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IT is almost unnecessary to say that the Ballad of "The Babes in the Wood" is dear to the English speaking race. Yet by many the tradition has been explained away as folk-lore, found among other races than our own, thereby depriving uS of a valued historical and literary asset.

This book is a modest attempt, after no little research on the spot, to show that some episode occurred in this neighbourhood which gave birth to the Ballad-a drama without doubt, which the country people may have fabricated into a tragedy when Protestants and Papists were contending for the mastery.

The land of the Babes, i.e. that district in Norfolk associated with the story, hitherto overlooked, is one of the most interesting and beautiful, not only in the county but in the country.

I have made copious use of MS. notes by my predecessor, the late Rev. George Crabbe, left behind him in the Merton Church chest, and also of his published papers. .

I have also to thank the Rev. Professor Skeat, Mr. J. Hartley Durrant, Mr. W. G. Clarke and others for much valuable help, and also Messrs, Boughton and Mrs. Pirie for three photographs.


lYferto1t Rectory.



CHAPTER 1._;An Introduction to the Land of the Babes CHAPTER II.- Watton-its fj Drinkyns "-The Church-The Way-

land Wood and Old Griston Hall-s-The Tradition

of the Babes in the Wood-Old Ballads-Probable

date of the Tragedy or Incident-Who were they?

-The True Episode-Griston Church ... 7

CHAPTER III.-:-M.erton- The Rectory-Fitzgerald's Association with

- the Crabbes-s-His Religious Views-The V ill agePark-Hall~hurcb-Its Links with the PastThrexton.

CHAPTER IV.- Thorn pson - The Deserted Village-Its History from the Conquest-Rise of the College-ProsperityIn habitan ts- The Collegiate Ch urch-Gi psies- The Dissolution and its effects-Its decay-No Parson even to bury _ the dead



CHAFTER V.-Around Thompson Water-The Glory of the Heathland-Sandsedge and " The Littoral" - The

Wild-fowl 50

CHAPTER VI.-Stow Bedon and Breccles-Hall and Church 54

CHAPTER VII.-Wretham-Its Meres - Heaths - HighwaymenWilliam Courtfield, Priest and HighwaymanRoudharn Heath-A Highwayman with a Candle-

stick- Tradition of Battles at Ringmere and

Ketel Bridge-The Peddar's Way 60

CHAPTER VIIL-Breckland Folk-A Game Preserve-Emigration

of Young People-Characteristics of the People

-Old Customs-A Druidical Christian Xlhant=Rummy Dancers


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CHAPTER IX.-Wizards-Witches-Planet Readers- Examples of the Faith placed in them-Master Cobel-The Tottington Shepherd and Planet Reader-Similar case at Petty Sessions-The Evil Eye-The W retham Witches-The White Witch-Wart Curers and wonderful Success-Snails and Disgusting Remedies=-Cure for Whooping Cough-

Balaam's ·Mark-Pigs bewitched 80

CHAPTER X.-Superstitions-Christian and Prehistoric-Horseshoe

and Iron-The White Rabbit-Childermas Day-

Holly-The Barberry-Rhymes, etc. 88

CHAPTER XL-Tottington and Abbot Samson=-The Church and

its remarkable Poppyheads and Carving-

Croxton- Thetford-Its Ancient History 93

CHAPTER XII.-Santon and the Shifting Sands-Flint Implements abound-Brandon and its Rabbits-Weeting and

Grimes' Graves 100

CHAPTER XIII.-To Methwold and the Fens-Delight of Wild Nature and Game Preserving-Sturston-Popish Recusants and Sir Miles Yare, the double-facedStanford Water-Wild Duck-Ringed Plover and other Rare Birds-Ichburgh-Mundfotd-Methwold-First instance of penalty for Smoking in the Street-The. Manor Courts-" Shuck and

Shiner" and Fen Superstitions lOS

CHAPTER XIV.-Scoulton and its Gullery-Carbrooke and Caston... IIS

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The Land of the "Babes In the Wood."


A n Introduction to the Land of Ike Babes.

THE ~'Broadland:' of Norfolk we know, but where is "Breck land, the land of the Babes in the Wood"?

In the south-west of Norfolk and on the adjoining Suffolk border is a huge expanse of heathland, bracken, bare rabbit-warren and woodland, more Of less untrodden by the ubiquitous tourist. For miles and miles one may traverse this district without meeting a human being; it is an un peopled

area, given over entirely to _ wild nature. <

Over those few who know it, who have felt its fascination, this terra

_ignota throws a mysterious spell. Once you have visited Breckland and realised its charms, then like the Great Sahara it is always calling you to return. Men who have traversed the globe, over mountain and fell, deserts and earthly paradises, have admitted the remarkable fascination of the Norfolk Breckland.

There is no explanation to be given--only the advice to go and see for yourself, to experience the spell which the faithful few speak of with hated breath.

Certainly there is nothing like it in the United Kingdom; this tract of heather, ling, bracken and furze, interspersed with sandy rabbit warrens as bare as the Sahara desert, with lone meres and sheets of water the resort of every kind of wild-fowl, with woodland and dark pine belts for a background.

But first, where is the Land of the Babes in the Wood?

Take a map of Norfolk and note the expanse of country in Southwest Norfolk, between Watton and Methwold, Thetford and Brandon, and on the Suffolk' border. These are the only market towns, and small ones too, in a very large area of country i the villages are few and far between, while heaths and warrens predominate. This is the Norfolk Sahara. The cultivated land is very restricted, the population sparse; the whole tract being one enormous game preserve. The soil is admirably adapted for such, and against cultivation, being blowing sand, with a subsoil of chalk, .and in others a sandy gravel.

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> Roads are few and lonesome, the scenery is wild and enchanting, the air like champagne, while a few old-world towns and villages,- quaint and

unexploredvawait the antiquarian. .

One mile south-east of Watton i~ the traditional __ scene of the tragedy

of the Babes in the Wood. _

It has been thought that the story is only .felk-lore, common to other nations. Without doubt, there: is -amongcther-races -a. folk.Sore: very- -simHar, but the Norfolk story is not wholly fiction, whichlsthereas-or(or-'ihE(book...,... nothing more or less-s-and to give otherssomeirle~ _ of the :beauty=-o-J the homeland of [be Babes in as' chatty a way as possible. A technical book -on Breckland I. leave to others.

What is a "Breck"? It is heathland which has been at some time broken up, but allowed to lapse [rani cultivation. Probably its origin is the same as '~breach," which in Anglo-Saxon -means" a breaking:'

There Js a great deal of - heathland - with : C~U~l1PS of Iuxuriant heather, which has every appe<L!,ance of being untouched" by -the - hand of man, but some part of-which - undoubtedly -wa_s,::,uniier:.:;ultrv~tiQil--1l.hciuh·l_Ioo--A_-,D.!-and probably. -primitive--,rrianc tlIiea-a~p_~t{of_ the-::s-~fl:~--, ,~- -; _. - "',,-:- , ~-_-:, " -

Agai_n,-in this,dlstt'iCt"ao-ara.61e-'fi'eldoften ioes by thename orc'!breck."

W-heri,-the'-:he<Ithland'-has been broken up and ploughed, the field is still called a '! breck," and here tomes in the mystery of Breckland, for the soil bears traces of having been thickly populated by prehistoric man, more especially by the men of the Neolithic or new Stone Age, for thousands upon thousands of flint implements have been found on the surface -_of -the heaths and warrens, probably brought to the surface by the burrowing andscratching of the myriads of rabbits. Arrow-heads, awls, axes, .borers, chisels;iabrt~ators;, knives, saws, scrapers, spear-heads and the flakes and cores fromwhich they Were made have all !feen found in the neighbourhood of -thetford and Brandon. The district was undoubtedly the greatfiint implement manufactory of primitive man,and was thickly populated.

For this reason the district was probably for thousands of years a most important one.

There is an old roadway called" The Peddar's Way,'; which commences at Holme-on-the-Sea and runs in a bee-line straight through Breckland, end-ingapparently at Ixworth in Suffolk. This wad is long anterior to the Romans-the question is, how many thousands of years earlier? and who were - they who first laid it down?

Maybe, Breckland being a great flint emporium and manufactory (flint was in use long -after_ the introduction of iron and bronze), this road was the commercial highway for the Norseman, Certainly they used it afterwards when invading East Anglia, hut -all we can say in certainty is.-that_-Norseme~,

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Ikeni, Danes, Angles, Kelts, and Romans passed that way in peace and commerce, and arrayed for war. Three great roads, the Peddar's Way, the Ickneilde Way, and the great Fen Road, with their attendant ways, traverse the district. One may lie among the heather with no human being in sight, and recall out of the past a busy hive of prehistoric men around and the knappers chipping the flint for wild uncouth customers.

Now it is Ichabod l Wild nature reigns supreme. Very noticeable is the dissimilar vegetation of Breckland. There will be a large area covered with bracken, growing over a man's head in height to seven or eight, feet, then will come a stretch of heather, followed by a warren as bare, and more so, than the Sahara desert; next some acres of furze and broom, ending in a patch of rnarram grass or sand sedge, such as one finds on the sea-shore-to omit altogether reference to those areas which have gone out of cultivation within the last sixty or seventy years. How can one account for these different varieties of vegetation growing in patches on a soil which is uniformly sand with a chalk subsoil?

Much of this may be seen by a traveller on the Great Eastern Railway (Cambridge main line to Norwich), between Lakenheath and Harling Road . .. Wild country," is the traveller's usual comment, "given over to game-a grand shoot I " Any further ideas of this wild, lone land he has none.

So with Broadland, before the holiday folk swooped down upon it as their playground.

Now Broadland is no longer the watery waste of Norfolk. Its charms are in everyone's mouth.

Breckland will never be a popular resort like Broadland in the conventional sense. Its great enjoyment will only come to those who love being away from the haunts of civilisation, on open heathland with heather, furze, and bracken for miles around, or, by placid mere, rippling beck and whispering pine, reclining. To those who love wild nature, who photograph, sketch, paint, bicycle or motor, who are naturalists, antiquarians or geologists, Breckland will be an endless source of pleasure.

The villages remind one of oases in the desert. The thatched and redtiled cottages with trim gardens, roses and clematis growing over the porches or up the clay-lump walls, are most quaint and picturesque. The church, often with a round tower, acts as the silent sentinel, while one or two farms nestling among oak, fir-trees, and larch, with their arable or grass land surrounding the whole, and far away the wide stretching Breckland complete the picture. In August, with the sun shining on the golden corn, the thatch and red tiles, and the green sward-these old-world villages are a feast to the eye.

The villagers are folk of few words to the stranger, for they are at

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first suspicious of him. motives to every action. -or a mixture of Dane,

They have a strange way of imputing ulterior The fact is they are more Dane than Anglo-Saxon Fleming, and Norse, with a strain of Anglo-Saxon

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thrown in.

By the treaty of Wedmore, Alfred made over East Anglia as a Dane reserve. For long no one else was allowed to settle down there without pernnssion. So the North-folk came to look on the Anglo-Saxons as foreigners; more especially as Norfolk was at one time an island. This tradition exists to this day, especially in Breckland, where the villages are remote. A native will tell you that he has been on a trip to foreign parts. You inquire as to whether his holiday was spent in France, Holland, or Denmark, &c., and he will inform you "not the furreign parts across the warter, but the Sheeres." He regards "the Shires" as foreign parts and the people as foreigners. "To come from the Sheeres " is a malevolent expression, especially _when applied .to a horse or domestic animals.

Therefore the village folk look on a_ stranger from the Shires with suspicion. If he is generous and performs kindly acts, they. want to know the reason, and what he is going to get out ·of it. They always cast about for the ulterior motive.-

The poor parson, if 'he comes from the Shires, has a rough time at first, for they quizz all his doings, and if he is especially active they at once try and find out the motive of his activity.

A new vicar introduced the weekly offertory into a Breckland parish, but the older inhabitants held up their hands in pious horror at such an innovation. "A gathering indeed," they said, "and in church!" Never had such an impious action been heard of. Many at once ceased attendance!

But these natives of Breckland (the labouring class) are a thrifty and sturdy folk, worthy of all admiration. Their weekly wage is a pittance, and yet their cottages are well furnished, neat and spotless j their gardens well kept, and their children well dressed. How they can do it on from twelve to fourteen shillings a week is a marvel! It is an hereditary gift from their Danish ancestry. They are much more sober and thrifty than' the Shire folk, though they do not put in such a good day's work, and have not the same "manly independence.

The women-folk are, many of them, of the stout Dutch type, with fair hair and florid complexions, while their children are specially -noticeable for their flaxen hair and rosy cheeks.

Busy, kindly souls, whose one thought and care is for their homes.

Would that others in a loftier sphere might copy them I

As ior the farmers-well, King James was driven out of Breckland by



a farmer, although a royal residence and hunting box had been at Thetford from remote antiquity.

What King James' offence was, history does not relate. It is surmised that he went into a Breckland farmer's standing barley to hawk partridges, whereat the farmer used strong language. King James, however, was so insulted, that he shook off the Breckland sand from his royal boots, and the royal residence was sold. That farmer's abuse ruined Thetford. Let us hope the farmers will bring back prosperity to Breckland.

In the main they are a happy, contented community, these Breckland villagers. Everyone knows everyone else's business, and there is plenty of village gossip, for the simple reason there is nothing else to gossip about.

It is the same in all villages, your down-sittings and uprisings are known fairly well.

A friend of mine, when he wants to know how he is getting on, or anything about himself, goes and asks one of the villagers. He says it is surprising what a lot of information they can give concerning himself. If he cannot remember how he has spent his time, or who was the last person to visit him, they will enlighten him, and add sidelights upon his character and upon his visitors.

He says it is most instructive and interesting. and does him a lot of good-only it has the effect of making his memory worse and worse. Instead of exercising his memory he relies entirely upon the villagers for all news concerning himself, until his mind becomes a mere vacuum concerning his own doings.

He asked what was the good of trying to remember things about yourself when the people in the village knew so much better?

What a health resort is Breckland I

The soil is sand or sandy gravel, with a subsoil of chalk, and wonderfully porous. A few hours after the heaviest downpour the ground is completely dry again, and without any signs of moisture, save the overflow from some tell-tale beck. So sandy is the soil in many districts that, on the cultivated areas, in windy and blusterous weather, the soil of the fields is literally lifted up and whirled away over the heaths, obliterating the tracks. As a matter of fact, a field is often seen travelling in the air by the force of the gale, to be transferred to another locality. In the diary of John Drew Salmon, of Thetford, there is an entry, Match 23rd, 1834: "A blowing day. Some of the fields drifting like the billows of the sea, the banks only arresting them."

On such a soil drinking into one's lungs the bracing Norfolk air, redolent with the breath of heather, furze, and pine woods, the worn-out _ man or woman is entirely renovated, and a fresh life is infused into the



veins. Men who have come here in the last stage of consumption and decrepitude to be wheeled about in a bath-chair, have taken a new lease of life, entirely recovering and able to go through many a day's shooting with the best

Nature's sanatorium is Breckland, It is a matter of surprise that doctors, who are always on the look-out for localities with- recuperative powers, have entirely overlooked this dry, bracing._ sunny area in Norfolk.

Breckland would say, "Thank heaven they have." - Yet - it is only honest to put on record the invigorating and healing power of the Brecks, Some poor soul may prolong his life by courting the life-giving _ zephyrs of these sandy uplands.

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Watton-tis "Drinkyns "-The Church-The Wayland Wood and Old Griston. Hall-The Tradition of the Babes in the Wood-Old BalladsProbable date of the Tragedy 01' Inddent- Who were they.f - The True Epzsode-Griston Church.

WATTON is a market town of thirteen hundred inhabitants, mid-way on a small branch line of the Great Eastern Railway, between Thetford and Swaffham which passes through one corner of Breckland, the heaths of Roudham, Wretham, and Stow Bedon, and also the traditional scene of the Babes in the Wood drama. Watton itself is not on the light soil of the Breckland, but is a convenient place from which to make excursions into the adjoining heathland.

It is a pushing thriving little town, and on a market day is thronged with farmers and country-people from the surrounding villages, gathered together as much for a gossip in the broad Norfolk dialect as for serious business. I t is the weekly holy-day-the red letter one of the agricultural calendar, which they more faithfully observe than any other.

The name of the place is written" Wadetuna" in Domesday book, which has enabled some local writers to draw on their imagination, to picture the little place surrounded by water in primitive times, and the Saxons and Danish residents of the county tucking up their robes and skirts to wade through gurgling streams in order to obtain provisions, or to visit their relatives. Professor Skeat, however, one of our greatest living authorities has knocked this theory on the head, and derives it as "Wada's town "-Wada being an Anglo-Saxon name and the origin of the modern name "Wade."*

The late Mr. E. M. Beloe advanced a plausible theory that both Watton, and its Hundred of Wayland mean the Way town and the Way land, owing to the importance of its prehistoric British and Roman ways which intersected this locality.

'<Wanelund " was the name of the Hundred in Domesday book, so that how it came to its present form "Wayland," it is difficult to say. Possibly the inhabitants corrupted both names as Beloe suggests, owing to the local importance of the old roads.

Near by ran the famous Peddar's or Paddar's Way; in its first inception a prehistoric trackway from Holme-on-Sea, near Hunstanton, through

'" if. Skeat, "Herlfordshire place names," p. 49·



Breckland, the land of flints. In those days a roaring trade was no doubt carried on, since flints were the great necessities of life-for domestic purposes, for hunting, and for war. Afterwards the Ikeni, and lastly the Romans made use of this prehistoric trackway, and converted it into a fair road-the highway to their camps on the North Sea.

In 1674 the town of WatlolTwas practically burnt -down, and rebuilt some way from- its former site. Soon after the - fire the - building, known as the clock-house was erected, the oldest building in the town, in which. was placed a clock and a bell, called " The Ting-tang," - for the purpose of arousing the inhabitants in case of a similar disaster-which seems to intimate that on the former occasion they were caught napping.

On the clock-house is the Watton rebus (a punning heraldic device)-a hare, and a tun, or barrel j the ancient name of hare being" Wat"

"Thus once concluded, out, the teazers run, All in £oIl cry and speed. 'till wat's undone."


In the town book, which dates _ -b_a.cli to -Queen Elizabeth, are many references to - quaint customs, giving us. an insight into the life of these old-world places from 1560 to 1768.

One of the chief fete days was the one on which II The Drinkyns" were held, at which the inhabitants combined business with pleasure, conducting parochial affairs and making collections for the poor at drinking bouts of barley bree and other liquors.

These" Drinkyns I, appear to have been a Protestant travesty of All Souls' Day, and were called sometimes "Soulmas Drinkyns," and judging by the entries in the town book, Watton was very Protestant indeed.

Sometimes they were kept on the Festival of the Saint to whom the church was dedicated, but in 1536 they were ordered to be kept on the first Sunday in October, irrespective of the church's dedication.

It certainly seems extraordinary that a Sunday should be set aside for a drinking bout in our towns and villages!

King James in 1618 made matters worse by causing a declaration called "The Book of Sports" to be used on Sundays after Divine service. It struck the clergy and sober part of the nation with horror. Such were the piety and wisdom of these times, which some, forsooth, call "the good old

days"!!! .

In Brand's antiquities, there is to be found a reference to these orgies quoted from The .Anatomse of Abuses:

"Every bourne, parish and village, some at one time of the yeare, some at another (but so that everyone keeps his proper day assigned and

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appropriated to itself, which they call their wake-day) useth to make great preparation and provision for good cheare. To the which all their friendes and kinsfolkes farre and neere are invited. There were such doings at them insomuch as the poore men which beare the charges of these feastes and wakesses are the poorer and keep the worser houses a long time after. And no marvaile for many spend more at one of these wakesses than in all the whole year besides,"

The educated and more refined folk were disgusted with the" Drinkyns," as in addition to the incidental drunkenness, rough horseplay and coarse language, they entailed straightened means on many a household afterwards.

