by Rev. A. R. V. Daubeney, M.A.
A description of the village for which a map may be needed. Click wherever you see 'map' then use the Back button.
Feltwell is a large parish in S. West Norfolk with an area of 13,151 acres of land, more than half of which is in the fens, and 27 acres of water; it is an ancient parish dating back to pre-Norman times. The chief or capital manor is the Bishop of Ely's manor of which the late Mrs. Newcome, of Feltwell Hall, was Lady.
Formerly Feltwell consisted of two parishes, St. Nicholas and St. Mary, each with its own church and rector. St. Mary which stands in the centre of the village is now the Parish Church. St. Nicholas, the older church of the two, stands on the Hill at the summit, and its dedication to the patron saint of sailors is owing to the fact that it overlooked the sea before the fens were drained; the sea then came up to the foot of the Hill. St. Nicholas is the only Church of the Grimshoe Hundred mentioned in Domesday Book and is shown as Fatwella Church; it has no Chancel and the Tower is in ruins.
At the extreme east of Feltwell is Denton's Lodge which takes its name from a certain Capt. Denton, a former owner, but is now owned and occupied by Capt. H. F. H. Hardy. The Lodge is close to the Brandon and Stoke Ferry Road which seems to have been infested in bygone times with footpads and Highwaymen. Not far from the Lodge, on the opposite side of the main road, is Jackson's Hill, so called from a. highwayman of that name whose body was exposed there on a gibbet. Jackson's Hill is now the Waterworks.
A highwayman's body would be exposed on a gibbet for a considerable time, perhaps for two or three years, as a Warning to others; and according to a sketch made by the Revd' William Newcome, Jackson's body was hanging there in 1808. At Denton where the roads meet, there is a triangular patch of ground, and on this patch in bygone days was an iron cage. These cages were for the safe custody of offenders against the law until brought before the magistrates, and tales have been handed down about the cage at Denton, and the treatment of those confined in it, which could not be described as merciful. Apparently the Brandon road had a bad reputation and Denton being a convenient spot an iron cage was placed there for any highway robbers caught at their unpleasant trade. The patch at Denton is now planted up with trees, but within living memory a well-built house, of the bungalow type stood on it and, if report be true, it was connected with the Lodge by an underground passage. The Lodge, in Capt. Dentons time, was a smuggling centre; contraband goods from King's Lynn were landed at the house on the patch and conveyed underground for safe storage in the Lodge cellars.
Denton's Lodge has the distinction of having entertained Royalty. Accounts have come down to us of George IV driving over from Newmarket, when racing there, and staying at the Lodge with Capt. Denton. From Denton's Lodge to Feltwell Lodge, a distance of about 500 yards, there are two Walks which are still known as the King's Walk and the Ladies' Walk. The Ladies lived at Feltwell Lodge, then a much smaller house, but of them perhaps the less said the better. What eventually became of Capt. Denton is uncertain, he was in the Merchant Service and from what I can gather was caught trading with the enemy; and if this is so, it would mean the end of him and his career since trading with the enemy is a capital offence.
From Denton's Lodge to Cross Hill, a matter of 2 ¼ miles, runs the Lodge Road and on each side, as it enters the village, stands a large house, the Rectory and East Hall. The Rectory was either built by Canon Sparke, rector of Feltwell, 1831-79, or it was enlarged by him to its present unwieldy size. Canon Sparke was presented to the living by his father who was then Bishop of Ely; and G. W. E. Russell in his "Collections and Recollections" tells us that Bishop Sparke gave away so many of the good livings in the Diocese to his family that, according to local gossip, "you could find your way across the fens on a dark night by the number of little Sparkes along the road." This good Prelate secured a canonry for his eldest son, and on doing so for his second son, was so filled with gratitude that he gave a Ball at the Palace as a Thank-offering. Dr. Sparke was Bishop of Ely 1812 to 1836. Even in these days a Ball at a Bishop's Palace would be looked upon as a remarkable achievement. On the death of Canon Sparke East Hall was built by his widow as a residence for her daughter who had married Mr. H. M. Upcher.
