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The Old Vicarage of Dersingham
Elizabeth Fiddick ©
1066. If there is one date in all of the History of this country that is the most well known it is surely this one. The story of the invasion by William of Normandy, better known to us now as William the Conqueror, the Battle of Hastings and the death of King Harold with an arrow in his eye, is one we are all familiar with.
It is hard from this distance of time to imagine the turmoil created in Saxon society by the arrival of the conquering Norman army. Saxon resistance was crushed and William seized the land and assets of the English nobility and awarded them to his faithful followers. Here in Norfolk some 389 Manorial Estates were disposed of in this way.
In Dersingham the Saxon Lord Ricwold, freemen known as Skeet, Ranulf and Anand had their land and livestock seized and gifted to the invaders. Many castles would be built to keep the probably sullen populace in order. Castle Rising would become one such site chosen by the Normans to erect a stone Keep.
One of the men who came with William in the invasion fleet was Piers, the son of William’s sister Adelaide of Normandy. He was born about 1045 in Valognes, Normandy and is better known to us as Peter de Valognes. Between 1070 and 1076 William granted his nephew lands in the six counties of Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Essex, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Peter became Sheriff of Essex and Herfordshire and farmed lands in the borough of Havering and Hertford. His family seat was in Bennington in Hertfordshire close to modern day Stevenage and he was known as the Lord of Bennington.
However, Peter’s most valuable lands were in Norfolk, one of the richest and most populous counties in the country along with Suffolk and Lincoln. He acquired the lands here as a result of the failure of the Rising of the Earls, the last attempted resistance to Norman Rule.
The Revolt of the Earls
It happened when William refused to sanction the marriage between Emma, daughter of William Fitzosbern 1st Earl of Hereford and Ralph de Guader Earl of East Anglia. While William was away in Normandy the pair married without his permission. The episode obviously caused great resentment as with his new Brother-in-Law Roger, 2nd Earl of Hereford, and Waltheof of Northumberland Ralph planned the revolt against Norman rule and William in particular.
However, either as result of bad luck or poor leadership their attempt was plagued by disaster. Watheof soon lost heart and confessed the conspiracy to the Archbishop of Canterbury who excommunicated him and no doubt alerted the authorities if they were still unaware of what was being planned. Roger, who was supposed to bring his forces to support Ralph was delayed by difficulties encountered at Worcester. Consequently when he rallied his forces for the fight Ralph was totally overwhelmed by the superior Royal army led by the warrior Bishops, Odo of Bayeux and Geoffrey de Moulbray who gave the order that all rebels should have their right foot cut off. At the time of writing I have not yet discovered the site of this battle.
Ralph retreated in haste to Norwich pursued by the Royal army. He left his wife Emma to defend Norwich Castle while he took ship to Denmark for help. He returned with a fleet of 200 ships but even with that force he failed to do anything effective. Ralph was obviously not the skilled leader or tactician that he had imagined himself to be when he planned the rebellion.
Emma held out at Norwich until she obtained terms for herself and her followers but they were all deprived of their lands. She retired to Brittany and was later joined by Ralph who, like the others, was deprived by William of all his lands and the Earldom. Roger too lost all his lands and was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment only being released on William’s death. Waltheof was sentenced to death and was beheaded on St. Giles’s Hill near Winchester.
The Destruction of the Vicarage
We learn a little more at this time of the house that been provided for the vicar. It was described as a “small studded clay house standing in the churchyard.” This, I believe, is a form of wattle and daub and it was probably thatched. However, like the church it had been badly neglected over the years, particularly now during these difficult times. In 1656 John Pell, whose grand Tudor Mansion stood opposite the church about where the entrance to our surgery is, ordered it to be pulled down. He certainly did not like such an eyesore outside his front gate and the fact that no one had been appointed as vicar here for so many years was an additional factor for its decline.
We learn even more about this former vicarage in 1709 from a document that recorded the property and tithes belonging to the vicar. It was described as
“Ruins 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.”
So, when finally William Houghton was welcomed to the village as its vicar in 1660 after such a long absence where was he housed? In 1690 when Valentine Pell, the last member of that family, died childless he willed all his property to his cousin Robert Walpole of Houghton Hall who subsequently allowed the grand Pell House opposite the church to be used as a home for the vicar. So it seems likely this became William’s home.
In 1678 William Houghton was reported to the Bishop for, “not keeping his vicarage house in good repair”. This would seem a little hard if it was referring to the original house which Pell had ordered demolished some twenty years before. Yet it may have been Pell’s old Tudor house that was being referred to.
