In the Chancel of our church there are numerous memorials to people who were once important members of the community. Not only are
there some dedicated to the Pells about whom I have written before but also several to the Kerrich family. I hope to breathe some life into
these quiet stones and let this family who served our village for over eighty years live again. The two families of Pell and Kerrich, although
unrelated and from different eras, are linked by the old Tudor house that once stood in the area now occupied by our surgery.
Samuel Kerrich was born in 1696 two years into the reign of William III. Samuel was the oldest son of Thomas Kerrich who is described as a
“druggist”. His mother Rebecca (Kidman) came from Diss but at the time of Samuel’s birth the family were living in Harleston a small village
just off the Diss to Bungay road. He had one brother, Charles. In 1705 his mother died and when his father remarried Samuel was taken into
the care of his maternal bachelor uncle, Charles Kidman.
He was educated at St. Paul’s School. Apparently he was a lonely boy and seldom came home for the holidays, staying at school to pursue
his studies. He went to Cambridge where he proved a popular student and eventually became a fellow of Corpus Christi College. During his
schooldays he became friends with Matthew Postlethwaite, a friendship that was to prove significant in the future.
After graduation he met and fell in love with Sarah Newton a lady of great beauty and property. Sadly during their engagement Sarah fell ill
and died in 1724. She was buried near Cambridge and Samuel made it known that on his death he wished to be buried with her.
There were many efforts to find Samuel a country living particularly after he became engaged to Jane Kitchingham. In 1729 Samuel married
Jane, who was always referred to as “gentle Jane.” Later the same year the rector of Sandringham wrote to say that Mr. Gill, the vicar of
Dersingham was “in articulo mortis”. Colonel Hoste of Sandringham and his son James undertook to write to Sir Robert Walpole of Houghton
Hall to secure the living for Samuel. Subsequently he was instituted in Dersingham on August 25th 1729.
At first he stayed with the Hostes at Sandringham Hall for at this time there had not been an official vicarage house in the village for many
years. One used to stand where the memorial cross in the churchyard can now be seen. An inventory taken in 1709 describes,
“the ruin of one vicarage house long since dilapidated with some old walls remaining with barn containing two golfsteads with a yard containing
30 perches of land.”
In 1726 Thomas Gill, Samuel’s predecessor as vicar, was concerned that he or his successors would be required to renovate or replace this
building; the cost of which he was unable to bear. The reply from the Bishop once again described,
“a small studded clay house belonging to the said vicarage situate before the gate of the Capitate Mansion of one John Pell Esq. which
vicarage house being then in a ruinous condition was by the said John Pell’s direction pulled down many years before.”
This happened in about 1656. The Bishop’s letter valued the present vicarage at £40 and he estimated that to “newbuild a decent substantial
house fit for a minister and his family will cost £200.” It was agreed such a sum could not be afforded by Gill or his successors so a
dispensation was granted.
So the house that Samuel and Jane were to live in was the old Pell house built in 1553 that stood in the area now covered by our present
surgery. Samuel himself wrote,
“I dwell in a house of Lord Orford’s near the church in which my predecessor lived for many years.”
Lord Orford was Sir Robert Walpole of Houghton a man high in government circles and due to become England’s first Prime Minister. Much
land in the parish had been part of the Pell estate that had been bought in 1697 by Colonel Walpole and inherited by his son Robert.
Samuel spent much time preparing the old house for Jane but in 1730 Jane had suffered a miscarriage and was too ill to travel. Samuel
continued to work on the house but again in 1731 Jane had a further miscarriage and this time failed to recover her strength. She died on
August 22nd and was buried in Cambridge. She never saw the old house that was to have been her future home.
However, the following year 1732 Samuel married Barbara Postlethwaite. She was eleven years his junior having been born at Shotesham on
May19th 1707. She was described as a charming girl, a beautiful singer and brilliant performer on the organ and spinet. Finally Samuel’s luck
had turned and the marriage was a long and happy one.
Barbara arrived to begin her married life in John Pell’s old house, the “enchanted mansion”. The description of Pell’s house conjures up a very
romantic picture and a plan of it that appears on a small map of the time shows a substantial property with sizeable gardens. But the house
was now 180 years old and although repairs and renovations had been attempted, including Samuel’s efforts, it was not a very satisfactory
place to live. The pastures near where it stood were crossed by many streams and in bad weather the whole area was subject to flooding.
When I first came to the village I remember many a wet winter when Wellington boots were essential if you wished to use the footpath there
that crosses from Centre Vale. The remains of the old sheep washpit fed by one of the streams still remain visible. In one letter Barbara
“I am washed out of all ye rooms below stairs. The springs have risen very much in ye garden this week and run in ye little alleys in streams.
I mostly sit in ye little parlour and yesterday as I sat there ye water rise under my chair before I saw it and we looked into ye Great Parlour it
began to come out at ye door into ye kitchen and was near a quarter of a yard deep and this morning it was all over ye hall. William and
Martin and all ye servants are trying to get it out but ye springs bubble and run sadly in ye garden still.”
In 1753 Samuel wrote to Lord Orford’s agent saying that he would gladly stay where he was if repairs could be carried out as some
parts of the old house were “untenantable”. Nothing was done so the family left and moved into Dersingham Hall. The old house was
abandoned and a few years later pulled down.
In 1756 came the first signs that Barbara was not well. It becomes clear that she has developed cancer and on August 22 1762 she
died and was buried in the chancel. After her death Samuel seldom travelled away. Barbara did not live to see Matilda marry her half
cousin John Kerrich, a surgeon, in 1767. They went to live in Burnham Market.
Thomas by this time had taken up residence at Magdalene College Cambridge. On returning home for Christmas in 1767 he found his
father in failing health and was obliged to get assistance for Sunday duty at Wolferton.
In 1768 Elizabeth wrote to him that Samuel was poorly and apt to fret about every little matter. Writing had become very troublesome
for him but in his last letter to his son he asked that Thomas should check on the condition of the tomb of Sarah Newton, his first love,
and see that it was cared for.
On March 7th 1768 Thomas rode through the night from Cambridge to see his father but sadly arrived too late. Samuel had died a few
hours before. He was buried in the Chancel. Elizabeth left Dersingham and went to live with Matilda in Burnham Market. It would be
nearly twenty years before a Kerrich lived in the village once more.