Before leaving the Lodge Road mention should be made of the Coach with headless horses which, according to tradition, starts at the Devil's Dyke, drives down the Lodge Road and passes through Feltwell at the dead of night. This I believe to be the remnants of a very ancient superstition dating back to the time when Great Britain was a pagan land. It is found in other parts of the country under various forms. In some places, as in Norfolk, the horses are headless; in other places it is the coachman who has no head; while sometimes a black hound runs in front. It is the Death-coach. Inside the coach sits Death generally in the form of a Lady; and the coach stops every here and there to pick up the souls of the dying who enter at her request.
Now pray step in, the Lady saith,
Now pray step in and ride.
I thank thee; I had rather walk
Than gather to thy side,
I had rather walk a hundred miles
And run by night and day,
Than have that carriage halt for me
And hear my Lady say-
Now pray step in and make no din,
Step in with me to ride;
There's room, I trow, by me for you
And all the world beside."
Baring-Gould, in one of his books on Folk-lore, points out that the Death-coach is a comparatively modern form of the ancient belief that Death comes to fetch the departing soul.
Cross Hill at the bottom of the Lodge Road is the site of the Ancient Village Cross, the base of which can still be seen. Possibly it was destroyed, like many others, by the notorious iconoclast William Dowsing, of Laxfield, Suffolk, who from 1642 and onwards wrecked so many East Anglian Churches.
To quote a satire of the day-
They pluckt communion tables down and broke
our painted glasses;
They threw our altars to the ground and tumbled down our crosses;
They set up Cromwell and his heir, the Lord and Lady Claypole:
Because they hated common prayer, the organ and the Maypole."
A chestnut tree was planted by the Feltwell Branch of the Women's Institute at Cross Hill on the patch of ground in the centre of the roads, in 1935, in commemoration of the Silver Jubilee of King George V. map
At Cross Hill the Lodge Road branches into three - the Methwold Road the Beck and Oak Street. A street differs from a road in that it has houses on one side or on both otherwise it is not a street. The Methwold Road is now closed so far as Methwold itself is concerned and runs no further than Tennis Drove, formerly known as The Tenus. This Drove acts as a parish boundary and is one and a quarter miles from Cross Hill. On the Methwold Road is Munson's Place and Lane leading to the Hithe Road; then comes the Grange; a mile further on is Muriel's Farm and further on still is Tennis Drove. Tennis is a corruption of the Latin word Tenus which means "as far as;" and any who go the length of the Methwold Road will find that they have gone "as far as" the parish boundary; hence the name Tenus.
The Grange is now owned and farmed by Mr. Edwin Porter. A hundred years ago it was, owned and farmed by Jonathan Flower who belonged to a well known Feltwell family of the past. On 4th October, 1803, Jonathan Flower of Feltwell St. Nicholas, farmer, married Mary daughter of William Nurse of Feltwell Lodge and they lived at Hill House. By this marriage there were three children; a son Jonathan who farmed the Grange Farm and two daughters, Frances and Mary. This Mary married Philip William Flower of Furze Down, Surrey, and became the mother of five sons. The eldest son, Cyril, was born in 1843 and called to the Bar in 1870; he was twice returned as Member of Parliament and was Lord of the Treasury in 1886, he was raised to the peerage as Lord Battersea in 1892. As a young man he was remarkably good-looking and was said to be the handsomest man in the House of Commons. He died at Ryde in the Isle of Wight in 1907. The second son, Herbert, was born in 1853 and took the degree of B.A., at Cambridge in 1876. He, like his brother Cyril, appears to have been exceptionally good-looking. In Venn's Alumni Cantabrigiensis there is a note which says that Herbert Flower ran away with Lady Dufferin or rather she with him. He died in 1879 aged 26 years. Lord Battersea, I am told, did not claim descent from the Flowers of Feltwell. With his death in 1907 the title became extinct.
