EAST DEREHAM, or MARKET DEREHAM, is a handsome and flourishing market town, pleasantly situated on the east side of a rivulet, 12 miles E. by N. of Swaffham, 16 miles W. by N. of Norwich, and 102 miles N.N.E. of London. The Norfolk Railway, now leased to the East Counties Company, facilitates communication with the extremes of Norfolk, and connects the town with the great lines now traversing all parts of the kingdom. An application will be made to Parliament this Session to extend the Fakenham branch to Wells. A neat station on the Norwich road, about half a mile from the market-place, was opened in Dec. 1846, near which, extensive granaries have been erected, and the quantity of corn now transmitted by this conveyance is extremely large. Trains are despatched several times a day to Norwich, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Thetford, Lynn, Fakenham, Ely, and London, &c. Historiaus [sic] state that Withberga, daughter of Anna, King of East Anglia, settled here with some other virgins in 650, and erected a nunnery, of which she became the first prioress. This convent was subject to the abbey founded by Ethelfreda, in the Isle of Ely. The nunnery being destroyed by the Danes, its church was made parochial in 791, though the convent was subsequently refounded as an abbey, and at its dissolution the last abbot had a pension allowed him of £66 13s. 4d. St. Withberga, the first prioress, died in 655, and was first buried in the churchyard at the west end of the church, where a chapel was erected over her tomb; but her body being found "uncorrupted" in 798, was taken up and reinterred in the body of the church, where it remained till 974, when the abbots and monks of Ely, "out of extreme attachment to the sacred relic," concerted a scheme for stealing the body and translating it to Ely, which they effected while the inhabitants were feasting in the Guildhall, and shortly afterwards the body was enshrined at the east end of Ely cathedral. This theft is described by Eliensis as a "holy sacrilegea pious fraud, and soul-saving robbery." From the original grave of the princess a fine spring of water issued after the removal of the body, and out of gratitude to her memory, and to perpetuate the virtues of the spring, the ruins of the tomb were repaired and converted into a bath for public use, in 1752; again in 1756; and finally, in 1793, when the present plain brick building, used as a bath-house, was erected by voluntary subscriptions. Tradition says that the nunnery here was so poor at its institution that the nuns were chiefly supported by two does which came constantly to be milked at a certain time and place, until the bailiff of the town envying them of this supply, most maliciously hunted them away with his hounds; and as just punishment he soon after broke his neck, in pursuing his favourite diversion of hunting. The town was nearly destroyed by fire in the reign of Elizabeth, and again in the time of Charles II., when five persons, 170 houses, and a great number of horses and cattle were consumed by the devouring element. The damage was estimated at £19,443. That fearful scourge, the plague, caused many deaths in 1646; and on April 10th, 1810, four houses and a barn were destroyed by another conflagration. East Dereham, before the year 1737, was reckoned one of the dirtiest towns in the county; the streets were uneven and choked with filth: and on the spot where Sir Edwd. Astley erected a handsome obelisk was a pit of dirty water. Since that period the streets have been levelled, paved, and well drained, towards which Sir Robt. Walpole, afterwards Earl of Orford, contributed largely; and previous to the completion of the works, he invited the inhabitants to dine with him at his mansion, Houghton Park, where, in their hilarity, they so far forgot the politics of their host, as to sing in chorus a famous Jacobite song, called "All joys to great Cæsar." The town now is considered to be the handsomest in the county; consisting chiefly of a spacious market-place, and several long streets, lined with neat modern houses and well stocked shops. The Market, held on Friday, is well supplied with corn, swine, and all kinds of provisions. Fairs are held on the Thursday before July 6th, and Sep. 24, for cattle, sheep, &c. The Assembly Rooms, built in 1756, on the site of the old market cross, is a spacious brick building, in which the magistrates hold Petty Sessions for the Hundred on every alternate Friday: Mr. R. B. Scraggs is clerk to the magistrates. The Theatre, in the street to which it gives name, was erected in 1815. The Gas Works were constructed in 1836, by Mr. Geo. Malam, but they were afterwards purchased by a company of 16 proprietors, of which only 10 remain. The gasometer will hold 7,000 cubic feet of gas; Mr. Stephen Harvey is secretary. The worsted manufacture, formerly carried on here, has long been obsolete. The trade of the town has considerably increased since the opening of the railway. There are several brewers and maltsters; a sack manufactory; steam saw-mill; two extensive coach makers; and four large iron foundries, millwright; and engineering establishments, where agricultural implements, &c., are extensively made. The numerous gardens and orchards in the vicinity of the town are so prolific in fruit and vegetables as to have obtained for Dereham the name of the "Garden of Norfolk." A Police Station will shortly be built; Mr. B. Bulley is the superintendent. The Inland Revenue Office is at the Eagle Inn; Hy. J. Warren, supervisor; and the stamp office is at Mr. Leonard Hatfield's, Market-place. Since the opening of the railway a large number of new houses have been built on the Norwich and Quebec roads.