Stephen Beaumont, vicar 1700-5, was probably housed there also. Thomas Gill took up his position in 1705 and certainly moved into the Pell House. We know this because in 1726 he had become most concerned to hear that he and his successors might be required to renovate or replace the original vicarage in the churchyard. The cost was such that he would be unable to meet it so he wrote to John Lang the Bishop of Norwich to plead his cause.
In the Bishop’s reply we learn even more about the original house, “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 in a ruinous condition was by the said John Pell’s direction pulled down many years before”.
The Bishop valued the present vicarage at £40 and he estimated that to, “newbuild a decent substantial house for a Minister and his family will cost £200.”
He agreed that such a sum could not be afforded by Gill or his successors so a dispensation was granted. Much to Gill’s relief I am sure.
When Samuel Kerrich was instituted as vicar on August 25th 1729 he wrote, ”I dwell in a house of Lord Orford’s near the church in which my predecessor lived for many years.” (Lord Orford one of the titles of the Walpoles of Houghton Hall)
Samuel had only recently married Jane Kitchingham so he travelled to Dersingham first leaving Jane in Cambridge while he spent much time making necessary improvements to the old House to welcome his bride.
Sadly Jane suffered a miscarriage in 1730 and was too ill to travel but Samuel continued to work on the improvements to the house. Jane never saw the old house as she died following a further miscarriage in 1731. She was buried in Cambridge.
Samuel did marry again and he and his wife Barbara lived in the Pell house for 24 years but it was becoming increasingly dilapidated. It was, after all, 200 years old and subject to frequent flooding as we learn from letters Barbara wrote to her sister. “ I am washed out of all ye rooms below stairs.”
Samuel wrote to Lord Orford’s agent saying that he would gladly stay where he was if repairs were carried out as some parts of the house had become “untenable”. Nothing was done so in 1753 Samuel and his family moved into Dersingham Hall. Unfortunately for us some time later it was obviously decided that to renovate the old Pell House would be too expensive and it was consequently demolished. Thus Dersingham Hall came to serve for a time as home to our vicars.
The Nineteenth Century
In Faden’s map of Norfolk for 1797 it can be seen that Dersingham Hall was the residence then of a Mr.Hammond.
Thomas Kerrich who was our vicar at that time was the son of Samuel Kerrich and had grown up in the old Pell house by the church. He would have been about five years old when the family moved into Dersingham Hall. He came here as vicar in 1784 having been recommended for the position by Dixon Hoste of Ingoldisthorpe Manor who was the patron of the living. As Thomas held several positions in both Cambridge and Peterborough he would have to have balanced his duties as vicar here with those responsibilities. I suspect he was often away but at the time of writing I cannot state with certainty where he and his family lived when here in Dersingham. He died in 1828 at his house in Cambridge but was buried in our Church's chancel.
It is at this point that the Bellamy family of Ingoldisthorpe Manor become very influential in our village. In descriptions of the village in the Directories from 1836 we are told that John Bellamy Esq. of Wisbech and Lord Cholmondeley (Houghton Hall) own a great part of the soil and are Lords of the Manors, West Hall, Pakenham, Gelham, Shouldham Priory, and Brook. Lord Cholmondeley is the lessee of the rectorial tithes but the advowson was in dispute between R. F. G. Dalton and John Bellamy. This matter seems to have been resolved in favour of John Bellamy who became the patron of the Living and this right would pass on to other members of his family who inherited the Manor.
In 1840 John Bellamy’s son Edward,of St. John’s College Oxford, is appointed as the vicar for Dersingham and Castle Rising. During his incumbency Edward resides at Ingoldisthorpe Manor and on his father’s death inherits the property.
In the 1861 census he appears as Vicar of Dersingham, widower with just a house servant and cook with him. His wife Mary had died in 1840. By the 1871 census he is still living there alone but is now recorded as Rector of Dersingham. He retired in 1871 and died three years later in 1874 and is buried with his wife Mary in the churchyard at Ingoldisthorpe.
The Manor was inherited by Edward’s nephew the Rev. James Bellamy D.D., President of St. John’s College Oxford who acted as executor to his Will. James’ father was James William, Edward’s younger brother and his mother was Mary Coates Cherry. James had three brothers. although Thomas had died when only 4 years old, and three sisters one of whom was Eleanor Coates Bellamy born1824 and of whom we will learn more later.
