The Holme Hale Story
By Alec Hunt
On the inside of the Church Register of Holme Hale,1708, is written:
"Here to be born, to die, of Rich and Poor, makes all the History. Enclosed that virtue filled the space within. Providence the ends of being to have been."
This seems to me to be a suitable text: for the poor are so often forgotten in the old history books.
In the mists of time, around 20,000 B. C. , men were taking fish from the River Erne, a Stone Age settlement having been established upon its banks .Stone axes from the site can be found in the Castle Museum, Norwich. Here too, millions of snails were reared for human consumption; they were greatly enjoyed by Ancient Man, Iceni and Roman. Stone Age man had an organised society, with the axes being made at special sites - the start of one man, one job. Axes found at Holme Hale were originally made in the north of England, so trade in those distant days must have been over a wide area. Modern farming has destroyed the Iceni village site near Holme Hale church, one of the most perfect in the county of Norfolk. The moat was very deep on the south and east sides to give protection against attack, whilst swampy land helped to defend the river sides.
I was told by my father that an area near the River Erne was the site of a great local battle between the Iceni tribe and the Romans. The crafty Iceni chose the Necton side of the river for the battle and they were able to retreat across the river fords, on the flanks of the Roman Army, towards Saham Toney and the nearby Iceni village on the River Wissey.
A large number of bones found in this area helps to support the folklore. There is also a recent paranormal happening, featured on a BBC East television production. Mr. and Mrs. Reeves of The Old Smithy in the village found themselves surrounded by the sounds of horses and of clashing weapons , the noise originating from the direction of Lower Road and continuing towards Watton. For me, this obvious timeslip proves that the battle did take place.
After the revolt against the Romans led by Queen Boadicea, a fort was built on the borders of Holme Hale and Saham Toney. This was not simply built in open country for no real purpose , but was erected in an attempt to keep the two large Iceni settlements apart.
The Iceni had a priesthood of wise men, with a shrine in a grove of oak trees situated near the River Erne. Here, the moon played an important part in their rites. In the moonlight the men's painted bodies shone a ghostly hue, and moon maidens assisted in their ceremonies.
Moon worship was a harmless religion, with many benefits to the inhabitants of the village: then, and for hundreds of years after, the everyday life of the community centred on the seasons of the year and the calendar was dictated by the moon. A lunar month is about twenty nine and a half days and the start of the twelve divisions of the year. From these ancient times the fortnight still survives. Today many gardeners sow seeds with the new moon and people watch television to see men go to the moon: believe me it has lost none of its power.
Standing near to the village pavilion is the site of a Roman farmhouse and this building had central heating. With the Romans came the Christian religion and it would seem that the old and new rites worked side by side without too many problems. In later years even the parson did not forsake the old beliefs and was happy to join in with the moon rites at the shrine.
At one time there were two quite separate villages of Hale and Holm or Holme, each having its own church. The first church to be built at Hale was dedicated to St. Andrew, and stood two metres to the rear of the present building. About one hundred years ago, Tom Secker, the then Sexton, dug out most of the old footings, but one remains, close to the new church. The building was built of flint rubble and the roof was thatched. It was about the same size as the present South Pickenham Church, a few miles away.
At Holm in the year 1240 Thomas de Trezor was Rector and John de Happesbure vicar. The latter was also Chaplain to the Bishop of Norwich. He died in 1243 and the next vicar was Rornas de Norwich. On his death the Rectory and vicarage were consolidated at the request of the Rector and his patron John de Strange.
Holm Church was a large one with walls built of flint and stone. The Rector had a manse and thirty acres of glebe land; there was also a vicarage belonging to the church. The valuation of the church according to Pope Nicholas, was the equivalent to £6.66. It remained a separate living until the erection of a second church at Hale in 1430, when the two were grouped together. This new church was also dedicated to St. Andrew.
In 1470 Holm Church was closed and only Hale was used for services. This undoubtedly accelerated the decline of Holm as a separate village.
This present day St. Andrews Church once contained a statue of its patron. It is a building of flint and freestone in the perpendicular style, with a massive square tower. This contains a clock and a set of six bells. The original number was two - one weighing fifteen and a half hundredweight, the other only fifty six pounds. The six bells date from 1624 to 1746 and they were re-hung in the church tower in 1911. They have the following inscriptions upon them: II John Draper made me 1624 "; "John Brend made me 1652 " ; "Thomas & Gardiner & Norwich TTT 1746."
The original roof was of lead and the interior of the building was restored in 1868, at a cost of £650, when a new roof was placed over the North Aisle. Inside, the open timber roof is quite plain, the wall pieces being supported on horizontal angelic figures -larger than those at Necton Church.
There is seating accommodation for two hundred and fifty persons and the bench ends show the curious and quaint elbows without poppy-heads -very unusual for Norfolk. I was one of two boys who decided to go to morning service one day, and was turned out of our seats by old Whiteman Branch, the reason being that those particular seats belonged to our school teacher, Mary Wilcox. Today no seats in the church are paid for and regular church goers have no special places. By such silly actions the church lost its future congregation. In 1603 there were one hundred and eighty nine communicants and all of these would attend the service each Sunday. It takes a good funeral to get half that number present these days!
The east window of the church was erected in 1895 at a cost of £150; it is a memorial to Captain Henry Smith Adlington, who died in 1893. In a west window we find the Arms of de Warrenne -a knight's head divided into squares like a chessboard, coloured gold and blue. At one time the Arms of Blake and the Shields of Jenny, Boys and Buckle were to be found.
