Blomefield writes as follows "This village lies east of the great Ouse, and north of the river Wissey; and here is a causeway over a fenny ground to Helgay, often overflowed, but fordable; from whence, it is probable, it takes its name" although there is mention of Forham-Hithe in the 9th of Edward III (1321).
The centre of Fordham is less than two kilometres north west of Hilgay and separated from it by the River Wissey and, more recently, by the Cut-Off channel. This part of the parish is, thus, part of the ‘mainland’ above the fen. The parish itself is long and narrow with the village situated towards the eastern end. Much of the rest is fen and it extends westwards across the Ouse to the Hundred Foot river giving an indication of just how long these boundaries have been established. Some archaeological research has taken place and there are a few incidental finds of interest such as a decorated Bronze Age sword, two Roman coins and two early Saxon brooches. The village is recorded in Domesday Book as ‘Forham’ – homestead by the ford (across the Wissey?). Also listed is Snora, another settlement thought to be where Snore Hall now stands. Blomefield lists Ralph de Snora in Henry III's time (1216-1272), his son William (21st of Edward I - 1293 ), John de Snora (in reign of Edward III 1327-1377) and Robert de Snora (alive in 1388).
Fordham St Mary’s http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/fordham/fordham.htm
The main part of the village is located around St Mary’s church part of which dates from around 1400. Much of the original building was destroyed in 1730 when the tower collapsed taking with it the south aisle. The registers go back to 1577 but are very patchy in their coverage. There were 41 communicants in 1603. The church was closed in 1994 by which time the congregation had dwindled to around six souls.
St Mary’s is very plain. It looks as if all memorials, apart from a WWI tribute, have been removed but there were none listed in the pre-closure assessment undertaken by the diocese in 1990. There may be something of interest under the woodblock floor, laid in 1871, as part of repairs financed by the Pratt family of Ryston Hall. Electric lighting was installed as late as 1954 at a cost of £200. In 1956, the belfry was rebuilt having been struck by lightning.
Notice the stone slab lying in front of the altar. The Norfolk Heritage Explorer website identifies this as a medieval coffin slab without offering a date. Subsequent opinion suggests its origin as 13th century and investigations are ongoing. If accurately dated, this would suggest it predates the Skipwith connection with St Mary's and links to other coffin slabs used as coping stones at the parish church in Skipwith, near Selby in Yorkshire, are purely circumstantial. The dates of the de Snora family (above, in the first paragraph) may be significant. Watch this space.
St Mary's, Fordham. The only memorial in the church is to those who were killed during WWI in the parishes of Ryston, Roxham & Fordham.
Fordham has been included with Ryston since 1877. The registers contain many birth, death and marriage entries for the Skipwith family including the burial of Sir Ralph on 11 Dec 1660. A nice note from 1786 reminds us that ‘Nothing can make us look death in the face with courage, but a good conscience’.
High House farmhouse was built around 1790 while Border House dates from before 1880.
Most of the parish is part of the Ryston estate and is in the ownership of the Pratt family. It is they who provided the small school on Hilgay Road in 1856 for the children of the estate workers.
Snore Hall in Fordham, or Snowre as it is sometimes written, dates back to the 1400s and is thought to be of similar age to Oxborough Hall which was built in 1482. Pevsner dates it as late 15th century but there is evidence to suggest 1450 may be more accurate and that it may have been larger at one time. 1451 and 1464 are both quoted as dates for its construction by William Skipwith. Presumably the same William whose wife Margaret died there in 1486. Their son William was lord of the manor by 1504. It is thought to be the sixth oldest brick built house in England.
The history of the manor is complicated but Blomefield does his best to find his way through it - see http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol7/pp366-368
The Hall was the family seat of a branch of the Skipwith family and it was Sir Ralph Skipwith (1605-1660) who is supposed to have provided shelter for Charles I on or about 30 April 1646. The Skipwiths were Catholics and the house, undergoing substantial renovation in 2007-2008, contains two priest holes. Each is about six feet square and both are close to the central chimney, one above the other and connected by a trap door. Skipwith Corner on the Wissey is a memorial to the family’s association with the area.