But note the use of the word "worser" in the above, a word used now frequently by the labouring classes, and which is considered a sign of defective education. On the contrary, they speak the English tongue as it used to be spoken, and in many cases the words they use are purer English than those of the educated classes, as also are many " Americanisms" which we are in the habit of smiling at.

Of course there was feasting as well as drinking. A good foundation was laid for the beer and barley bree which followed.

The town .book in 1585 makes mention of the great" Spete" (spit), which was' used for roasting on these public festivals-very probably the animals were roasted whole.

A gentleman of the name of George Frank, borrowed this great "Spete," so we are told, for his marriage; evidently he went in for junketing at his wedding on an extended scale. We should like to know more about this marriage festival, and why George Frank was the only man of Watton to borrow the great" Spete " for so momentous a function.

According to the bill of fare of I 560, five score of white herrings were included, possibly to prepare the palate for the full flavour of the barley bree and beer. A pennyworth of aniseed (anny seadys) was also in the menu, although for what purpose, unless a drag hunt was part of the programme, I am not aware.

After the entry of the items and cost of the 1560 drinking, there is another item" payed for pulling down the holy water stoup" outside the church door. This again shows that Protestanism at that day was of a more virulent type. For some reasons the hole from which the stoup was removed was not bricked up until seven years later.

At Merton, two miles away, the holy water stoup still remains, a valued relic of the past. Disuse not destruction heralded a truer reformation.

In I659 there is a record of one William Mayes being appointed to a very onerous office, namely, "The keeping of the bells, with the keeping out 'the dogges' from the church, and the awaking of all 'sleepers wich


sleape' during divine service." For this he received ten shillings per annum, to be paid in quarterly instalments. If Mr. William Ma,es proved efficient in his office, he was decidedly underpaid. It was no sinecure.

It is strange that there should be no mention of the fire which devastated the town. The old clock-house is the only memorial of it.

In 1258 the name of ,Watton appears in the list of the Bishops of Norwich, Simon de Watton being appointed to the Episcopal See. He was not a success, for when civil war broke out he took the unpopular side of the Pope and his foreigners, and was compelled to take sanctuary at St. Edmund's Abbey. "If he lived in evil times," says Dr. Jessopp "Bishop Simon did little to mend them-a man of whom history has no good to tell."

The church has had the misfortune to he restored twice-in 1840 and 1862, a great deal of its architectural interest being lost.

The font is a nice new one, its ancient Perpendicular one having been sold to Ovington, a neighbouring parish, in 1840. This replaced at Ovington a fine old Norman font, which was, and possibly is now, in the garden at Shipdam Rectory.

The beginning of the nineteenth century seems to have been an age of vandalism when there was a craze for the modern.

The curious" poor-box," date 1639, is the only piece of old woodwork in the church. The tower is Norman, the clerestory, Perpendicular. In the nave the south piers and responds and three arches are very early Decorated. The aisles were pulled down in 1840, and rebuilt much wider in Stonemason's Gothic; at the same time a large handsome north porch, which abutted on the north aisle, and the south door were destroyed. There is a trefoiled piscina. On the outside, the south wall of the chancel shows a double lancet window, a priest's door, both with drip-stone's terminated by notch-heads, and a low side window splayed in the inside towards the east, which has original iron bars.

Watton rejoices in a piece of water called Loch Neaten, the playground of the inhabitants. It is simply a large pit from which the ballast for the railway was excavated, but a bowling-green has been laid down and a bandstand erected, which makes it a nice place for concerts and outdoor recreations.

Watton has many charms in its neighbourhood, and the first interesting place to be visited is Wayland Wood, the reputed site of the tragedy of the Babes in the Wood, about one mile out of the town; this may be said to mark the commencement of Breckland,

Near by, on the main road, stands a crab-tree, at the commencement of the parish of Merton, where the heavy land ceases and the light land

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comes in. A curious feature is often observed in a storm. The rain clouds follow some ancient watercourse, of which this crab-tree marks the boundary, passing over Watton and the heavy land, but leaving Merton and the adjacent Breckland severely alone. Naturally the rainfall on the Brecks is small, and even after a heavy downpour the land is dry again in a few hours.

The Wayland Wood may .have given its name to the Hundred as being its chief feature; formerly it was of very great extent, comprising parts of the parishes of Griston, Thompson, Merton, and Stow Bedon, but at the present day it comprises seventy-three acres only.

Under one of the oaks in this wood the Sheriff used to hold his Court of the Hundred.

The Hundred Oak is marked in an old map of 1723, in the north corner. It is possible that the Sheriff's Court under the oak was a survival from the worship of the god Weiand, the Smith (a Norse Vulcan), under the sacre_d tree in the Wayland Wood, the Hundred being afterwards calledby the .same- name.

__net;e_>at~ no old oaks at the. present day. the great oak under which "the-BabeS'" were reputed to have been found, being struck by lightning in A~t, 1879, during the storm which destroyed Wells Church, and was then demolished-mare's the pity, for it had been a centre of attraction to all lovers of the old Ballad. n The underwood is chiefly hazel and blackberry brambles, so thick and high that a child left in the wood might even now perish before finding its way out." (Crabbe.)

Many people have concluded that the Ballad of the Babes in the Wood is folk-lore and nothing" more. It is, however, pretty evident that soon after the publication of the story, at Norwich, by Thomas Millington, in 1595. it became identified with the Wayland Wood and old Griston Hall, and certainly no other place in the country has ever been associated with

- the tragedy.

At the same time so much rubbish has been written round the story as to make it necessary to state that only indirect evidence is forthcoming.

In the book of "British Ballads," edited by S. C. Hall, F.S.A., and

published by Jeremiah How, 1842, page 15, imagination has run riot in presenting the reader with an engraving of the tomb of the parents with

this inscription:

"Here reposeth the remains of Thomas More Gent of Norfolk aged

40 years-Also of Jane his wife aged 33, who both passed from this life Anno Dam 1600. On whose souls may God have mercy. Amen."

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Their death is represented to have occurred five years after the story was published at Norwich!

The Rev. W. G. Caley, a former Vicar of Watton, also printed in Andrew's" Bygone Norfolk," a good deal that was mythical in proof that the story related to the district, which the London press frequently trots out; namely the three rooms at Merton Hall, called "The Babes in the Wood," "The Wicked Uncle," and "Robin Redbreast."

This wing was only built in 1845. the rooms being used as nurseries, and so named in consequence of the tradition, with which, however, Merton Hall is not connected.

All we have is the following indirect evidence of tradition. Wayland Wood indicated from the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign as the scene of the murder of the Babes, and called in old maps," The Wailing Wood," a popular corruption by the country people, owing to their belief in the story j and, more than this, there is an old manor house of red brick, with a trellis pattern of black brick over its walls, such as was not unusual as early as the reign of Henry VII., standing now about a quarter of a mile south of the wood, and known from time immemorial as "the House of the Wicked Uncle." It is now a farmhouse but originally was Griston Old Hall, the ancient manor house successively of the de Gristons, Knyvetts, de Greys, and Berneys, and now forms part of the Merton estate since 1858.

The old mansion was surrounded by a moat, traces of which still remain. The present house appears to have been partially rebuilt in 1597, and has in the centre of the porch a tablet, of which this is a copy:

Goo save the Q.vene

ThOmaS Ma 1597.

The present porch, chimneys, and windows of the house are all modern. There is a barn, which, judging from the brickwork, is as old as the house.

Mr. Crabbe, the late Rector of Merton, and a grandson of the poet, reconstructing the house as he supposed it to have been in 1597, said, "the entrance door of the house was probably in the north or lower

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end of the principal hall, which had two very large windows, nearly taking up the whole side of the room. The brick labels of these windows still remain. As in most manor houses of that date, there would probably have been a wooden screen, separating the entrance passage from the hall, and a back or garden entrance opposite the front entrance."

The present house appears to have been partially, not wholly rebuilt in 1597, two years following the publication of the story. We should expect, if the old house had been the scene of the tragedy, some notice would have been taken of it in its rebuilding. This seems to have been done. Mr. Crabbe says that many old people, living in 1879, remember having seen in the house an antique carved representation of the story. An old labourer also told him that when he was a boy, he used to see standing against the wall of a garret, two blocks of oak, on which were carved the babes.

Mr. Brasnett, of Scoulton, now living, tells me that his great grandfather, and sons after him, were tenants of Griston Hall for over a hundred years. Mr. Brasnett's father was born there in 1805, and perfectly remembered the carving when a boy, one of the rooms having carvings in it of the two Babes, two Robins, and the U Dele. and there was also a very handsome carved mantel-piece in oak, on which were representations of the story.

According to Blomefield, in 1698, John Borrett, a collector of historical affairs belonging to the county, died here, and in his collection, if still extant, some fresh evidence might be found. (John Barrett, father of Rev. J. Borrett, Vicar of Griston.)

All the carved woodwork has disappeared.

Those who read these pages are asked to keep this in mind. Their discovery might be helpful in elucidating the truth of the tradition. The Rev. W. G. Caley says the mantel-piece went to Norwich, but he gives no evidence of this. It disappeared at the commencement of the nineteenth century, about r Sao=-the Barkers being the then owners of Griston.

It has been suggested that Thomas May, who rebuilt the hall and embellished it with emblematic carvings of the" Babes in the Wood," may have written the story which had been entered by the Stationers' Company two years earlier, i.e. 1595, and possibly afterwards, the ballad.

The ballad has been always a most popular one. Addison, in a slight note in the Speptato'Y, says; " The old ballad of the Children in the Wood is one of the darling songs of the common people, and has been the delight of most Englishmen in some part of their age." Like the Tichborne case it obtained a tremendous hold over them, only with the difference that the latter evaporated on the discovery of the fraud, while the Babes are still to memory ever dear.

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When some navvies from the Shires were making the railway to Watton, they used to ask permission of the gamekeeper to go into the wood and cut a few sticks as mementoes to carry away with them from the haUowed spot of the Babes' tragedy.

Also, when the great oak was struck and demolished, swarms of people from far and near came for fragments of the tree, even paying handsomely for a chip, for it was under this tree, so tradition has it, the dead babes were found covered with leaves.

October, 1595, appears to be the earliest date of any Norfolk publications on the Stationers' register. On the 15th of that month the story now known as "The Babes in the Wood," was entered as "The Norfolk Gent His Will and Testament and howe he commytted the keeping of his children to his owne brother, whoe delte most wickedly with them and howe God plagued him for it." The earliest copy of the ballad (Roxburgh Coil. i. 284) in the British Museum is in black letter, and is said to be of the date 1640.

It was to be sung to the tune of" Rogero."



In Chapbooks, eighteenth century, we have:

"The most Lamentable and Deplorable History

of the

Two Children ill the \Vood etc. etc. to which is annexed the old song upon the same."

The frontispiece of Chapbook 1700 apparently points to an earlier date, but it seems to have been specially executed for this work.

A ballad in the Bagford collection varies from it in some slight particulars. This is undoubtedly the finest engraving on the subject extant. Almost all the ballads of the seventeenth century and the Chapbook of the eighteenth century give a similar treatment, i.e. the duel between the ruffians, the birds covering the children with leaves, the chastisement of the robber, and the punishment of the wicked uncle.

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In "The History of the Children in the Wood or murder avenged," published in Aldermary Churchyard, and all other Chapbooks, the name of the father is changed from Arthur Truelove to Pisaurus, the wicked uncle is called Androgus, the children are named Cassander and Jane.

What is the probable date of the events recorded in the story of 1595 published by Thomas Millington at Norwich?

It would appear as if the tragedy was quite fresh in the writer's mind. Taking the opening lines of the ballad:

" A gentleman of good account In Norfolk lived of late,

Whose wealth and riches did surmount Most men of his estate."

"Of late" would scarcely be a fair reference to some event which happened in media-val times, although it may have been inserted for the rhyme.

However, the girl's name is Jane; this is not meant to rhyme, and therefore not inserted for any poetical reason. If the story were only fiction, or related to some event many years previous, the writer need not have written "Jane."

" And to his little daughter Jane, Two hundred poundes in gold,

To be paid downc on marriage-day, Which might not be controll'd,"

In Bardsley's" English Surnames," p. 48, he quotes Camden to the effect that the form Jane (of Joan) arose in Tudor times, and says, "Jane is never found in older records."

The Rev. Professor Skeat tells me, however, an instance in the will of Lady Clanvowe (or Clanbowe), made and proved in 1422. She left £20" to Jane myn nece." (Furnivall's" Fifty Earliest English Wills.")

This) I might say, is one of the exceptions which prove the rule. Jane became a popular Christian name because of Jane Seymour, Henry VIIL's Queen, and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey-and possibly through the influence of the French wars; afterwards it was good style to have French names, which would be used by the aristocracy, and gradually copied by the country gentlemen and so downwards.

" Victoria" only became popular owing to Queen Victoria. It occurs in isolated instances before her reign.

In the de Grey pedigree ({ Jane" does not occur before 1548-and it is a


fact to be noted that it first appears in the person of Jane Bennet, the \~ife of William de Grey, the first de Grey to occupy Griston Hall.

It is, I think, a fair assumption that the line" and to his little daughter Jane" points to an occurrence in the early part of Elizabeth's reign or thereabouts.

Further on in the Ballad we have history:

" And in the voyage of Portugal Two of his SOllS did die,"

Here again there is no question of rhyme in "Portugal." It refers the reader to a voyage to Portugal, the reason for which would be known or surmised.


Owing to the world-wide conquests and discoveries by the Portuguese, Lisbon had become a great centre of attraction to the adventurous spirits of the Elizabethan age. Here large fortunes could be made in trade; also, owing to our commercial intimacy with Portugal at this date, English expeditions to emulate the Portuguese in discovery, and to seize rich prizes from the Spaniards, touched at Lisbon on the way.

Queen Elizabeth specially encouraged the fitting out of privateers.

In 1586 Mr. Thomas Cavendish, of Trirnley St, Mary, Suffolk, having squandered a large fortune, fitted out three vessels, sailing from Plymouth to Lisbon, and then to the South Seas and round the world. He captured a rich treasure ship off California and other prizes, arriving safely with them at Plymouth, September 9th, 1588.

It is probable that the Wicked Uncle's two sons, their father being in bad circumstances, with imprisonment for debt hanging over his head, joined some such expedition in the hope of restoring the shattered fortunes of their family, or else of engaging in trade at Lisbon.

Considering the pecuniary position of the family, and also the hostility of the country-side now that the shameful story was leaking out-

" His barns were fired, his goods consum'd, His lands were barren made,

His cattle died within the field,

And nothing with him staid."

Even his sons deserted him, and joined some privateering expedition, so

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much favoured in high quarters, and which at that time filled the imagination of young Englishmen.

" He pawned and mortgaged all his land Ere seven years came about."

If this means that the wicked uncle had pawned and mortgaged all his land seven years after the death of the babes, and assuming that his sons went on their fatal voyage to Portugal between the years 1568-1590, when, according to Green, our coasts swarmed with privateers, this would give the date of the tragedy between 1561-1583;

Death of wicked uncle some years later in prison; First publication of the story at Norwich, 1595 ;

Rebuilding of the old Hall and embellishing it with carvings of the story, 1597.


According to Blomefield, old Griston Hall has been held successively by the de Gristons, Cliftons, Knyvetts, de Greys, and Berneys. Thompson College, however, had some part before Sir Richard Knyvett obtained the whole of its estates at the Dissolution of the religious houses. The Knyvetts did not live there, while the de Gristons' and Cliftons' tenure was a long way back. We have remaining the de Greys and Berneys. Edmund de Grey bought Griston from Knyvett in 1541, but his brother William either lived there as a tenant or, had the property given over to him, which is not clear. We find, however William de Grey in the pedigree as the first de Grey of Griston.

It certainly is a curious coincidence, if nothing more, that this first de Grey of Griston should have married a wife" Jane," the first appearance of the name in the long de Grey pedigree, and that his brother Edmund should have named one of his daughters" Jane."

The third appearance of the name "Jane" is in J aile de Grey of Carbrooke, 1576.

For some reason Griston was only held by the de Greys for thirty-five years.

It was sold before 1572.

If there had been a tragedy such as the ballad depicts in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, we should have some record in the Inqut'st"tiones Post Mortem. This is not forthcoming. I have set forth the foregoing facts to fix the date, and to show that the story was probably connected with some incident in the de Grey family between the years 1561-1583.

Now we must consider the bitter hostility of the militant Protestants against the Popish Recusants at this time.


Some of the de Grey's were noted Popish Recusants, while the rural population were bigoted Protestants. Travesties of the old faith and festi-vals were of common occurrence in this district.

It is probable that the people out of their hatred of Papists, fastened on some unfortunate occurrence in the fa-mily ofthe de G-rey's, and-out of it made

the story which-in I S9 5 .appeared in print. - - ~

Here wecometo facts ..


Thomas de Grey, grandson of Edmund de Grey, who purchased Griston Hall in 1541 with other land, was 7 years 4 months and 7 days old when his father died in 1562. (" Inquisition post mortem" 1562).

He was a ward of Queen Elizabeth and was married when an infant to Elizabeth Drury, or rather sold in marriage by-the- Queen. Such was the

custom of the time. - _ -

This little boy ha~ an ~g_cIe,:-R.qker:t- d~:_Gt:eY. _ .who the

Merton estates .in case- of hisdea~ibv-IthQ~(~i~;ue~- ~:: -: - - - -- -·c __ ~~ C ----,~ ~ --

Robert "WasaiFardenf Popish- -Reeusant, hated by the country people owing to 'hiszeal for the old faith.

Nor was he loved by his brother (the boy's father). We have it in evidence that there had been serious disagreements, if not a quarrel between them, for in the brother's will dated March roth 1562, he said: " I will to my brother Robert, so that he confesseth that he hath .offended -me. to -have his annuity of 40 sh; to continue. during his 'life/' The testator, dii!d-o-'sMrtly

afterwards, May rzth, 1562. "-

This is very reminiscent of the ballad-t:e. the-death-bed. scene, and: with what ill-veiled anxious dubiety the parents constitute the wicked uncle guardian;

The boy Thomas had a step-mother, Temperance Carewe, the second wife of.Thomas de Grey, his father. She-had married for her second husband Sir Christopher Heydon of Baconsthorpe, a Protestant

Four years after his father's death, 'the boy went on a visit to his stepmother and died at her house or before he could reach his home. It may be he actually expired passing through the Wayland Wood on his way - home.

His age at death was eleven years and seven days. (Inq : p: m: 9 May 1567:-second,inq: p: m: 2 Jan. 1581).

The country people at once raised the cry of foul play. The boy had been done to death "by his wicked Recusant Uncle.c-and doubtless they firmly believed it.

Robert the Recusant succeeded his nephew in the family estates and

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aggravated the situation, first of all, by trying to rob the boy's widow of her dower property. This again is reminiscent of the ballad," To be paid downe on marriage-day."

The whole country-side was thoroughly aroused. The indignation of the rural population rose to fever pitch.

They believed that the wicked uncle had compassed the death of his nephew to get possession of his estate. Not content with this, he desired to rob the boy's poor young widow of her dower!

The frenzy of the Protestant knew no bounds.

But Robert seemed to care naught for the storm of opprobrium. He went blindly a-head on succeeding his nephew, and sued another Thomas de Grey (probably Thomas of Spixworth) for the possession of some property in Merton, Griston, and Thompson-to wit-a messuage with garden, orchard, and forty-six acres of land. "Robert obtained a Queen's brief for the recovery of the property, and William Parson, Esq., acting for him on the 15th May last, obtained seizin of the said house and its appurtenances." (Decision dates 27th May, 8th Elizabeth (1566), (Crabbe Nfk. Arch. IX~ 292~3)·

This Thomas of Spixworth, who was turned out, married Ursula, daughter of John Drury, of Castleton, Norfolk Here is another Drury spoke in Robert's wheel, and fresh fuel for the Protestant blaze of indignation. Moreover, after his summary eviction it can quite well be imagined how Thomas went about whispering the insinuation that it was as the people surmised-the wicked uncle had got rid of his nephew!