Near to the door is an octagonal font, quite plain, but the pedestal and base are gracefully shaped. In the porch stands a Holy Water Stoup. The pulpit stands at the south-east corner of the former entrance to the rood stairs: it has Jacobean panels. The large organ originally came from Cromer Church.
The tower walls show construction arches in brickwork. A very unusual feature is the entrance to the tower from the churchyard being on the north side, and being in the form of a simple communicating doorway to the church, not an arch which is most common in Norfolk. My father used to tell me of a west end balcony which was declared unsafe and was demolished around 1868: I can only give an opinion that it was originally used by monks.
The 'Holme Hale Church Guide' tells of a curiosity; a Norman pillar which has been used in the Piscina in the south east corner of the Chancel and turned upside down. This is of an earlier date however.
Four slabs laid in the Chancel bear the following names: Henricus Eyre (with a crest) ; Mary Eyre, nee Bedingfield (with the Arms of Eyre) ; Anthony Bedingfield, September 9th, 1707, aged sixty years (with the Bedingfield Arms) ; and Margaret Bedingfield, December 19th, 1722, aged seventy eight years. The latter was Anthony's wife.
Rector John Cokesson was executor to Sir Roger Boys, and on his death in 1431 he was buried in the south side of the Chancel of Hale Church. He bequeathed £2 to the building of the new tower and other monies to St. Andrews Guild. John Wyscard, on his death in 1435, also left £2 to the building of the tower, and also the equivalent to 16 pence to the altar of the church and 33 pence to tre old church of Hale. John Cokston ordered his body to be buried before the image of St. Andrew in the Chancel, in 1442. In 1473 William Palmer left money to St. Mary's Light. In 1660 Luke Constable - a landowner -left £1 to the poor of Holme Hale and a legacy to the church.
Part of the church plate was sold between the period 1337 to 1353 to help pay for the repair of the church and the church wall. The church wardens making the sale were Thomas Daynes and Thomas Warde, the signatories on the certificate of sale being William Tuddenham, Rico Whyte, Thoma Snow, Thomas Ward, Rid Brown, Thoma Deynes and Jacoba Vyncent.
The oldest Register commences: "The Register Book, containige the names of all such as have been baptised , married and buried there since the year of our Lord God, 1538." For the first four years the entries are written in quaint Old English, after that they are continued in Latin. Curious notes include one for January 13th, 1552. On this day it records that there was a great storm, and on this day too, Edward Seymour , Duke of Somerset and uncle to King Edward VI, was beheaded. Another unusual note is that Richard Lovington and his wife Cicely had their son baptised Samuel on November 19th, 1554, but then changed his name to William at his confirmation.
At the time of writing, urgent repairs have been carried out on the east face of the church tower. The slates have been removed from the roof and are now being nailed back over roofing felt. This repair job is costing nearly £20,000.
Sadly, part of the old churchyard lies outside of the present churchyard gates, many graves being under Church Road and Cancer Lane. In the churchyard is the grave of Edward Winter, the Holrne Hale giant. I made a special request to a Church Annual General Meeting not to remove the footstone , so that the length of the grave would remain marked. The next day the footstone was removed by some Christian church officer.
Mention has yet to be made of another religious building in the village, the Methodist Church. This was a lovely chapel, built in 1898 and kept open for many years by Arthur Sayer, even though the Sunday congregation numbered just four. His successor was Dick Reynolds who also helped to keep the chapel open for some time. However, the time came when it was indeed closed down.
Some years later the chapel was given a new lease of life. I was one of a small working party who repaired the derelict building; prayers were said in the church every day and fresh flowers kept on the altar table. Although we had to find our own preachers, the chapel became very successful, with a congregation ranging from twelve to thirty people each week. And everyone present had a say in how the church was run. However, the Methodist Parson demanded that we hand over our funds to him -this we did. Those in the village who had tried to keep the church open for its true purpose -the worship of God -left it to the Methodist authorities to run. Within a few weeks it was closed and offered for sale as a dwelling house for £600.
Over the years Holme Hale has seen numerous changes, some concerning the street names. At one time Cook Road was called Shed Street, the name corning from the Anglo-Saxon to shed water from a high road into ditches. School Road used to be Crossways Road, with Top Cross and the Crossways Farm on the Lower Cross, the change corning after the school was built in 1908. From Dale Street we move into Mill Hill Road, with three known sites of ancient windmills -what a pity it is now called Station Street. We turn right into Browns Lane, named after a family who lived in that part of the village. The present day Lower Road used to be known as Common Row; this was almost the village centre, having a blacksmith, a shop and a laundry. One could turn out two cricket teams from the young men who 1ived there .
At one time the old Rectory Drive was the public highway. This was changed by Parson Henry Miln in the 1870s, when he bought extra land and had the new Church Lane made. However, Parson Miln complained that old James Copsey would not raise his hat to him whenever he walked past the front door of The Rectory. James answered that he raised his hat to no man. But you raise your hat to the cloth, not the man, came the prompt reply from Miln. The next day the Parson's trousers and shirts hung on the linen line outside, and as James passed, he raised his hat and bowed two or three times. The people came every day to see the fun, until Parson Miln could stand it no longer. But James refused to use the new road and continued to torment the Parson. During the 1940s and 50s, Jane Copsey, who lived in the Nags Head public house, used to use the old road to catch the bus to Dereham.
In my opinion the village inn is the heart of the community and parts of the Nags Head date back to 1140: built of clay and with a thatched roof, it is still an attractive building and one of the oldest houses in Norfolk. The original building was built like a barn, with no glass in the windows, the space being filled with hazel sticks. There was no chimney either -just a hole in the roof for smoke to escape through. Standing as it did so close to the church, its original use could have been as a Rectory brewing church beer, the starting of its life as an inn.