After Edward’s death James, as Patron of the Living, recommended William Tylden then the Rector at Standford in Kent for the vacant position. William’s father was William Burton Tylden who had served as a British Army Officer for 43 years in the Royal Engineers, a career William’s brother Richard also followed. Significantly, in October 1852, William had married Eleanor Coates Bellamy, the sister of James and they had three sons Richard, William and Henry. His appointment as the Vicar of Dersingham was approved and he and his family moved here and naturally took up residence in Ingoldisthorpe Manor. The Rev. James Bellamy had many duties and commitments to meet in Oxford but was often to be found here in Ingoldisthorpe with his sister Eleanor, William and all their family.
Sadly William Tylden died in February 1875 at just 57 years of age so after only four years a new vicar had to be appointed.
A New Era
Life in Dersingham had changed dramatically over the past few years. The railway had revolutionised travel and the Royal Family in the person of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra had taken up residence in Sandringham Hall. Local Inns were already boasting in their advertising that they were close to the Royal residence and could met visitors off the trains with suitable transport. By the early 1870s the population of the village was expanding rapidly and new houses were being built all the time. The villagers would have been only too aware that their church was now described as extremely dilapidated and that there was no suitable residence in the village for their vicar. The fact that members of the Royal household were already taking an interest and supporting village activities was appreciated so it was decided that something needed to be done.
Money was raised and the Prince of Wales gave land to the village at a peppercorn rent for a school to be built at the bottom of Doddshill to cope with the rising number of children in the village. The fine new school opened in 1875. The church was thoroughly renovated with new seating, lighting and other furniture. A new organ was installed and the transformation of the church was great indeed.
In the meantime a new vicar was appointed. Edward William Penny arrived here in 1875 and would serve the village with distinction until ill health forced his retirement in December 1900.
Edward was born in Ash Kent and had attended the Casberd School of St. John’sCollege Oxford from where he gained his qualifications just like his predecessor and of course his patron James Bellamy, the President of that same college. Edward held several appointments but immediately prior to arriving here from 1873 -5 he was the curate at St. Mary’s Church, East Ham where, as we shall see, he was very highly thought of by the Vicar Samuel Reynolds and his wife Edith.
With the arrival of the new vicar a solution had to be found to the problem of the absence of a vicarage.
Again, with the generous support of the Prince of Wales, James Bellamy arranged to buy from the Sandringham Estate a portion of land close to the church for the purpose of building a fine new Vicarage.
Peter de Valognes acquires Dersingham Manors
Peter de Valognes was awarded their lands which included 20 Lordships in Norfolk. In Dersingham he acquired the Manors of Pakenham, Gelham Hall, Shouldham Priory, Westhall, Brookhall and the small Manor of Snaring Hall close to our present church. He also held further lands in Appleton and Babingley.
Peter, not satisfied with the acquisition of these estates, augmented his holdings by seizing 12 acres valued at twelve pence from a freeman. When it appeared he had accomplished this with impunity he proceeded to seize further lands belonging to 21 other freemen; to the victor goes the spoils. So Peter, like all the other favourites of William, became part of the new wealthy aristocracy. He, like many of the others, would put this new found wealth into buildings, churches, abbeys and towns.
The Founding of Binham Priory
Another of his gifts from his uncle William was the entire village of Binham which is situated S.E. of Wells-by-the-Sea. It was here in 1091 that Peter, with his wife Albrida, founded a Priory for Benedictine monks as a dependent house of St. Alban’s Abbey. The Priory was endowed with the entire Manor of Binham making the Prior the Lord of the Manor together with the tithes of 13 other Churches. One of these was the church of St. Nicolas Dersingham. It was at first a rectory in the gift of de Valois and Peter granted the Priory much of his land here in Dersingham and two parts of his Tithes thus establishing here the Manor of Binham Priory.
When the Normans arrived here there may have been a small Saxon church on the site of our present church but this is not certain. What is known is that after their arrival a Norman Church was built here of the local carrstone, ashlar and flint. This church would have been quite small consisting of a nave and chancel only and built in the new Norman style of architecture.
Over the next few centuries further gifts of land and tithes from Dersingham were conveyed to the Priory. In 1264 Adam de Mota, the Prior granted to Sir Thomas Gelham a licence to build a free chapel in the churchyard with the power to appoint a Master or Chaplain. This Chapel was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and some of its foundations were discovered centuries later when graves were being dug.
