18/11/0). George Latham Press, Daniel Thorrold, James Lock, James Adderson and Emma Roper were among the other leading contributors. Hugh Aylmer (1817-1894) was at Abbey Farm and William Stebbing at West Dereham Grange. The latter died in Wereham, aged 65, and was buried in West Dereham on 28 June 1883.

Edward Howman was rector of Bexwell from 1831 to 1874 (see above) where he resided at the rectory. He was born in Hockering in 1797.

The perpetual curate in 1872 was the Revd John Haldenby Clark (he took over officially in January the previous year). In that year there is reference to £1000 being set aside for the provision of a parsonage for the perpetual curate. There is also mention of 2 acres and 2 roods of land called Town Close which was purchased with £40 left in 1666 by William Millsop the Elder and his son, William Millsop the Younger, the rent from which to be used for the benefit of the poor. The large notice in the church explaining the various church charities says that £20 each was left by William and John Millsop. This land was held by copy of court roll of the Manor of Curples in West Dereham. Edmund Land and Thomas Shorten were trustees of this land in earlier times. The Revd Clark was born in Chesterfield in 1839. His children were born in Hilgay but he had moved to West Dereham by 1871 and was living on the Downham to Stoke Ferry road. His last baptism was on 01 January 1888. A long gap appears in the baptismal register until 10 June which suggests some baptisms have gone unrecorded before the Revd John Tommis arrived in July.

A terrier dated June 1894 tells us that the vicarage house was erected in 1874, and occupied from Christmas of that year, on about one acre of land near the church, consisting of white bricks with red brick facings. It measured forty five feet square with four large rooms on the ground floor, four bedrooms on the first story and two on the top story. The vicar in 1894 was still John Tommis, supported by churchwardens John Thomas Horn and James King. Principal inhabitants were Frederick Steward, Abraham Newby and Robert Porter. The last mentioned being innkeeper of the White Horse and also shopkeeper and pork butcher, born in Southery in 1827. The Revd Tommis was born in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1852 and he left West Dereham at the end of 1899. His wife, Frances Winearls, was born in North Wootton.

William Burleigh (born Great Chesterford, Essex in 1848) served as vicar for many years from September 1900 to1918. In 1927, the Revd George Ward, archdeacon of Wisbech and rector of Hilgay, has signed the parish paperwork to confirm that he had inspected the plate, registers and fabric and found them all to be in good order. In 1933, West Dereham was annexed to Wereham and the vicar was the Revd Lyonel George Evans whose appointment was in the gift of the Bishop of Ely – West Dereham, like Southery and Hilgay, having moved from the diocese of Norwich to that of Ely around 1914 when the new diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was created.

The perpetual curates before the Revd Hardy Robinson include James Adamson, rector of Barton Bendish, licensed on 18 October 1765, though the year is almost undecipherable in the register. Further information is lacking as there are few signatures of clerks or churchwardens in the registers before 1806. Hardy Robinson signed in October 1796 and entries in his hand appear for several years before that. However, signatures were required for marriages and were often found on notices of banns from 1754 so a list of officiating ministers for the second half of the 1700s might be attempted but it is unclear who the appointed perpetual curate was. Names include, with date of first entry:

1754 L Shipley; 1765 John Adamson, and 1784 Hardy Robinson. From the number of entries under each name it looks like Adamson followed Shipley, though the latter continued to help out from time to time after 1765. Names also include Thomas Weatherhead and Robert Salisbury Heaton, priests from other parishes presumably. The known vicars before the Revd Shipley, with dates of appointment were from 1621 John Hodgson; 1623 Edward Bentley; 1628 Daniel Donne; 1631 Bryan Congell; 1658 Richard Taylor; 1665 William Life; 1695 Lawrence Parkin; 1716 Charles Parkin, and 1724 John Meriton. There is, in the church, also a long list of abbots and rectors who served the abbey and parish from 1188 until after 1522.

The leading citizens of West Dereham in the early 1880s included the following, with ages and places of birth according to the 1881 census, when the population was 560:

Hugh Aylmer (63) – Abbey Farm, farmer of 1400 acres employing 57 men & 15 boys. A note in White’s Directory of 1883 says that Hugh was one of the largest sheep breeders in the country and also noted for a breed of shorthorns (he died 1894). His entry in the 1851 census says that he was born at Winburgh in 1818 and was farming 762 acres at the Abbey, employing 58 labourers.

Thwaites Ball & Co – coprolite raisers (Pettitt Clark is a coprolite engine driver; Harry Webb a coprolite mining labourer; Charles Barnes is manager of the undertaking living at The Row with his sons George & Albert who are coprolite miners). Coprolite is fossilised animal dung – from the Greek kopros (dung) and lithos (stone). It is of considerable interest to palaeontologists as it provides evidence of the diets of animals such as the dinosaurs. Commercially it was of value because of its very high phosphate content and was ground up for use as a fertilizer. The deposits were discovered in West Dereham in 1873 but by 1908 had been worked out. Fison’s processed much of the coprolite and there is a Coprolite Street near the docks in Ipswich.