Some time during 1347 a bishop stayed at the house, and whilst there his favourite horse died. The old gentleman was grief-stricken and he extended his visit for a week. Folklore tells us that from that day onwards the inn was known as the Nags Head. Three cottages were built opposite at that time, and, stranger than fiction, when they were demolished in 1969 a horses head was found in a clay lump.
My Great-grandparents came to live in the Nags Head around 1850 and started to grow herbs for use in medicine. Two or three times a year gipsy caravans would come to sell various herbs collected from different parts of England. These visits were highly welcomed by the village children who looked forward to a free supply of rock. Fanny Clark, the gipsy, became famous for her Holme Hale rock.
On one such visit an old gipsy man was taken ill. He was given medical care by Charles and Elizabeth Hunt, who advised him to stay longer. But the caravans had to leave for the next call on time, and, on arriving at Necton, the old man was taken ill again. The vans pulled into Ramms Lane and there the gipsy died. The next evening at 7p.m. the other gipsies burnt his caravan: the blaze could be seen from Holme Hale and was watched by the villagers.
The ghost of the old gipsy still haunts Ramms Lane to this day. A husband and wife upon a motor cycle rode straight through him. A police car driver thought that he had hit a man walking along the road, but a search of the surrounding fields. ditches and hedges failed to find anyone. This event was recorded in the local newspaper. Recently I was travelling. very slowly. in a car with Mr. Melvin Baldwin of Bradenham.
Walking down the road we saw an old man, about five feet four inches tall, wearing a Norfolk Jacket and a bowler hat – the kind of man to be seen in Murnmings’ horse paintings. Suddenly he vanished into thin air on the exact spot that the caravan had been burnt. We had seen the ghost of the gipsy.
Being such an important building in the village, the inn was the place where many a friendly society to help the poor was started. At the Nags Head one such club collected money to maintain a house situated in Church Lane so that no family would have to leave the village in the event of a farmer turning them out of a tied cottage. They remained in the house until the time came that they were able to find a new job and a place to live.
The Coach and Horses public house was built in the year 1245 and assumed its present form as a dwelling house in 1870. Mr. R. Harmer was born in the house in which he still lives. Swaffham Brew Beer was sold at this inn and was delivered by horse and dray using a private road from Church Lane which ran past the back of the inn. This had an exit in School Road. The meadow for horses now goes with the Nags Head.
A saw pit for cutting trees was situated near the inn door, and at the rear was a carpenters shop employing four men. The inn licence was transferred to The Railway Tavern and this became the place to go if you wanted to find a railway porter. During the shortage of beer mugs in the period 1939 -1945 beer here was served in large jam jars.
At the various inns, pub games were very popular: at the Nags Head my father was paid a full wage to stand up skittles! Another game was quoits. played with metal rings, eight to sixteen pounds in weight. which were pitched at a feather standing in the centre of a bed of sand. This was a particular favourite at The Red Lion.
The Red Lion was built of red brick and took its name from the colour of the house and the British Lion -the national emblem of Great Britain. On Friday nights in the club room people would gather to dance to Granfer Palmer and his concertina. There was always a large crowd present, Which was rather lucky for one young lady. She was wearing wide-legged violet coloured French knickers, the elastic of Which snapped as she was dancing. But as they fell down to her ankles she carefully moved her partner through the crowd and into a corner Where she kicked them under a chair! They were found the next day and were hung over the fireplace in The Red Lion for many a long year. .
At about this time the landlady purchased new curtains for the inn -to the great concern of the old men who regularly drank in the pub. Their minds considered the matter and came to the conclusion that the money must have come out of their money Which they had spent on beer. So, on dark winter evenings, they walked two miles or more to the next village; to go to either the Necton Good Woman, the Bradenham Lord Nelson or The Blue Lion at North Pickenham. Here they paid the same price for beer as they did in Holme Hale’s Red Lion. They returned to their local inn when credit became unavailable at these places.
The Jolly Farmers Inn, on the border with Necton, was a well known coaching inn and was once the home of Old Mother Fyson, the celebrated witch of Holme Hale. For a fee she would foretell the sex of an unborn, and if one wanted to be rid of a husband, a wife or a lover, she would be able to supply the correct potion. She saved the equivalent of £150,000 in today's money and married a young man named Richard Parfray who built a windmill to the west of the house and a watermill on the River Erne. He later squandered all of his wife's money and she died in poverty in 1808.
The Jolly Farmers was also once home to the Holme Hale Moonrakers, who, until recently, would perform the ancient ceremony with a rake at the nearby river.
Because this inn stood partly in Necton an extra hours drinking could be obtained by crossing the boundary when the landlord called time: the two villages enjoyed different opening and closing times. With most of men away fighting in the 1914-18 War, the inn was closed in 1916 because of a lack of customers.
On the other side of the village can be found Erneford House, for many years the home of the Hevhoe family. The house and Erneford Bridge are all that remain of the former settlement of Erneford, which took its name from the river and is included in the boundaries of Holme Hale. In a deed dated "13 Edward II" (i.e. 1320), Richard, son of Richard le Glover de Erneford, confirmed to Godfrey de Erneford, a house in this hamlet which contained thirteen other homes. The land here was commonly used for sheep farming and Erneford House had a hand loom for the making of cloth. Erneford was very much smaller than both Hale and Holm.