The third Jonathan Flower, son of the Jonathan who farmed the Grange, was born in 1836, migrated as a young man to America and there married Elizabeth Morley, of Feltwell. So far as one can gather it was a run-away marriage; neither of them ever set foot in England again. Elizabeth Morley's father was a cripple and, owing to the death of her mother, she was brought up by her aunt, a Mrs. Willett. She had six children and lived to be 90 years old. Two of her children are still living, the youngest being Mrs. Helen Yeisley of Des Moines, U.S.A., and she, in writing about her mother, speaks of her as a woman of beauty and says that at all Feltwell dances and parties of her day i.e., 90 years and more ago, she was ever the Belle of the Ball.
The last entry of the Flower family made in the Church registers is that of Isabella Flower. She was the wife of the Jonathan Flower who owned the Grange Farm and farmed it, the mother of the Jonathan Flower who married Elizabeth Morley; and she was buried at Feltwell on 8th November, 1866.
The second road from Cross Hill, known as the Beck, runs past Star-naked Close on which the new School has been built; past Beck House, the residence of Mrs. Swann, which has on it the date A.D. 1657, and merges into the Hill; it then runs past Hill House, past St. Nicholas Church and becomes the Hithe Road. The Beck takes its name from the little stream alongside, now mostly covered in, and a culvert conveys the water to the Common Bank. This culvert is large enough to enter and has been used in days gone by for purposes other than the conveyance of water, such as the storage of game which, perhaps, should not have been shot. In the Beck, near the Infants School, an oak tree was planted by the Feltwell Women's Institute to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V.
Oak Street, the third road from Cross Hill, takes its name from the Oak Tree which stands in the centre of the roads at the southeast approach to the village. This tree, being of great age, is said to be mentioned in Domesday Book. But Domesday Book, which took six years to compile, was commenced A.D. 1080, i.e., 873 years ago, and the Feltwell Oak, old as it now is, could not then have been conspicuous for either its age or its size; in fact it may not even have reached the acorn stage of its existence. The only Oak as old as the Norman Conquest that I can find mentioned is the Chenies Oak in Hertfordshire. An oak tree is said to take 500 years to grow and 500 years to die. To all appearance the Feltwell oak is gradually dying and must therefore be of great age. There is a tradition that Charles II sat under the Feltwell oak and it may be true as he is known to have visited Methwold. It may be true also that the Merry Monarch, if he did sit there, ogled the Feltwell young ladies. Oliver Cromwell sat under it as well, according to tradition. Oak trees planted at the junction of roads, like the Feltwell oak, were much resorted to, in by-gone days, by people suffering from ague; it was supposed that the complaint could be transferred to the tree and probably a nail was then driven in. An ancient cure for toothache was to drive a nail into an oak tree, and strange as it may seem, it was firmly believed that, by this means, the pain could be conveyed from the tooth into the tree. Without a doubt also, at twilight, in the shade of the Old Oak Tree, many a Feltwell lad and lassie have whispered to each other words such as:
I love thee, Betty.
Dost thou Johnny
Ah! But I wonder where?
In my heart, Betty.
In thy heart, Johnny?
Thou never yet made it appear.
But Ill wed thee Betty.
Wed me, Johnny?
Ah! but I wonder when?
On Sunday Betty.
On Sunday, Johnny?
