Fox's Stores (later called Central Stores)
The shop known by many in Forncett End as Fox's Stores (also later known as Central Stores) stood opposite the Methodist Chapel on Long Stratton Road. When it closed in the 1980s it had served the village for 200 years and had been run by a number of different families.
The West family
In 1819 Mrs. Ann West died and later, in 1823, an "OLD ESTABLISHED SHOP" "in which trade had been carried on for 53 years" was advertised for sale in Forncett.
Norfolk Chronicle 5 July 1823
The 1817 enclosure map of Forncett shows that the property in question stood adjacent to The Old Bakery and was to become known in later years as Fox's Stores.
Map - courtesy of Norfolk Record Office
So, Ann West's shop had been trading since at least 1770, the date when her late husband, Robert West (1733 - 1804) had first arrived in Forncett. At that time Robert was married to his first wife, Susanna Newson, and they already had five children. They had six more children before Susanna died, age 47, in 1784. In 1789 Robert remarried; to Ann Websdale from Tibenham, who was 30 years younger than him. They went on to have four children, the youngest of whom, Mary, was born in Forncett in 1801. When Robert West died in 1804, the shop was run initially by his son, John (1769-1807) and then by another son, Robert (1790-1835) until the death of his mother, Ann West, led to the sale described above.
In 1800, another of Robert West Snr's sons, William, had married Sarah Carver Gill in Forncett and then moved to run a grocer's shop in Smallburgh near Stalham. By a strange twist of fate, twenty years later their son, John Gill West (born 1802), fell in love with Mary West (b.1801), the youngest daughter of his grandfather, Robert West Snr. Being too young to marry legally in England, John Gill West and Mary West eloped to Gretna Green where they married in December 1822. Their marriage was reported in the newspaper (where John Gill West was incorrectly described as the son of John West rather than William West).
Norfolk Chronicle 14 Dec 1822
Note: Wednesday se'nnight ("seven nights") - means a week ago Wednesday
By 1836 John Gill West and his wife, Mary, were running the Stores. So perhaps they took it over after the death of Mary's mother, Ann West. John Gill West was apparently quite ambitious and opened a second shop in Long Stratton but this closed in 1855.
Norwich Mercury 29 Sep 1855
Then, in 1866, John Gill West went bankrupt and the Forncett shop and adjoining land was put up for sale.
Norfolk News 3 February 1866
It would appear that John Gill West had considerably over-stretched himself. He owed £1833 11s 7d but had only £276 5s 1d in the bank! His "newly-erected Freehold estate", included two dwelling houses "replete with every requisite for comfort and convenience", large gardens and even a bowling green! This description suggests that John Gill West's newly-erected estate was in fact the building later named Austhorpe House at the crossroads in Forncett End.
The house was then bought by local farmer Thomas Palmer and his wife, who made it their home for the next 37 years. John and Mary Gill West left Forncett, and in 1871 they were living at Heigham, in Norwich where John was a "tea agent".
Robert and Ellen Smith
The new occupant of Forncett Stores was Robert Smith, who was born in Lowestoft in 1838, and came from a family of grocers. He and his wife Ellen ran the shop until at least 1881. Robert was also a Methodist preacher who presumably served in the newly-built Chapel just across the road from his shop.
The arrival of the Fox family
Sometime between 1883 and 1888 David Fox took over Forncett Stores. David (from Hethersett) had married Sarah King (from Tacolneston) in 1862, when they were both 20. Initially they ran the grocer's shop at The Street, Tibenham and all three of their children: Edith Caroline Fox (b.1868); Urbane Bertie Spurgeon Fox (b.1879) and Fergus Henley Fox (b. 1882), were born there.
It is not clear when the property came to be known as Walnut Tree House (as it is today) but the deeds suggest that in 1889 David Fox became the owner. Around 1895 David Fox also took over the Post Office, which had previously been run by the Moore family at the Old Bakery. David's son, Urbane, was the postman for many years.
In the early 1900s the Fox family branched out and the sons, Fergus and Urbane, set up as cycle and motor agents and repairers, also opening a second shop in New Buckenham. The cycle business was located next to the shop and is just visible on the right of the photo above. David Fox ran the grocery business in Forncett until his death in 1922. Urbane Fox died in 1933 and his brother Fergus continued to run the Forncett shop until at least 1934.
The Jackson family
By 1939 Fergus was running his cycle and ironmongery business in Market Place, New Buckenham and Fox's Stores in Forncett had been taken over by the Jackson family.
Jackson family recorded in the 1939 register
Gabriel Jackson (born in Bunwell in 1874) and his wife
Gertrude had previously run Jackson's Stores in Wymondham Road, Bunwell Bottom.
Jacksons Stores in Bunwell - courtesy of Bunwell Heritage Group
They moved to a shop in Forncett around 1922 (location unknown) and by the time that they took over Fox's Stores their son, Osmond, was running the business. Fergus Fox finally sold the property to Osmond Jackson in 1947. Osmond ("Ozzie") Jackson was apparently known locally as "The Midnight Grocer", as he often delivered with his horse and cart once the pub had shut. The pony is said to have known all the stops and didn't need much guidance!
The Ludkin family
Ozzie Jackson ran the shop until 1955 and then sold it and the associated land to Thomas Lord who had previously farmed at Lime Tree farm. Lord (aged 79) moved to live at Walnut Tree House and the shop was taken over by Wilfrid and Alice Ludkin. Wilfrid was the grandson of Henry John Ludkin who had run the steam mill in Forncett End between about 1880 and 1930. The grocery business failed in 1964 and the property was sold at auction to the Hardesty family who lived at The Grove on Wacton Road, near the railway station. The shop was then taken over by the Gray family.
The Gray Family
Beryl and Basil Gray married in 1940 and originally lived at Grove Cottage, on The Grove estate where they worked for the Hardesty family. At that time there was a hatchery "Hilltop Chicks" at the Grove and the Grays looked after it. When Beryl's father, Herbert Fox (no relation to the afore-mentioned Fox family), died in 1962 she inherited his home, Chestnut Cottage, opposite Chestnut Tree Farm on Long Stratton Road. Beryl and Basil ran the Central Stores for at least five years. In 1978 the property was sold to Brenda and 'Biz' Bizzell.
Central Stores in 1979
Greta and Kenny Herbert were the next shopkeepers, with Greta running the shop and Kenny doing deliveries. They ran the shop until about 1981 when Bill and Rita Hellard took over. The last shopkeepers were Stan and Ruby Savage who ran the shop until it finally closed in 1986, more than 200 years since it was first opened by Robert West.
Thanks to Brenda Bizzell, Barry and Brenda Bradford, Alan Gray, Su Leavesley and Dennis Ludkin for help researching this article.