Numerous reasons have been given for the decline of Holm as a separate village, none of them true. Part of Holm was variously known as Elwyn's, Grooses' and White's Manor, this estate taking its name from the owners John le Grooses (1347) and John White (1432). The latter's wife, Alice, was the daughter of Robert de Burnham, Burgess of King's Lynn .
By the year 1375, Illey, Squire of Hale, was owner of most of the land at Holm, and he held a particular interest in that part of the community in which he actually lived, to the detriment of Holm. The closure of Holm Church, as mentioned earlier, certainly had its effects and during the fifteenth century the estate of Holm was actually annexed to the Holme Hale estate - this large area of land pushed almost into Bradenham village. Later, when horses replaced oxen to pull the ploughs, less workers were needed and the number of people employed at Holm rapidly fell. As such, no new houses were built and what had once been a proud village became nothing but a few houses on a large estate. Similar reasons, probably at about the same time, caused the decline of Houghton-on-the-Hill and Narford nearby.
It was the community of Hale which helped to keep the area alive, with its numerous smallholders and its innkeepers and tradesmen. The great Hall of the estate was the centre for eating and feasting for the workers under the control of the Squire, but for the village people the inn was the centre of life. They were free men and whilst the Squire thought only of himself, to the ordinary people it was their community that mattered. Their money helped to build the church, assist the elderly and sick, and maintain the roads and bridges.
Six hundred years ago these people had started a form of education within the village. All of the tradesmen and small farmers could read and write, and some education was given to poor children up to ten years of age.
In these olden days the parson farmed his own glebe -not a difficult problem if he had the help of a large family. However, landwork was not considered suitable for the gentle daughters of the clergy, so they helped the family income by teaching. Some of the money to pay for education came from a town estate charity, with the remainder being made up from fees and donations from local tradesmen.
Some time during the 1800s William Mason of Necton Hall began the Mason Trust for Education in the village, but by 1808 the old school had become too small and was replaced by the current school building. Here I received my education. I well remember my head teacher, Mary Wilcox, who lived with her sister in the school house. Those were the days when the teacher lived close to his or her job. I used to get her milk in a billy can or boiler from the local farm. I also carried milk for the under-teacher, who lived next door, and was paid a total of the equivalent of 2 and a 1/2 new pence a week.
As a child I received two strokes of the cane -for refusing to tell a lie. My pencil point had been broken, not by me, and I was caned for refusing to admit to the crime. When I got home I told my father, and the next day he almost knocked down the school door with his big walking stick. The teacher was lucky to keep her head on!
The next teacher was Mrs. Boswell, the wife of George Boswell. The Boswells were of gipsy stock: Mr. Boswell used to play the violin and his wife was an excellent painter - I have a watercolour she painted of the church she was married in. I also have the desk I sat in at school, made into a useful piece of furniture for hanging coats and hats on. Mr. Robert Dowdy, the only locally born boy to become Chairman of the Parish Council, and a School Governor, remembers Mrs. Boswell.
"What did you have for dinner boy?" she would ask, "Spell it.".
"0- X -0.".
Her husband would sometimes bring his violin to the school during the afternoon and accompany his wife on the piano; the children would have a great sing-song. The weather vane shows the school master always teaching the children, but the sad news is that the Norfolk County Council have decided to close the school as from July 1985. The infants have to be bussed to Necton, and the closure is a serious threat to the future of the community.
From the future, we return to the past. In 1220 Edmund de Illey was Squire of Hale and he was succeeded by his son Thomas in 1240. Thomas and his wife Alice had a son who was also called Edmund, and this Edmund was knighted and held the Assize of Bread and Beer in 1287 when the quality of beer sold at the Coach and Horses inn was tested.
I quote 'Holme Hale Church Guide' that Sir Edrnund was patron from 1317 to 1349. In my opinion this was the old Hale Church, the present church not having been built until twenty three years after he became patron. Sir Edrnund I s Coat of Arms can be seen in a west window, this having been moved from the previous church.
In 1374 Sir Richard de Illey was lord of the old church at Hale. Some sixteen years later a fine was levied between Sir Robert de Illey and his wife Katherine, Sir Miles Stapleton, Sir Roger Boys, and Richard, Master of Norton College. By this the lordship was conveyed to Sir Roger Boys, whose wife was Sibilla, daughter and heiress to Sir Richard de Illey. The latter is buried in the Chancel of Ingham Priory and his wife Catherine is buried in the Chancel at Plumstead .
Having for his wife Sibilla de Illey, Sir Roger Boys appears as Squire of Holme Hale in 1401. Lady Sibilla was a devout Catholic and was the guiding 1ight during the period that the second St. Andrews Church was being built. As patron she presented to Holme Hale the new Rector, Richard Pye, in 1442, and his successor, Robert Faux, in 1450.
Sir Roger Boys' son, Sir Robert Boys, died in 1450. His daughter Catherine married Sir Edrnund Jenny of Knatesfield , Suffolk, and through this union Edrnund became Squire in 1472. Their son William helped with the estate and he also named his eldest son William. Sir Edrnund's Great-grandson Francis Jenny became lord in 1524 and from the Jennys the estate passed to the Bedingfields.
At one time the Bedingfield family of Oxborough, so well known to all who visit Oxborough Hall, owned more land in Holme Hale than any other family. furing the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Anthony Bedingfield was the Squire, and the Hall continued to be owned by this particular family until Francis Bedingfield sold it to Henry Ibbott of Swaffham in 1728.