The boy's widow, however, supported by her Protestant family, showed fight and refused to be dispossessed.

A great trial took place, Robert the Recusant claiming all the lands in dower in Merton, etc., from his nephew's widow (who had become the wife of Sir Nicolas Mynne) on the plea, nullity of marriage.

It was a battle royal between Papists and Protestants, in which two Bishops of Norwich took part (Bishops Parkhurst and Freake),

Robert seems to have been somewhat worsted, having to disgorge some of the land->" being forced to it by the unconscionably (su-) certyficate of the byschoppe." (Note in the conveyance.)

The persecutor now became the persecuted.

Robert was imprisoned constantly in London and Norwich for his recusancy, and was mulcted in enormous fines.

At his death fines amounting to £1780 were due from him to the Crowna sum equivalent to £17,000 to-day.

He may be justly said to have died bankrupt.

It is easy to see how such an incident became exaggerated in those

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days of excitement and hatred. Fabrications as great are not unknown to-day.

A cruel Papist uncle has his boy nephew put out of the way and seizes his possessions, as well as the dower of the poor young widow.

People journeyed to Griston Old Hall, where the uncle, who had commenced the rebuilding of Merton Hall, probably resided, saw the gloomy Wayland Wood, listened to the peasants' tale of the boy, the girl widow, and the wicked uncle.

Presently the story assumed the shape as related in the ballad. The great trial had presented to the popular ear a case of the "Robin" Papist u, the Protestant" Babes."

Uncle Robert is personified as the Robin who covers the evidence with leaves to hide everyth iog.

He was imprisoned so often in London and Norwich that the writer by poetical license, could fairly well kill him off there. As a matter of fact he died in 1601, and was buried in Merton Church, where a mural tablet commemorates his memory.

If this Protestant v. Papist episode begot the ballad of the Babes in the Wood, then we are happy in the thought that· after all no tragedy really occurred.

There remains, nevertheless, the drama of the boy husband who died at the age of eleven years, and his young persecuted widow, whose possessions a Papist uncle coveted and ultimately obtained.

One word, however, must be said to Uncle Robert's credit In spite of imprisonment, heavy fines, and the hatred of his rustic neighbours, he remained true to his convictions; he dared and suffered much far the old faith.

The facts cited above can be verified by reference to the Rev. George Crabbe's papers, "Norfolk Archaeology," VI. 304-13 (1864), IX. 282.328; "Norfolk Antig. Miscell.," II. 553-629 (1883): III. 1-II3 (1887); "Suffolk Arch.," V. 13-39, and "Some materials for a History of the Parish of Thompson" (Norwich, 1892).

Three-quarters of a mile distant from Griston Old Hall may be seen the venerable tower of Griston Church rising out of a group of trees. Griston signifies the grass town, and over its meads the wicked uncle's cattle may at one time have roamed-e" his cattle died within the field."

The church consists of chancel, nave, north porch, and tower. The walls of the chancel are Norman, the handsome east window, the south-west chancel windows, the priests' doorway, the south doorway, the nave walls, the chancel arch, and perhaps the font, are all Decorated-the rest of the church is late Perpendicular.

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The tower is Perpendicular-date 1477, so that it was a silent witness of those events which gave birth to the ballad. It has square air-holes in which the open work represents the key and sword of SS. Peter and Paul, to whom the church was re-dedicated in 1477. Before that its dedication was to St. Margaret. New bells were set up in 1466, and it is possible these may have caused the destruction of the old tower. The top of the present tower was rebuilt in 1568, as appears by the inscription on the font: "A Domi 1568 was this steeple Tope newe set up to the greate cost of landed men."

There are three altar stones in the Chancel, one of which used to cover the grave of the Rev. John Borret, Vicar of Griston, who was buried 178;.

In the chancel is a plain piscina and sedilia.

There still remains, although now covered with plaister, a little to the west of the present priests' door, the stonework of the round arch, the original entrance of the Norman priests.

The ceremony of "Creeping of the Cross" took place in this church, whence we may infer that there was an Easter sepulchre. From an MS. now in the possession of the Duke of Northumberland, we have some account of the ritual:

" Creeping of the Crosse-Ancient Ordre for the hallowing of the Cramp Rings, etc.

" And then the usher to lay a carpet for the Kinge to creepe

to the crosse upon; and that done, then shall be a forme sett upon the carpett before the crucifix, and a cushion laid upon it for the Kinge to kneale upon. And the master of the jewell house then to be ready with the crampe rings in a bason of silver and then the Clerke of the Closett be redie with the booke concerninge the halowinge of the cramp rings, and the aumer muste kneele on the right hand of the Kinge '. and then the greatest Lords that shall be ther, to take the bason with the rings and beare them after the Kinge to offer. And this done, the Queene shall come down out of her closett or traverse into the chappell, with ladyes and gentlewomen waitinge upon her, and creepe to crosse, and then goe agayne to her closett or traverse. And then the ladyes to creepe to the crosse likewise, and the Lords and noblemen likewise."

In 1536, when some of the old superstitious practices were abolished, this of "creeping of the Cross" on Good Friday, was ordered to be retained as a laudable and edifying custom.

Thomas Coleyn, of Griston, by his will (I 5 10) ordered his heir "to offyr at the Crepynge of ye Cross on Good Friday 1 ,"

There is a late Perpendicular rood screen. In the nave on the south

side there is a piscina, and on the north side the rood door and stairs. In


several of the six fine Perpendicular windows there are remains of the old stained glass. Behind the pulpit is the segmental arch of a Decorated window, now stopped up.

There are some old poppy-heads, and one of the seats is carved with pierced trefoils.

The pulpit, with its canopy, and reading-desk (save three panels] are Jacobean, and of beautiful workmanship_., There are also some handsome Jacobean pews.

The, font stood formerly on three steps. The old stem, still preserved, was composed of stones with Perpendicular panelling turned inwards, on which were the arms of the Clifden family of New Buckeoham. The bowl is a plain octagon, and may be Decorated.

There is a sancte bell-cote on the nave gable.

"Les anciens edifices sont les crampons .qui - unlssent une generation II. nne autre, conserves ce qu 'ont vu vas pere." (joubert.)


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Photo Ii)']

){ERTOX ({I!.C·['ORY.


Merton - The Rectory - Fitzgerald's Association wzth the Crabbes - His

Re#g£ous Vz'ews-Tlze Village-Park-Hall-Church-Its Links

wz"th the Past=Threxton.

NEAR by the Wayland Wood stands the present Merton Rectory. Curiously the house and the whole of the glebe are not in the parish of Merton, but the adjoining parish of Thompson-somewhat unusual for a country Rectory. It would appear that when the late Lord Walsingham exchanged his Copdock property for the Hales Took estate in Thompson, there was on this latter property a good house standing near Thompson Water, used as a shooting box. His lordship, having no use for this when the exchange took place and a new Rectory house being required at Merton, decided to move the bricks and timber and rebuild it in Merton. However, when the removal commenced, some flaw was discovered in the title of the Thompson estate j therefore the old house could not be taken out of the parish, It was dumped down on the confines of Thompson adjacent to Merton, while the glebe in Merton was exchanged for land of similar value round the house.

In the Rectory, Fitzgerald, the translator of Ornar Khayyam, died, when on one of his periodical visits to the Rev. George Crabbe, the then Rector. In a pretty wooded dell in the grounds, it is said Fitzgerald spent many hours poring over the lines of the Persian sage and listening to the songs of the bird kingdom.

His connection with the Crabbe family commenced at Bredfield where Fitzgerald lived. George Crabbe the second, the son of the poet, being the Vicar. Fitzgerald and the Vicar became firm friends, both were eccentric; the Vicar's quaint sayings and doings appealing vastly to the Suffolk recluse.

In " Crabbe's Cobblery " -so called because there the Vicar used to patch his sermons-not his boots-Fitzgerald spent many happy hours, and when Crabbe died the friendship was transferred to the SOI1, afterwards known as George Crabbe, Rector of Merton.

The day before his death he wrote to a friend :-" To-morrow I am going for my one annual visit to George Crabbe, at Merton, where I am to meet his sisters and talk over old Bredfield days."

As a matter of fact Fitzgerald made more or less a confidante of Miss Crabbe.




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'Writing to W. B. Donne, in r876, he says !-" The paper has been sent me because of its containing a laudation of Omar K . . . Indeed I should have cut the' Tacitus' out and sent it you along with this letter, but that I sent the whole paper last night to Miss Crabbe-i-to whom I do send all my few laudations, because she takes more than enough interest in all that concerns one who is so connected with old Bredfield days."

As if he had some premonition of coming death, he stayed at Bury to revisit the scene of his schooldays, and then came on to Merton to talk over the old home days with the Crabbes.

Wearied with his journey he retired early, and although he wa-s heard moving about in his room by the servants, yet when called he made no response. The Rector shortly afterwards entered his room to find he had passed away.

With regard to Fitzgerald's religious views, there are many who regard him as heterodox or even an atheist, reading his thoughts in the lines of old Omar. As a matter of fact, no one had a greater reverence for holy things and revealed religion than he. At one time of his life be was an orthodox Churchman of a very strict type, as the following letters show:-


«Edward [Fitzgerald] continues at the Cottage. The day before yesterday being a fine Good Friday, I waded through two miles of mud and melted or melting snow to get at him, and finding him luckily at home at half past twelve stopt with him till past six in the evening. He called a council with his old Dame at the Cottage as to what could be done on such, an emergency about dinner and we fared superbly-boiled salt fish and egg sauce with a roast wild duck. Edward being orthodox, stuck to the salt fish; I, more lax, attacking the wild fowl.

Since I began this and just before our tea time Edward has dropt in, but is now gone to the evening service. His Boulge Parson being ill, they had no service there to-day, so E. felt in degree bound to go to church once somewhere. I hope our Woodbridge clerical will not keep him very late."


"Fitz Dennis (Fitzgerald) has been our guest with occasional intervals of absence, ever since Friday evening. The organist here wanted a Holyday to go and see his Friends or Relatives, and Fitz with his usual good nature undertook to be Organist for the Dayan this present Sabbath. But I believe the

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absence of the veritable one and the substitution of his Proxy is known to very few. However Fitzgerald's assumption of pedal and pipes implied the necessity or desirableness of a sort of prior rehearsal yesterday, so he came to us the evening before, I scribble this while he is gone to afternoon service, he will have another spell at it in the evening, and then his commission will have run out. From all I hear of the performance of the morning he will get through it, as I doubted not he would, in very creditable style."


"I found your letter on going home yesterday and reply to it as dated above. I dont work ship and man on a Sunday: but my Captain's wife is fast dying, and as he chose to return to his home on a Sunday, I thought no harm in going along with him. So here the Judgment comes upon us: he went down to Breakfast, his nephew took the helm, and quite conscientiously (poor fellow) steered us high on the mud, that it must be a very good tide to take us off in 12 hours,"

Mrs. Barham J OhI1S011, the grand-daughter of William Bodham Donne, Fitzgerald's great friend, and who edited the interesting volume of her grandfather's letters and his friends, says that Fitzgerald had an intense reverence for holy things and whatever his own beliefs really were, was very careful never to disturb the opinions of other people. His friend, Miss Lynn of Aldeburgh, said that was the reason he would never give her a copy of Omar Khayyarn.

Fitzgerald was an earnest seeker after God and Truth in the same way as Job and the writer of Ecclesiastes. But the effect of his temperament on his latter years was such that he was unable to accept the orthodox faith 011 trust. He remained apart from the world, in his garden, noting, writing and moralising over the mystery of pain, of evil, of the future life and the brevity of this. He could never really satisfy himself; at the same time recognising the happiness of others, who, differently constituted to himself, were able to live" by faith," and numbering among his dearest friends many ministers of the established religion. The epitaph on his tomb which Cowell had taught him to love, "It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves," is very apt and explains his trust and confidence in the Supreme Being to make all clear to him hereafter. Of Fitzgerald it can be said that he was a lover of humanity and the beautiful, and a real genius, while the poem with which his name will ever be connected has made music of those sad doubts which haunted his own mind as well as many others.

Merton is the first of the Breckland villages after leaving Watton. It is

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stowed away by itself off the main road. A quaint little place it is with old thatched cottages faced by pretty gardens full of old-time herbaceous plants. A tiny school, formerly for infants, stands on the village green, e~bowered in the foliage of. stately trees. Coming suddenly upon it in late spring with the oak, birch, beech, and chestnut thrusting forth their varied tender greene.ry with the may and blackthorns full of snowy bloom, or the apple, pear and plum a wealth of tender pink and white, it strikes one as what Goldsmith imagined in his" Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,"

"Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,

And parting summer's lingering blooms delay'd."

However, "the decent church that topp'd the neighbouring hill" is absent, for this is far removed in the park surrounding Merton Hall. Formerly the village was situated nearer the church, but, owing to a virulent outbreak of the black death was burnt down and rebuilt in another situation. The whole village now belongs entirely to one owner, Lord Walsingham. In the first glimpse we get of it in Domesday book there was wood sufficient to feed two hundred and forty hogs and a sheep walk for one hundred and fifty sheep. There were twenty socrnen or small holders. Now it is farmed by three people. Under Edward the Confessor it was held by a Saxon lady called Ailid; and according to Blomefield the town was two miles long and one mile broad. At the conquest it was given by William to Ralph Baynard, one of his followers, and through marriage with the heiress of the Baynards it came to the de Greys, another Norman family, with whom it has remained ever since. The Saxons therefore have had little to do with the lordship of Merton since the Conquest.

The name Merton is derived from Mere Town, for here formerly was a large mere or sheet of water, part of which still remains in the form of a small lake. The inhabitants pronounce it "Marton:'

In Merton Park one perceives the commencement of a characteristic fauna and flora which are entirely" littoral:' Here one begins to be in touch with all that is primitive and prehistoric; indeed, in the breck sand, with here and there sand sedge and marram grass crunched at every step, we are reminded of a post-glacial period when an arm of the sea from the 'Nash covered this part of Norfolk. Then the water receded, and a sandy valley was left through Breckland. Where five or six thousand years ago Neolithic man made his home, the Ubiquitous rabbit throws out from its burrows the implements fashioned in this settlement in bygone ages, when men knew nought of bronze or iron. These inhabitants have left no descendants, and scant trace of their settlements: yet thousands of their implements, showing their handicraft, come to the



surface year after year, On this Breckland, amid the tree-fern forests, often seven feet in height, or out on the sandy heaths, or beside the numerous meres, primitive man led a healthful existence,

Since then the shifting sand has filled up the valleys, the slopes have become less steep, and the face of the country has become flattened out. The travelling sands have been great levellers-yet in Breckland, lying on the heaths or under the tree-ferns or in the gloom of a pine belt, one feels in touch with man primitive and prehistoric; the heathland "drove," along which one may wander for mile after mile without seeing any human being, seems haunted with the silent spectres of skin-clad Neolithic men, with their flint-tipped arrows, while the ringed plover still sounds his mournful note, as it did when in far-off days it piped over the clash of arms, and Saxon and Dane fought for supremacy, and burnt and buried their. dead, with the resulting barrows for their signatures upon the sands of time.

Through Merton Park runs the Peddar's "Vay, that mysterious high road to the sea, of which I shall have more to say, but most probably its origin was an old prehistoric trackway. Near by are some ancient tumuli or barrows, called locally "the Sparrow hills." Some years ago these barrows were opened, and it was found that they had never been interfered with since their formation. No human remains were unearthed, but numerous pieces of charcoal showed that cremation of the dead had taken place. Two urns of the early British period were found, the larger being st inches high by 6i wide, and the smaller 4i inches high by 3~ wide.

Evidently a sanguinary battle or battles had taken place between the Britons and probably Northmen or Danes, who had traversed the Peddar's Way. There are other barrows at Tottington and Thompson; in fact, this way is dotted with tumuli showing the struggles that had taken place between the original inhabitants and the invading hordes from the North.

In 1868 the mere next the Hall was entirely cleaned of mud. There was found near the bottom of the deposit the skeleton of the head of an ox (Bos tongi.fnms), an extinct animal with remains of short horns, and on it a mark as if the animal had' been killed by a Celt. The sk ull was fossilized, and was very similar to that of the present small Scotch ca ttie, and which are probably descendants of Bos IOl1gij'rons. Broken antlers of the red deer, some jaws of roebuck, and many jaws of swine also were found. These remains were probably of the age of the original inhabitants of Britain-Iake-dwellers, with stone implements.

Near here in \Vest Mere at Wretham there were found in October, r862, what was believed to be a lake-dwelling, and which is interestingly described by the Zoologist of that date: "A ring ,or bank 20 or 30 feet across, much harder than the surrounding mud, and not far from its inner circumference


circular hole some 6 feet deeper than the bottom of the mere, marked, out by small piles of apparently alder. In and around the ring there lay a vast number of bones, very many upper parts of_ the skulls of Bas longzfrons, and many antlers of red deer. All the oxen, - except _on~i had -a fracture in the

forehead." ,- _ __ _ _

This.Is believedto be thefirsttime (hat-Ras7ongiftoni'lia:scpeen-found contemporary With .man. -- Many.of th-ebon~~'ha<f be~n:'i;-~6ken '~attQs~: f~- ejetract the marrow, _' One bad been polished, perhaps for- a. 'skait.'. . ~_ ,,-' ,,-' __ - --~

- No weaponscrImplements of metal were found, but there wer~~ag.r:e~t number of flint disks, perhaps for slings. ,Here also were found in 18'36,io- a peat bog 7 ft. below the surface, some limb bones and a portion of the dorsal and sternal shield of the European fresh-water tortoise, not before known to have existed in England.

One of the great natural curiosities of Merton .is a huge boulder lying in a field - outside the Park, computed to w~_igh about 20 _tons. _

Sir Robert Murchison's aecount iof It 'is. as follows-e-« _ -:," -

- "-This - great- e;iati~- -bi~ck~belo~g~io~tb~~-X:j~-r~i~d~Ob~ite;-~t5~ii:lteX::fC? )!te day or. the b3,nd_ of dfift_c_~Ued~the2-a]~-areOtls-grit:~-c It 'co-n~tains' the:l1 mifl~nt?es dU~falli:-~ -H:Ji:likeiyo :tQ~ ~a~e- been transported in the glacial period from

the:Biota:"di~i:rict:6i Sutherland." '

Mr. Esteridge, of the Geological Museum, however, differs. He says:Ii It is from the calcareous grit of the Oxford clay-a boulder from Yorkshire, enclosing Ammomies lambertt:"

In Merton, 1882, was found a paddle bone of a Plesiosauru~,' I ft, ? in. long, the bone probably of an immature specimen., It was completely fossilized about 3 ft. from the surface in. bl u~ day. The- wOJ;'k;mehs~(d,tha-t the'1:1ay hag , ' never beendisturbed, - The PtesiqsaurUs was a hotr1ble,monster,like'a monstrous lizard.

Thus is Merton linked with the prehistoricpast.:

To come down to the period of history, the-Romans left their tracks in the little village, for to - the right of'the --Pedd<l.r's -Wayan old Roman pavement, IO yaros-square, was- discovered about 3ft. below the surface; and again bordering on .the 'Way in the Park, in 'trenching for a plantation.vthere were

"found bones of sheep and oxen, horns of deer, much broken Romanpottery, a Roman coin, a knife blade, 'part of a celtj and also a human skeleton without a

heactProb~biy ~ Roman villa stood here. .

" - - The skeleton without a head is a: mystery. It is; a wonder that a headless ghost does not haunt the Park, for' it is a 'locality where ghosts and goblins black and white witches, and such like, were very dear to thenative heart.

The pond at the north side of the moat in the village is known as 'i-Th_e_ ' Hassock,''- and gives us a clue to the 01 d word "hassoc " 'or :" hassock," -(fieaning


a foot-stool. Hassoc or Hassock is the old word (or a species of rush-whence we get the word "hassock," a foot-stool made of these rushes-and more often applied to all foot-stools. at least in our churches-for kneeling upon. This pond probably is much older than the moat, which is thirteenth century, and made to surround an old manor house, now disappeared. I n the Merton Manor Court mention is made of Alicia Godrupp apud Ie Hassocke, 1629. while in the Court Roll of Merton Manor, 23 Edward IlL, Isabel Hassock is mentioned.

