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I was asked if I knew which was the oldest house in the village. A document of 1672 concerning the collection of the Hearth Tax of 2/- for each hearth records 73 houses in the village. At that time the villagers lived in cottages along the present Chapel Road and Manor Road. There were clusters of cottages around the site of Gelham Manor (The Drift), Pakenham Manor (The Community Centre) Doddshill and Fern Hill. There were about 12 larger cottages standing on the sites of village farms. Our oldest house must be somewhere among these. Gelham Manor House at the end of the Drift and Pakenham Manor which stood next to the old village school no longer exist. One of the largest houses at that time would have been the Pell’s “enchanted Mansion” built in the 1550’s in the pastures behind the present Institute. Sadly only the moat is now left to show its position. The Pells, a wealthy family who made their money in the wool trade, also built Dersingham Hall as a family home. Most reports put the date of its building as 1670-71. However a house was being built at an earlier date as in his will of 1619 Thomas Pell wrote, “I give unto my nephew John Pell, all the stuffe, as timber, stone, lyme, brick, tyle, deale and all other provisions for the building that is within the house of my now building or in and about the grounds belonging to the said house.” So were parts of the Hall started before 1670?
Close by is The Feathers. Accounts I have read suggest this was once a Manor House built about 1643. One other Manor House is still standing. Westhall Manor in Manor Road still looks over to The Wash. The records for this Manor go back to the 13th century at least but accounts suggest the present dwelling was built in 1671. At some point it became the village Workhouse until the new Poor law Unions were formed in 1835 and the large Workhouse was built at Docking
In Centre Vale the old farmhouse is still standing. The Tithe Schedule of 1839 records Jonathan Jackson living here in a House with Yard and garden but the premises predate the schedule. The present owner has told me that under the tiled roof some of the original thatch remains.
But now let’s consider the smaller cottages or houses that stand in Manor Road and Chapel Road. At the bottom of Sandringham Hill is the large shop that was once Parker’s Stores. The smaller part on the right is much older than the large extension added later. The oldest gravestone in the churchyard is that of Sarah and Thomas Fitlin. She died in 1686 aged 33 and Thomas died aged “about 39 years”. They ran a grocery business here.
The back of The Coach and Horses is obviously much older than the large extension in the front.
As you walk down Manor Road towards the Main Road the Tithe Map (1839) shows the land on the left to be Rice’s Common with no buildings there. The row of cottages at right angles to Manor Road near Heath Road and known as Asker’s Row are clearly of great age and have been well restored in recent times. Close by a more modern house has been added to a much older cottage at the rear. At the bottom of Beech Drift is a lovely carstone cottage that to my eyes is a contender.
There are several cottages in Chapel Road that should be considered. Walking from the Main Road the Tithe map (1839) shows only one dwelling on the right. That is the cottage facing Fern Hill. This is now one dwelling but used to be several small linked cottages. The first row of cottages on the left has surely stood in Chapel Road for centuries. There are others further along that seem of a similar age. They feature on all the old maps that I have seen. The large house opposite the Library has clearly some older parts. However this was the area where the Malthouse used to stand. It was known as Malthouse Yard. but the original buildings have gone. The front of the long cottage next to Red Pumps garage shows clearly the alterations made over the years since it served as a village shop and at one time a Post Office. On a small map of 1720 there are buildings clearly marked where Lane End now stands at the bottom of Sugar Lane. They would seem to be separate dwellings rather than one large house. But a close look at the House shows where alterations and additions have been made. There is a very small house here at right angles to the road, which is all that remains of a row of cottages that stood nearby. I was once told it used to be a stable.
Doddshill is one place in the village that has retained its name through the centuries. Evidence of very early occupation has been found here. Mrs. Stockley’s lovely house must be a contender although I believe it too has been considerably altered over the years. Perhaps she can tell us more.
Finally there are four cottages opposite Budgen’s. Two are clearly much older and since they are opposite the site of the original Dun Cow Farm, a lovely carstone building sadly demolished in the 1930’s I offer them as possible contenders.
So we need any information or deeds that anyone has to settle the question. I have proposed a few contenders but which is the oldest house in the village?