During this period the Bedingfields had an interest in Burys Hall, which also falls within the boundaries of Holme Hale. This Elizabethan mansion was built on the site of an ancient graveyard, but it was never a manor house. Burys Hall was once owned by the Danyels of Swaffham, passing to the Bedingfields fo11owing; the marriage of Anthony to Elizabeth Danyel. The next owners were the Eyres: Mary Eyre was the daughter of Henry Bedingfield, and she died on September 28th 1710 and is buried in the Chancel of Holme Hale Church.
I enjoyed the tales my father used to tell me as a boy of the ghosts at Burys Hall. My grandfather, James Hunt, was paid to keep the ghosts away from the house by shooting at them! At two o'clock in the morning a ghostly lady would walk down the stairs and meet the ghost of a Catholic priest in the garden. They would return to the house at six.
It seems that the priest was taken to Burys Hall by the Bedingfield family, the leading Roman Catholic family in Norfolk At the time of the English Civil War, but he was discovered and had his throat cut by religious oppressors. The ghost apparently gets very excited when a young lady aged around fifteen or sixteen years stays at the house, so I wonder if perhaps the lady of our story is the ghost of Miss Bedingfield. The priest makes itself known particularly in the period leading up to Easter.
James Hunt said that the ghosts were usually most active at two o'clock in the morning; Mr. K. Broadhead, who lived at Burys Hall for forty years, says at three. We have some eighty years between these two, and this accounts for the different times, in view of the modern practice of putting the clocks forward and back one hour.
The two ghosts always walked through an upstairs wall: one day a farm auction was held at the Hall, and one of the men present tapped on this particular wall, obtaining a hollow sound. He cut through the layers of wall paper with a penknife and uncovered a door. When this door was opened it led into a small roam with a table and a chair standing inside. Upon the table was a copy of The Bible and hanging on the back of the door was a ladies pink and cream dress. The roam has since been used as a cupboard, but Mrs. J. Bowman tells me that sheets stored here are often thrown about the tiny room. Mr. Mark Chattaway used to have his bedclothes pulled from his bed at night, and the light in the roam was frequently switched on and off.
At three o'clock one morning the burglar alarm went off and the police were called to the house. They found a mysterious set of prints of a bare foot, which went along a passage and ended at a wall. It was a gigantic footprint –at least shoe size twelve or thirteen -much too big for the owner of the house. The ghost had stepped in some pudding syrup in the passage! Mr. Broadhead told the police that he had known numerous ghostly happenings: doors slamming in the night, knocking noises, and bedclothes being torn from guests sleeping in one particular room.
Recently, the present owners heard furniture being moved about in a room. They locked the door and called Watton police. There was a terrific amount of noise corning from the room as the police unlocked the door and entered. Nobody was to be found inside, but the furniture had indeed been moved around and across the deep pile of a newly-laid, blue carpet was the large footprint. The policeman who told me this said that he had photographs of the print -otherwise no-one would believe him.
This seems the place to include two more ghosts which haunt the area. Firstly, there is the ghostly priest which protects the ancient Iceni shrine of oak trees near the River Erne. I, and other local inhabitants, have seen him on moonlit nights .
The second concerns Holme Hale Dale. Many years ago a carriage drawn by a pair of horses started out frorn Scants Corner Farm to go to Watton. On reaching Top Cross the reigns broke. Faster and faster the horses raced down the dale and at the bot torn the carriage turned over, breaking the driver's neck in the accident. Now, on certain nights of the year as the clock is striking midnight, the phantom coach is still to be seen: drawn by two headless horses and driven by a headless coachman who gives out the most unearthly scream as the coach turns over - a sight and sound that will strike fear into the bravest heart.
As well as ghosts, Holme Hale has also had its fair share of colourful characters. Back in the seventeenth century, the Austin family was a large one in the area. James, the fourth or fifth bastard of Mary Austin, was baptised in April 1604 - the parson having lost count of the exact number of her children. On January 29th the burial of widow Dorothy Austin took place outside the church gates, she having been excornrnunicated by the Rector for enjoying her love life. On March l4th 1611, William Austin, a good weaver, returned to Hale a very ill man and he died on his own in the church porch. His body was not given time to get cold, the grave being dug and William buried the very same day.
More recently, on the west side of the Nags Head was a small cottage, and here lived a simple character who represented something rare. His real name was William Southgate, but it is doubtful whether his countless friends knew it: to them he had only one name -'Tape and Cotton'. Although he had bad legs he was a remarkably good walker and would, on occasions, walk sixty miles a day, selling his wares from a lady's tin hat-box. Invariably his first words were "Tape and Cotton!" One day, a humourist asked him for sixty pairs of shoe-laces and Billy's face was a study as he regretfully, but courteously, told his customer that he was unable to supply such a quantity at short notice.
At Willow Farm, one hundred yards north of the inn, lived Maurice Copsey, and time came for him to take a wife. On his wedding night, his young wife was the first to go to bed, leaving Maurice to put out the cat and lock the door. When Maurice entered the bedroom his wife had undressed -this was the first time that he had seen a naked woman. Her ample bust and full figure gave him the shock of his life: opening the window, he jumped out and ran down the road to the Nags Head, shouting for the landlord to let him in! Three days later the landlord and his company got Maurice drunk and carried him home. The next morning he awoke to find himself in bed with his wife.
Sixty years ago Walter (Tit) Stebbings and his wife Alice lived in the little cottage joining Willow Farm. One November 5th the bonfire on Rectory Field was getting low, so Tit called for more wood. Together with some older men I helped to bring oak faggots for Tit to throw on the fire. The heap had got down to five or six faggots and the one I was giving him was tied up with an old leather belt.
"You young sod! " , exclaimed Tit, "Where did you get this faggot from?"
