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Norfolk - Swaffham

Francis White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk 1854, pp. 737-746

[Complete entry. Transcription Copyright © the late A.J. Carter, December 2000]

SWAFFHAM is a pleasantly-situated and handsome market-town, 15 miles E.S.E. of Lynn, 27 miles W. of Norwich, and 93 miles N.N.E. of London. It gives its name to large Union, and is the principal place of election of Knights of the Shire for the Western Division of Norfolk; its salubrious situation on the crown of a lofty eminence, whose gradually swelling acclivities, for a circuit of nearly two miles, are occupied by fertile and well-wooded enclosures, and encompassed by an extensive tract of open heath (more than 10,000 acres) in this and the adjoining parishes. The town is considered by the faculty as peculiarly healthy, and in proof of this, some cases of great longevity have been adduced—among which, it is said, the united ages of four persons, who died here in 1798, amounted to 355 years; and those of eleven, who died in 1799, amounted to 890 years; to which we may add Mrs. Cross, who died here in 1816, aged 100 years: the late Rev. William Yonge, M.A., chancellor of the diocese, who was vicar here 65 years, and died in 1844, aged 92; and three persons were buried here in one week, in January, 1854, whose united ages were 264 years. It has been styled the Montpelier of England; but for asthmatic and consumptive patients the air has often been found too keen and penetrating. The Town has many large and handsome houses, and the streets are open and well built, branching in various directions, from a spacious Market-place lined with good shops, posting-houses, inns, &c., the principal of which are the Crown Hotel and the George. In the centre of the Market-place is an elegant market cross, erected by the Earl of Orford, in 1783, and consisting of a peristyle of circular columns, supporting a dome covered with lead, and terminated by a statue of Ceres. On the west side of the market-place is the Assembly Room, a plain brick building, erected in 1817. The inhabitants have the facilities of railway communication by the East Anglian Railway from Lynn to Dereham, &c., which was opened in 1846, and the station is about a quarter of a mile from the Market-place. The market, held every Saturday, is toll free, and at one time was the best in the county for the sale of corn, cattle, &c.; but these and the butter mart, formerly very extensive, have greatly declined. A large stock fair is held on the second Wednesday in May; a stock and wool fair third Wednesday in July; and a stock fair on the first Wednesday in November. Horse races were formerly held yearly upon the heath, on the south-west side of the town, in September; but they declined about thirty years ago, though efforts have since been made to revive them. The cricket match, formerly held on the race-course, has been held for the last seven or eight years in a field near the railway station. In 1797, a Grand cricket match, for 500 guineas, was played here between "Norfolk and All England," and after a long contest it was decided in favour of the latter; but since then Norfolk has risen to the highest fame in the annals of this noble game and manly exercise. Swaffham Coursing Society was established in 1776, chiefly through the patronage of the late Lord Orford, since whose decease it has had the liberal support of Anthony Hamond, Esq., owner of the celebrated coursing ground, called Westacre-field, where a prize of 50 guineas is run for yearly, in November, by about sixteen greyhounds. The coursing continues four days over the open fine country, extending to Westacre, Narford, Marham, &c.