The moat and the old manor house belonged to the Gernon or Gernoun family, who came over with the Conqueror. Many old deeds show that this family held lands and resided here, but the property has since been merged in the Merton estate.

In the Park is the Elizabethan mansion of the de Grey family. The present house was rebuilt and finished in 1613, the date over the entrance door. It was commenced by Robert de Grey (whose initials, RG., are on two of the chimneys), who died in 1601, and was finished by Sir William de Grey, his

son and successor. _ . .

_ . Part of: the front of the Hall was modernized about 1750, so the storY_ goes, _ by a certain Mrs. de Grey, who, during her husband's absence from home, thought it would be nice to make a little modem improvement in the old hall and astonish him on his return. The house to her seemed rather dull and antique (for it was in those days of vandalism when there was a craving fOT "the modern "), so modern windows were substituted for the original fine bow windows of the Elizabethan age. What her spouse thought of her improvements history does not relate, but he arrived in time to prevent much vandalism, which was afterwards rectified.

A curious old chest is preserved with the initials H.R.· surmounted by a crown. It is supposed to have belonged to King Henry VIIL, who made a pilgrimage to our Lady of Walsingham, barefooted. carrying a rich necklace as a present, in IS 10.

There is an old black jack of the time of Queen Elizabeth, with royal crown and initials E.R., two frescoes from Herculaneum, and several family portraits and two el abo rate plaster ceilings, probably Jacobean.

One object of special interest to students of Norfolk prehistoric archseology is the pick made of a deer's horn, disinterred by Canon Greenwell, from Grimes' Graves near Brandon. This rude implement was used by the primitive inhabitants of the district in their flint workings.

In the beautifully wooded grounds the Himalayan Lily (Lt'lium gtganteum)

_ introduced some years ago, grows like a weed. It averages 8 ft. in height,

~~- some reach 13 ft. .

The church occupies a fine position on an eminence overlooking the

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Hall, surrounded .by beautiful timber. It is an edifice of the greatest interest, and will well repay minute inspection. The tower is round, not uncommon in Norfolk, probably because the architect preferred the round to the square form to save the expense of freestone, which would have been wanted in the latter case for the corners of the building. The windows in the round tower are very early or very rough Norman work. It is difficult to say the date. Some ascribe it to the twelfth century, but the lower portion seems to be much earlier, and it looks as if the upper portion, which is of Norman work, had been added later. inside the church the masonry of the Norman and Early Decorated churches is marked out by laths: the walls below the lower line of laths is all that remains of the Norman church, perhaps of the same period as the later work in the tower. The second church, whose walls extended upwards to the second line of laths, seems to have been built pretty much as it now exists, and included the present chancel, aisle, and north porch. The roof of the nave was then continuous with that of the chancel; the chancel arch is also Decorated. Mr. Crabbe thought that nearly the whole of the existing church seemed to have been built from about 1310 to 1340, or about the time that the de Greys (by a marriage with the heiress of the Baynards) -became possessed of Merton, and that it belongs to the early, or Geometric, Decorated period. One feels inclined to note the resemblance .of the tracery of the windows to plate-tracery and to suggest an earlier date.

In the Perpendicular period extensive restoration was undertaken, most noticeable in the nave where the walls were raised above the upper line of laths for the addition of a clerestory and arch-braced oak roof; the Perpendicular west window in the tower was also inserted, and one wonders whether the lower part of the tower received additional support by an outer cladding of flints in lieu of buttresses. Doubtless an age of falling towers called attention to the necessity for greater rigidity and occasioned the introduction of perpendicular lines of support which characterise this period and from which it takes its name.

I will merely mention some of its chief features. There is a beautiful double piscina in the chancel, and three graduated sedilia. Itis supposed that where there is a double piscina, one side was used for washing the priest's thumb and forefinger, and the other for the cleansing of the chalice.

The stained glass in the north-east window is probably coeval with the building.

The graceful rood-screen is of very rich Decorated tracery, and was formerly coloured. It has been ~emarked that this screen is a proof of freehand drawing in the details of ancient architecture; for no complication of compass curves will strike the exact lines of the tracery. The marks of the

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hinges of the doors' can be traced. There is a perforated quatrefoil hole in one of the boards on the right-hand side, similar apertures are also found in other screens, and are supposed to have been used for a confessional.

The massive altar rails are of the kind known as Elizabethan, but are really of the time of Charles I., altar rails having been first introduced and ordered by Laud.

The altar table is probably Elizabethan, as altar tables were first ordered in her reign to replace altars, and to be moved into the body of the church when the Communion was administered. Laud ordered them to be kept always at the east end, and to be fenced with rails.

There is also a piscina in the south-east corner (now the hall pew), with a hagioscope or squint, over which is a corbel with a hole for a candle. Here was the de Grey chapel, and the hagioscope or squint enabled the priest in this side chapel to see when the priest at the high altar elevated the Host.

The font is Perpendicular, of remarkable proportions. It is hexagonal, from which figures or possibly dragons have been broken off. The lofty cover of tabernacle work, is a supposed copy of the original, the top part and crane only remained in 1843 when this restoration was made by Captain Kitto.

The pulpit and desk are Jacobean, and close to the former is the original hour-glass stand. Fifteen hour glasses only remain in England and are coeval with the Reformation. Archbishop Parker used one in 1569.

The tower is entered by a circular and very early Norman arch. In the nave the large chancel arch is Decorated and also the four side arches. The two lancet-shaped windows in the north wall are especially beautiful, and on the outside the whole of the exterior mouldings of the windows and of the priest's and south doorways are of great beauty, especially those of the chancel windows. The north porch is plain Decorated with a large exterior stoup for holy water, a portion of a Norman cushion capital forms one of its coins.

Against the north wall, by the reading-desk, are some brasses of William de Grey, his two wives and family. The inscriptions have disappeared. His effigy in armour with the arms of de Grey, is in a kneeling posture, having- his helm iying by him, a scroll, and arms of de Grey (cornerd impaling Baynard) over his head. Behind him are his five sons in loose gowns, with a disrobed scroll over his head. Opposite to him is Mary Bedingfield, his wife, kneeling, with her three daughters behind her. Behind them is Grace Teye, his second wife, and her two daughters with dishevelled hair.

The Park is the only original portion of the Breckland remaining in this small parish, the remainder having been enclosed and cultivated, yet it is peculiar how the original name still clings to the fields which now bear such names as Griston Breck, Blackthorn and Whitethorn Brecks, &c.


~ .


The ancient Threxton adjoins on one side, where a Roman camp once stood. Many coins and antiquities have been found here.

Threxton church is one of great interest It has been supposed that the lower portion of the south wall (containing what may be herring-bone work) of the nave to the height of ten feet is Saxon. And this may have been the height of the original wall as the charred wall plate was found at that height. The

- foundations of the Sax on north wall were also fou nd ,showing that the church was then about eleven feet wide, inside measurement. Also there is no doubt that a rather larger Norman church stood here of which there are many remains. In the chancel is an ancient shield of fourteenth century glass with the arms of Clare Earl of Gloucester, sometime Lord of this manor. There is a low side window in the usual place. The font is decorated with the usual shallow tracery. It still retains the staples by which the cover was locked. Fonts were first required to he covered and locked A.D. 1236. The pulpit and desk are dated 1613. The church was restored in 1865. as far as possible on the old lines. Most of the screen .is modem save the four upper and lower traceried panels.



T!tompson-The Deserted Village-Its History from the Conquest-Rlse of the Cotlege-Prosperity-Inhabitants-The Collegz'ate Churclt-Gz'psies -The Dissolution and its effects~Jts decay-No Parson even to bury the dead.

IT was one of our great poets who said that the tender grace of a cay that is dead will never come back to us, and it is true so far that the day that is dead is only valuable for the lesson it affords.

But the simple story which our forefathers have handed down to us is a precious inheritance and one which we regard with thankfulness and a deep sense of responsibility, for our" present" will be the" past lJ to those who come after us.

The past history of a country village is so rarely written down in book form that to many, I feel sure, it would not be uninteresting to learn how life was lived in a little Breckland parish, which I shall" call with some truth "the deserted village."

Thompson is a peculiar name for a village and is probably a corruption of Tomeston, the town of Tom.

When we get our first insight into it, a millennium after the days of Tasciouanus, whose coins were dropped here and there on the Peddar's Waywe find that Thompson in 1086 was a poor little desolate place with no one above the status of a small farmer living in its boundaries, and with no mention of a church or priest.

It is the same to-day (1909), there is no one living in the parish above the status of a farmer, and no clergyman, the church in sad decay.

From Domesday book the light first falls on this Breckland parish. Onethird only was under cultivation, the rest was heath and fen. It was divided into five properties, Roger Bigot owned two; William de Warren, Berners the Archer, and Isaac the Jew, one each. Roger Bigot and William de Warren are well-known Norman names, and it is noteworthy how the poor Saxons were dispossessed of their lands and sent a-begging, while the Conqueror's followers, although few in number, stepped into their inheritance.

William the Conqueror encouraged the Jews to the country and so we see when the curtain is first lifted that in 1086 a Jew actually had land in this outof-the-way place. Moreover, we know that like his fellows he was very grasping, for later we hear of him ousting a poor nun out of her property and making it his own.

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These iandlords were non-resident and let their lands to tenants who were called" freemen," Under them were serfs and labourers, all liable to military service. One-third of the parish being uncultivated the tenants and villagers had certain rights of turning out a cow, sheep, geese, of digging the turf for fuel and cutting the furze-privileges which were tenaciously clung to in order to eke out a hard and penurious existence. By the Thompson Enclosure Act of 1817. much of this land was enclosed, with the consent of the commoners, and although it may have been for the benefit of the country at large and more especially for the landlords, yet one cannot help being sorry that the villagers were unable to keep a little live stock and thus take a more active interest in agriculture than the yearly toil at a fixed wage for the farmer. Moreover, the enclosure of the common lands created such soreness-so rankled in the hearts of the working class as never to be eradicated. It may have been good, as I have said, for the country at large, but it unfortunately estranged the peasant and prevented the perfect unity between landlord, farmer, and labourer. In most cases provision was made by certain charities to be given to the poor annually, but this never compensated the labouring class for the loss' of the common land.

Such was the state of Thompson at the Domesday survey, a poor' little place with a few small farmers and labourers getting a very scanty living out of the soil, one-third of which was only under cultivation.

Looking through the mists of three centuries that elapsed after the conquest which necessarily makes its history obscure, we find one fact that for a hundred and fifty years a family which took its name from the village held the lordship of Thompson from father to son and died out about the middle of the thirteenth century. This was the de Tomeston family, and it may be inferred that they took an interest in the parish and helped to make it more prosperous. Then it fell into even better hands, the de Shardelows, who raised the prosperity of Thompson to its highest zenith. We know too that a church existed here in 1289, for there was a lawsuit about the right of presentation to the advowson, and again in 1307 the Rectory was in dispute. In a field, still called the Hall meadow, can be seen the situation of the foundations of a mansion which tradition says was Thompson Hall. The road leading from it is still called "The Hall Way." It had a moat and fish-ponds which were filled up and planted one hundred years back.

Here probably was the manor house of the de Tomestons, Crowes, and Shardelows. A resident landlord who had the interest of the people at large would be an immense boon to the parish, and we find from the first lay subsidy ,of Edward IlL, 1327, that Thompson had increased in population and wealth.

It contains seventy-one names of the villagers, four of which are destroyed. The sum collected was £4 16s. 8d. The sums paid by each person varied

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from 3s. 6d. to 6d., showing that there was not a very unequal distribution of property, none very rich and none very poor. Evidently there were a great many small freeholders and copyholders having from one to ten acres of land. These small holdings were rarely enclosed, indeed nearly the whole village would be open country with heath, common, and marsh; even the cultivated lands being without fences, but bounded by grass balks.

Now this was a very pleasant glimpse of a little Breckland village, where almost all have some interest in the land, a little plot, be it only one acre, which they cultivate and the common where they may graze an animal or some geese.

To many also it will be not uninteresting to have the names of the villagers two hundred and sixty years after the conquest, for it is worthy of notice that only two Saxon Christian names appear in so remote a village as Thompson and in a population of mixed Danish and Saxon descent, for the surnames are chiefly Saxon. It shows the extraordinary hold which the Normans had obtained over the whole country, and how Norman and Scripture names had entirely superseded Saxon. Probably the fact that the lords of the soil both here, at Merton, and in the surrounding country were Norman, as well as the influence of the Church, accounted for the sudden reversion from Saxon to Norman or Scriptural names.



Christiana de Houton Amicia ad Aquam Roberte ad Fontem Thoma Wimer Roberto Mone

Thoma Hulot

Thoma Willeman Johanne de Langford Willemo Dorant Roberto Doraunt Thoma Noble

Thoma Grigg

Emma Carpenter Johanne Faber Thoma Freman Johanne Folpe Johanne Kyng Willelmo Kyng Roberto ad Ecclesiam WiUelmo Busshel Johanne Dobissone Willelmo Gibron Willelmo Gilyon

Johanna Leche Jobanne Heryng Wilieimo Bee Allano de Catirfete Bartholomeo Lete J ohanne Colman Henrico Aysshele Thoma Motte Alicia de Herford Henrico Herberd Willelmo Hulot Matilda Emne Matilda Someryn Roberto de Auld [ohanne Boycot Henrico Wisman Thoma Ie Grene Roberto Wysman Thoma Dikes Ricardo Knyt

J ohanne France Johanne Chaln ere Willelmo le Grene

,' . . ,!


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johanne Lynforth Willelmo

Willelmo ad Fontem [ohanne Ie Neue Thoma Tripelot Ricardo Torel

J ohanne de Risingg Roberto Turkebi Willelmo de Lechtonn Walkelinus de Rokeland Thoma filio Radulphi Radulpho Faukes Leticia Hendri

Rogero Bulzoun Willelmo Broun

Thoma Fiket

Agnete Willeman Petronilla Willeman Wimer Turner

J ohanne fllio Radulphi Agnete Roger

Thoma Bernard Roberto Osbern

Perro Ie Grene Willelmo Dobbe

Out of a total of seventy-one names it will be seen there are thirteen Williams, ten Thomases, and fifteen Johns, showing the fashion in Christian names - at this date. Interesting too is the name ., Boyeot," now immortalised and added as a new word to the English Dictionary. Dobissone, as an old form of Dobson, is peculiar, while Emma Carpenter is familiar at the present day; so also is" Heryng" modernised to Herring and many others.

The country, and above all the Government, were in a very impecunious condition, so in 1377 Parliament granted King Edward III. a poll-tax of a groat a head to be levied on 'the goods of each person in the Kingdom, men and women over the age of fourteen years (SlC), except only veritable beggars. Deep was the discontent at the imposition of such a tax, and the sum fell far below what was expected.

Edward III. died that year, and his grandson, Richard II., a boy of eleven years, succeeded. Things were going from bad to worse, and the Government was nearly bankrupt. Parliament assembled at Westminster in 1379 and granted a second poll-tax. This differed from the first, in that it was a graduated tax, but the amount raised was even less than that of the last year.

Matters became so serious that when Parliament met eight months later at Northampton, after some hesitation a third poll-tax was determined on as a necessity. Accordingly, a tax was granted of three groats from each lay person in the Kingdom, male and female, of whatever condition or estate, over the age of fifteen years, except veritable beggars. This brought about the great rebellion of I38I, for the labouring classes irritated beyond measure at the frequency and burden of these imposts, rose en masse. This method of raising money was never tried again.

From this return of 1381 we find that Thompson had still increased in prosperity, for there were no less than seventeen householders above the rank

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of labourer, yet times were bad and had pressed heavily on the weak, causing many to go to the wall, and we find that twelve inhabitants were paupers from whom nothing could be got. Some went up, some went down; some families died out; houses and lands changed hands, while other people changed their names. Some person, possibly John Heryng, made money or a good match, and built for himself a commodious house a little way from his poorer neighbours' dwellings, on the outskirts of the little community, becoming known as Johannes-atte-Townsende, and finally as John Townsend. This is a common family name in Norfolk. A great many new names came in this way -a man got on in the world and built himself a house near the water, the pond, or the church, being distinguished by the situation of his house. So John Heryng appears in the poll-tax roll of 1381 as John At the town's end, but other Heryngs sHU flourished under their own name and became a leading family later.

It has been seen that in 1381 there were no less than seventeen householders in this little place above the rank of labourer, and this would not include the whole of the well-to-do class. For in the year 1349 a great event had happened in Thompson, which accounts for the number of well-to-do people settled in the parish-this was the foundation of Thompson College by the brothers John and Thomas de Shardelowe.

In the fourteenth century the religious orders became less esteemed than formerly, and a great taste for learning began to stir in the two Universities. At one time the great monasteries were the schools of learning, and the clergy were educated in the cloister, but the time came when the monks themselves were not satisfied with the learning which the monastery afforded, and it became the custom for young men of all classes to proceed to the Universities. A higher cultus for Church and State was now demanded, and studies were pursued fot a much longer time than is considered necessary in these days.

The beneficed clergy were even bitten by this fever for more advanced culture, obviously for the benefit of their flock in one way, but as it led to nonresidence it was harmful in another.

However, the Bishops readily gave their permission for non-residence to any of the beneficed clergy who wished to proceed to the higher degrees, and their places supplied by a lower class ofchaplains or curates on scandalously small stipends, who performed the rector's or vicar's duties only as long as he could find no more lucrative duty, and who took care to do as little as he could for his starvation salary. Thus over large tracts of country the rector or vicar was non-resident, spending the tithes at the University instead of in the place, and leaving behind a hireling on the lowest possible stipend who did as little as he could.

The evil was a crying one and a growing one. So a Norfolk man, Edmund


Gonville, Rector of Rushford, near Thetford, and one of the founders of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, embarked on parochial reform by founding Rushford College-nothing more than what we should call a clergy house for a band of working clergymen, who should live together in common, always be resident in the parish, and at the call of the sick, the needy, and the dying.

This band of devoted clergy, living in common amongst the people upon a sufficient income, attending to the people's wants and spiritual necessities, would necessarily be held in greater estimation than the half-starved clerical tramps with their slovenly and half-hearted ministrations.

The College of Rushford was opened in 1342 at a large gathering of Norfolk magnates. Ashe followed in 1346, Thompson in 1349, and three others in the neighbourhood later.

The same year, 1"349, an event wrought fearful havoc not only in Thompson, but throughout Breckland-i.e. the horrible black plague. We know the havoc it wrought in the adjoining parish of Merton, from the Court Rolls, but in Thompson it is merely guess work. The living of Thompson changed hands three times during that black year, and was again vacant in the following, being presented to the Master of the College.

If three rectors were swept away, how terrible must have been the death roll of the people, living in their insanitary hovels t

In 1349 Sir John de Shardelowe and Sir Thomas, his brother, sons of Sir John, Justice of the Common Pleas, founded St Martin's College, a chantry for six chaplains in the church of Thompson, to pray for the souls of their father and mother, and of themselves and their family.

These chaplains or clergy were to live together as a community. One of these was to be Master or Rector. elected by the brethren, pn'mus into pares, no irresponsible dictator as in the monasteries, but responsible for the spiritual charge of the parish, and always resident.

These brethren were not burdened by vows or rules difficult to be carried out by fallible mortals, they had not to surrender their private property, and they could always retire from the community when they grew tired of their surroundings, or too old for their duties. All the discipline imposed upon them was to be resident, not to dine or sleep out of the College, and to obey certain regulations as to dress and the routine work of parish and the church services. Beyond this they were to live together as Christian gentlemen in temperance, soberness, and chastity, taking their share in the daily services of the church and the spiritual welfare of the people.

