Ryston & Roxham

The tower arch of Ryston church is Norman but the tower itself, described as broken down to roof level by Blomefield in 1807, is 1858. The south doorway is 15th century.

Close by there is a traceable medieval village, presumably deserted after the Black Death (1348-49) in the mid 14th century or possibly later. Ristuna was identified in Domesday Book of 1086 and the Nomina Villarum of 1326 (a list of all communities and their lords, made for Edward III). The settlement seems to have Saxon origins, its name deriving from ‘settlement in a thicket’. For more on the black Death, which may have killed as much as half England's population go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death_in_England

The church has many monuments to the Pratt family including, inside, that to Sir Roger Pratt (bap 02 Nov 1620 at Marsworth, Buckinghamshire, near Tring) who died on 20 February 1684, aged 63, and to his wife Anne (nee Monyns, died 12 September 1706, aged 62) erected by her second husband, Sigismund Trafford of Tydd St Mary. Sir Roger was predeceased by his three sons so the Ryston estate passed to another line of the family (see below).

Parish registers commence in 1687 and contain numerous records of the Pratt family. Earlier records show that there were 53 communicants in 1603. Before that, it is known that the lord of the manor in Henry VII’s time was Walter Gymour. One of his daughters married William Pratt. William died without issue and his will of 1557 bequeathed the estate to his nephew Gregory Pratt of Hockwold. Blomefield further adds that the Pratts derive from Robert Pratt, whose son Edmund was lord of the manor of Cartes in Hockwold.

Christopher Smart (1722-1771), the poet, is recorded as having visited Ryston Hall in 1749 while staying in Downham Market. Behind this bare fact lies a deeper story. From his correspondence we discover that Smart was deeply in love with Harriot Pratt, which we can only assume is a alternative name for Henrietta, named after her mother Henrietta Mary Davers, of Rushbrooke, Suffolk (see below). Anyway, 'The Annotated Letters of Christopher Smart', edited by Betty Rizzo & Robert Mahony, is available to read online at https://books.google.co.uk/books and, in his letter, Letter X in the book, to Charles Burney (father of Fanny Burney) dated 29 July 1749, Smart reveals how he has been in love with Harriot Pratt, sister of Edward and Jermyn who he had known at Cambridge, for more than three years. She was, however, "far above Smart's reach at least before he had paid off his debts, taken Orders, and acquired a bishopric. For some reason, however, Smart was permitted to visit and adore, perhaps because he kept a circumspect distance and because Harriot was entertained by him without any danger of falling in love with him. She would eventually marry a family connection, Thurlow Stafford of Crow Hall". Thurlow (d1760) and Henrietta were cousins and married on 18 September 1752 in Ryston church. "In the meantime, she and Smart shared a love of music; Harriot was a keyboard player and Smart a flautist. Music was obviously part of the Ryston circle in the summer of 1749". Smart presented an Aeolian harp to a neighbour, Henry Bell of Wallington Hall. "It remains a question what precisely he was doing there - apart from basking in the presence of Harriot Pratt - for no man in Smart's position could have thought of wooing." Tutoring a local gentleman's son perhaps?

Christopher Smart in his Pembroke College days. He died in the King's Bench Prison having endured periods of mental and physical ill-health since the mis1750s

Historically Roxham was a separate parish but only vague earthworks, much destroyed by ploughing, remain of a former settlement known as Walpole Hall which, according to Blomefield, came into the possession of the Pratts in the second half of the 16th century. (See map link below). The village was deserted in the 1500s.

Kelly's Directory of 1883 says that "Ryston is a parish 2 miles south east from Downham Market station and 1 mile north of Ryston station, in the Western division of the county, rural deanery of Fincham, archdeaconry of Norfolk and diocese of Norwich. The church of St. Michael is a small building, finished with great care which contains several handsome monuments, all to the Pratt family. One is especially noticeable being a statue in white marble of Lady Pratt (see above). Most of the windows are stained. There is a square tower, built with quoins of freestone, which, after being for 300 years in a decayed state, was restored in 1858 by Edward Roger Pratt Esq, since when the church has been newly seated with oak benches. The chancel roof was restored in 1868, the plaster ceiling taken down and the original roof, 500 years old, discovered. This was originally covered with reed but now has flat tiles. It has been carefully cleaned, strengthened and restored where necessary. The work was executed mainly by workmen upon the Ryston estate, under the direction of Mr Lawrie of Downham Market. In clearing the plaster from the walls several interesting discoveries were made: two lepers' windows, an aumbrie and a very beautiful piscina have been brought to light and restored. The porch has been stripped of its plaster, the two curious windows restored, a new roof put on and a warming apparatus fixed, the whole being carried out at Mr Pratt's expense. A handsome organ was also added. The register dates from the year 1687. The living is a vicarage, with that of Ryston annexed and united with Fordham in 1878 by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, joint yearly value £326, in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich and held by the Rev. Robert Rogers MA of Trinity College, Dublin, who resides at Fordham. The impropriate tithes are commuted at £282 yearly; there are 31 acres of glebe land. In this parish and about 300 yards (it is further) south of Ryston Hall, stands Kett's Oak, or the Oak of Reformation, where Coniers, the chaplain of the rebels, read prayers and preached, and their court sat to administer justice and regulate disorders during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1549.