The parish of Swaffham has increased its population since 1801 from 2,220 to 3,858 souls, and comprises 7,400 acres of land, of which 2,375a. are heath, 4,122a. arable; 350a. pasture; 250a. roads; 125a. the site of the town; 110a. glebe; and 30a. woods. At the census of 1851, there were 764 inhabited houses; 45 uninhabited; and 3 building. All the population and buildings are in the town and its immediate suburbs, except a few scattered farm houses, the most of which are at Great and Little Friars Thornes, nearly two miles W. adjoining the heath. Swaffham has long been noted for the superior manufacture of sporting guns, for which a prize medal was awarded to Mr. William Parson, for a case of guns shewn at the Great Exhibition in 1851. On November 29th, 1775, the town was much injured by a dreadful fire, which consumed twenty-four houses. The soil and buildings belong to a number of copyholders, the largest of whom is Anthony Hamond, Esq., the lord of the Manor of Swaffham Market, which comprises more than nine-tenths of the parish, and was anciently held by the Earls of Richmond, who had a prison here. Being ancient demesne the inhabitants are exempt from serving on juries, except in their own parishes, also "free from the payment of toll, and from contribution to the expenses of Knights of Parliament," unless they hold lands and tenements in other manors, for which they may be put on juries at the assizes. From a verdict of the manor court, in 1620, it appears "that the freeholders hold the manor by soccage, fealty, and free rent, and pay for free rent 4d. per acre; for every acre of copyhold, 3d.; and for every messuage, 9d.; that the copyholders may make leases of their estates for 21 years, without license of the lord, paying on admittance 2d. per acre.["] Sir Edward Coke farmed this manor of Charles I., and from him it passed to the Barkhams, and the Yallops. One of the latter took the name of Spelman, of Westacre High House, now the seat of the present lord of the manor; for which, Wm. Pott Pillans, Esq., of Swaffham, is steward. The fines are all certain, except on the Market hill, where arbitrary fines are levied. The custom of the manor is to the eldest son; and all the tenants have unstinted common-rights on the heath, where the poor are allowed to cut turf, furze, ling, &c. The ancient office of Town Herdsman still exists at Swaffham, and is at present held by Geo. Rowe. He is appointed by the court-leet of the manor. The cattle, horses, asses, and sheep, belonging to the inhabitants are brought, or come of themselves instinctively to the town pool at a certain hour of the morning, and after drinking, they are conducted by the herdsman to pasture on the commons for the day; in the evening they return to the same place, when each person must take his own to shelter for the night. The herdsman is entitled to certain payments per head, from the owners of the cattle. Some of the enclosed lands are also subject to the depasturage of the town herds, from Michaelmas to Lady day; but this inconvenient claim is somewhat checked by the ample reprisals which are generally made on the estates of those who exercise it. The manor of Hasfalls and Whitsands is of small extent, comprising only about 100 acres of enclosed land, called the Town Estate, with common-right over all the heath. The churchwardens for the time being hold this manor. The town, standing on a lofty gravel hill, the inhabitants have been put to considerable expense in providing a sufficient supply of water, which is now obtained from 41 deep draw wells, belonging to private individuals, besides 5 public wells in the streets. They are from 80 to 150 feet deep, and there are also many private reservoirs, and a few pools are formed for catching the rain water. In 1853 a man named Horspool walked into a well 150 feet deep in the Angel yard; but his cries were soon heard, and he was got up unhurt. Swaffham has come under the control of the Public Health Act by an order in Council, dated January 30th, 1850. Gas Works were erected in 1840 by a company of shareholders, with a capital of £1,700. The gasometer will hold 4,000 cubic feet of gas, and the luminous vapour is distributed to the consumers at a charge of 8s. 4d. per 1000 cubic feet. Mr. Wm. Howarth is secretary. The town had a weekly market before the reign of King John, and Henry III granted it two yearly fairs.