The College was conveniently situated near the church, surrounded by a miniature park. It is not known whether it was especially built for the purpose or was a manor house converted. Tradition says there was a subterranean

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passage connecting the College with the church. All that now remains of the original building are portions of the walls, in which is visible the stonework of two double Tudor-arched windows with square labels, and an interior doorway with a four-centred arch. The moulded beams of the ceiling of the principal room also belonged to the old College.

Every religious house had its fish-ponds, and these were not wanting here, two of which still remain. But the chaplains, as they grew rich, evidently also grew luxurious, and acquired foreign tastes in food, for in close proximity to the College exists one of the last surviving colonies of the edible frog (Rana esculenta). These were long supposed to be the descendants of specimens imported from France by Mr. George Berney in 1837. but M. Boulenger has pointed out that these at Thompson are easily distinguished from the French form by the much larger metatarsal tubercle which is characteristic of the Italian variety known as Rana esculenta,

Very probably the edible frog from Italy was introduced by the many secular and regular clergy who during the Middle Ages were continually journeying between _England and Rome, and this colony at Thompson College _ was evidently introduced when the clergy had begun to think more of fat living

than spiritual matters.

This was the case in course of time. People will not let well alone. As long as these colleges were allowed to do their work in a modest, unpretentious way which their founders had in view, so long they were useful and efficient institutions, supplying a great want in a poor neighbourhood.

But the best-intentioned people will not let well alone. Additional endowments came dropping in one by one, until Thompson College became a comparatively rich foundation. Besides the Rectory of Thompson, they held the Manor of Bradekes in Shropham, also the Manors of Thompson, Shudy Camps, and Horseth in Cambridgeshire; the advowson of Shropham; also lands in Langford, West Tofts, Saham, and Bradenharn.

This increase of wealth undoubtedly brought a great deal of prosperity to the village. Money was plentiful, being spent in the neighbourhood, and the poorer people were generously helped by their rich neighbours. More. over, better class people became resident in the parish to take advantage of the Sunday and weekday services at the church and other religious privileges.

On the chaplains, however, this increasing wealth told heavily, for the simple rules of the College became onerous as they gradually departed from their simple style of living.

The rules of the College were :- That the fellows or chaplains should be obedient to their Master or Rector, should live and lie in one house, and eat and drink in commons together, and none of them to lodge or victual out of D

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College; all to meet every morning in the church at matins and every evening at vespers, and one to say daily mass according to their foundation.

Wealth and fat living made many of these rules irksome, so stipendiary chaplains were employed to represent the fellows of the College in the services of the church, and to relieve them of their duties to the parishioners. Naturally the discipline of the College relaxed, the tone of the College was lowered, and the original object of the foundation began to be lost sight of.

In the latter part of the fourteenth century the College seems to have held a very large part of the land in Thompson, and of this land about a quarter would be kept in hand as the home farm, and the remainder distributed among tenants who rendered service for it. At this time in England a class of peasant proprietors had sprung up. Their service, such as the cultivation of the home farm, had become limited by custom, and each man's hut, with the plot around it, and the privilege of turning out a few cattle on the waste of the manor, had passed into rights which could be pleaded at law. A copy of the Court Roll of the manor had become the title deed of the tenants, and gave them the name of copyholders.

'vVe find in the earliest rolls of Thompson College the names of many tenants who were mere labourers owning their own cottages and plots of land, and paying a small quit rent to the lord and a fine at the death of the tenant.

Thus we have a community in Thompson at this time which in contentedness would compare with any county community in this twentieth century, for even the peasant class had their stake in the soil, and their interests were inevitably bound up with the greater landlords. This state of things bred up a sturdy, contented race, having to work hard for existence, yet all united together in one agricultural community, with a common inheritance in the land.

It was under such a regime that the title of" Merrie England" was gained, and which was lost when the agricultural labourer became dispossessed.

These copyholds have been gradually purchased and absorbed in course of time by the lords of the manor, which has not contributed to the stability or contentedness of the working classes in rural parishes.

Here is a picture of a cottage tenant of those days:

"He pursued many trades in his little homestead. He had eels in his stew and bees in his garden. He raised his own hemp and twisted his own cart ropes. His flax was cleaned and spun at home. Some of his wool he sold to the' webster,' and some kept the spindles moving on the kitchen floor. He sawed out his own timber. He made his own mud walls round his yard. He was his own farrier. He killed his sheep or his calf' without the aid of the butcher. He made his own candles and burnt his own wood into charcoal. He cultivated herbs for physic, which his wife dried or distilled. His cheese was manufactured in his own press."



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Above the small copyholder would be the yeoman farmer, considered a substantial man, owning a few acres of land and a few cottages. The farmhouse of the yeoman had a hall where the family lived, and a parlour where was located the family bedstead, and a few garrets above; but all else was scantily furnished, for great was the value of chattels. In fact, the chattels of the yeomen were as valuable or more so than the live stock, and became heirlooms in the family, especially the bedsteads!

Here are some extracts from the will of William Rolfe, a substantial yeoman farmer of Thompson:

"In the name of God Amen. . . • • I, Thomas Rolfe of Thompson, yeoman Unto James my son 6 acres of arable land lately purchased of Thomas Page, gent, lying in the furlong called long Perches, houses and tenements called Fishers. To Elizabeth my wife two, cows and one bullock, she to take and choose them where she please, and one mare which was her father Canham's and one colt which is the wall-eyed colt, being a blacke one; and one swine or hogg, she to take where she will: and one bedstead and feather. bed and 3 coffers and I chest and I box, all being in the parlour.

"Unto Thomas my son one featherbed and the bedstead in the Parlor full furnished.. Unto James my son i featherbed with the cartaine and eeke and the boarded bedstead that stand on the chamber over the hall. furnished by the discretion of my wife with a good paire of sheets to it

"Unto Anne my daughter, one bedstead in the bed chamber now standing and a flock bed, my wife to furnish it for her as well as she can and with a good paire of sheets. . . . Unto Pleasant and Margaret my daughters, each a paire of sheets. . . . Unto Elizabeth my wife all the brasse and pewter that she had of her father which I had with her, and likewise one iron pott, two beere vessels and one tubbe, she to take them where she will, . . . Unto James, my son, the biggest kettle that I have in the howse.. Unto Thomas the best brasse pot. Unto Pleasant the little brasse pot. • . Unto Anne one brasse pipkin and to every child one pewter dish a peece, the eldest to have the biggest dishes. . . U nto my two eldest daughters each a beere vessell. . . . Unto my wife all the bowles that she brought with her and the rest of the bowles to my 3 eldest daughters.. Unto James one speet (spit) and my little fowling piece.

" Item. I give unto my wife half the geese young and old and two speets, two buffet stools and a chaire and a bason and aile cheese tub and one salting trough and the grasse that is how in Hunt's pightle. Thos Rolfe, sale executor."

Again, above the substantial yeoman, would be one or two lords of small manors whose houses surrounded by a moat would only be a trifle more substantially built than the farmhouse, filled with a few extra comforts and better class furniture.

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Such were the people and their houses who lived in the palmy days of Thompson.

The Collegiate Church now standing, but in - ruin, is of the fourteenth century. It is grand in its lines and even in the day of its decay one can see how stately it must have been under the fostering care of the College. There is no mention of a previous church, although undoubtedly one originally stood on the present site.

The Collegiate Church consists of a tower, nave, chancel, south porch, and south chapel, dedicated to St. Martin.

All that is left to remind one of the College and its fellows are the stalls, of which eleven remain, now in the nave, but which once lined the walls of the chancel. They are in sets of three and two and have a rose on each elbow piece. Two of them bear the arms of Shardelowe, which were also the arms of the College: Ar. a cheuron guo betw. three crosses crosslet jitchle as. The arms of de Tomestons were: As. a /ion passant guardant or in a bordure ar: On another is the head of a Bishop and on another the head of a woman.

It is terrible now to look upon this stately edifice in its decay. Even in Blomefield's time the nave was roofed with lead-to-day it is reeded, with holes here and there through which can be seen the sky. The present thatch dates from 1800, for there is this entry in an old parish account book: "Jail. 28- 1800. At a vestry meeting held this day at the parish Church, it is agreed that Mr. Green, builder of the City of Norwich is desired by the Churchwardens and principal inhabitants of the said parish, to lay before and request the Lord Bishop of the Diocese to grant a petition for taking off the lead of the said Church, to repair the roof of the same to a proper pitch for tiling, or if permission can be obtained for repairing the present old roof and thatching the same with reed." The latter course was followed.

To such a poverty stricken condition had the parish arrived in 1800 that no means could be found for repairs but to sell the lead, and thatch with reeds from the fen.

But I am anticipating the fall and decay of the fortunes of Thompson.

To return to the church. The porch is unusually large, fourteen feet by .ten feet. The ancient door is surrounded by moulding consisting of four leaved flowers united by stalks. The old thumb and ring plate still remain as does also the lock encased in its solid beam of wood.

The nave, chancel and porch all had gable crosses of which fragments only remain.

On the exterior of the chancel a string course runs round, returning over the priest's door, making spandrils with its arch. The drip moulds of all the windows are terminated by heads. There are two or three-light windows having flowing tracery of beautiful design. Above the east window is a

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circular opening about two feet in diameter. There is a low side window in the usual place.

The interior of the nave is surmounted by the original trussed rafter roof, a favourite style of roofing in the Decorated period.

The font, same date as the church, is octagon, each panel being worked in different tracery of low relief.

There is now a Jacobean desk and pulpit with its pedestal and canopy, over which a lover of uniformity and ugliness has smeared a coat of yellow paint, the pulpit screen and poppy-heads meeting also with the same fate. There are in all fifty-eight poppy-heads in the church, a few being of the fifteenth century.

There are two portions of a Perpendicular screen which may have enclosed a chapel, perhaps that of one of the guilds, for there were three guilds in Thompson in its palmy days.

The south transept or Chapel of St. James seems to have been built long after the church by the fellows of the College. Also the present arch between the church and chapel, as well as the south window and roof, are all of late date, possibly just before the Dissolution. Under the arch was buried, according to Blomefield, Sir Roger de Wylacham, a benefactor to the College and town.

The rood loft screen is an early type of the Decorated period. The lower part which is plain boarded has on the upper part of its east side the remains of a beautiful stencilled diaper in white, black, and red, so thinly painted that the grain of the wood is visible through the paint. There is a sexfoiled hole which was probably used as a confessional.

The gtaceful windows of the chancel have hood moulds terminated by heads. The piscina and sedilia of fine Decorated work have flattened cinquefoiled agee arches supported on shafts. The spandrils are filled with foliage. The doorway and windows of the tower have some good mouldings and tracery.

In the ancient chest is a curious cylindrical box of black leather, seven and a half inches high, and the same in diameter. It is probably of the fifteenth century, and may have been a case for the plate.

The church is built on very fine lines, and undoubtedly lent itself to grand and imposing services, such as were customary before the Dissolution. No wonder that those who valued religion were edified by the Sunday and weekday services in the Collegiate church, and made their residence here in consequence.

So just before the Dissolution, 1540, we find Thompson a flourishing Breckland township, with several good families residing at the Hall, Botours Hall, and the Church House, and Waterhouse Manors. The



wealthy College exercised a kind or" temporal and spiritual directorship, with a contented body of yeoman farmers, cottage tenants, and labourers, working unitedly together and bound together by ties difficult to sever.

It is noteworthy, too, what a lead such a rich institution as the College would give in agriculture to the parish in the days when even a simple incumbent was supposed to do all in his power to foster the wellbeing of the agricultural community. It is forgotten, perhaps, that Henry VIII. some time before the Dissolution ordained by statute, that every .. spiritual person "-that is every beneficed clergyman-should keep a stud horse for the use of his parish. The immediate object of that statute was the breeding of good useful horses, not only for country work, but for the army. Possibly too, as the parson was the judge of horse-flesh, he initiated horse racing to test their merits for reproduction.

It is a great pity when the statute fell into disuse, as of necessity it did, that the great landlords in every parish were not compelled by statute to keep. a stallion.

In 1541 the bolt from the blue fell. At the Dissolution· of the religious houses, the College and its endowments, with the manor and advowson, were given to Sir Edmund Knyvett. The surrender charter was signed by one Robert Audeley, the last master, and on the rzth April, 1541, the fellows of the College took their leave for ever of the walls which they so much loved.

Noone took their place. Under the surrender charter, the impropriator, being the lay Rector in the place of the College, was to find a curate to serve the church, but so wretched was the stipend provided, there has been no resident clergyman since, and for months together no services of any kind have been held in the church.

No doubt the ultimate issue of the Dissolution has been beneficial to the country, for the religious houses had obtained such an enormous portion of the land as to become a source of danger, or at least an obstacle to the well-being of the country. And in the matter of tithe it made but little difference, as too often the tithes had been paid to distant monasteries.

But in a parish such as Thompson the hardship and wrong caused by the alienation of the tithe was keenly felt, and has been plainly evident ever since.

As long as the tithes were in the hand of the College, the parish suffered no loss, the money was spent in the place, the sick and poor were visited and relieved, while the services in the stately church attracted the religious-minded to reside in the parish, and consequently to. spend their money also here.




But when the College with its property was granted to Sir Edward Knyvett, it was a great injustice to let the tithes go with the estates. The tithe-payers were called on to pay to a stranger at a distance, who took no interest in the place, and who gave a wandering curate a mere pittance to do a Sunday service. Moreover, those well-to-do people who had taken up residence in the parish on account of the church services, gradually moved away now the church had been stripped. The poor were not only robbed of their generous treatment by the College and of their spiritual ministrations, but also of their well-to-do neighbours, who had taken a friendly interest in them.

In a word, Thompson began to go downhill, and the mark of poverty was plainly visible.

A generous gentleman, Humphrey Futter, the last of the Futters, of Thompson College, who died in 1678, made an effort to restore the tithes to the Church. The Futters for some time had possessed the Thompson property, and were much in residence at the College. Humphrey, the last of the line, by his will proved at Norwich, 1679, decreed, "And after my wife's death I give all the tythes and customs for tythes whatsoever unto the Parish Church of the said Tbompston towards the maintenance of a preaching minister."

The clause in the will was not carried out, being contrary to the Statute of Mortmain.

In 1612, some eighty years after the Dissolution, we can draw conclusions as to the financial and spiritual condition of the parish, for by an order from the Archdeacon of Norwich a Visitation was made to the church by the Rector of Merton and the Vicar of Watton, and a complaint was made that "the glasse windows of Thompson Chancel are broken and decayed; The roof of the chancel is decayed so that it rayneth into the same." A sad condition of affairs so soon after the dissolution of the College.

It shows not only that the well-to-do and religious-minded people who cared for the sacred edifice had ceased to reside, but that there was no one left with sufficient means or churchmanship to keep the church even in decent repair.

The waste lands were not properly looked after, and hordes of gypsies swooped down on them, now that the authority of the College was non-existent, and the lord of the manor an absentee.

These gypsies were called Egyptians, because they were popularly sup· posed to have come originally from Egypt. They were looked upon as heathen. and outcasts, but were held in awe and respect, owing to supposed super· natural powers.

Some appear to have been nominally Christians, for an entry in the parish




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registers of 1555 records "John an Egyptian, the sonne of George an Egyptian, was baptized."

It is curious that at this date no surname is registered other than " Egyptian."

If anyone had invented absolutely the story of the Babes in the Wood out of some incident occurring in these parts, they would surely have represented them to have been fouod and carried off by the gypsies who frequented these lone heaths and woods. The theft of children, eventually to be sent across the water and sold as slaves, was popularly supposed to be their business -indeed, when the opportunity presented itself this was actually the case.

George Borrow, one of the greatest authorities on gypsies, says: " With respect to religion, they (the gypsies) call themselves members of the Established Church, and are generally anxious to have their children baptised, and to have a copy of the register. Some of their baptismal papers which they carry about with them are highly curious, going back for a period of upwards of two hundred years. With respect to the essential points of religion, they are quite careless and ignorant.. . It is probable that in their observances of the rite of baptism, they are principally influenced by a desire to enjoy the privilege of burial in consecrated ground."

The real gypsies of the old sacred black race, the tatchey Romany, were of a different mind, according to Mr. Borrow. They never slept in a house, never entered a church, and on their death-beds used to threaten their children with a curse, should they bury their bodies in a churchyard.

The two last of them rest, it is believed, some sixty feet deep beneath the moss of a hilly heath, called in Romany, "Heviskey an," place of holes, commonly known as Mousehold, Norwich.

Quoting the same authority, the principal gypsy tribes at present in existence are the Stanleys, whose grand haunt is in the New Forest; the Lovells, who are fond of London and its vicinity j the Coopers, who call Windsor Castle their home; the Hernes, to whom the north country, more especially Yorkshire, belongs; and, lastly, the Smiths, to whom East Anglia appears to have been allotted from the begi nnin g. Afterwards the clan Y oun g appeared here.

Smith, or Petul-engro, is a genuine gypsy name, brought with them from the country from which they originally came. It is compounded of two words, signifying .< horse-shoe fellows," or people whose trade it is to manufacture horse-shoes, a trade which the gypsy plies in various parts of the world. True, at present there are none among the English gypsies who manufacture horseshoes-all the men are tinkers, more or less. Smith was a singularly appropriate name to take possession of the Norfolk flint area, where the horse-shoe for luck is an especial cult.

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Gypsy Will, a fine specimen of the race, of the clan Young, was hanged in front of the gaol at Bury St. Edmund's about sixty years ago.

N orfolk is "potato country" in the Smith's and Young's vocabulary, Suffolk is "fools' country," and Norwich" talking fellows' town."


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In the year r630 there was a failure of crops in Thompson and the neigh. bouring villages, spe!;}'~~provision having to be made.

Sir William de Grey, in his report of the Wayland Hundred for that year, tells us the steps taken: "The inhabitants of every town had been required to buy so much corn to be laid up for relief of their poor and labourers, allowing t a peck to each person, from Nov. 1630 till the new corn should come in. Barley was sold at 2/6 per bushel to the poorer sort, and to labourers who had not much need at 3/4 Rye to poorer sort 3/4, to labourers 4/0 per bushel. Such towns as had any surplusage of corn were enjoined to sell in open market For the poor in every parish that took collection and were not able to buy com at the aforesaid rates we enjoined inhabw to raise a collection

. that they might be better able to buy bread. Superfluous alehouses had been surpressed. Most malsters surpressed, Sundry Idlers sent to the House of Correction. Sundry whipped." (Mason'S Norf.)

In the register of burials for the year 1776 a very pitiable story is told by John Bale, churchwarden, illustrating how sparse was the population of the parish at this time, and how lonesome and dreary its waste spaces:

1776. "Also Thomas buried, son of Danai Jonas and his wife of Thimbelthorpe near Foulsham in Norfolk, aged 12 years: he was sent one the 12 Jenery (January) by his master, Richard Palmer of that place, to help drive some cattell towards London, and he was sent back about five miles this side of Thetford late in the afternoon to go to Watton Bull to lodge, but Being so badly clothed and' the weather so very sharpe that he' was frozen to death one Tompston Common near the old Thetford Rode to Cherry Rowand covered over with snow and was not found till 6 of Febury (February) .

• , It was thought by all that see him after he was found that he perished through the cearlessness (carelessness) of his master's brother that was with him, for it was the opineng (opinion) of the pepell (people), that it would have perished anyman to have been sent the way that he had to go with such clothen as he had one, and he was cept (kept) ten days for want of a pason (parson) to Bery him."

What a lonely and desolate place Thompson must have been at this period! The poor lad lay frozen to death on the common, his body not being found until the lapse of. a month, and then no clergyman to be obtained to read the burial service for ten days 1

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Thompson had become a deserted village, and even the rites of the Church were difficult to obtain.

In 1806 it is stated there had been no services in the church for many months, for Colonel Harwood, who at that time was living at the College, records the following in his own handwriting:" Charles, son of Thomas and Sarah Andrews, his wife, was buried Aug lIth 1806. by W. Tooke Harwood, Lord of the Manor of Thompson, there having been no Minister nor service performed in this Church since the Sunday after Whitsunday, the women going to neighbouring Churches to return thanks, and their children to be Christened. This child was kept unburied many days after it became offensive in an excessive state of putridity."