Ralph was one of thirteen children born at Snore Hall to Edmund Skipwith and his wife Anne, nee Guybon, of Watlington. Ralph’s older sister Lettice married Humberstone March in Fordham in 1622 and three of their children were born at Snore before the family moved to Ashwicken. Another older sister, Anne, married into the Bedingfield family. Though the registers are far from complete, the last Skipwith entry is on the ‘two and twentieth day of June’ 1662 when the burial of Ralph’s younger brother Edmund is recorded. The family male line seems to have died out and the married sisters lived elsewhere. The house passed into the ownership of Sir Thomas Viner (1588-1665) who was Lord Mayor of London in 1653 and then to the Small family of Gloucestershire. Viner did not live at Snore; he died at his, then, country estate in Hackney. Sit Thomas seems to have got on well with both Charles I and Charles II, and with Cromwell, who knighted him, in between. He was created baronet after the Restoration.
Blomefield has the following to say of Snore in 1807: "Snore was a village, in the Confessor's time; nothing of it remains, but part of an old hall, now a farm-house, lying east of Fordham. The abbot of Ramsey had in the Confessor's time, and at the survey, half a carucate of land, valued at 10s. Ralph, son of Ralph de Snora, was lord in the reign of Henry III. William de Snora, son of Ralph, paid homage for lands to the abbot of Ramsey, in his chamber at Hilgey manor, on Sunday after the feast of St. Paul, Ao. 21 Edward I. John de Snore lived in the reign of Edward III. and Robert de Snore in 1388. After this it was held by William Adamson, Tho, Brown, and Robert Atmore, by William Cobb, Nicholas Spalding, and Thomas Belyetter, and then came to the Skipwiths, who built a good hall, part of it still standing. In the 8th of Edward IV. John Billingburgh, treasurer of the abbot, received of William Skipwith, Gent. on Feb. 23, 26s. 8d. an annual rent out of this manor, and lands at Snore in Fordham, late Thomas Billyetter's, and Margaret his wife's. William Skipwith was lord in 1504, son, as I take it, of William aforesaid, and Margaret his wife, she dying in 1486. William Skipwith was lord in the 25th of Henry VIII. and by Margaret his wife left Edmund their son and heir, who died lord of Fordham and Snore-Hall in 1558. By his will, dated Nov. 12, 1557, he appoints William his son, and Catherine his wife executors; calls John Stornley, Gent. his brother. William occurs lord in 1588, and married Ellen, daughter of — Bachecroft of Bexwell: by his will, dated in 1588, he calls Thomas Batchcroft his brother-in-law. In the 17th of James I. Edmund Skipwith possessed it, who married Elizabeth, daughter of William Guybon, Esq. by his first wife, daughter of — Catelyne; and in 1651, Sir Ralph Skipwith, lord of Snore, and of Fordham. In 1616, Edmund Skipwith, Gent. paid an annual rent out of this manor to the lord of Swaffham manor in Norfolk. After this, Sir Thomas Viner, Lord Mayor of London, held it; from whom it came to the Smalls of Gloucestershire; and Viner Small, Esq. is lord, and of Fordham."
Snore Hall in the early 1900s (See the map link below)
Much later Snore was in the occupancy of Admiral Sir Eric Fullerton KCB DSO (1878-1962) whose distinguished career included service on the North Atlantic convoys in WWII. In 1908 Fullerton married Dorothy Fisher, daughter of Admiral of the Fleet Lord John Fisher (1841-1920) of Kilverstone.
Before that, in 1841, farmer Thomas Roper lived at Snore with his wife Mary, nee Sands. Ten years later, Thomas having died in 1842, Mary, aged 73, was still in residence and was farming 300 acres with the assistance of her nephew Robert Sands and 11 labourers. Mary was born in Setch; she died in 1858. Robert was resident at Snore in 1861 along with his two sisters, none of whom was married. Robert’s broken headstone can be found propped up against the south wall of Fordham church. In 1881, Abraham Matthews from Congham was in residence, farming 275 acres, and he was still there in 1901.
The following is paraphrased from White's Directory 1883, with some corrections:
FORDHAM is a parish and small village, 3 miles south of Downham Market, having a station on the Downham and Stoke Ferry Railway. It is near the river Wissey which is here crossed by a bridge. The parish is in the Downham Union and Clackclose hundred, the polling district of West Norfolk, Fincham rural deanery, and Norfolk archdeaconry.