The CHURCH is a large handsome edifice, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, composed of freestone, brick, and flint, commenced about the reign of Edward IV., but not finished till 1510. It is a cruciform structure with a lofty well proportioned tower, terminating by enriched embrasures and purified pinnacles, and containing eight fine-toned bells and a good clock. The nave is very lofty, having 26 celestory windows: and its inner roof is ornamented with a profusion of carved wood figures of angels, &c., supported by slender clustered pillars, from which spring 14 pointed arches, seven on each side. It has recently been entirely refitted with open sittings of oak, with ornamental carved ends, by which means 180 additional sittings have been obtained, and there is now accommodation for 1,100 persons. The expense of restoring and beautifying the church, during the last five years, has been upwards of £1,600, the whole of which has been raised by voluntary subscriptions. It contains some handsome monuments, and in the windows are some remains of stained glass, supposed to represent the benefactors who contributed towards rebuilding the church. The east window is richly adorned with stained glass, representing the Resurrection of our Saviour, exquisitely executed by Wailes, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was erected, in 1853, with funds bequeathed by the late Miss Ella Morse, a native of the town. The north aisle and tower are said, by tradition, to have been built by John Chapman, a tinker, who dreamt that if he went to London bridge he would hear news greatly to his advantage, and having gone thither he was, after walking about for some hours, accosted by a man, who asked him what he wanted, to which he replied that he had come there on the vain errand of a dream, and the man answered, "alas, good friend, if I had heeded dreams I might have proved myself as very a fool as thou hast; for 'tis not long since I dreamt that at a place called Swaffham, in Norfolk, dwells John Chapman, a pedler, who hath a tree at the back of his house, under which is buried a pot of money." On hearing this the tinker hastened home, dug under the tree, found a large brass pot full of money, and inscribed "under me doth lie another much richer than I;" but being in Latin it was some time before the tinker discovered the meaning, after which he dug deeper, and found a much larger pot filled with old coin. The inhabitants, soon afterwards, determined to re-edify the church, and are said to have been agreeably surprised by the tinker's offer to defray the expense of rebuilding the north aisle and the tower. That a wealthy parishioner, called John Chapman, was a churchwarden in 1462, and founded the north aisle, is evident from an ancient register, called the "Black Book," but the traditional story of his dream, and his having been a pedler or tinker, has undoubtedly been fabricated by the vulgar, from the rebusses on his name carved on his seat in the north aisle, representing a pedler or chapman with his pack, and his wife looking over the door of a shop; but this and many other carved seats were removed many years ago, when the nave and aisles were repewed. The carved fragments of these ancient carved stalls and seats, for many years formed a patched piece of work in the chapel of the north transept, called the tinker's seat: which has all been removed, but some of the ornamental parts have been preserved, and are about to be introduced into a reading desk and seat opposite. Among the monuments is an altar-tomb, with the effigy of John Botewright, D.D., who was master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, chaplain to Henry VI., and vicar of the church when it was built. His office, faith and name, are shewn by rebusses on four shields,—an hieroglyphical mode of expression which was practised among the Greeks and Romans, and is mentioned in the time of Homer. There is a beautiful marble monument in the churchyard, near the east window, in the form of a cross, which remembers Miss Ella Morse. In the vestry are preserved some ancient armour and a library of books, chiefly presented by the Spelmans of Narborough. Seven guilds, or fraternities for religious, convivial, and benevolent purposes, had formerly altars in this church, dedicated to the Ascension, St. Nicholas, St. Helen, St. Peter, St. Thomas a Becket, St. John the Baptist, and the Holy Trinity; but very little is known of them, except their names, though each had probably a hall or meeting house in the town. The vicarage, valued in the King's book at £14 8s. 10d., is now valued at £738, with the rectory of Threxton annexed to it . The Bishop of Norwich is patron, and the Rev. Salisbury Everard is the incumbent. The tithes of Swaffham were commuted in 1840 for £564 15s. 3d to the vicar, and £1,159 10s. to the Dean and Chapter of St. Peter's, Westminster, the appropriators of the rectory. The fine avenue of lime trees in the churchyard, (18 on each side,) were planted about 150 years ago, by Wm. Fortin. The site of the old parsonage house, 1r. 34p., has been added to the churchyard. A new vicarage house was erected in 1847 on the glebe land called the Chancellor's field, situated near the church. About half a mile west of the town, near the Lynn road, is a place anciently called Guthlac's Stow, from a chapel which stood there, dedicated to St. Guthlac, but now commonly called Goodluck's Closes. At Friar's Thornes, about a mile further to the west, upon a high hill, stood a small priory cell, belonging to the monks of Sawtry, being a resting-place for pilgrims, in their progress from Canterbury to Walsingham priory. The Baptists have a chapel in Whitecross lane, built in 1823, at the cost of £524, and now under the ministry of the Rev. John Hewitt. The Methodist Chapel, London street, was built in 1811. There is also in the town an Independent Preaching room, and a Primitive Methodist Chapel, built in 1850. An Old Friends' Meeting house, in Westacre road, was converted into cottages about 40 years ago.