The parish of East Dereham, with the hamlet of Dillington, in the Launditch Hundred, has increased its population since the year 1801, from 2,456 to 4,385 souls, and contains 5,661 acres of fertile land, and includes several handsome mansions, and the hamlets of Dillington, one mile N.W.; Dumpling Green, one mile S.E.; Etling Green, 1½ mile E.; North Hall Green, one mile N.E.; South Green, half-a-mile S.; and Toftwood, 1½ mile S. of Dereham. The principal land owners are Mrs. Lee Warner, J. Montague, Esq., Rev. Wm. Frost, W. Wigg, Esq., David Long, Esq., Mrs. Gooch, and the trustees of the late J. Bidwell, Esq. East Dereham of the Queen manor is held by the Crown; Old Hall, with Syrricks and Yaxham, by Geo. Cooper, Esq.; Mowles, by Mrs. Gooch; and the Rectory manor by the Rev. Wm. Frost. The first named manor was so called in reference to Queen Elizabeth, who obtained it in exchange from the Bishop of Ely, in consequence of a violent threat, she swearing by her Maker she would soon "unsmock him" if he refused her request. Dillington has 36 souls, and 438 acres, and forms a distinct constablewick, but maintains its poor jointly with Dereham. Quebec House, ¾ of a mile N. of the town, was built by the late Mr. Rash, who gave it the name it bears in compliment to Lord Townshend, who was second in command at the seige [sic] of Quebec. It is a handsome Gothic mansion, with a delightful park and tasteful pleasure grounds, and is now the seat of Mrs. Lee Warner. The County Court, held at the Assembly Rooms, Market Place, comprises the following district, viz.: Bawdeswell, Beeston-with-Bickering, Beetley, Billingford, Bilney (East), Bintree, Brisley, Bylaugh, Colkirk, Cranworth, Dereham (East), Dunham (Great & Little), Elmham (North), Elsing, Foxley, Fransham (Great & Little), Garvestone, Gateley, Gressenhall, Guist, Hardingham, Hockering, Hoe, Horningtoft, Kempstone, Letton, Lexham (East & West), Litcham, Longham, Lyng, Mattishall, Mattishall Burgh, Mileham, Oxwick-with-Pattesly, Reymerstone, Rougham, Scarning, Shipdham, Southburgh, Sparham, Stanfield, Swanton, Morley [sic.], Thuxton, Tittleshall, Tuddenham (East & North), Twyford, Weasenham (All Saints and St. Peter), Wellingham, Wendling, Westfield, Whinburgh, Whissonsett, Woodrising, Worthing, and Yaxham. Thos. Jacob Birch, Esq., Judge; Alex. Edgell, Esq., clerk; Mr. Arthur Jno. Landon, High Bailiff; Thos. Kerslake, assistant bailiff; and Geo. Halcott Cooper, Esq., assistant clerk. The CHURCH, dedicated to St. Nicholas, is an ancient structure in the Collegiate style, from the middle of which rises a Lantern tower open to the body, after the manner of the old Cathedrals, and having at the top a small bell called the Saints' bell. It has two chapels on the north and two on the south. The roof of St. Edmund's chapel is ornamented with the arms of Ely; in that of St. Withberga stands a very antique chest, in which are deposited the records of the church: it is of curious workmanship, and above 400 years old, and was taken out of the