On a more technical level, Coprolites are strictly speaking fossilised droppings, but the term is also used as a trade name to describe the phosphatic nodules mined around East Anglia in the 19th century for making fertilisers. Some of the nodules formed in or around fossils, some are true coprolites, and some are structureless lumps, which probably formed around some kind of nucleus - a grain, shell fragment or fossil.

As decomposing tissues or droppings changed the chemistry of the water around them, phosphate was precipitated out and formed nodules. The nodules preserve well because they are very hard and resistant to erosion. As great thicknesses of the surrounding soft sediment were washed away, the nodules remained and so over time became highly concentrated. It is difficult to say why there was so much phosphate within the water to begin with, but it likely originated from the bones of dead animals (this explanation by Matt Riley, Palaeontology Department, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge University). The role of water is crucial in the formation of concentrated beds of coprolite in the upper greensand and gault clay beds laid down in this part of west Norfolk about 100 million years ago. It is these rocks which account for the increased elevation of the land eastwards through the parish.


Distribution of the chalk and upper greensand rocks in East Anglia can be viewed in the wider context of the London Basin. (Map from an article on Barrington Chalk Pit published in the Geological Conservation review and available online)


West Dereham village sign, near the old school, depicting a coprolite carter, made by Derek Nurse, son of village blacksmith Dusty Nurse. A second, less elaborate, sign is to be found at the north end of the village near the church on Lime Kiln Road.

Edward Ebenezer Barrow (38, Southery) – grocer, pork butcher & postmaster in Fen Road (Station Road). He was the eleventh known child of Edward Barrow and his wife Mary (née Porter) who married in Southery in 1817. Edward was born in St Ives in 1796. His grandfather, also Edward, was buried in Hilgay churchyard in 1861, aged 86.

Mrs Mary Bennett (61, West Dereham) – farmer of 50 acres

Charles Blanchfield (53, Bloomsbury) – College Farm, farmer of 20 acres

Henry Bushell (44, West Dereham) – blacksmith, The Row

William Bushell (38, West Dereham) – farmer of 16 acres in Fen Road

Edmund Buttery (61, Setchey) – blacksmith, Bell Yard

Revd John Haldenby Clarke MA (42, Chesterfield) – vicar. Vicarage built 1874.

Simon Curson (50, Tottenhill) – beerhouse (the Duke William), carpenter & molecatcher

Robert Fretwell (53, West Dereham) – farmer of 35 acres in Fen Road

Miss Elisa Germany (45, West Dereham) – farmer of 35 acres employing 1 man in Fen Road

Thomas Hubbard (68, Wereham) – tailor, The Row

James Johnson (34, Gooderstone) – bootmaker on the Downham to Stoke Road

Robert Judd (65, Outwell) – farmer of 17 acres, Fen Road

James King (59, Terrington St Clements) – farmer of 90 acres employing 3 men

James Lines (44, Dersingham) – innkeeper, The Bell (1881) & higgler (1883)

Valentine Nurse (63, West Dereham) – farmer of 30 acres in Fen Road

James Orford (72, Rockland) – farmer of 20 acres, The Row

Robert Porter (54, Southery) – publican at The White Horse, pork butcher & assistant overseer. Robert Galloway Porter was born in Southery in 1827. His father William Galloway Porter was a grocer and farmer of 30 acres living Town’s End, Southery, in 1861.  Robert married Elizabeth Norton (born Wereham) in West Dereham in 1850 and is shown farming 33 acres at Fen House in the 1851 census. It was Robert’s brother William at the Ship, Brandon Creek, in 1871 who emigrated to Kalamazoo, Michigan, shortly thereafter.

The White Horse, Lynn Road, closed at the end of May 1965. Holding the licence from 1845 until after 1861 were William & Elizabeth Dent. William was also a blacksmith, dying in 1852; Elizabeth in 1867. Their headstone is well preserved to the west of the church.

The headstone of William & Elizabeth (née Codling) Dent, aged 72 and 81 respectively. William was born in Hindringham, Elizabeth in Pentney – they were married in South Lynn in 1807.

 The former White Horse, West Dereham

Robert Galloway Porter was landlord from 1875-1903, followed by his wife Elizabeth after Robert died in 1903, aged 76. In 1901, the blacksmith’s shop was still next door to the pub.