It would have been interesting to know why Colonel Harwood did not apply to the neighbouring clergy for help, and if the Bishop of the Diocese had been acquainted with the state of affairs here.

A century later, 1909, Thompson has no resident above the status of a small ~farmer; the College is a farmhouse, the church is in ruins, its walls are mouJdering with green damp, no clergyman has - ever resided here since the Dissolution, and since the Rev. - Thorpe, of Shropham, resigned the perpetual curacy in 1906, no one has been found to supply his place.

Such is the history of this deserted Breckland village.

In addition to the evidence we have from the lay subsidies and court rolls, before the Dissolution, as to the large number of well-to-do people living here, we have other evidence from the Parish Registers, commencing 1538, the first year in which registers were kept, made necessary by the dispersal of the religious orders. The correctness of the entries was to be certified by the clergyman and churchwardens at the foot of each page.

"1545. Ursula Woodhouse the daughter of Roger Woodhouse, Knt. was baptized."

John Woodhouse, the brother of Sir Roger, was living at Breccles, the next village, and his son, Francis, built Breccles Hall, a haven for persecuted Romans.

"1550. Edmund Grene and Alice Piggott, gent were married the IStll jeoery."

Note the title "gent" to the lady's name.

"1551. Gabriell Grey, the daughter of M William Grey was baptized."

This is one of the Merton de Greys, and is mentioned in the lay subsidy of

1543, as in goods the man of most substance in Thompson. '

"1570. J ohnPorye, Clarke and doctour in divinitie, being of the age of 67 years was buried 25th June whose soule and body God grant a joyful resurrection. Amen."

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There is no doubt according to Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Grigson that this was Dr. John Porye, Master of Benet (now Corpus Christi) College, Cambridge.

Other flames prominent in the parish were, Rolfe, Julyon or .julian of Botours Hall, Manser, _ Mortimer, Gerarde, Mounteney, Houchin, Dugdale, Beckerton, Halliday, Bullimer, Barker, Spurgin, Atmeare, Costens,Futter, and Edmond.'

(Donations towards the Restoration Fund of the Collegiate Church may be sent to Messrs. Barclay's Bank, Watton, S.O.; or to the author).

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Around Thompson Water-The Glory oj the Heathland-Sandsedge and " Tke Littoral"-The Wild-/owl.

NORFOLK is often considered an uninteresting county - its flatness constituting its plainness. Breckland disproves such an opuuon.

Spring is an enchantment here on the sandy Brecks. The May and Blackthorn in some districts thickly stud the landscape with their snowy bloom, while the oak, birch, beech, and chestnut diffuse a wealth of tender pinks, vivid greens, and soft browns, not to omit the fir-belts with their variegated green at the point of every bough, while the straggling' hedges where such boundaries still exist, are glorified with the bloom of crab and wild cherry-trees.

The golden glory of furze and broom is remembered, sparkling and shimmering in the vernal with its golden sheen the bleak places of Breckland, When acres of it are seen in full bloom, no one can escape the exclamation, "How glorious!"

And what shall we say of the woods and pine-belts twixt spring and summer, with their galaxy of wild hyacinths and forget-me-notsthis is the most perfect moment of the year when the soft winds blow. For let us be honest and own that in early spring Breckland has more than its share of the cold east winds - bracing and healthful but searching.

Those who cling to the dying year will say perhaps that in Breckland the most perfect moment of the year is autumn. True-then one can luxuriate in perfect days, absolutely still and peaceful, when the foliage, beneath the warm sun's rays; gives forth every shade of madder, burnished copper and deep crimson-all standing out against the dark fir-belt, while the bracken standing seven feet high, like a tree-fern forest, turns from a brilliant yellow to red gold, and dies away in sepia hues. One cannot be insensible to the lovely tints, the quietude, the restfulness of autumn, but the winter of death is at hand, the thought of which to many detracts from the enjoyment of the waning year.

Round the old College at Thompson there is a good deal of the old furze common still extant, now enclosed pasture land. One hails these splashes of

something to be sunshine, irradiating

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golden glory in the early spring with more than delight, for the scent from the furze and broom blossom floats on the breath of the wind and lingers in one's nostrils, a perfume as delicious as anything in Ceylon's balmy isle. Whenever one recalls that scent, one recalls springtime.

But to gain the wild heathland one must walk down a green trackway to Thompson Water, called by the natives" The Watering." This sheet of water extends over sixty acres of what was originally called Sandwade Fen. In 1845 this fen was dammed up and conv:erted into a fine sheet of water. Before that took place it was common land where the villagers were accustomed to cut turf (peat) for fuel. It was a dearly prized possession, so much so that the Thompson people, jealous of their rights, had a great quarrel with the neighbouring parish of Stow Bedon about the cutting of the turf on the fen. They took the case before the Assizes and finally came out victorious.

The Water teems with all kind of wild-fowl, and is inhabited by splendid pike running up to 30 Ibs. in weight. Hither also wild swans love to come in order to enjoy undisturbed the silent water.

Thompson Common, Flag Heath, and Black Rabbit Warren surround the Water-and at first sight when the heather is in bloom and the bracken in luxuriant growth, the Water might be mistaken for a Scotch moorland loch.

Past the Watering, over the moorland, and through the dark pine-belt, runs the Peddar's Way, Remote from villages it runs its silent course, and there is nothing more fascinating for the laudator temporis acti than to tread this ancient way and meditate on the past races of men who have passed and repassed in the days of old.

Near by the Water and adjoining the Peddar's Way is a long stretch of sandsedge, called the Sheep walk. I t looks at first like an expanse of marram grass, that coarse and sparse vegetation which we meet with on the sand dunes of the sea-shore. No-it is another littoral characteristic-the sandsedge, not often met with, but clearly proclaiming the presence of the sea here in prehistoric times.

Stand here at the four cross-track ways, where the Peddar's Way emerging from Cherry Rowand Merton Park crosses the track from Thompson village across the heath to the Tottington Road, and all around you will see wild nature, heath, bracken, furze, sandsedge, and patches of ragwort, with belts of pines for a background-a land primeval in its wildness, the air as fresh and keen as in the Highlands of Scotland.

Take if you will the Peddar's Way, its cart tracks in the sand for your route, towards Wretham, and you will feel in touch with man in primitive and prehistoric days-along the heathland way you may wander from parish to parish without seeing a human being-and if you did you would resent any user of the way other than some skin-clad Neolithic hunter with his flint-

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tipped arrows-or some shaggy Ikeni driving along their war chariots with yells and war-whoops.

Note the barrow on the sheepwalk covered with sandsedge, speaking of some skirmish between the Danes and British, where the dead lie crematedpossibly a remnant of the same battle which the barrows in Merton Park record.

These heaths and warrens are the rabbits' paradise. Rabbits grow and multiply exceedingly-the best crop obtainable all this ·light soil.

Opposite the Watering the heath is tailed on the Ordnance Survey map ., Flag Heath," a name unknown to the native-possibly so named because this part of the heath has been flagged with turfs and enclosed with wire. For here long-haired rabbits, the silver greys, were reared for the London markets, their skins some years ago being much sought after. The balks or flags. are all now that are left to show their rearing ground, for when trade grew slack the rabbits were released to interbreed with their neighbours.

If you would study the wild-fowl rest awhile in the shed overlooking the water. Obscured from view the duck and other wild birds will circle round.

Sir R Payne Gallwey, some years ago in The Field, gave his observations.

The conditions are much the same to-day, for the duck are carefully looked after, and naught comes here to frighten them away from their silent watering.

He says: "Now a few words about the wild-fowl. The vicinity of. our fishing exploits and for many miles round is perhaps of all England the special home and safe haunt of the duck species.

"Here they are carefully protected and encouraged by the large landowners, and by the owner of Merton in particular.

"Every piece of water in the district is frequented by them, and they are evidently partial to the little rain pools of twenty yards across that are dotted about the great expanse of fen land, in which this part of Norfolk abounds,

"On any of the meres hereabouts and throughout the winter may be seen great crested grebes, wild duck, widgeon, teal, shoveller, gadwall, tufted duck, golden-eye, pochard-and occasionally scaup and pintail. All these, save the two latter, and of course the golden-eye, nest annually in the same localities.

"Last, and most interesting of ail, I had the pleasure of seeing a pair of garganeys that had taken up their abode, no doubt for nesting purposes, in the recesses of it wood, amid rushes, coarse grass, and carex,

<I All the time we were netting the fish in Thompson Water, gadwall and other ducks were circling at short intervals overhead, disturbed by our operations. Even within forty paces of the house at Merton, wild duck daily splash

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down into a small garden pond of ornamental water of not a quarter of an acre area; and throughout the winter they may be seen of an evening waddling among the oaks, searching for their favourite acorns.

" That ducks are so numerous in these parts, I consider, is not alone due to the strictest preservation, but to the important fact that the birds can find ample food to their taste close to the waters on which they rest by day, and are not obliged, as is usual with inland fowl, to resort to the distant tide banks nightly."

The duck, nevertheless,do leave the water at night. At Stanford another large piece of water teems with duck, and I have watched them at setting sun go off in batches to other feeding grounds. By the route of their flight, I should say many go to the coast, which they would reach in forty or fifty minutes, while others feed on the fields or in the woods.

Here we take leave of Thompson, still" remote and unfriended," as it was when the curtain first lifted over eight hundred years ago.



Stow Bedon. and Breccles-s-Hali and Church.

STOW BEDON, called in former days Stow Breccles, is another parish adjoining Griston and Thompson, where some land can be seen to-day more or less as it was in the days of" the Babes."

On either side the Swaffham and Watton line, between Wretham and Stow Bedon station, there is a large area in its primitive state, sacred to wild nature, showing exactly the kind of waste common land which adjoined the Wayland Wood, running east and west, through Thompson, Stow Bedon, and -Merton, In those days there would be here and there patches of dank water, of which Stow Redan mere remains, surrounded by a tangle of weeds and undergrowth, with alternate areas of furze, bracken, heath, and poor pasture.

The church, which consists of chancel, nave, modern vestry, arid bell-cote on the west gable, is not of great interest, with one or two exceptions.

In the inside the chancel has two Early English, very narrow, lancet windows, and a very elegant piscina of the same date, which has the dog-tooth ornament and stiff leaf foliage. The basin is of peculiar shape, and there are two drains. The arch is modern. There is a handsome Decorated east window, of which the hood-mould is modern.

In the nave the font is Decorated, and of large size. It must date prior to the fourteenth century, being built of stone from Barnak quarry in Stamford, which quarry was closed A.D. 1400. It was reworked in 1852. The whole of the south wall of the nave, chancel arch, nave roof, west and north-east windows, pulpit, and reading-desk are modern.

On the outside there is little of note. The west doorway is Decorated, and has its old notch heads, while on the south side the westernmost Perpendicular window is old, and the other a partial restoration.

The old and ugly boarded bell-cote was replaced in 1852 by the present turret, which is a copy of an old example in Dorsetshire.

Near the south wall of the chancel are three beautiful tombstones, with floriated crosses of the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

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Breccles, now a tiny village, once was a place of very great importance, so much so that it gave its name to the Deanery, for here the Dean resided.

Part of the parish abuts on the Breckland, a small portion being covered with bracken and gorse.

Brecc1es Hall is a quaint, many-gabled mansion, with a history (rebuilt about the commencement of Queen Elizabeth's reign), and before its restoration by the present owner in recent years, was used as a farmhouse. It is therefore coeval with the drama of the Babes, and was an important residence.

In an account of the Norfolk Archseological Society's visit to Breccles Hall, when Dr. Jessopp read a paper, there is a short account of the Hall as it was then found" This is a quaint many-gabled mansion, a short distance from the church. Its extensive moat is in parts filled up so that it is difficult to trace it, its battlemented wails are growing grey with lichen, and some parts of the house have fallen into absolute decay. Passing through the modern rooms occupied by the family, the _party reached the kitchen, a large lofty room, the walls of which are covered with tapestry somewhat faded. The contrast between the fanciful poetic devices of the tapestry and the homely prosaic kitchen utensils was exceedingly striking. A staircase with stairs fashioned out of solid blocks of oak, and sufficiently wide for the passage of a carriage, leads to a number of rooms, some only of which, from the dilapidated condition of this part of the house, are occupied. Over the fireplace in the furthermost room is some polished' carved oaken panelling, on which is the date of the building of the house, 1583. No one could ramble through the house without desiring to know something of its former inmates-such a romantic old place must have an interesting history."

_ Francis Woodhouse, a branch of the family of Woodhouse or Wodehouse of Kimberley, added several additions to an old Hall, where it is probable his father John Woodhouse had resided. The present east front with its seven gables and its storey of low rooms, behind which is an older east wall with gables, is the work of Francis Woodhouse, and in an upper room on one of the pan els of an overman tel is the clue, " I 583 F. W." This Francis Woodhouse fell on bad times. There is a touch of pathos in his unfortunate life.

The country gentlemen in this district during the reign of Queen Elizabeth were Romanists to a man, some outwardly confessed their adherence to the old faith, refusing to conform, as Robert de Grey of Merton, who was several times imprisoned at Norwich, while there were others who outwardly


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conformed but yet hated the Reformed Church and all its works, merely attending the services as seldom as possible, and then only as a matter of form. They trimmed their sails as a policy of expediency, and were called schismatics.

Francis Woodhouse was a conformer or schismatic, but a Romanist at heart, and married a wife of the name Eleanor, who was a devoted adherent of the old faith, and gloried in her recusancy. This union ruined Woodhouse. Tyrrell, a renegade Jesuit priest, turned informer to save his skin, and gave away those who had paid him, housed him, and treated' him with every sort of kindness and reward. His report lies in the Record Office. In his written betrayal, he says, "In Norfolk there were privy to my departure the Lady Lovell (of Harling), Mrs Woodhouse of Breccles etc etc."

Naturally this brought Francis Woodhouse and his wife under suspicion, and they became marked people. For harbouring priests, refusing to attend the services of the church, or abetting the holding of the Mass, severe penalties and imprisonment were meted out, many families of distinction being reduced to beggary by their continued contumacy.

Francis Woodhouse had to answer for his wife's connection with the Jesuits. In the year of Tyrrell's confession, 1585, he was arraigned at the Dereham Sessions as a recusant, and afterwards at Norwich, but although he professed to conform, his wife obstinately refused to do so, or to attend the services at Breccles, Year after year Francis Woodhouse was mulcted in heavy fines for his wife's recusancy.

Three years later we hear of a Nicolas Wilkinson cited to appear before the ecclesiastical court of the Bishop of Norwich, who confesses himself to be a Papist, although he has not of late attended any unlawful assemblies, nor has he stayed in any recusant's house since his coming from London, saving only in the house of Francis Woodhouse, of Breccles, whose wife is a recusant, where he has been for the last three weeks.

Indeed, the wife seems to have been the master mind, persuading

other members of the family to adhere to Roman Catholicism.

At last the end came. In 1599, Francis Woodhouse was compelled to sell Breccles Hall, the home which he had built on the paternal property, and to find shelter in a more humble abode for the few remaining years of his life.

One cannot help admiring the man for his ungrudging fidelity to his wife. He never disavows her, although he had trimmed his own sailshe goes on paying heavy fines year after year, until he is at last


compelled to put the old hall in the market, and taste of poverty for his wife's conscience.

Sir Richard Gardiner, Knt., Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland, 1586 to 1624, and for some short time Viceroy, was the purchaser of Breccles, Having no son living, Breccles descended to his nephew, William Webb, then to the son John Webb.

John Webb was a stout old royalist, and we have a glimpse of his character in subscribing to the solemn League and Covenant which he does after his own fashion;

These are his words: "I subscribe to so much of this Covenant as I already know and shall hereafter know, to be agreeable to the Word of God, laws of the Kingdom and my oaths formerly taken-John Webb."

Mr. Webb had an only daughter, Ursula, who deserves mention. She married as her second husband, Sir Robert Baldock, of Tacolneston, In her will she desired to he buried in the chancel of Breccles Church, in an erect position.

On a small oval black marble slab in the chancel of the church are thesefour Latin words:


on which the present Rector, the Rev. W. R. D. Elwell, has composed a couplet.




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"This lady's life was UPRIGHT, spent without a fault

In proof-her BODY stands ERECT in this stone vault."

Gardiner Hewyt, her son, sold Breccles to become a pensioner in the Charterhouse. Then succeeded by purchase Wormsley Hethersett, and his heirs in the female Hoe until Maria Taylor sold it in 1832 to Mr. Mathias Kerrison, from whom the present owner, the Han. C. BatemanHanbury is descended.

Mr. Bateman-Hanbury has restored the old Hall to its original status.

It was a costly and difficult task, but it has been admirably done and is in an adequate setting.

Roaming over the old house one can read the history of its original inception.

A writer in Country Life says: "It was a rather mysterious and planless nest of little rooms that Francis Woodhouse contrived in his building. But then he (Francis Woodhouse), was one of those men who had need of some mystery, Here is an extract made from an old document by Canon Jessopp who has studied so deeply the persecution of the Catholics.




" , In Breccles house where Mr. Woodhouse d welleth there is a chamber over the Boultings House, whereto there is a way by a dare which is in the floor of a privie house, which dare is covered with mats, and is so close that it cannot easily be found out, and the dare being opened there standeth a ladder to goe downe into a close chambere and no other ways unto it. There are also many secret places about the gallerie of the house at Breccles where they used and doe use (as is thought) the masse.'

"In the structure of the chimney which serves the Francis Woodhouse room, there is still a priest's hole entered from the attic above, and that attic communicates with the somewhat loftier roof-space of the older house, which was no doubt the gallery mentioned in this document.

"In another of Francis Woodhouse's little upper rooms-a library-a panel slides back and shows a squint into the much loftier room, now used as a dining-room. So that though the library floor is seven feet higher than that of the dining-room, the squint, which is about five feet up the library wall, opens just under the dining-room ceiling. It is quite clear that when Francis Woodhouse added those rooms he was an adherent of the old faith which Elizabeth's Govern ment found it essential to proscribe."

In the present dining-room "hangs the portrait of Francis Woodhouse at the age of twenty-eight. This was long before he took to wife Eleanor the Recusant. But the sad expression of the long, thin, pale face seems to tell of some premonition of the anxious times, the harassing cares, the ruinous fines, the final loss of the inherited estate to be endured by this man, whose conscience bade him be true to the thorny path of the old faith rather than to follow the easy road of official religion.

I' Nowhere can a more prompting environment for the study and appreciation of the domestic history of our forefathers of Elizabeth's day be found than at the goodly manor place to which Mr. Bateman-Hanbury has given back the true attributes of ancient inheritance and truthful purpose."


In the church near by, consisting of chancel, nave, south porch and tower there is much of interest.

The chancel has two elegant square-headed Decorated windows on the south side, a very handsome Decorated east window, and a square-headed Perpendicular window on the north side.

The Perpendicular rood-screen is massive and handsome, but has


unfortunately suffered in its restoration, when the colours, gilding, and the whole of the loft, with its re~ains of an Ambo near the south end, and its fan tracery, were destroyed.

The Ambo or Ambon was in the twelfth century a raised pulpit-like structure, generally situated on the north and south sides of the choir balustrade of cathedrals, and from it the deacon on the north side, and the sub-deacon on the south side read the Gospel, Epistle, and Lessons. The north Ambo was also used to preach from. The Rev. G. Crabbe says: <C I know of no other instance, except at Merevale, Warwickshire, of an Ambo on a rood-screen than this at Breccles, nor do I know of an instance of one in the choir gallery."

This screen retains its doors, and these doors are finished by ogees crocketed, and by finials.

The nave is lighted by large Perpendicular windows.

The font is early Norman-square, the sides being rudely sculptured with shallow arcading and figures in low relief.

The tower..:arch has imposts' with early Norman ornament.