The Norfolk Agricultural Association holds its meetings at Swaffham and Norwich alternately, when there is a great show of cattle, implements, &c. The show is held in Swaffham, on the 3rd Wednesday in June, and at Norwich the third Friday in June. Lord Hastings is president, the Earl of Leicester vice-president, and E. C. Bailey, Esq., secretary. The South Greenhoe Association for promoting good conduct, and encouraging industrious habits in servants, cottagers, and labourers, was established in 1843, and holds its annual meetings here in October, for the distribution of rewards and premiums. T. R. Buckworth, Esq., is president, and W. P. Pillans, secretary. In the town are two valuable collections in Natural History; one of birds,at Miss Hamond's; and the other of fossils, illustrative of the geology of West Norfolk, at Mr. C. B. Rose's. Mr. Hy. T. Brundell has a large and interesting collection of coins, some of which are of a very early date. The Savings' Bank was established in 1818, and has now deposits to the amount of £20,464, belonging to 566 individuals, 10 charitable societies, and 5 friendly societies. Mr. Wm. Wells is secretary. A Subscription Library was established in 1845, for which purpose, and the Young Men's Institute, convenient premises have been taken in the Market place. The latter was established in 1852, and has about 100 members. Wm. Mason, Esq. is president, and Mr. W. C. Southwell, secretary. There is a Book club, and Reading room, at Mr. W. C. Wells, printer, Market place. The Swaffham divisional COUNTY GAOL, or HOUSE OF CORRECTION, was erected in 1787, and considerably enlarged in 1821, when a large plot was added to its enclosure. It occupies the site of the Old Bridewell, (erected in 1599) and has a commodious house for the governor, fronting London street. The prison was again enlarged in 1844, at a cost of £1,500. It has cells for 100 prisoners, but has seldom more than half that number in confinement. Mr. E. A. Johnson is governor, and the Rev. Bircham Houchen is chaplain to the prison and Union House. The SHIRE HALL, a handsome building, in the Grecian and Italian styles, was erected in 1839, at the cost of £2,200. It adjoins the back part of the House of Correction, and fronts White Cross lane. The general Quarter Sessions are held here by adjournment from the city of Norwich. T. R. Buckworth, Esq., and Wm. Mason, Esq., are chairmen alternately. Petty Sessions are held every alternate week. Mr. Robert Sewell is clerk to the magistrates. The Hundreds for which prisoners are sent here are South Greenhoe, Grimshoe, Guiltcross, Wayland, Shropham, Clackclose and Freebridge Lynn, and Marshland. The Inland Revenue Office is at the Crown Hotel, and the Corn Market is held at the White Hart. The West Norfolk Building Society was established here in 1852: Mr. Fras. Trundle is the Secretary. The COUNTY COURT, held at the Shire Hall, for debts not exceeding £50, embraces within its jurisdiction the following places, viz., Ashill, Beachamwell, Bodney, Bradenham, (East and West), Buckenham Tofts, Caldecot, Cockley Cley, Colveston, Cressingham (Great and Little), Didlington, Foulden, Gooderstone, Hilborough, Holme-Hale, Houghton-on-the-Hill, Ickburgh, Langford, Narborough, Necton, Newton by Castleacre, Oxborough, Pickenham (North & South), Saham-Toney, Shingham, Southacre, Sporle with Palgrave, Stanford, Swaffham and Threxton. Judge: John Dick Burnaby, Esq.; Clerk: Wm. Pott Pillans, Esq., Swaffham; High Bailiff: Mr. Thos. V. Wright, of Lynn. In the parish is a well stocked nursery, occupied by Mr. John Took: and on all sides of the town are tasteful gardens, and verdant enclosures, interspersed with trees; but the grand feature in the sylvan beauties of Swaffham is the fine avenue of lime trees in the churchyard. As previously noticed, the late Rev. Chancellor Yonge, who died in 1844, was 65 years vicar of this parish, and was rarely absent from Swaffham, except when discharging other official duties. A valuable piece of plate was presented to him in 1830 by his parishioners, to record their sense of his faithful ministrations; and the affectionate regard in which his memory is held, was strongly marked by the closing of the shops. and the general suspension of business in the town, on the day of his funeral.