Ah! I wish it were Sunday then
The Feltwell oak stands more or less at the cross-roads, one of which is the Old Brandon Road with Barrett's Lane leading off it and Clorny Furlong in the distance. According to a map, dated May, 1771, there was a gate across the road half-way between the Oak and the Old Brandon Road but whether a Toll-gate or a Fall-gate is not stated though I have reason to believe it was the latter. There is also the Wilton Road which runs through Hockwold-cum-Wilton and crosses the Little Ouse into Suffolk. From the Wilton Road to the west end is Howard's Lane, now called Payne's Lane, which runs as far as the Fall-gate and then becomes Back Lane or as some call it Heading's Lane. The short roadway from the Fall-gate to the Elm Tree is Knacker's Lane, known to most people as the Big Entry; the Little Entry being the narrow passage by the Cinema leading into High Street from Payne's Lane. Fall-gate, a word peculiar to Norfolk, is a gate across a public road; and though the gate in question has long since disappeared, the name remains. map
From the Oak tree to Feltwell Hall is Bell Street which takes its name from the Bell Inn, now closed, and the house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. W. Wing. A remarkable and likeable character lived in this street named Henry Thorpe though better known as Blind Harry. He was blind from birth yet could make his way anywhere about the parish or in the fen and would even jump dykes. A tale is told of Blind Harry conducting a visitor late one night to Shrub Hill in the fens and that to show the way this blind man carried a lantern! By trade he was a chimney-sweep but would lend a hand anywhere, even with a threshing machine. He died in 1913 aged 78 years. In Bell Street also, in the house now owned and occupied by Mr. H. Vincent, lived Mr. Henry Addison, who, though a carpenter by trade, kept the shop there. He was a man who had the welfare of the parish very much at heart and probably for that reason was known as the Bishop; to this day he is spoken of as Bishop Addison
Feltwell Hall was the seat of the Clough Family for considerably over 200 years and on the death in December, 1851, of Miss Pleasance Clough, the last of the name, the Hall passed to the Newcome Family. Pleasance was the eldest daughter of the Rev. Cyrill Clough, of Feltwell Hall, who shortly after the death of his father in 1777, married Mary King, spinster, of Feltwell St. Mary. Mary was in service at the Hall as cook-housekeeper and various tales have been told about this marriage which, not without good reason, may be attributed to those below stairs. The marriage appears to have been a happy one. Mary was a good wife and made an excellent mother to their three daughters Pleasance, Rebecca and Catherine; she died a widow in 1822, her husband having died in 1805. The youngest daughter Catherine married the Rev. William Newcome, of Hockwold, and in 1852 their son, Edward Clough Newcome moved to Feltwell Hall after the death of his Aunt Pleasance. He was a great sportsman, fond of all field sports especially Hawking. He died in 1871 at the age of 62 years and is said to have been the greatest authority of his day on Falconry. He was a man of charming personality and the Monthly Review, in an article on Hawking, passes this eulogy on him. "On field or fen, on moor or mere, by the river-side or on the racecourse, no man had more friends or fewer enemies than the late Edward Clough Newcome" He was known affectionately to all and everybody as "Old Clough." Of the three sisters Pleasance, Rebecca and Catherine, the last of the Cloughs; the first to die was Rebecca at the age of 65 years; she was a lovable character but was rather simple-minded; she died unmarried in1845. Pleasance, the eldest, who, to all intents and purposes was for years Squire of Feltwell, died unmarried in 1851 aged 71 years. But Catherine, who became Mrs. Newcome, died at the ripe old age of 88 years in 1875; she outlived her son Edward Clough Newcome, of Feltwell Hall, and was buried in the Clough family vault in St. Mary's Church. She was the last person to be buried inside the Church at Feltwell. The Hall is now the property of the Weasenham Farming Company and is occupied at present by the Company's employees most of whom are Displaced Persons from the last war.
The, Maharajah Duleep Singh, when living at Elvedon, Suffolk, was a constant visitor at the Hall; he was a great sportsman and shot with Mr. Newcome, both he and his daughters the Princesses Sophia, Catherine and Bamba could be seen out and about in Feltwell. He was the son of the Maharajah Runjeet Singh and was the owner of the celebrated diamond known as Koh-i-noor, i.e., Mountain of Light. When the Punjab was annexed in 1849 this famous gem was surrendered and presented to Queen Victoria; it now forms part of the Crown jewels. The Maharajah Duleep Singh died at Paris in 1893. The Princess Bamba is still living. (To continue the Clough Family Loop click here)
Immediately opposite the Hall is the War Memorial and on it are the names of those from Feltwell who fell in the first and second World Wars. map
0 Valiant Hearts who to your glory came,
Through dust of conflict and through battle flame;
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved
Your memory hallowed in the land you loved."
The parcel of ground west of the Church on part of which the War Memorial stands, was not originally Churchyard; it was waste and was unenclosed. The Feltwell Fair was held on it until removed to Fair Close at the instigation of the rector, Canon Sparke, who then had it enclosed. Fair Days were November 20th and 21st land there is an old saying:-
Wheat must be up to cover a hare
Before it is time for the Feltwell Fair.