When I told him he shouted -" You young bugger, these are my faggots!"
One day Tit called to his wife who was inside the house, but he received no answer. So he shouted again: "What's for dinner?" Back came the reply -"Arseholes! " Tit was quick to follow up: "Only cook one, I won't be home for dinner." Later the couple moved into a new house close to mine and one day when they should have been at breakfast, they got into an argument. Tit stood at the door shouting " You missed again" when suddenly flying out into the yard came a frying pan, together with sausages, and cups, saucers and plates, sending Tit ducking about in the doorway.
Alice Stebbings was a friend of my mother' s and she always wore black clothing. She would wear a coat and carry an umbrella even during a summer heatwave -to complete the picture she had very thin legs and always wore black laced boots. At the age of five years Alice was in church with her mother and the Rector was giving out the events for the coming week.
"A tea for church ladies at the Rectory on Friday at three o'clock" he announced, and continued: "Whosoever will, may come, is my text for the day."
Alice took this to be an invitation to tea and turned up on the Friday. From that day onwards she was called 'whoshe'.
Eddie Tennant, the man in the big western cowboy hat called every man 'Brother'. With a pint pot for his Bible, he was the greatest christian in the village: following a break-in at a local shop the churchgoers were conspicuous by their absence, whilst Eddie came in and declared -" Bor, I am spending fifty pounds to help you." Many pensioners also benefited greatly from his kindness.
John Wortley would buy hens and rabbits and pack them into crates on his cart. No one had ever seen John without his hat: he would not even remove it for 'God Save The King' , much to the annoyance of one old man in the village who threatened to knock his hat off. Early one morning Mrs. Frarnpton was looking out of her back window and John, still undressed, was also looking out of his. The lady discovered John's secret: from the top of his head to the soles of his feet John did not have a single hair on his body.
The local shoemaker was George Hartt; he always walked to Swaffham for his supplies of leather and nails for the making and repairing of footwear. Two bends of leather with the nails and clates would be rolled into a bundle at Philo's shop in the town. This very uncomfortable bundle would weigh around sixty to eighty pounds and George would walk the five miles to Hale with the bundle on his back.
One day he bought a new engine and drum with which to thrash corn and this was pulled from one farm to another by horses. George employed a man to help the operation. But on one occasion the man fell ill and George decided to get up steam himself whilst at Bakers Farm, Lower Road. The excessive amount of steam George got up frightened him so much that he threw pails of water on the fire, thus bursting the boiler. So ended his ownership of the first thrashing engine in the Swaffham area.
His son, Christmas Hartt, was one of the old generation I was friendly with as a child. One story I loved was how at the age of twenty, he caught the train at Hale station to go to the Watton show for the day. During the day he agreed to walk back to Ashill with a young lady. Everything was well until they came to the village itself. "Blast you mauther, I am a long way from home: that's Ashill broad pit -I've walked that far with my father on a Sunday." Turning, he ran back the three and a half miles to Watton and just managed to catch the train home. The reader may smile to know that the distance from Ashill to his home was two miles, and he also had to walk from the station to his house, a distance of one mile.
Many tradesmen used to call at houses with horses and carts. Cockle Bob from Cressingham walked to Wells-on-Sea and back in a single day, and would come back through the village shouting, "fine cock-cock alive! " Percy Radling from Bradenham delivered fish and fresh fruit, whilst from Shipdham came Pat Cushion selling pots and pans from a four-wheeled cart. R.B. Yeomans came from Swaffham with groceries, but he had to be careful that his wig did not blow off in high winds. Codling the baker from Ashill also came to the village -he made the best hot cross buns. As a child I can remember Mr. Skipper bringing letters from Shipdham on a bicycle, doing the trip twice a day. Burnt Billy delivered newspapers, including the 'Eastern Daily Press', from Necton. For many years Hale Hill had a deep rut at the side of the road -this was for corn wagons, so that they would not go downhill too fast and crash the horses.
Holme Hale had many tradesmen living in the village. For many years William Cater sold coal at fifteen pence per hundredweight and this was delivered with a Ford lorry. Incidentally, the first petrol pump in the area offered petrol at four pence a gallon. Miss Grey, sister to Mrs. Cater, had a shop near the road giving stamps -a full book being worth twenty five pence.
Mindham made wood hurdles and Lloyd shoed the farm horses. Jock Reed was famous for his reliance gates and poultry houses. Walter Youngs the harness maker was killed when his motor cycle hit a wood drug at Dunham. Register was the last village baker at Douglas House and he delivered bread to six villages. In addition he delivered coal with his horse and cart and cooked a Sunday lunch for village people for one penny. Tailor Gainsbury dressed the men and had his first shop in Lower Road. Edward Carter's boot repair shop was nine by nine feet and would hold ten to twenty men on a winters evening talking about their village. A few yards away was George Chapman's pork butchers shop .
People still come from all over England to buy goods from the two fine shops in the village which offer a wide range of quality goods at reasonable prices. Some have come from the United States or Canada to look at the true village stores. A hotel, corn merchants, seed exporter, vegetable processing factory, blacksmith, garage, hairdresser, and many other small tradesmen, including builders and painters, all thrive in the area. The Holme Hale red brick telephone exchange is one of the most modern in England.
At one time the village had its weekly market, this having been granted to Sir Robert de Hulmo by a Royal Charter of Henry VIII. With the merger of Holm, Hale and Erneford into the modern village of Holme Hale the market continued to be held, eventually stopping in 1914. Thus it can be said that we have a long history as a market town.