On the outside, the south porch is Perpendicular, though its two wiDcJoWs appear to have belonged to an older Decorated porch. The walls of the Decorated chancel were, as appears by the rubble work, only a little higher than the tops of the two south windows. The drip-molds of these windows are finished by notch-heads. The tower is circular and early Norman. It has four very rude round openings, each cut from a solid block of stone, in the belfry.

It is surmounted by an octagon lantern of the Decorated period, four of the sides of which are filled by windows with segmental arches, and four by alternate squares of stone and black flint. There are gargoyles at

all the angles. . •

There is near the south wall of the nave, the socket of the churchyard cross, and part of an ancient coffin stone with floriated cross.

Within the tower is a tablet worthy of attention, a record that "The remains of John Stubings lay in the middle of the steeple," and that John Stubings died" 12'h of September 1806 aged 107 years and eight months and that he lived 67 years in Breccles a Christian and honest industrious man."


Wretham-Its Meres-Heaths-HighwaJ'men- William Courtjield, Priest and Hzgkwayman-Roudha1ll Heatk-A Highwayman with a CandlcstickTradition of Battles at Ringmere and Ketcl Bridge-The Peddar's Way.

THETFORD is a good centre from which to explore Wretham and Roudham heaths and also a large part of the Suffolk Breckland.

A charming day's outing may be had either by taking the morning train to Wretham, or walking or bicycling from Thetford to Wretham heath, a distance of only three or four miles.

The heath at Wretham is both wild and picturesque and with its meres or pits of water is equally dear to hearts of the geologist and sportsman. These meres are called Ringmere, Langmere, Fowlmere, and the Devil's Punch Bowl. They are found bordering on a prehistoric trackway called" the Drove." This trackway runs from Hockwold to Roudham heath, where it is lost. Again this prehistoric road cuts straight through heaths in its lonely course, avoiding settlements, and was without doubt another commercial highway in the flint era.

It runs between Ringmere and Langmere, Fowlrnere and the Devil's Punch Bowl. The latter one can hardly call a mere, since for long it has lacked water, saving a dirty puddle with decaying weeds, although there are springs in its vicinity.

But its formation is most peculiar. Imagine a huge circular basin which popular fancy has pictured as the devil's punch bowl, a very apt description. A patch of mist which hangs over the spot on autumn nights is called" The Devil's night cap." One can weU understand the popular appellation.

Standing on its brink on a calm autumnal evening, with the harvest moon overhead, every sound disturbing the hushed peace and reverberating round "the Punch Bowl," there is something decidedly uncanny about it and one expects to see" the little people ,J come forth and trip it merrily round" the Punch Bowl's" lip.

Fowlmere on the opposite side of the drove is a large drear expanse of water; the haunt of wild-fowl. One looks down upon it from" the Drove:" its utter loneliness hemmed in between a copse on one side and rising ground crowned with fir-trees on the other strikes the imagination. It is the haunted pool of the novelist. The mad bald coot sounds his note of alarm and then follows a stampede of wild-fowl all over the mere. The water sometimes is

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non-existent. In 1902 the mere was absolutely dry and two-thirds of its bed was ploughed up, the result being a splendid root crop. A swede weighing 23 Ibs, and a cabbage weighing IS lbs. were taken from it and exhibited in Thetford market. Since then it has become a silent water over which the bald coot keeps sentinel.

Ringmere and Langmere are the two first on "the Drove" coming from Thetford.

Pilgrimages were paid to the mere. If it were full of water, the price of corn would be high-if the water low; the price of corn would be low-in fact, the price of corn rose and fell with the water.

On Ringmere heath and in the adjoining country two battles were fought between the East Anglians and the Danes, not of much importance, and in one instance reflecting no little discredit on the men of Norfolk and Suffolk Indeed, their origin was discreditable to England, being the result of the treacherous massacre of the Danes in 1002 by order of the King, in which the Danish King's sister perished. In righteous anger Sweyn invaded the country.

According to the Saxon Chronicler, Sweyn came with his fleet to Norwich 1004 A.D., spoiled and burnt the town. Ulfcytel and the Witan of East Anglia thought it better to purchase peace than to fight. (I Then decreed Ulfcetyl and the Witan of East Anglia that it were better they should purchase peace of the army before they did very much harm in the land." Discretion, they thought, the better part of valour. Sweyn smarting under the cruel murder of his sister and countrymen was not disposed for a truce, but marched to Thetford unopposed, plundered and burnt the town.

Ulfcytel, after the town was in ruins, pursued the Danes, fought a battle at East Wretham and was defeated, many chiefs of the East Anglian forces being slain. The Danes, however, generously acknowledged that Ulfcytel and his men had fought a stern fight

In 1010. Sweyn landed at Ipswich, then marched to Ringmere (Norse Hringmear) to try conclusions with Ulfcytel and his men. This took place on Ascension Day. At the first onset, the men of Norfolk and Suffolk displaying disgraceful cowardice, promptly fled, hut the Shire men-the Cambridgeshire men-under lEthelstane, nothing dismayed. fought like heroes. The position had almost been retrieved, till one Turketel treacherously withdrew. when the Danes obtained the advantage.

There was a touch of irony in Canute's appointment afterwards of the perfidious Turketel to be Earl of East Anglia! with no disrespect to those who now bear his name. In this battle were slain lEthelstane, the King's son-inlaw, Oswi his son, Wulfric, son of Leofwine, and many other noblemen, besides a great number of common people.

Some writers assert that at Ketel Brigg in Wretham Park, Ulfcytel made

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his determined stand. Brigg is the Norse for bridge. In this village is another place called Stone Brigg, both retaining to this day their Norse application, although there is no water or bridge at either place. At the date of the battle, judging by present appearances, Ketel Brigg was a swamp with a stream emptying itself into the river or estuary at Thetford, while probably another stream ran into it under Stone Brigg. The Wretharn meres are the sole remains of what-was in former days a watery expanse.

The map published in "Arch<eologia" xxiii. p. 358, Antiq. 1824, shows Norfolk during the Roman occupation as an island with the sea flowing round Brandon, Thetford, and Stoke to Norwich. Judging by Sweyn being able to sail his fleet to Norwich, there must still have been much water between Thetford and that city.

However, there is nothing to connect Ulfcytel with Ketel Brigg. The name Ketel or rather Cetel-for the Anglo- Saxon never uses the symbol "k," having no use for it, "c " being always hard even before e and i-was a common name. Who the Cetel was who gave his name to Ketel Brigg, Kettlestone, Kettle Baston, Kettle Burgh, or any other Kettle, we know not. It is the same with such a village as Croxton adjoining Thetford. There are numerous Croxtons, yet who the" Croc" was who gave his name to these places we shall never know. No less than seventy Alfreds are recorded though only one of them was King.

Speaking of Ketel Brigg, Professor Skeat says: "Obviously no one knows, nor ever can know, whether Cetel and Ulfcytel were two different and unconnected names. I cannot understand what possible foundation there is for all these imagined references to Danes."

I fear, therefore, Ketel Brigg, having lost its bridge must also lose its Ulfcytel.

All that we have any corroboration of is that a battle or battles between Sweyn and Ulfcytel took place on Ringmere or Hringrnear heath.

Ketel Brigg has no more authority for being connected with Ulfcytel than Thompson (Tom's town) has with Thomas-a-Beckett, It is possible that Turketel and his East Anglians found here their pons asinorum as above mentioned.

The fir-trees on the peninsula of Langmere, the most picturesque of all, are said not to have been planted by the hand of man.

In fact the gloominess and desolation of these meres have given rise to various traditions as to their being uncanny.

In rambling over these heaths, intersected by a road here and there, the thought always occurs how tempting the locality for the highwayman of the old coach days; especially so on Roudham heath, across which the road from Norwich to London passes.

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And many are the tales told of their doings. At Wretham there is some

high ground called "Gibbet Hill," where tradition says one or two noted knights of the road expiated their crimes.

Wretham supplied the first highwayman in this locality known to history, in the person of its own Rector, for a fifteenth century Rector, one William Courtfield, earned an unenviable notoriety as such.

I t is certainly unique that a rector should endeavour to add to his uncertain and scanty emoluments earned by the cure of souls, by sending other souls to perdition, for murder too often followed his violence. At least according to the old chronicles, he was not only a notorious thief and lurker on the roads, but a murderer and slayer.

William Courtfield was from his youth an adventurous dare-devil character, and conceived the idea of giving vent to his passion for adventure, and at the same time adding to the slender income of "his living" by lurking on the lonely heaths in the neighbourhood, and robbing the well-to-do passers-by.

He found in one of his flock, Thomas Tapystone, the brawny-armed farrier, a willing accomplice. . Together the Rector and the Smith roamed the Breckland roads, robbing many a traveller on a darkling night, and hesitated not to give them their conge on the least show of resistance.

So successfully did they ply their trade on the limited number of belated travellers through their district, that they resolved to go further afield and conduct their operations where travellers were marc numerous and possibly more wealthy.

We therefore hear of them in 1446 plying their trade on Newmarket heath, long before the days when the heath became famous as a race-course, but there was a well-beaten highway to the North across it, and travellers were numerous.

Hither Courtfield, sir Priest, and Tapystone, ye farrier, transferred their operations in the year 1446. But they had reckoned without their host, for here the strong arm of the law was more in evidence than on their native heaths. It had been well for them had they been content with a modest return for their evil deeds.

After robbing a widower of £12, they were taken, convicted, and thrown into Newgate, where the Rector died.

It is curious to notice the term "widower," evidently used as a word for compassion, just as we in these days would cry shame 011 anyone robbing" a poor widow."

In the fifteenth century "a poor widower" ranked very high in the degree of compassion, higher probably than" the poor widow," for women were not accounted much in those days.

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In the church of St. George Colegate, Norwich, is a ledger stone with this inscription:-

"Here lyeth ye Body of Mr. Bryant Lewis who was Barberously murdered upon ye Heath, near Thetford, Sept. ye 13th 1698."

Also the following lines :-

" Fifteen wide wounds this stone veils from mine eyes-But Reader, Hark! their voice doth pierce the skyes, Vengeance! cried Abel's blood 'gainst cursed Cain But better things spake Christ when He was slayn. Both, both cries Lewis 'gainst his bar'barous foe, Blood, Lord, for Blood, but save his soul from woe."

..,. ...

Augustus Briggs, whose name survives in Brigg Street, Norwich, was returned to the Parliament of 1669, and started to ride to London, but while crossing" the dreary heath" near Thetford. he was set upon by highwaymen and robbed. He thereupon, at Thetford, procured suitable weapons and went on his way armed to the teeth.

Later highwaymen seemed to get less resistance from the public, and robbed the stage coaches at their will, not even troubling to possess themselves of firearms; There is no doubt that the drivers and guards of the coaches were often in league with these knights of the roads, and sent word when there were passengers worth robbing. Travellers seemed to have settled down to the opinion that if they were so unfortunate as to be stopped on the heath by highwaymen, the best way out was to pay up and look pleasant.

However, the first of the Mottrams connected with Gurney's Bank thought otherwise. On one occasion he had to convey £80,000 from Norwich to London. On Thetford heath he was threatened three times by a highwayman. On the third occasion the highwayman presented a weapon at Mottram, the bright metal flashing a gleam of light as he raised it. The highwayman was instantly shot dead. On arriving at Thetford the encounter was reported, and on search being made and the body found, it was discovered that his only weapon was a brass candlestick !

With this make- believe pistol he had on previous occasions, acting in collusion with the driver, robbed the stage coach.

"The Drove" crosses the Croxton and Thetford road after leaving Fowlmere and the Devil's Punch Bowl, and a return can be made to Thetford this way, but the better plan is to return and make for Wretham Station. Before reaching the station turn off the road under a railway bridge into a grass trackway, which is the Peddar's Way. The Way goes through an avenue of firs out on to Roudham heath. As far as the eye can reach is yellow sand bracken, and heather, with Roudham railway junction and a few red cottages





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like an oasis in a desert. Far away towards Thetford are crests of larch and fir-trees, but otherwise it is an unbroken stretch of heathlaud, straight through which runs the Peddar's Way, the track being easily followed. The first part, with the yellow sand and the wild flowers growing luxuriantly here and there in patches, has been cultivated in recent years. At the time of the Crimean War, when corn was at famine prices, a great deal of Breckland was ploughed up, but now that corn hardly pays on the best loam soil, the unequal contest with nature has ceased.

This blowing sand produces those flowers which rejoice in a thirsty soil.

How the sun blazes down in summer and the gadflies pounce on one to get a draught of the red wine! But there is mostly a breeze here, refreshing and invigorating if it comes off the North Sea.

Farther on heather grows luxuriantly. Here again one can almost imagine oneself treading a grouse-moor, so thick is the heather, and in September the pink glow for miles reminds one of Scotland.

Why not convert this into a grouse-moor is the thought of every sportsman when he first casts his eye upon it? I have heard a traveller in the train passing ?ver it suggest that if there were not grouse on that moor, there ought to be.

So have thought Norfolk landlords, and the grouse has been introduced, but to no purpose. It is the same tale all over Breckland. This sandy soil has none of those limpid streams and quagmires to be found on the true grouse moor, and therefore the grouse has not been able to exist. \Vater it must have-it is a sine qua non.

Here the wheat-ear will come to peep and swear at you, while the lapwing circles overhead with shrill cries, especially in the breeding season-or may be a ring plover and stone curlew will circle around. The best district perhaps for the rarer birds is on the other side of Breckland in the Stanford district, of which I shall have occasion to speak.

The ragwort grows in profusion wherever a piece of the Breck has been scratched up and then let go out of cultivation.

Land which is let go wild is first appropriated by ragwort, but in course of time bracken and heather make a successful invasion and blot it out.

On some brecks, on the other hand, rupture-wort is the dominant vegetation.

Filago, early hair grass, stork's bill, field cud weed, speedwell, earlychanging forget-me-nots, hare's-foot trefoil, wild thyme, yellow tormentil, and bird's-foot trefoil are among the wild flowers most commonly met with.

East and West Wretham were once ecclesiastically independent parishes as they are now civilly, but the Church of St. Lawrence of West Wretham was allowed to lapse into ruin at the end of the eighteenth century, and the

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benefice is now consolidated with East Wretham. From the crumbling remains of St. Lawrence it would appear to have been quite a gem of the very best Early English type, with some Norman remains. With the old churchyard it forms part of the Hall gardens, At East Wretham we have the unusual dedication to St Ethelbert. There is an ancient beU inscribed, "Sancta Anna ora pro nobis," which would seem as if this bell had been brought from some other church. This church was rebuilt in 1864. The doorway is the original Norman, or partly so, replaced in position at the rebuilding. There is a remarkably perfect specimen of a Norman Cross on the apex of the chancel gable, dug up from the old foundations.


Several times I have mentioned the track of the Peddar's or Padder's Way through Breckland, that mysterious trackway which, starting at Holme, near Hunstanton, comes in a bee-line through the wildest part of Norfolk for fifty miles or more, and finally is lost beyond Roudham heath at Ixworth, It is worth while considering it more fully. This part of it from Thompson Water to Roudham heath is, I think, the finest and most picturesque of all. The late Professor Beloe, a great authority, is of the same opinion. He says: "The path of the road to Wretham, through an avenue of firs and over the wildest heathland, is perhaps its most picturesque part. Even to trace its line upon the map, running straight through this barren country, gives a feeling of surprise and interest, and as one sits by its side and rests. one thinks of the path from the sea from which it has come. of its early travellers and their tribal Government, their wars, their religion, and their daily life, all past, and with no record save by its material remains."

Certainly anyone with the least atom of sentiment cannot help sharing these thoughts as one rests on this lonely, deserted track, with the gnarled firs nodding their sombre foliage, like funeral plumes, over this mysterious way of the dead. In its lonely progress it shuns towns and villages, pursuing its course with but few turns through bracken, furze, heaths, and morasses, until it terminates abruptly in the fertile country over the Suffolk border, as if civilisation of any kind were hateful to it.

Who made this way. and why? are questions on everyone's lips, to which no certain answer can be given.

The late Professor Beloe and others speak of it as the road from the North into the Kingdom of the Ikeni. But, generally speaking, in its inception all seem to agree that it is a prehistoric trackway, improved and utilised by the Romans.

But a trackway made designedly and with a purpose. It usually runs, as



I have said, in a bee-line. There are, however, a few turns, always to the east-never to the west.

Was there some ritual connected with the making of this road, since whenever there is a turn, it is a turn towards the east and the rising sun?

At one point by Thompson Water it passes over what in those days must have been a difficult morass to negotiate, which, by turning a half-mile to the west, it could have avoided. But, DO! rather than turn to the west it passes straight through.

Then, again, that the road was prehistoric and not the work of the Ikeni, seems evident from the fact that it avoids the settlements of the Ikeni, and pursues a solitary course across the barren heaths where traces of prehistoric man have been found.

Possibly in its inception it was a prehistoric road from the coast to the great flint emporium, whence the settlements on the coast trafficked inland for flints which they used, and also disposed of to man across the sea.

One therefore forms the conclusion that originally the way was prehistoric, afterwards utilised by the Ikeni and the Romans, that it was made with a commercial design and with a ritual-a ritual which at a later period caused the makers of the great Fen road to dedicate part of the way" Wormegay" to the great Serpent God.

Let us take a brief glance at it in its course from the sea inland. Between Hunstanton, Holme, and Gore point are sand dunes and marshland, some part of which is utilised as golf links by the Hunstanton Club.

This low-lying land was in early times the landing-place of the Northmen and Teutonic tribes. It is ensconced in a bay, of which the sea cliff at Hunstanton forms the western promontory, and Gore point the eastern.

It was therefore a most convenient place on this coast for a landing, and the neighbourhood became an important one. vVe hear of St. Edmund landing at Hunstanton.

Into this bay therefore naturally converge the two great lines of inland com m un ication,

Skirting the Hunstanton Cliffs runs the great Fen Road; while about one mile arid a half away at Holme commences the Peddar's Way.

So important were these roads and also the bay that the whole coastline and the country through which these roads passed were dotted with fortresses for their protection.

Visitors to Hunstanton will recall the little village of Holme, the name implying" marshland," with its massive church tower rising out of a cluster of trees, with red-roofed cottages here and there, giving a warm colour to the low-lying grass meads.

Here is the head of the Peddar's Way, and now easily traceable. In the

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front is the small stream which rises at Hunstanton; on other sides it is guarded by banks and dykes.

Southward up the hills, which form the coastline, it passes at a little distance from the village of Ringstead.

In the United States we notice how often the names of towns and villages correspond with names in England. The settlers have named their new settlements after their old homes-New York, Boston, Cambridge, to mention a few.

So here at Ringstead the Danish settlers gave the name of their old home in Denmark to this settlement of theirs across the sea-Ringstead, the burial place of their Kings.

The Peddar's Way avoids Ringstead, while the great Fen Road passes through it, clearly showing, I think, that the Peddar's Way was made before the great Fen road.

After skirting Ringstead, the Way is lost in the fields, but asserts itself for a mile at Littleport, a hamlet of Sedgeford, but avoiding the village.

Near Fring, as it passes over the Chalk Downs, there is a fine open view of it, and near Anmer, over" the Mink," it is picturesq ue and welt defined.

Between here and Castleacre it is guarded by a circular mound and dyke.

There are also tumuli; the one at the crossing of the Way by the Harpley Road is particularly good. These remains of its early guardians and users dot its course.

Continuing its picturesque course from Amner over the Chalk Downs, it arrives at Castleacre, an ancient British camp, which has yielded British remains.

The earthworks were undoubtedly thrown up to guard the way; indeed, the site was chosen with skill. The river and the two hills on either side and the morass were natural defences, which a few earthworks converted into a fortress of great strength.

It is not to be wondered at that the early British took every care to fortify and guard this road, for the inrush of the N orthmen was, generally speaking, along this line of communication into East Anglia.

Nor are traces wanting of the prehistoric population who first made this trackway. N ear by in a wood were found many of the earliest examples of prehistoric life, and at Narboroughgreat finds of the bronze period have been made, while on the road from Massingham to Grimstone, crossing the Way, to the east on the heath, is the site of a prehistoric village, where paleeolithic implements have been found.