Robert Riches (59, Watlington) – victualler at The Chequers, also carpenter, wheelwright and blacksmith. Robert married Rebecca Ann Case in Hilgay in 1872 – she was born there in 1839. The Cases were a long-established farming family in Hilgay going back to John Case’s first marriage in 1734 and his second to Ann Suttliff in 1745. Ann was christened in Hilgay in 1728 and her father was Edward Suttliffe of Fordham, born c1680. Edward was married twice. His first wife was Ellinor Wainford, born in Hilgay in 1686, whose father was John Wainford, buried in Hilgay in 1706, aged 55. John’s first wife was Elizabeth Dowse whose father George married Mary Rattam in Hilgay on 28 October 1699. One member of the family was William Case, who was buried in Hilgay on14 December 1835, ‘aged 30, murdered by poachers’.

The Chequers, with associated smithy, was situated close to the junction of Station Road and Hilgay Road. Arthur Betts was landlord in 1854. Robert Riches was in residence 1858-1900. In the 1881 census Robert, born Watlington in 1822, is recorded as publican and builder. Herbert George Gapp had a long spell after World War II. Closure was around 1983.

Bradford Rickard (42, West Dereham), farmer of 20 acres, Lynn Road

Mrs Mary Rickard (née Young, 34, Morpeth), schoolmistress. The Rickards were married in the Houghton-le-Spring, Durham, registration district in 1875

Elijah Sharman (52, Stow, Suffolk), victualler at The Bell (1883). In 1881 he was the keeper of The Windmill at Ten Mile Bank

Barnabas Sherwood (55, Foulden), farmer (farmer of 35 acres and shopkeeper in Foulden in 1881)

Stephen Stalham (53, Wiggenhall St Peter), farm bailiff to Mr S L Hunt

Frederick Steward (55, Wereham), farmer of 184 acres employing 7 men, 1 boy & 2 women at Barsale Farm, Basil Road

Henry Steward (27, West Dereham), farmer of 30 acres, Lynn Road

George Edward Thorrold (45, West Dereham), farmer of 175 acres near the church employing 5 men & 2 boys

William Thursby (73, West Dereham), parish clerk of The Row; ‘ring the church bells’ is crossed through in the census

No miller is listed in the 1880s but earlier, in the 1850s, William Perkins was the miller and farmer at Mill Farm on Mill Lane, north of the Crimplesham Road and just off the A134. The mill was a small post mill and the remains of the foundations were not removed until the late 1960s. It was shown on Faden’s map and was advertised for sale in 1832 together with 40 acres of land. On Bryant’s map (1826) it is named as Grange Mill Please see for a little more information http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/Windmills/west-dereham-postmill.html

 Cottages in Station Road looking south


 Village shop and post office, Station Road; the Chequers is just visible on the right.

Shopkeepers have included Edward Ebenezer Barrow, born 1845 in Southery (from before the 1881 census until his death in 1908) and Harold Russell Dent, uncle to Alistair Dent, Hilgay butcher.


By 1901, the population of West Dereham had fallen to 439 and, by 1921, it was 410. The principal occupation in the village in Edwardian times was farming but there was also a carpenter and wheelwright (William Adams); the village shop, post office and drapery was still in the hands of Edward Barrow and his wife Rachel (daughter of Frederick Steward); two blacksmiths (Henry Bushell, and James Adams at the Chequers); shoemaker (William Johnson); dressmaker (Miss Ida Horton), and coal dealer (George Lancaster) as well as four public houses. Miss Bertha Ann Galloway Porter (bap 1857 in West Dereham, though born in Wretton), daughter of Robert Porter at the White Horse, was listed as Assistant Overseer (of the poor) in 1908. This is a role that can be traced back to the Poor Relief Act 1601 and was originally one devolved by the churchwardens who had many other tasks to perform. It was considerably reduced after the formation of workhouses, especially after the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, and the end of ‘outdoor relief’ for the parish poor. Not surprisingly, the majority of employees in the village were farm labourers, an occupation set to diminish dramatically, particularly over the second half of the coming century.

The main farmers and farms in the early 1930s were Abraham Brighton (Basil Farm); Isaac Day (Lodge Farm); John Glover (White House Farm*); Arthur Hailstone; Horace William Hammond (Manor Farm); Joseph Edwin Kerkham (Grange Farm*); William Marks & Son; Thomas Archibald Wanless Nicholson JP (Abbey Farm*); William Wilson Osler; Simon James Rolph (Church Farm); B M Starling (Hilgay Road); Walter Taylor (Willow Farm); and Uriah Woodley (College Farm*). Only those marked with an asterisk were over 150 acres – a considerable contrast with the huge Shropshire’s operation today.