Holme Hale also had two village fairs, the booths being grouped around the church. The largest fair was held on 29th May each year. Here, important trading activities took place, but all looked for a day of fun, beginning with a service in the church and ending with a frolic in the Nags Head or the Coach and Horses.
The Ancient Order of Foresters’ Whitsun Sports replaced the fair. This was always held on the Coach and Horses meadow on the Thursday. Most of the men of the village helped to get the ground ready and the children took turns at riding on the horse roll. We all had the fun of the fair, supplied by Grey's, and the highlight of the day was always the music, courtesy of the Swaffham Town Band. The prize money for the various races was given by local farmers and the race ring was made gay with fifty large army-size flags. Just inside the gate was the booth to supply the eager children with a free tea, and under the largest tree stood William Cater's beer tent -to stop throats getting too dry. Alas the Sports Day never started , again after the 1939- 45 War.
One hundred years back the village had its own racecourse and a day at the races was a big thing in those days. The races started on a field near Savages Corner and the horses ran towards the Gibbet, crossed the Bradenham Road and then returned over the road near The Lodge, racing down the Lodge Field to the winning post.
Some years ago I was a member of the Parish Council and with the support of Mrs. Elaine Wilson, we called a public meeting and formed a committee to raise funds for a village playing field. This was so that the children should not have to play on village streets which are now being regularly used by fast motor cars. Mr. A. Gilding was the Secretary and after a few meetings I became Chairman. Members of the committee giving strong support included Mrs. E. Kelleher, Mr. E. Howes and Mr. R. Dowdy. Ear1y meetings were he1d at the o1d Nags Head pub , home of the Treasurer, Mr , Oetzrnann .The necessary money was raised from bingos, sponsored walks and other such events.
The land for the playing field was purchased from Yaxley Brothers and, after seeding, the New Pavilion was built. Later a club room was added to the rear of the building. The Pavilion is used by organisations and for numerous social events, as the community does not have a village hall.
For many years my attempts to obtain a post box for School Road did not have the same success as had been achieved with the playing field. The Clerk of the Parish Council, Frank Hutchins was always against this move as he owned the Post Office and therefore wanted people to go down to his shop in the hope that they would buy goods. Mr. Don Dowdy agreed to raise the matter at a Parish Council meeting, and having done so I promptly stood up and opposed a resolution for a post box. Frank Hutchins fell into the trap and quickly said that he could see no reason why School Road should not have a post box.
In 1875 the railway first came to the village, forging new links with other communities. Now, milk was sent to London on the early morning train, milk being carried to the station in tall churns holding some sixteen gallons and weighing two hundredweight. The numerous farm carts and milk floats looked like Roman chariots as they raced each other to catch the train.
The Railway Station was nicknamed 'The Aviary', the three porters working there being Bird, Sparrow and Eagle! The latter lived at North Pickenham and was very fond of his bed: the driver of the 6.10am. from Swaffham would blow his whistle to wake Fred Eagle up, open the gates himself, and leave them for Fred to close when he arrived for work on his own cycle. Other commodities passing through included coal coming into the station and sugar beet going out during the season. The railway line was eventually closed by Lord Beacham.
The Railway Station was situated same distance from the village centre and in recent years Roger Kiddle esquire wanted to build houses near Station Road. This was turned down by the Council Planning Committee. In my opinion it is time that the Council fully co-operated with Mr. Kiddle: we have a great need to bring the village centre and the Station Road closer together as one community, rather than continuing to build away from the village in the direction of Swaffham. Everyone agrees that the village has a need for a public house, and this would ideally be between the two main centres of population.
However, against the wishes of the Parish Council, six houses were built in Station Road in 1916. These were built for the District Council -the start of a housing estate on a fast motor road with no footpaths.
Government grants encouraged the Swaffharn Rural District Council to condemn many village houses as being unfit for habitation during the period 1933- 1950. People were advised not to buy their own houses: this would lead to the loss of the government grant because the council would not be re-housing them. Instead the people were told that, for a small rent, they would not have anything to worry about; as soon as the houses were paid for the tenants could live there almost rent-free, paying only for repairs.
These council house tenants became third class citizens. Regular rent increases occurred to help pay for new house building projects in the district. One day, Wells Cole, the Chairman, sent a letter to all tenants saying that as no new houses were going to be built that year, it was unreasonable for them to continue to suffer rent increases .
It was upon the backs of these people paying high rents and rates that helped to bring water and other services to the community. The council house tenant was the milking cow. The council tenant is not a down-and-out; he is a hard-working and industrious person.
To conclude this note on council houses, are you, the reader, aware that more money has been given in improvement grants for the repair of old houses and farms than all the council abodes cost to build? ,
In the olden days, the village had its own town estate, though no record is available as to who the benefactor was or when it was given. It was intended for maintaining the poor, repairing the parish church, Erneford Bridge, Erneford Darn, and numerous ways, and for the casual charges of the parish. The Holme Hale and East and West Bradenharn Enclosure Act of 1801 exchanged this estate for a house and 46 acres, l rod 38 perch, including the widows' pightle. This was let and £2 given to the widows of the parish, £30 to educational purposes, and a further £18 to the poor for coal. A coal house was situated in Church Road and this money would buy ten tons of coal.
For the maintenance of the church a sum not exceeding £20 was given in lieu of church rates.
A learned man of the people tried to stop the sale of this estate about 1920. His name was King Daynes, landlord of the Railway Tavern. As one rich man said at the time, why should the poor have coal? And let them pay for the education of their snotty nosed kids. The sale of the farm made £800- 900 and the interest from the money was shared between the church and the school. The latter was then taken over by the Norfolk Education Committee who did not require the money and I quote the Reverend Underhill as saying it had gone to the Church Sunday School.