It had 180 inhabitants in 1881, living on 2133 acres, and has a rateable value of £2862 10s. Miss Rebecca Martin owns 762 acres of land, and the rest belongs to E.R.M. Pratt Esq, the lord of the manor. An ancient farmhouse, in this parish, called Snore Hall, was long the seat of the Skipwiths, one of whom is said to have received King Charles here, a short time before he surrendered to the Scotch (sic) at Newark.
The church of St. Mary is a small edifice, rebuilt in 1730, after the tower had fallen. It has a nave and chancel, and turret at the west end, containing one bell.
The Dean and Chapter are patrons of the benefice, which is a perpetual curacy, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are appropriators of part of the tithes. The benefice was augmented, from 1757 to 1824, with £800 of Queen Anne's Bounty laid out in land, and was consolidated with Ryston and Roxham in 1876, the present value of the united livings being £300 per annum. The benefice is held by the Rev Robert Rogers MA, who has here a handsome residence of white brick, standing in pleasant grounds, and erected in 1880, at a cost of £1770, towards which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners gave £1550.
The School, built in 1856 by the late E.R. Pratt Esq is attended by 19 children, and is supported by the lord of the manor and by Government grant.
In 1844 some farm buildings and two cottages near the church were destroyed by fire.
Post is from Downham Market, which is the nearest Money Order and Telegraph Office.
Miss Elizabeth Clarke – schoolmistress;
William Engledow - farmer; Matthew Gill - farm bailiff;
Charles Humphrey - farmer, High House; Abraham Matthews - farmer, Snore Hall; William Pell – bootmaker; Rev Robert Rogers MA – incumbent; Thomas Russell – farmer
Kelly’s in 1925 has the leading citizens of Fordham as the Rev Francis Singleton Blofeld - Vicar; Major Philip Lyster, Snore Hall; Robert Ambrose - farmer, Twelve Acre Wood; Alfred Bruce - farmer, Border House; Samuel Hill - farmer; John Leonard - farmer, High House; Harry Mason Lyster - farmer, Church Farm; James Turner - farm bailiff to H & H Martin; Robert Whetstone - farmer, Cross Keys Farm (by Hilgay bridge). John Palmer was Sexton. Miss Ada Yaxley was schoolmistress. The Rev Blofeld (1868-1938 Married Beatrice Mary Crombie and had ministries in Chesterfield in 1901 and Redenhall with Harleston in 1911. He was born in Great Ormsby and died in Jersey). In 1933 the vicar was the Rev Francis Henry Cecil Poffley who was born in Berkshire in December 1888 and his death was registered in King's Lynn in 1974. In 1927 he returned from a ministry in Honduras aboard the Elders & Fyffes Line's SS Patia, disembarking at Garstang, Liverpool, with his wife Mabel Olive and daughter. The Patia was a banana boat of 5355 tons carrying, in addition, a dozen or so passengers. She was converted to a Fighter Catapult Ship in WWII but was sunk off Liverpool by enemy aircraft in April 1941 while undergoing trials.
Cross Keys Farm (Mike Bullen) showing the approach from Downham Market. The reader might like to look at the late 19th Century map showing The Causeway leading towards Fordham from Hilgay, the southern end of which is shown in the photograph.
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/norfolk/069/sw The Cut-off Channel completely changed this part of the landscape but the Catchwater Drain is clearly marked as is the drainage pump near Gravelhouse Farm (see the photograph in the Drainage the Fens section). The route of the Downham to Stoke Ferry branch line can be seen.
A painting of Fordham by Reuben (Rubens) Arthur Moore (1860-1933). Rubens and his brother Claude were part of the Nottingham Society of Artists of which their father Thomas Cooper Moore was a founder www.wikigallery.org Would the village pond have been on the other side of the road from the church?
Of pubs and beerhouses we find only the the Pratt’s Arms. William & Mary Lock were resident in the 1820s, assuming there was only one public house in Fordham as William is recorded as a publican in Fordham at the christening of three of his children in Hilgay. Prior to that it was William & Alice Ward. William & Ann Stafford took over from the Locks during the 1830s and 1840s. John Salmon, publican and farmer, is shown in the 1861 census but no landlord has been known since James Seal in 1869. Please see http://www.norfolkpubs.co.uk/norfolkf/fordham/fordhind.htm
Fordham Fen was the scene of a fatal air accident in 1974. More details can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1974_Norfolk_mid-air_collision