ruins of Buckenham Castle, and presented to the church in 1786. The font, erected in 1468, is adorned with elaborate carvings in stone, representing the Seven Sacraments, &c. A quadrangular tower or steeple stands in the churchyard, and contains eight fine bells. This pile stands about twenty yards from the chancel, and was built in 1508 and 1520, when the tower in the centre of the church being thought too weak for the bells, was partly taken down. The organ was built by Schmidt, a German, and purchased of a poor widow for £30 about the year 1786. In 1827 the power of the instrument was considerably enlarged. The chancel has recently been restored and beautified, and four of the windows richly adorned with stained glass. The open sittings correspond with those of the nave, which are of oak, ornamented with poppy heads; and the reredos, or altar piece of stone, exhibit some exquisite workmanship. The alterations and improvements cost upwards of £2,000, which was paid out of the church estate. The piscina and sedelia are of beautiful proportions, and in excellent preservation. There is a brass eagle in the centre aisle from which the lessons are read. Here are many handsome mural monuments, one of which remembers Wm. Cooper, Esq., who was born at Birkhampstead in 1732, and died here in 1806, in a house in the Market place, now the residence of Geo. Cooper, Esq., solicitor. The vicarage of East Dereham, with the curacy of Hoe annexed to it, is valued in the King's book at £17 3s. 4d., and in 1831 at £480. Here is also a sinecure rectory, valued in the King's book at £41 3s. 1½d., and in 1831 at £710. The Rev. Wm. Chas. Wollaston holds the sinecure rectory in lease from the Crown, and is also patron of the vicarage, which is enjoyed by the Rev. B. J. Armstrong. The rectorial tithes were commuted in 1840 for £864, and the vicarial for £432. The Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, and Primitive Methodists, have each a chapel here. The National School, with a residence for the teacher, was erected in 1841 at the cost of about £1,000. It is endowed with 10a. of land, awarded at the enclosure in 1815, and £660 three per cent. consols, raised by subscriptions in 1841: about 200 boys and girls attend. The District British and Infant Schools, London road, were built in 1841, and the master's house the following year, and will accommodate 300 children. Towards the expense of erecting these schools liberal grants were obtained from government. Sunday schools were established here as early as 1785, chiefly through the exertions of the late Lady Fenn, who resided here several years, and under the feigned names of Mrs. Lovechild and Mrs. Teachwell, wrote the "Child's Grammar," "The Mother's Grammar," "The Family Miscellany," and several other elementary works of considerable merit. The sanguinary Edm. Bonner was rector of this parish from 1534 to 1540, after which he became Bishop of London, and is said to have caused 200 persons to be burnt for what he considered heresy.