In 1938, West Dereham found itself in the national newspapers when the body of Lewis Arthur Sandford was exhumed from his grave at Pentney two months after his burial in January. The original inquest found tetanus to be the cause of death but, a second post mortem was ordered and a considerable quantity of strychnine was found to be present in the body. Sandford had collapsed while leading a horse on the farm where he was employed and died in an ambulance on his way to hospital in King’s Lynn. It is unclear what triggered the exhumation since the anonymous letter that was sent to Superintendent Dennis of the Downham Market police was reported by the Times as arriving five days after the event. As far as we are aware, the writer of the letter, bearing a King’s Lynn postmark, never came forward to assist the police further in their inquiries.

  An extract from The Times 03 June 1938


Sandford’s wife Rose Emma (maiden name Dye – she and Lewis had married early in 1930) came under suspicion and was charged with the murder of her husband but, in a highly unusual case, the Downham magistrates found, during a retirement of 50 minutes, that there was no prima facie case to be answered and Mrs Sandford went free.

Chief Inspector Bridger of Scotland Yard led the investigation. Mrs Sandford was expecting a baby in July and evidence was produced in court that she had been seeing a local man, Aldrich ‘Bill’ Barker. Both Mrs Sandford and Mr Barker were interviewed at great length by Bridger on more than one occasion. In a statement, Mrs Sandford denied any knowledge of the little green bottle that was alleged to have originally contained the poison.

 The Roll of Honour website has yet to cover West Dereham....


Pubs & Beerhouses Please also refer to http://www.norfolkpubs.co.uk/norfolkw/wdereham/wdereind.htm

West Dereham, like so many other villages, no longer has a public house open but several are known to have existed.

The Bell, Lynn Road, stood at the bottom of Lime Kiln Road round the corner from the White Horse on a site where bungalows have since been built. Landlords have included Thomas Hall Porter, born West Walton, from 1845 to 1856, who was also a butcher, and Elijah Sharman 1883-1891 after moving from Ten Mile Bank. Closure came in 1929, although one local source believes the date to be as late as 1940. However, there is no mention in Kelly’s in 1933.

The Duke William, beerhouse. The address appears to be Fen End Road, or Fen Road in 1881, to the south of the village but the precise location is uncertain. There appear to be no records after 1883. Thomas Fretwell was the landlord in 1851; his parents William Fretwell and Anne, née Spooner, moved to the village about 1788. In 1861 John Bushell was landlord (see notes above on the Bushells), followed by Robert Norton in 1871 (born Brandon 1795) who married Diana Cobb in West Dereham in 1825 – it was their daughter Elizabeth at the White Horse (see above). Simon Curson had taken over by 1881, who was also a molecatcher and carpenter.

Local information has it that the Live & Let Live was closed in the 1930s about the time the Stoke Ferry railway ceased to carry passengers but it is difficult to trace any records after 1885. However, there is an unspecified beerhouse in Kelly’s (1908) run by Robert Ward. This is probably the same Robert Ward farming in Station Road in the 1901 census. It is likely to be the Live & Let Live since it was located on Station Road, south of the chapel and on the same side of the road. There is also an unspecified public house on Station Road in the 1891 census run by Charles Harding Barnes, ‘publican and hawker’ – formerly the coprolites manager (see above). It appears Samuel Ewen (aged 44, born Crimplesham) was running the same premises in 1901. Eliza Germany held the licence 1871-1885, also farming 35 acres in the census of 1871, and 46 acres in that of 1881. After closure, its buildings fell into decay and were demolished in the 1960s, being replaced by the present Abbey Lodge

In West Dereham there were two Methodist chapels. The Wesleyan was on the sharp bend of the road to Ryston at the western end of The Row and the Primitives worshipped in Station Road south of the junction with Hilgay Road.


The Primitive Methodist Chapel, West Dereham, on the left looking north. (Photo courtesy John & Christine West). There appear to have been two chapels on the site, dated c1861 and 1903. A new schoolroom was added c1955. The conversion to a private dwelling was completed in 1999. The pub sign for the Chequers and the adjacent smithy and in the background.


The former West Dereham Wesleyan chapel. What you see here is the rear of the former chapel; the main part of the chapel fronting on to the road was destroyed by fire in the early 1940s – but not through enemy action.


 Bryant’s map of 1826, courtesy of the Larks Press, showed the parish boundary. The National School is clearly marked; Barsale Farm, west of the Abbey, is named Basil Farm

The primary school in West Dereham was built in the 1820s as a National School by G S Kett – it is shown on Bryant’s map of 1826.  However, Kelly’s Directory of 1908 dated the school as 1860, enlarged in 1886, for 120 children with an average attendance of 81. National Schools were set up by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education (based on the principles of the Church of England) after its formation in 1811. They, and their nonconformist counterparts set up by the British and Foreign School Society, received increasing amounts of government grants after 1833.

The school closed in the 1980s because there were insufficient pupils in attendance. The roll in the 1880s was about 80 children.

  West Dereham School. The road to Stoke Ferry is signposted to the right.






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