The poor were awarded 22 acres, l rod 9perch at the fuel allotment: 13 acres were let to smallholders and the remainder let as allotments to the poor parishioners -the rents being returned in coal. In 1945 the land became derelict and the Parish Council agreed to the sale of the land for £l00. The offer was then withdrawn and substituted with an offer of only £60. I strongly objected to this. For a start some £30-40 was owing to the drainage board for cleaning out the River Erne. And with solicitors fees also owing, the poor would be left with neither land nor money.
H. Hart esquire of Church Farm hired the land and brought it back into cultivation. It is now let as agricultural land to the Holme Hale estate. Widows and pensioners, subject to having lived in the village for a required period of time, receive vouchers to the value of £4- 5 to spend in the two village shops each year at Christmas.
At one time the Bedingfield family lived at the above mentioned Church Farm in Church Lane. In the roof of the farmhouse here can be found a priest's hole. This, together with the murder of the priest at Burys Hall and the beheaded human figures in the church prove that Holme Hale was indeed once a very strong Catholic village.
Another resident at Church Farm, Harry Hammond, started the first milk round in the village. He was a bit of a lad and would fire one of his gorse commons every November 5th. Harry found a can on his land one day and set a lighted match to it to see if it was petrol or water. His face was badly scarred for the rest of his days from the explosion.
A small farm stood at the junction of Cancer Lane and along Browns Lane was Scants Corner Farm. Willow Farm was situated near the church and this was the home of the Copsey family. Their eldest son was always named James. Close to this farm was the Methodist Church -only the village pound stood between the two places of worship. On Sundays as the two churches tried to out-sing each other, the loudest sound was the baa-baa of frightened sheep in the pound!
In Church Lane stands another farm named Church Farm, this being part of the Sporle living, and also West End Farm, whilst in Cook Road we have Ivy Farm and Spencers Place. We pass into Lower Road to George Daynes smallholding: I can remember Charlie Thompson and myself pushing George's horse drill into a deep dyke. Poor George could see us, but he had half a mile to run towards us as we calmly pushed it into the dyke. It took him a day to pull it out.
Near Savages Corner was yet another farm. This was Pond Farm, the first place in the area to grow black currants; as a child I picked a chip of four pounds of fruit for one new penny. It was also well known for its large flock of sheep. Hill Farm was once part of the Hall Estate, the first private owner was Ray Rivett. He was famous for his large bullock herds, and Steamer Jarvis the drover would come to drive them to Norwich Market with the help of two dogs. Steamer would start on his journey at 2arn. and would not stop walking until it was completed. Landlords en route would meet him outside their pubs with a pint and this he would drink as he walked. His lunch was known as a thumb bit: it consisted of bread, cheese and onion and was for eating as he walked along. Steamer never used a knife and fork.
Past Hill Farm we come to Clap-Gate Corner and Green Lane. Here we find Grounds House, once a farm of twenty acres. Near Green Lane the Ash Trees of between fifty and seventy feet in height carried a crop of mistletoe much prized by local inhabitants at Christmas time .On the Mush Banks many hundreds of wild mushrooms could be had in season, Whilst over the railway was found Cutbush Farm. Now empty, this is where clay pigeon shoots are held. Time was when Charles Hunt would drive his horse and cart past this farm –he lived at Saham Toney -to Clap-Gate Corner and on to the Necton brickyards.
Crossways Farm once stood on the Lower Crossroads, and a well was found at the start of the building of the modern St. Andrews housing estate. Another find on the estate was part of a human skeleton Which had been hung on a gibbet -no doubt placed on the Lower Cross. Today we find Crossways Farm in the centre of the village; once it was owned by Charles Yaxley -one of the very best farmers in the county.
The Paddocks is still a small farm, and it is quite possible that I have not included all of the old holdings. But the reader should note that the village was scattered over a very wide area and that most of the farms employed men and had cottages for them on the farm. For example, sixty years ago the town farm employed three men as well as the owner. At this period all the farms paid a tithe, the tenth part of Which was allocated to the clergy. This sum was equal to the wages of six or eight men, and these old timers received no government subsidy.
The village is not a rest home for retired people, it is a place where farming and rural life has gone on for generations. Anyone corning to live in the community must accept it -when in Rome do as the Romans do.
The oldest organisation in the village is the Women's Institute, who have been meeting on the first Thursday of the month for fifty one years. On the birthday night a party is held and sometimes members of the Fireside Club are invited. All meetings are held in the New Pavilion and guest speakers are invited. The pleasant young President is Mrs. M. Read of 40 School Road who will be happy to welcome new members.
The village sign was the gift of Mr. Eric Bulling and shows a lady picking flowers. The sign embraces all those great ladies of the village: past, present and future.
We find at Holme Hale Hall a dovecote - not many still standing in Norfolk these days. They supplied doves, pigeons and eggs for the squire's table.
The good old days? I don't think so. Life was harder for the poor people. Many had nothing but a little sentry box for a toilet at the bottom of the garden, water from an outside well, often dry in the summer -there was no running water from taps. Wood for a fire had to be collected and meat was mainly wild rabbit. People lived in old damp houses - one good room upstairs, one good down, and a lean-to. My father told me that the house on the Rectory corner had 28 people living in it, many of them adults. In the few old houses in the village, the population in 1871 was 437 people. We are living in the best years of history; even the most humble pensioner lives in better conditions than Elizabeth I experienced. I hope on reading this small book you will have gained a greater understanding of our past.