The Development of the Church and Vicarage
During the 14th century the country was devastated by the arrival of the terrible plague known as The Black Death. This reduced the population by one third and helped change the relationship of Lord and labourer leading to the defeat of serfdom. It accelerated the change to tenant farming and some men rose from peasantry to fortune. Grateful merchants and landowners used their wealth to endow new parish churches. Certainly in Dersingham the 14th century saw the enlargement of our small Norman Church. In 1370 the small chancel was enlarged to its present proportions and the side aisles were built. The Tower was added and the upper row of windows, the clerestory, was added to give greater height to the roof and more light onto the church. During the 15th century the South porch was built with a large entrance doorway and the tower further improved and additions were made to the rood screen. It may have been at this time that either a new house for the vicars was built in the churchyard close to where the memorial cross is at present or perhaps an older one improved.
Dissolution of the Monasteries
During the years 1534-5 King Henry V111 ordered the dissolution of the monasteries thus starting a revolution in English ecclesiastical life. The lands and revenues of the monastic houses were conveyed or sold to friends of the King. Binham like other monasteries was gradually pulled down. The rectory was granted to the See of Norwich and the lands of Binham Priory Manor here in Dersingham were granted to Sir Thomas Paston who was also given the Advowson of the Vicarage that is the right in English law of a patron (advowee) to present to the Diocesan Bishop a nominee for appointment to a vacant benefice or church living. The advowson is dependent upon a Manor and the one who possesses the right is known as the patron. Paston subsequently sold this Manor to Geoffrey Cobb and it then passed into the hands of the Hoste family who settled in Ingoldisthorpe where much of their land was situated but a significant proportion of it was in Dersingham. Life Wood here at the edge of Dersingham was known for many years as Mr. Hoste’s Plantation. However, James Hoste lost his fortune in supporting the political ambitions of Coke of Norfolk and was forced to sell his Ingoldisthorpe estate.
The 17th century was another turbulent time for the country. In the early part of that century the church was already described as being in a ruinous condition. It could only have worsened when in 1642 King Charles 1 and Parliament sought to settle their struggle for supremacy by force of arms and the English Civil War raged. It ended as we know with the execution of the King and era of Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth when many things of value in our church were lost. The economy of the area was badly affected. When the vicar Henry Scrimger died in 1653 the church would be without a vicar for the next seven years. Between 1654 and 1656 five marriages were performed by John Pell J.P. the wealthy wool merchant of Dersingham. In 1658 ten marriages were conducted by different vicars from the neighbouring parishes. They no doubt were also responsible for conducting the religious services during this time.
Thomas Stephens was an "unordained" minister who tried to carry out the duties required but he did not stay very long as he found he was unable to make ends meet on £16 a year. By 1657 the villagers were desperate and appealed to "The Honourable Trustees for the maintenance of the Ministers setting at Westminister. We are a people consisting of many families amounting in number unto 400 souls and upwards whoe need to be taught and strengthened in the ways of the Lord" Their plea obviously fell on deaf ears until 1660 when a new vicar was finally appointed.
The New Vicarage
In 1876 a Conveyance was drawn up where His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales contracted with James Bellamy, Clerk, Fellow and President of St. John’s College Oxford for the sale to him of a piece of land for the purpose of erecting a Vicarage for the price of £261-15 shillings. The piece of land, containing three acres, one rood and 38 perches, was part of a Close of Pasture land containing 12 acres, 2 roods and 35 perches called Snaring Hall Close.
It is easy now that the old Vicarage is there for us to identify that piece of land. In the Conveyance it is identified as 77 on the Tithe map. It is described as being bounded on the North by land belonging to Richard Lane Stanton, on the East by the other part of the same Close, on the South by the High Road leading from Dersingham to Docking, and on the West by the land now belonging to the Trustees of Robert Elwes. The land was appropriated for the site of a Parsonage or House of Residence with garden and Glebe for the Vicar of Dersingham.
The contract was duly signed by His Royal Highness Albert Edward Prince of Wales in the presence of Arnold White, London. and James Bellamy witnessed by his sister Mary Leader Bellamy, St. John’s College Oxford.
The Architect appointed was William Oswald Milne of No. 39 Great Marlborough Street London. The Rev. Penny now worked closely with William Milne to design the house in which he and his successors would live. Plans were duly drawn up for the house and for the stables complex at the side. Edward was very closely involved in the design but obviously needed reassurance that he had planned wisely so he sent copies of the plans to Edith the wife of Samuel Reynolds, the vicar of the parish that he had so recently left, to approve.