There is another old Feltwell saying, though not connected with the Fair, that "a mackerel sky from Tenus to Clorney means a fine day." Both Tenus and Clorney are part of Feltwell; Tenus being Tennis Drove while Clorney Furlong is at the parish boundary on the Old Brandon Road.
From Feltwell Hall to the Hill is Church Street and one of the houses in this street is known as The Welcome. Originally it was a cafe or pastry-cook shop run by a Mr. Bartlett and over the door there was a sign-board giving his name and business with WELCOME in large letters. Mr. Bartlett is long dead, the business is defunct but the name survives. map
From Feltwell Hall to the Elm Tree is High Street, formerly called Cock Street. Not far from the Hall, on the opposite side of the road, stands the Cock Inn which is accredited with great age, and there can be little doubt that it is a very old establishment. In this district there are three well-known Cock Inns, the Methwold Cock, the Stanford Cock and the Feltwell Cock. It has been suggested, and not without reason, that they take the name from Cock-fighting which was prevalent in the neighbourhood and was greatly stimulated by King Charles II, a keen patron of the sport, when visiting Methwold. There was a cock-pit at Methwold behind the Inn and King Charles is known to have watched a main, i.e., a cockfighting match there. In all probability there was a cock-pit at Feltwell, though no record of it has come down to us. Several notabilities are claimed as visitors at the Feltwell Cock Inn, one of them being the ubiquitous Oliver Cromwell. But if all the claims of royal and notable visitations are true, such people as King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell or Dick Turpin, must have spent the whole of their lives within the walls of various Inns up and down the country. According to old Norfolk Directories there were four Inns and Taverns at Feltwell; the Cock, the Oak, the Chequers and the Bell; though which were Inns and which Taverns, is not stated. There were also three Beer-houses known under the name of those who kept them. An Inn originally was a wayside house for the lodging and the entertainment of travellers; whereas a Tavern was a place where wine was sold. To say that "the tavern dog had bit him in the head," was another way of saying a man was tipsy. According to a Norfolk Directory for the year 1845 the Inn or Tavern in Bell Street was known as the Blue Bell but whether it is the original name, is difficult to say.
The Elm Tree stands in the centre of the roads where Short Beck joins High Street. This tree, according to a note made in the Church registers, was planted in 1844 to replace the old tree which had become dangerous. It is therefore 109 years old this Year of Grace 1953. Elm trees do not figure to any great extent in folklore though the leafing of the tree was used as a guide for plaiting certain crops in both field and garden, for which there are folk rhymes, such as:-
When Elm leaves are as big as a shilling
Plant kidney-beans, if to plant them you are willing.
When Elm leaves are as big as a penny
You must plant kidney-beans if you mean to have any.
The Feltwell Elm Tree is, I presume, the small leaf variety of the common elm which is found principally in Norfolk and Sussex and is said to have been brought to this country from Palestine by the Crusaders. At the Elm Tree, on either side of the road, there was a public-house both of which have been closed. The house now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Perry was the Elm Tree Inn and Mr. Basil Vincent's, house was the Butcher's Arms, so called from the pork-butcher's shop run in connection with it.