Kett’s Oak, Ryston. The more familiar Kett's Oak is situated at Wymondham

Mr Prat your Shepe are very fat and we thank you for that. We left you the skynns to biy your Ladye Pinnes and you may thank us for that’

The oak was a fully established tree by 1549 so it must be at least 550 years old at the present time and probably older.

"Ryston Hall, which underwent considerable improvement in 1867, is the seat of Edward Roger Murray Pratt Esq BA JP who is lord of the manor and owns the whole parish. The Pratt family is one of the six Norfolk families mentioned by Sir Henry Spelman as living upon their property, in the male line for more than 300 years: the estate lies in this parish and in Roxham, Fordham and Bexwell.

Ryston Hall

"The soil is of mixed quality; subsoil, clay and sand. The chief crops are wheat and barley. The area, including Roxham, is 1199 acres; rateable value of Ryston, £983; the population of Ryston in 1881 was 35. The 1881 census states that E R Pratt (aged 33, unmarried and born in Campsea Ashe, Suffolk) owns two parishes of Norfolk amounting to 3500 acres). Campsea Ashe is sometimes written 'Ash'.

"Letters are received through Downham Market, which is the nearest money order & telegraph office. Leading residents are:

Edward Roger Murray Pratt BA JP Ryston Hall & 19 Beaufort Gardens London & Brooks' Club, St James' Street, London

Edward Roger Murray Pratt (born 1847 in Campsey Ashe -1921) was the son, and oldest of nine children, of the Rev Jermyn Pratt who inherited the Ryston estate in 1860. Jermyn was born at Ryston Hall in 1798 and, as the third son of Edward Roger Pratt (1756-1838, aged 82) and Pleasance Browne (1765 in King's Lynn -1807, aged 42 after having thirteen children in fifteen years), went into the church to became an Anglican minister, serving as a curate in Fordham from 1823-30. He became rector of Campsea Ashe, north east of Ipswich, in 1836. Both Jermyn's elder brothers had died - Edward Roger Pratt in 1863 and Lt Col Henry Pratt in 1860 (the second son went into the army by tradition). Jermyn's wife was Mary Louisa Murray (1824-1878), daughter of the Rt Rev George Murray, Bishop of Rochester. Jermyn died in 1867.

Edward Roger Murray married Louisa Frances Mulholland (1860-1943) in 1881. Their only son, Colonel Edward Roger (1882-1966) inherited the estate on his father's death in 1921. He married Beatrix Elaine Thynne (1895-1969), the daughter of Major General Sir Reginald Thomas Thynne, in 1923. Their children were Edward Roger Michael (1926-2014) and Christopher Jermyn (1931-2006).

Edward Roger Pratt (b1756) was the only son of Edward Roger Pratt (1717-1784) of Ryston and Blanche Astley, daughter of Sir Jacob Astley of Melton Constable. He succeeded his father in 1784. His elder sister, Sarah Maria (1752-1798), married Charles Collyer of Gunthorpe Hall and is commemorated in Denver Church along with their daughter Lucy Maria who married the Rev Samuel Colby Smith, rector of Denver 1830-52 (see Denver section). Edward Roger (born1717) was the son of Roger Pratt (1689-1771) and his wife Henrietta Mary Davers of Rushbrooke. Roger's sister Elizabeth (1685-1735) married Thurlow Stafford (d1731) and is commemorated in Denver church (again, see Denver section). Their parents were Edward Pratt (1655-1708), of Woodbridge, and Mary Applethwaite, of Ipswich. Subject to confirmation this is the son of Edward Pratt below who inherited from Sir Roger. Father died in 1691 leaving the estate to Edward his son who, in turn, passed it to Roger in 1708.

Earlier Pratt lineage is as follows: Sir Roger (knighted in 1668 by Charles II) was the son of Gregory Pratt, a lawyer (died 1640) and inherited Ryston from his cousin Edward, who died in 1664. After he was predeceased by his three sons, the Ryston estate passed to his cousin Edward Pratt in 1685, a descendant of Sir Roger's great grandfather, Edmund Pratt (born c1493) of Hockwold who had married Catherine Tassell c1522. Edmund's parents appear to have been Richard Pratt of Stow Bardolph (d1531) and Cecelia Gillion of Hockwold. Sir Roger's widow (d1706) then remarried Sigimund Trafford (see above).

Of incidental interest is Jermyn's younger brother Robert who was killed aboard HMS Granicus, aged 17, at the Battle of Algiers in 1816.