The TOWN ESTATE, comprising the manor of Hasfalls and Whitsands, belonged to the dissolved chantry of Simon Blake, and was granted by Edward VI., in 1549, in consideration of £126 2s. 1d. (town's money,) to twelve trustees, to be elected yearly by the churchwardens and other parishioners, upon trust, that the rents and profits should be applied yearly for the relief of the poor, the reparations of the highways and town-wells, and the payment of all other common charges in the parish. The estate consists of a farm of 99a. 1r. 14p. of land, with a sheep walk of 316a. of heath, and 220a. of half-year lands. It is let for £170 a year, and the tenant has the privilege of turning such neat cattle as he can summer upon all the heath and half-year lands in the parish. The rents are received by the churchwardens, and expended in the service of the church; and the payment of the clerk's and sexton's salaries, except the distribution of 54s. per annum in quarterly sums of 1s. 6d. among nine poor widows, under the name of King's Alms, pursuant to the deed of 1549. The twelve trustees, or Town Guardians, and the churchwardens, carry to the same account £10 2s. per annum, arising as follows:—£3 from the Camping Ground, left by the Rev. John Botewright, D.D., in 1745, for the use of the church, and as a place for all the parishioners to exercise in archery, military discipline, and other proper games; £3 from 2a. 3r. 30p. of land at Pickenham, given by an unknown donor; and £4 5s. arising from the gifts or bequests of Edw. Bayfield, in 1729; C. and W. Rodwell, in 1775; My. Machin, in 1675; one Wentland, at an unknown date; Rose Case, in 1711; and an unknown donor. From these charities, £2 5s. is distributed among 15 poor widows, and £3 8s. in bread among the most necessitous poor. Four houses and other buildings, and small plots of land given by Wm. and Susan Bedingfield in 1671, and Helen Johnson, in 1675, are let for £53 a year. This rent, after the payment of repairs &c., is distributed in coals among poor widows and the sick poor. A shop and stall in the market place left to the poor by Nicholas Hamond in 1724, were burnt down in 1809. Four tenements in Mangate, called Almshouses, were given by unknown donors, and are occupied rent free by poor families; as also are two tenements in Lynn Street, given by John Brett, in 1807, in exchange for an old almshouse. The GRAMMAR SCHOOL, formerly called the Free School, in the Green croft called the Camping Ground, consists of a good house, capable of accommodating 40 boarders. It was built in 1836 at the cost of £500, left by Nicholas Hamond in 1724, together with £500 for the endowment. The latter sum was laid out in the purchase of £800 New South Sea Annuities, the yearly dividends of which (£24) are paid to the master, for which he is expected to teach 20 boys, free. National Schools, now attended by 115 boys and 115 girls, were built on the Camping Ground in 1838, and are supported by subscriptions. An Infant School in the old Workhouse is supported by Miss Hamond.

SWAFFHAM DIRECTORY.

Post Office, Market-place, at Mr. Wm. Parsons'. London letters arrive 4 a.m., and are despatched immediately to Rougham, Fakenham, and Wells; and the return mail arrives at 8.5 p.m., and is forwarded to Brandon immediately. The mail daily to Litcham at 5 a.m., and return at 7 p.m.; and Narborough and Pentney letters are despatched by foot post at 6 a.m., and arrive at 7 p.m. Foot posts hence to Castleacre, Southacre, and Westacre, at 6 a.m.; to Cockley, Cley [sic.], Shingham, and Beachamwell, at 6 a.m.; to North and South Pickenham, twice a week, viz.: wed. and fri. at 6 a.m.

Transcription Copyright © the late A.J. Carter, December 2000; links updated November 2010.

1891 Census Names Index
Kelly's 1883
White's 1883
White's 1845 [GENUKI-NFK]
Swaffham Archeology [Norfolk Heritage Explorer]
Catholic Church of Our Lady of Pity [Simon Knott]
Swaffham smockmill and Kidall's Mill Farm postmill [Jonathan Neville]
Local information page [Brian Elliott]
More on Swaffham [GENUKI-NFK]
More Parish information [Geoff Lowe & Andrew Rivett]
Return to villages index
Paddy's home page