Near the Elm Tree is the Square or at least the remains of the Square. A hundred years ago something like 30 looms were at work in Feltwell, employed in weaving bombazine, crapes, etc., for various Norwich manufacturers. No weaving is now done but at one time it was a regular industry at Feltwell. In the days of Oliver and Richard Cromwell, 1649-1660, certain of the inhabitants are described in the Church registers as Weavers and Wool-combers. So far as I can ascertain the weaving was mostly done at the Factory, a building close to the Square which no one now can remember though several can remember the Factory Cottages; there were six of them in all and they stood on the parcel of ground known as Factory Yard, behind Mrs. Hockley's shop. The Square, or Driver's Square to give the correct name, was not the most select part of the parish; it has been described as the Feltwell Slums of a hundred years ago. The Queen of Feltwell, a well-known character of those days, lived in the Square. map
At the ElmTree, High Street changes its name and becomes Long Lane. After passing the Feltwell Acrodrome, Long Lane forks; one branch is the Poppylot Road leading to Southery, the other branch is the Black Dyke Road which, after passing the Plough Inn, runs through White Dyke to Black Dyke. In speaking of the Plough Inn; there is a well-known nursery-rhyme:- "There was a little man and he had a little gun;" and a parody of it, which may or may not apply to Feltwell, appeared a few years ago as an advertisement:-
There was a little man,
And he felt a little glum,
And be, thought a Guiness was due;
So he went to "The Plough,"
And he's feeling better now;
For a Guiness is good for you,"
At the Plough Inn is Corkway Drove leading to Shrub,Hill in the Fens, and the Feltwell Pumping Station; it also leads to Feltwell Anchor. Corkway appears to be a corrupt spelling for Caukway. Cauk is an East Anglian wordused for any kind of limestone; and there are pits close by from which the Drove was built. On the Poppylot Road, at the Feltwell end, is Leonard's Drove, the first of many on that road, one of them being Plowman's Drove, where, on 11th October, 1908, Susan Wilson the wife of Charles Wilson, hawker, was murdered. She was 70 years of age. In Long Lane lived John Pearson, a mason by trade, and clerk of the Parish Church. Being responsible for the children and their behaviour in Church he was furnished with a rod not unlike an elongated billiard cue. The children sat near the Font, and should one of them so much as move a muscle, especially during sermon, down came the rod on that unfortunate child's head, much to the amusement of the congregation. Should a child, sleep through the sermon, little notice appears to have been taken of it; whereas in most Churches it was the sermon-sleeper who received a tap on the head, sometimes with most astonishing results. John Pearson died in 1910, aged 66 years.
From the Elm Tree to St. Nicholas is Short Beck which crosses the Common Bank and then forks; one branch leads to the Hithe Road, the other to the Hill. In the fork of the roads is the, Borough, a large triangular patch of ground with houses on it. The Borough, judging by its name, is the most ancient part of Feltwell, possibly it is the site of a Barrow or grave-mound of prehistoric times, of which several can be seen in South-West Norfolk. In Short Beck lived Mary Barley, who died in 1875, aged 67 years, and was buried at St. Mary's Churchyard. Some two years or more ago her name appeared in the local press in connection with a certain apparition which is said to be seen in the Borough and is spoken of as "Old Mary Barley." Her husband William, a quiet and reserved man who taught in the Sunday School, worked for Mr. Clough Newcome of Feltwell Hall, whose great hobby in life was Hawking. He would carry the cadge for Mr. Newcome when hawking in the fens. The cadge was a round wooden frame on which the hawks were placed when taken out anywhere to be flown. Mr, Newcome died in 1871, i.e., over 80 years ago, and Mrs. Willingham, of the Almshouses, can remember the children of her young days calling out "Here come the man with the birds," when they saw William Barley carrying the cadge with Mr. Newcome's hawks on it. Mrs. Barley had a daughter Elizabeth who married Mr. King, of the Shop on the Hill, as his second wife; she had also a son James who made his home at Cambridge and whose daughter Rose was a professional singer of some note. map
From St. Nicholas Hill to Methwold runs the Hithe Road. Hithe, an Anglo-Saxon word, means a small port, a haven or landing ground, which describes Methwold Hithe before the draining of the Fens. The ancient name for this hamlet was Otringhithe. On the Hithe Road, almost immediately opposite the Glebe Farm House, is the old Village Pound; an enclosure for stray beasts especially for cattle distrained for trespass until they were redeemed. Readers of Dickens will remember Mr. Pickwick being placed in the village pound for trespass, one-hot afternoon, when found asleep in a wheel-barrow, on private property, after too liberal a supply of milk-punch. From the Hithe Road leading into the Fens are Haythill Lane, Owlsholme Lane and, at Mickleborough, White Plot Lane. According to a map of 1771 the old name for Haythill Lane was Hay Field Lane. The word Mickle means Great or Much and Mickleborough has been described as meaning Great Fort though no trace of any fort has been found. But it is difficult to say whether place-names with the termination Borough or Burgh, were originally forts or burial-places. And it is possible, perhaps even probable, that Mickleburgh is the site of some large and ancient burial-mound.
"Could we with ink the ocean fill,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To tel the Love of God alone
Would dry the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky."
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