Henry Porter Parish Clerk

James Hardy Head gamekeeper to E R M Pratt (Charles Reed was gamekeeper in 1881, George Grass in 1891 and John Cook in 1901. The gamekeeper lived in Kett’s Oak Cottage)

Kett's Oak Cottage today.

George Newell Farm bailiff to E R M Pratt (George came from Wyton in Huntingdonshire. He was buried at Ryston on 28 September 1887, aged 60)

Henry William Turner (aged 40) Farmer & road surveyor for Ryston. He was a farmer of 633 acres in the 1881 census living at Hill Farm on Ryston Road, Denver, having recently arrived from Somerset, and employing 21 men and 7 boys". These farm buildings have been converted to private houses having formerly been in the occupancy of Forbes Plastics.

The Hill House 2007. Formerly Hill Farmhouse built around 1810, it stands a short distance from the farm buildings on Ryston Road., Denver

The buildings were the home of Forbes Plastics in 2007 shortly before their move to new premises at Bexwell (the father of the owner was one-time licensee of The Ship at Brandon Creek). The building stone, for those unfamiliar with west Norfolk, is carstone, a band of cretaceous rock running through the west of the county and best seen in the cliffs at Hunstanton

Carstone is not a very strong building material and in modern houses is used only for facing. It is orangey brown when freshly hewn but turns much darker with age. It can be seen in many buildings in the Downham area, such as Ryston church above.

Ryston Hall was originally built in 1669-1672 by Sir Roger Pratt for himself but it is now much modified, especially by Sir John Soane in the 1780s. Pratt also built Clarendon House in Piccadilly, perhaps the grandest house in the land at the time, for Edward Hyde (1604-1674), created Earl of Clarendon at the Restoration in 1660. His daughter Anne married the future James II and was Queen 1702-1714. Hyde fell from grace after the Dutch did much damage to national pride by sailing up the Medway in 1667, was exiled to France but recovered his standing sufficiently to be buried in Westminster Abbey. That Pratt was held in high regard is evidenced by his appointment as one of the three commissioners responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire in 1666. The others were Christopher Wren and Hugh May, the latter particularly renowned for his work on Windsor Castle. Of Pratt’s other works, Kingston Lacy in Dorset is owned by the National Trust. There is more on Sir Roger at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Pratt_(architect) and in the Dictionary of National Biography (library card or subscription required). Leonard Gurle (c1621-1685), nurseryman, supplied trees and seeds to Sir Roger Pratt for the gardens of his new house. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37496

There is more on Queen Anne at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne,_Queen_of_Great_Britain

Clarendon House c1667

Much-modified Kingston Lacy, Wimborne Minster, today

The Newell family continued to serve on the Pratt estate well into the 20th century. George Newell’s son Charles was head gardener in 1925 and John Newell, Charles’ younger brother who was born on the estate in 1868, was estate agent. Herbert Cannell was head gamekeeper.

The 1883 Directory for Roxham is, understandably, very brief. There were two principal farms: Crossways Farm, and Roxham Farm, the more southerly of the two. Roxham House was a substantial building attached to the latter. William Wilson, aged 80, was farming 171 acres with his two unmarried sons while George Woodward's farm was 75 acres. The 1881 census return consisted of a single sheet with 23 names on it. In 1851 the two farms were in the hands of Henry Norbourn (aged 76, born in Roxham) with 390 acres and Ruth Patten, also aged 76, from Tinsley, Yorkshire (240 acres). In the same census Thomas Everitt (born Fordham 1804) is recorded as living 'River Bank' (on the Wissey) with his wife Anne and their seven children. How remote was that! It serves to remind us that the countryside was littered with remote tied cottages housing agricultural labourers and their, very often, large families. The great majority of these have now gone. Roxham Fen is still labelled on OS maps, sandwiched between the Wissey and the Cut-off Channel, accessible only from the north by a bridge over the new cut. In 1911 'Wissey Bank', Roxham, was being farmed by Zachariah Harrison.

Roxham House

Far less remote than Thomas Everitt's cottage was the Round House on what is now the A10, about half a mile south of Denver. In 1851, John Carter (born Hilgay 1823) was living there. He was also a farm labourer; his wife Alice was born in London.

The Round House (1915)

The Ryston and Fordham public elementary school was erected in 1856 for the united parishes of Ryston, Roxham and Fordham to take up to 45 children. Average attendance in 1908 was 27. It is now a private residence on Hilgay Road leading to West Dereham.

Fordham School built 1856. The old OS map covering the late 19th Century shows the school on the road to West Dereham.

See http://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/norfolk/069/sw It also shows the site of Walpole House and moat in Roxham opposite Crossways Farm.

The Norfolk Heritage Explorer parish summary for Ryston & Roxham which also includes Bexwell is worth a look at :