The CHURCH ESTATE, vested in trust from an early period, consists of 61a. 20p. of land, let for £176 per annum, which is applied to the purpose of church-rate. In 1844 and '5, about £500 was expended in erecting the south gallery. The Head Borough Estate, vested in new feoffees in the 9th of Henry VIII., in trust, to pay the leet-fee of the manor, and contain certain sums for superstitious uses. It now consists of the Assembly Room, Shambles, two cottages, and 21a. 2r. 1p. of land let for £75 18s. a year, after payment of £2 14s. 4d. for land tax and quit rents; £3 3s. for ground rent; and 13s. 4d. for the leet-fee: the residue is applied in paying part of the organist's salary, in keeping the fire engines, town pump, and well in repair, and other public works. The Fuel Allotments, awarded in1815, consist of 10a. 1r. 29p., in Rush Meadow; 10a. 15p., in Potter Fen; and 26a. 1r. 13p., in the Turf of Fen Common. All the poor not occupying £15 a year, turn their cattle and are allowed to cut fuel on these allotments. They have also the benefit of the following Benefactions which produce about £162 per annum, viz.:£9 19s. from Henry Smith's Charity, to buy coats for poor old men; the interest of £225, left by William Taylor in 1825, to be distributed in bread; £4 18s. yearly, from William Mowting's gift, in 1613, of £14 among the 18 parishes in Mitford hundred. In 1634, Christiana Gooch gave certain land for the poor, which was exchanged in 1831, for 51a. 1r. 16p., now let for £40 a year; pursuant to the donor's intention, £13 10s. should be dispensed yearly, as follows:20s. for two sermons; and £9 to East Dereham; 35s. to Hoe; 15s. to North Elmham; 15s. to Beeston; and 5s. to Worthing for the poor; after paying for repairs, &c., the surplus rent should be distributed among the poor of Hoe; but for a long period, it has been usual for East Dereham to retain 36 fiftieth parts of the clear income, now amounting to £21 12s. per annum. Thomas Moore in 1687, left 12a. of land, and directed the proceeds to be distributed in sums of 5s. each among the poor; and 7a. 3r. 3p. to provide clothing for poor aged widows. The latter is let for £12 10s., and the former with an allotment of 1a. 3r. 21p., is let for about £39 a year. Aaron Williamson in 1710, left a house and land, now let for £13, for apprenticing poor boys. Part of the above charities are added to the Christmas distribution among the poor, as also are the following yearly doles. viz.:12s. left by William Potter, in 1697; £2 10s. from land at Yaxham, left by William Barker, in 1734; £14 from a house and 6a. 23p., of land left in 1721, by Edmund Williamson; £7 from 3a., left by Thos. Guyton, in 1774; £9 as the interest of £225, left by Mary Barnwell, in 1780; £16 as the interest of £400, left by Catherine Wilson and T. Webster, in 1816 and 1820; and £4 from 1a., left by William Taylor. Among the Provident Institutions of the town are several Friendly Societies, two Lodges of Odd-Fellows of the Manchester Unity, and one of Ancient Druids.
The contractions used for the names of streets, &c., are Bln., for Back lane; Bmr., Badley moor; Brw., Baxter's row; Ch. st., Church street; Dgn., Dumpling green; Egn., Etling green; Hln., Hall lane; Hst., High street; Lrd., London road; Mkt., Market place; Mln., Mill lane; Ngn., North-hall green; Nrd., Norwich road; Rpl., Russell place; Sgn., South green; Tst., Theatre street; Twd., Toft wood; Wel rd., Wellington road; and Qb. rd. & st., for Quebec road and street.
Post Office at Miss Sarah Bone's, Church st.: letters arrive from Thetford, and all parts, at 6 a.m., and are despatched at 6.50 p.m. There are foot messengers to Bawdeswell, Mattishall, Fransham, and Gressenhall. Money Order Office open from 9 to 4 o'clock.
1891 Census Names Index
Mitford & Launditch union
Dereham Census, 1841 & 1901 [Geoff Lowe & Andrew Rivett]
Dereham Council Web-site
Dereham tower-mill, Banyard's postmill, Quebec Road postmill, Toftwood post-mill and East Dereham watermills [Jonathan Neville]
Church of the Sacred Heart and St. Margaret Mary [Simon Knott]
About Dereham [Dereham Times]
Life in Dereham 1798-1819 Autobiography of James Mursell Phillippo [Note: This link is no longer available, but 4 copies of the book are held by Norfolk County Libraries]
Dereham archeology [Norfolk Heritage Explorer]
More on East Dereham [GENUKI-NFK]
More Parish Information [Geoff Lowe & Andrew Rivett]
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