He must have been a little taken aback when her reply finally arrived. I will quote from her letter; after an apology for taking so long to reply she continues,
"First I think the sitting room part of the house is very good in its arrangement, except that I think it is almost a pity that all your visitors should have a full view of kitchen passage & into your larder from the drawing room door & also ( “from the drawing” deleted) on their way into the dining room - also it seems to me a pity that the fireplaces in so few cases are back to back - I thought that in all modern houses they were having the new arrangement of flues by which a room can be partially warmed from the back fire-place - by a hot air grating.
But I think the kitchen arrangements are awful. My housekeeper maid rises up in rebellion at it. You will have to get angels for servants for I am sure no one else would stand such trials - First, look what a way your cook will have to go for her coals & out in the open air with perhaps snow 7 ft deep on the ground. I cannot see why the house should not be continued instead of making such elaborate out houses. If you are thinking of your successor in building such a large house let me assure you no woman in the world would thank you for it & I am quite sure Mr. Milne is an unmarried man or he would not have thought of it. If I could venture to suggest it The present scullery ought to be turned into store closet and larder. The former of course to be the nearer to the kitchen fire. Then the scullery might be over the place where the rain water tank is destined to be. On the back of it might be the knives and boot hole & the wood hole. Then I would place the rain water tank on the roof of the scullery so as to run down without any pumping & into the sink & this also would enable you to have a bath room on the top of the scullery with a tap & so that the housemaid need not have the same journey after her water as the cook after her coals.
Please if you can do insist on some alteration being made, more concentration I am sure is wanted of heat; of passages & of water. There now you have a woman’s decided opinion, speaking in the name of all future mistresses of Dersingham Rectory.
By the bye too, could not there be a communication for dishes, both from the pantry to the dining room & from the kitchen to the pantry. You will laugh at my always thinking of saving trouble but I am sure servants are so difficult to get good now-a-days that one would not willingly put a burden on one’s back that must be shared by many servants."
Here is a scanned document of the original letter.
In spite of her reservations on June 29th 1876 a contract was drawn up between Messrs. Bardwell Bros. and The Rev. E.W.Penny in which William and John Bardwell of Middleton agreed to erect, build and completely finish a new Parsonage according to the drawings prepared by William Oswald Milne of 39, Great Marlborough Street London for the sum of £2055. The amount to be paid on completion of the works being executed to the satisfaction of the Architect and in the time described.
It was an exciting moment for the villagers when work started and they could watch as the vicarage was built high on the hill opposite the church. They had already seen their school completed at the bottom of Doddshill and admired all the new fixtures and fittings in their well restored church. They must have felt the village was really going places. No doubt the Rev. Penny was a frequent visitor to the site to make sure the house was built according to his plans even if Edith was not so sure of them. He must have looked forward to moving in. Edith’s letter also paints for us a little picture of Edward as he went about the village for at the finish of her letter she tells him” all the dogs send their love to Gyp.”
Finally, in 1877, Dersingham had a fine Vicarage where Edward could receive his parishioners and church officials in a well proportioned room. The 1881 census shows us that Edward had several visitors to stay. William Walters, a Theological student and Herbert Neal, a Civil Engineer, could enjoy the comforts offered by this fine building. But I wonder if Emma Apps the Cook and domestic servant found the kitchen arrangements as awful as Edith Reynolds had predicted. Did Tabitha Sands the housemaid find fetching the water a difficult chore? Certainly William Apps the gardener and domestic servant would have had plenty to do.
The Vicarage became the centre for many village activities particularly in 1911 when the whole village joined together to celebrate the coronation of King George V with a performance of “The Pageant of the Crown.” A photo shows the cast gathered together with the fine new Vicarage towering above them.
This house remained the home for our vicars until 1975 when the vicar at the time Charles Simpson and the Church Commissioners drew up a conveyance to sell the Old Vicarage to a Mr. and Mrs.Lambley. A new more modern house was built at the bottom of the hill and in due course in 1976 the Rev. Hugh Pollock moved in.
The Old Vicarage has changed hands many times until the present owner Tony Luckhurst moved in. We are very grateful to Tony for letting us see over the house that the Rev Penny designed and to study the amazing number of documents he holds concerning this important part of our village’s history.
Original site plan on fragile parchment
Here follows scans of the original documents by kind permission of Tony Luckhurst. Most of these are extremely large and had to be scanned in multiple passes and then rejoined in processing software. Sometimes perfect alignment was not possible at this time due to time constraints
Final site plan
Ground plan for the house
Agreement between Messrs William and John Bardell, builders, and Revd Penny to build the new vicarage.
Conveyance of the land from His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales by the direction of Dr. Bellamy to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England. Here is our transcript.