At Castleacre the Way turns eastward at right angles, possibly for a convenient crossing of the river. It is then lost, but again is in evidence in Sessions Lane, dividing Swaffham from Sporle. This district has also yielded

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rich prehistoric remains, including one of the rarest stone celts, now in the British. Museum.

At North Pickenham another stream causes the Way to turn eastward at right angles, and here the Peddar's Way does duty a short distance for the well-known" Walsingham Way."

At Threxton, across the stream, is the last turn to the eastward, and then it goes in a direct line across the solitary heathland to its terminus across the Suffolk border.

Many prehistoric remains have been found at Threxton, and at Cressingham a British chief with his armour, gold breastplate, and dagger.

There is a great junction of old ways in this district, which made it a most important one.

The old road running to Hillborough and Ickburg was the most important of these ways.

The Peddar's Way crosses Merton Park, and pursues a very lonely course by Thompson Water across the silent heaths and dark fir groves to Wretham.

At Merton, Thompson, and Tottington are tumuli, of which those in Merton Park have been opened, as before stated.

Also at W retham the lake-dwellings of those who first made or used this trackway have been found.

Before reaching Wretham the Way is amalgamated in the road from Totting-ton to Wretham, but on passing under the railway bridge the Way is again struck, a green road- shadowed by darkling firs. This leads out on to the wild of Roudham heath. Here the Ickneilde Way, the warpath of the Ikeni, is crossed.

After the Rivers Thet and Little Ouse are reached, the track is hard to find, but as this is in Suffolk I leave it here, for its short length is unimportant.

I have given the track of this ancient Way because some few may wish to trace it in its entirety where feasible; but I feel sure there are many who will delight to wander on its well-defined green track by Thompson Water and the heath to Wretham, and onwards across Roudharn heath.

No walk can be more delightful than this trackway of primitive man in these, as yet, lone solitudes.

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Breckland Folk-A Game Preserve-Emigration 0./ Young People-Characteristics of the People-Old Customs-A Druidical Christian ChantHumin), Dancers.

TIlIS chapter must commence by suggesting an itinerary for those who want to get a hurried view of Breckland. I suggest a triangular course in a motor car, from Watton to Thetford, Thetford to Brandon, and Brandon back to Watton. This will give a very good insight into the varied conditions of the country: devoting a whole day to the outing will enable you to pay a prolonged visit both to Thetford and Brandon. If Thetford is your headquarters, then the route should be vice versa from Thetford to Watton, &c., as there is high ground between Thetford and Watton from whence you can get some beautiful morning views. On a bicycle, driving, or walking tour, I should suggest two routes-one from Watton vid Merton to Tottington, Stanford, Ickburgh, and Mundford, returning by West Tofts, Stanford, and back to Watton by the main road. The other from Watton to Thetford and back via Wretham and Hockham or by the Peddar's Way.

But before describing the country villages and towns you would make acquaintance with, a word must be said about the people and their old customs and superstitions, which will give an added interest to those you come across ill your journey.

It would be difficult to find in all England a more frugal race than the inhabitants of Breckland, while the curse of drink, which works such havoc in the Shires, is more or less absent here. The drunkard is an exception

The poverty of the soil is such that farmers are unable to pay high wages and, worse than all, employment becomes less and less year by year. The small farmers are being ousted, and farm after farm is being managed by one man, and consequently he works them together with less labour than if the farms were in separate people's hands. It is bad for the country to have a large tract of land in one man's hands to the exclusion of the small farmer. In other cases, as at Stanford, the farms are going out of cultivation. As a matter of fact, Breckland is one vast game preserve, and, save in a few favoured spots, agriculture takes but a second place, being unprofitable.

The Merton estate, comprising 13,000 acres, with the Wretham and Tofts estates, and the well-known Elveden estate, over the Suffolk border, are the pick of the pheasant, partridge, and ground game shoots in the Kingdom.



The light, sandy wastes, with here and there a cultivated area, are ideal rearing grounds, although in very dry seasons the partridges on the light soil suffer from want of water.

At present it has been found better to let farms go out of cultivation, as at Tottington and Stanford, to become the happy hunting-ground of wild nature, so poor is the soil.

- Lord- Leicester's estate at Holkham was once described as a place only fit

to produce rabbits, and where two rabbits would quarrel over a blade of grass. However, Mr. Coke turned this desert into a fertile land.

-In that interesting book, "The Cokes of Norfolk," the following information is given about the transformation of this once bleak and barren area.

In 1776, Holkharn was an open heath, bleak and barren. The rent roll of the estate was £2,200. No wheat was grown in this area as far as Lynn, and, what is more, the farmers were convinced that none would grow. Upwards of 10,000 quarters of wheat were imported annually to Lynn to supply the deficiency ,in the neighbourhood.

Mr. Coke set to work to improve the estate and brought to bear upon it a ~cienti6e and well thought-out system of cultivation, with the result that in [81.8 the~rent roll was £20,000 per annum (the rents being very moderate) and not only was wheat grown at a great profit but in such quantity that 11,000 quarters were exported from Wells alone.

In forty years the Holkham estate had passed from a bleak sandy desert into an estate of rich pasture lands, luxuriant crops and splendid timber.

If this transformation took place at Holkham in forty years, could not the same be done in Breckland? Only at a great outlay. It would be immensely to the advantage of the landlords, as granting, that under present conditions game rearing pays better than agriculture, yet after all it is a poor return.

As it Is half a dozen or more farms get into the hands of one farmer and employment decreases.

All the best young men leave the locality at the first opportunity.

"Nothing doing" is the cry. Many of the villages have scarcely any young folk left. They either emigrate to Canada and the States or else go North, principally to Yorkshire and the large towns, while some few are attracted to London.

Very few return as failures. The majority do well and get on in life, returning to their old homes only for a brief visit, to take others back with them. Given a chance the Breckland young man and woman get on well in life.

It must be borne in mind that the Norfolk working class date back to the time when East Anglia was denied to the Anglo-Saxon.

With the exception of a few great families such as the de Greys of Merton F

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the l'Estranges of Hunstanton, and some others, the upper and middle classes are more or less interlopers.

In searching registers many of the same names are found among the labouring classes to-day in this locality as in the days of good Queen Bess and also, are to be found -further back still, in the list of names drawn up for the various poll-taxes. The blood of the Danes, Scandinavians and Flemings flow in their veins.

Alfred in his treaty with Guthrum gave over Norfolk and Suffolk as a close reserve for the Danes-no Saxon was allowed to settle there until years afterwards when the settled order of things had been overturned.

But ever afterwards there has been a constant influx of Danes, Flemings, Dutch and Germans to the East coast, many of whom settled among their confreres. The Strangers' Hall at Norwich is a witness to this. It was built temporarily to accommodate the numerous emigrants from the Continent who flocked into Norfolk.

One sees in the labouring classes of Norfolk all the traits of this foreign blood.

As a matter of fact they are more Scandinavian or Flemish than AngloSaxon. And being so, they have instinctively looked upon the English or Anglo-Saxon of the Shires as foreigners-and as "furriners" they ever regard them.

It is an instinct that they are of different blood to the people of the Shires.

They inherit the thrift of the Danes, their love of cleanliness and flowers, their superstitions, their stolidity and slowness, while their vocabulary is full of words of Scandinavian origin.

Breckland being off the beaten track, far from the glamour of large towns, has seen up to the present even less change in its rural population.

Year after year the population decreases, the young men and women going off into the greater world to fight the battle of life, the gaps being filled by the residuum left behind and by outsiders.

Search the registers in all the parish churches in Rreckland, it is astonishing how the same names crop up showing how the people have clung to the locality. The names only have altered in the spelling. It is curious to note how one generation will begin spelling their names in a different way to the former ones. To give an instance. In Merton Churchyard the tombstones of the Buckle family stand in a row and are legible back to the eighteenth century. The original family wrote themselves" Buckell " (a little buck)-a right good name indeed, but suddenly the name on the stones becomes "Buckle," a meaningless surname, spelt as pronounced, the final syllable shortened.

Here is an instance of the tendency to clip and shorten words in speaking and then to write them as pronounced.


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"Moutan" is the name of a good old Norfolk family, the accent being on the last syllable. It has perversely been changed into" Mutton "-and one part of the family in this neighbourhood so write themselves.

Norfolk people are fond of perverting words; the Breckland folk in particular.

" What a malicious pear!" instead of" delicious " is not infrequent.

The word" shy" means" forward" or "fast" instead of modest and retiring.

To "imitate" for to "undertake" is another perversion of the King's English. So is .. Rithmatikerer,' .. shruck " for shriek, " fisherate " for officiate, "chim bley " for chimney, .. shummaker " for shoemaker," plumpendicular " for perpendicular, "'boewiddle" for bewilder.

_ It is difiicult to derive such words as " Tittymatorter" a see-saw, "frummocky" dressy, "shammoek" a sloven, though in both the latter "oek" is part of the word. "Gaddy-wenting" idling and gossiping may be a perversion of the word H gallivanting." But the phrase" Where you bin shy wan nicking tew?" is very much similar-meaning loafing and flirting.

~kl.and, Isolated, left to itself, with scarcely any middle class, has ~ less than any part of Norfolk. It clings still to its old customs, "adil Wins and 'i'OC3bnlary.

TIIa:e is no doubt that the natives of Breckland like the natives of N orfol k • ga:teI3l are suspicious of the Shire people, be he parson, farmer, mechanic, or laboo:rer. Indeed, even to speak of a horse as coming from the Shires is a malevolent expression. This suspicion may possibly be inherited from the days when Norfolk was an island, and the people on the mainland were tm1y foreigners to these Northfolk. The educated class of native is not even free from this prejudice, of which I could give many examples, but only at the riSk of personalities and therefore I must refrain.

Again. the true native is suspicious of the Church of England. Is it not the Church of the Shires? And yet Norfolk, and Breckland in particular, boasts of large and beautiful churches-in number out of all proportion to the population.

Were the people at one time devout adherents of the Church and very religious? Very doubtful it would seem from the little evidence we have. These churches were built to accommodate the whole population. who, from the pressure placed upon them by the priests, religious houses, and landed proprietors, found it to their benefit to make a regular attendance ill church. Afterw.ards the law for a time compelled this attendance.

The natives are not religious people to-day in the true sense of the word and they cannot be said to be good church people-quite the reverse. This perhaps was expressed in the wit of a certain labourer, recorded in the quaint sayings of these folk, who, having a political argument with his Vicar and finding

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himself worsted, concluded the whole matter by saying, I, Howsomdever my politics is and yer'l excoose me, but I alios say les hev more pigs and less parsons."

Not encouraging for a poor parson condemned to pass his life in one of these lonely villages. He might have remembered his Master's warning about casting pearls before swine as an excuse for decamping to some other brighter sphere of work.

Whatever their religion may be, and even in the case where they are frequently in attendance at the parish church, they are not fervid upholders of the Establishment. The labourer feels more at home in the chapel where there are only his own kith and kin. The language is his language, the prayers and preaching are such that he can understand, and appeal more to his mode of thought. He feels more at ease away from the eye of the squire, the parson, and the farmer.

He has no ill-feeling towards the church. It is his tradition to come occasionally, his wife is churched there, his children baptized-he has been married there, and will be buried in the old churchyard. It is his superstition that these things should be in the church-but for the rest, well; he likes the praying and preaching of the chapel.

There are a large class besides, utterly indifferent to any form of religion.

The struggle to live has entirely crushed out of them any other than the mere animal desire for existence. The hungry forties have left their legacy here in a type of man who lives to do a certain amount of work in order to eat and sleep in his own cottage.

As he views his religion, so he does his politics. He is a Conservative at heart. Although Norfolk has been returning Radical M.P.'s for long, the South- West division has been true to the Conservative cause until the last election, when it threw in its lot with the rest of the county.

Breckland is steadily becoming Radical"and Dissenting. In his quiet stolid manner he is beginning to take the contrary political side to his master. He is taking his politics from the preaching of the chapel. I t is pointed out to him that the church people are the ones who live on the fat of the land -their views are not his views. Has he not been driven from the common lands? Has he not ceased to cultivate a few acres of the soil as his forebears did? Has he not to exist on the scantiest wages, wages which he hears are lower than in any other part of England? And thus, although a Conservative at heart, he is gradually becoming a Radical and Dissenter for choice. It is not only deliberately arrived at by quiet thought, but it is also an instinct-the instinct of alien blood in opposition to the governing class.

This is seen among the old British in Cornwall, in Wales, and wherever is gathered together the descendants of a race not of Anglo-Saxon origin.

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And yet with it all be is a Conservative at heart, conservative in his ways, in his work, in his customs and traditions. Hard it is for him to break with the past-difficult to keep pace with the times-" What was good enough for my forefathers, is good enough for me."

That is the view he takes of all innovations and progress. It is true also of the Norfolk farmer. Let me give an instance of what I mean. The Norfolk farmer's wife makes the most execrable butter in the whole of England. I know several people who send to Ireland for their supply from inability to get anything eatable from the surrounding farms.

The County Council are giving valuable instruction in dairy work 10 all the towns and villages.

There is no reason why the very best butter should not be made in Norfolk, and Breckland in particular. Yet the farmers' wives and daughters do not as a rule attend these classes. They have nothing to learn, they say. They are perfectly convinced their butter is of the very best quality, and yet they - know that in order to keep it at all, they have to salt it to suchan extent as to make it like so much brine,

NOj .the true Norfolk people are hopelessly Conservative in spite of their retnming Radical members.

Despite the fact that the Gregorian calendar was adopted in England, by Act of Parliament in 1752,. the inhabitants of Breckland, and of most rural districts in Norfolk, still reckon their Quarter-days by the Julian calendar, which was that in general use in civilised Europe from 40 B.C. to 1752 A.D. It is still the legal calendar of the Russian and Greek Church.

In most parts of England the Quarter-days are March 25th, June 25th, September 29th, and December 25th.

In Breckland the Quarter-days still universally recognised are April 6th, July 6th, October 1 rth, and January 6th.

Marriage customs among the labouring classes are peculiar. With regard to morality, it has been noticed that more than one half of the couples have only been married because of urgent necessity, and such an incident is not thought to be any shame-so long as they are marriedall is well. One must not look too hardly on such lapses of morality, when one remembers that there are scarcely ever more than two bedrooms in the cottages, and that large families have to herd together as best they can, and so the children have perforce been brought up without any privacy or delicacy of feeling. Again it may be a tradition from the past. Children were so necessary to a household in the struggle to live in mediaeval times, that no labourer entered the bonds of wedlock until he was assured that his future wife would be fruitful.


It is quite unusual for the father of the bride to attend and give her away. The mother also hardly ever comes to the wedding of her son or daughter.

Mr. Crabbe, the late Rector of Merton, noticed this peculiarity, for he says, "It is worthy of note that in the thirty years I have been at Merton, I have only had three weddings in which the father of the bride attended to give her away. On all other occasions only young people have attended, from one to three couples." (He is speaking of weddings among the labourers).

Another peculiar custom handed down from time immemorial in Breckland villages, but fast dying out now, was on the occasion of a wedding among the labouring class for the young men and lads to serenade the married couple on the first evening by beating old saucepans and kettles, &c., at their door. Upon a little beer being offered, they departed. In other parts of England this rough music was only given in the case of ill-assorted marriages, or for some other offence, but here it seems to have been the custom.

It is, I suppose, akin to the old London custom drawn by Hogarth, in his marriage of the industrious apprentice, of the butchers' serenade with marrow-bones and cleavers.

St. Valentine's Day (February 14th) was a great day in the first half of the nineteenth century. Valentines, and very elaborate ones too, were sent in quantities, and in the villages here the children of the poor used to go round and collect money as well as cake, buns and loaves, &c. Then followed a feast

A pretty sight used to take place on the village greens when sheepwalks abounded, and shepherds were numerous. The shepherds and their friends used to meet together on Midsummer Dayan the village green, and there to the sound of pipe and violin footed it merrily, while the other villagers gathered round to watch and applaud. Then they adjourned to one of their houses and kept up their merry-making until it was time to go off about their shepherding.

The custom of asking or gathering "largesse," common at one time in Norfolk and Suffolk, seems rapidly passing away, and good riddance to it, but in Breckland it is dying hard, and is often asked if a fitting opportunity occurs. How very old a word it is l This its Anglo-Norman character and usage from the time of Robert of Gloucester (II 50- 1200) makes clear. It was the old cry of minstrels asking reward of knights and ladies at feasts, and now survives in East Anglia both as a demand and acknowledgment of a bounty by the reapers-the only time of the whole year when they ask for money. As before noticed the Normans exercised


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a great influence in many ways on what was once almost a Danish province.

Up to a few years ago it had been the custom here from time immemorial for each farmer's man to go round the morning after the harvest was over, to every substantial house in the village and to the tradesmen in the neighbourhood (who looked upon it as a sort of blackmail), collecting "largesse." Usually one shilling was given to each set of menThe men stood in a ring. the headman or "lord" standing in the centre blowing a horn.

Some such words as the following were spoken:


"Grand harvest-lord, more by a penny or twoo To call on his fellowes the better to doo,

Give gloves. to thy reapers a larges to erie, And daily to loiterers have a good eie."

[Cf, Tnsser A.D. 1$50. :+: Gloves on account of thistles.]

. Then· the. men holloa'd "largesse," and made a great shouting and hOrD~1!16wing, thanking. the giver by name. The money was spent in a suppetWith the wives and children at some inn.

IC apiece of shooting· is hired, it is still customary for the labourers to ask a "largesse," as a solatium for looking after partridges' nests.

The harvest supper of the farmer or "Hawkey" is a very different thing from the "largesse" supper.

There used to be a strange chant sung at harvest festivals, the words of which were taken down by the Rector of Beeston near here, and it was found to be very similar to an ancient folk-song sung in Hampshire, or other parts of the country, by the country people at Christmas and other festive occasions.

It was sung with great solemnity, and was thought to be a Pagan hymn which in the course of its flight down the ages had gathered. to it Christian doctrine.

One of the men would lead off:

"I'll sing the one 0."

Then another voice questioned;

"What means the one O? ,;

And the answer came:

"When the One is left alone, No more it can be seen, 01 "


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The following was then sung in unison in the minor key:

"I'll sing the twelve O's.

What means the twelve O's? Twelve's the twelve Apostles, 0 I 'Leven's the 'leven Evangelists. Ten's the ten Commandments. Nine's the gamble rangers.

Eight is bright walkers.

Seven's the seven stars in the sky. Six is the provokers.

Five's the thimble in the bowl. Four's the Gospel makers. Three, three's the rare 0 ! Two, two's the lily white boys That's clothed all in green, 0 J And when the one is left alone, No more it can be seen, O!"

The "0" may represent the mystic circle of the· Druids, which was their symbol of the Supreme Being, setting forth the unity or oneness of the Deity.

Whatever may be said of Druidism, as far as morality and humanity are concerned, it certainly accomplished ill Britain and Western Europe the preservation of the idea of the unity of God.

I t would appear as if this chant was originally a harvest festival chant of the Druids with Christian doctrine grafted on to suit Christian ideas.

Under the heading of "Druid Poetry and Medicine," a correspondent in one of the daily papers on the subject of the ancient folk-song, "The Twelve Apostles," says: "The Twelve Apostles in its Hampshire form is sometimes cited by the first line-' What is your one 0 i' '_ a question that with its answer has puzzled whole generations of people curious in such matters. In foreign variants of the song, whether Slavonic, Southern German, or even Hebrew, the answer to the opening question is generally a statement of the unity of the Godhead, but the English song differs from all its continental parallels, in that it retains traces of pre-Christian mysticism, quite meaningless at first sight, but partially explainable on reference to a Celtic version quoted by de Courson, in his Historic des peuples Bretons. 'What is your one 0 ? ' The English query receives the answer, 'When the one is left alone, no more can be seen 0: We turn to de Courson's version and we find that the one. is death. 'There is no division for the nurn ber one, the unique necessity Death,· father of sorrow, nothing before, nothing after!'