History Group - Visits

History Group - Visits

WW2 Radar Station near Stoke Holy Cross, 12th May 2023

Members of Forncett History Group and friends visited a remarkable historic site in nearby Stoke Holy Cross, which served as an RAF radar station during WW2. We were the guests of Derek Bales (born in 1933) who has lived in the village all his life and whose home is a converted building on the original site.

For a full report of the visit see the Forncett History Notes blog.

Mike Merrick


Norfolk Record Office, 14th November 2018

Five History Group members attended a session entitled "Norfolk Records Office - Sounds tour" that would focus on how the NRO looks after its sound archive holdings. This was linked to an exciting new project called Unlocking Our Sound Heritage which aims to open up access to thousands of recordings at the NRO. The tour included a selection of old sound formats and playback equipment cared for by the NRO and, in addition, there was time to listen to a number of sound recordings and view a number of the summaries and transcripts held in the archive. The Sounds Tour occupied around 1 hour and the rest of the visit covered other aspects of the Record Office activities, particularly the very skilled job of preserving old documents.

All of the tour was extremely interesting and a lot of work had clearly gone into its preparation. The Record Office is particularly keen to partner with local history groups to help add to its sound archive of reminiscences of Norfolk folk.

Mike Merrick / Photo: John Webster

Visit to Devlin & Plummer Stained Glass, 15th June 2016

On Wednesday 15th June the Forncett History Group visited the Stained Glass Works of Devlin and Plummer in Great Moulton who recently restored two windows in St Edmund's Church, Forncett End. The group was shown round by Terry Devlin who explained the numerous processes in detail while we interrupted the work of the various people then engaged in the workshop - and very friendly and patient they all were: a very interesting visit indeed. Many thanks go to Terry and his co-workers for their time and to John Webster for organising it. See slide show below.

Photos and text - Richard Ball

Great Hospital Visit, 25th January 2012

Forncett History Group members were invited to take part in a guided tour of the Great Hospital in Norwich. This was a wonderful opportunity to explore this building that has such a long history and is rarely open to the public.

The hospital was first founded by Bishop Walter de Suffield in 1249 for the housing of elderly, poor priests, the sick and infirm and for the education of 7 boys in Latin. No women were allowed, except for nurses who had to be over 50 years of age. By the end of the 14th Century the building had been taken over and its remit changed to purely the care of priests; the poor were no longer considered. During this period much new building took place.

By the time of the Reformation everything changed once again and the hospital ceased to be a religious foundation. It also changed its name to 'God's House' and reverted to caring for the sick and poor of Norwich. The poor were divided into two categories: the deserving poor, who were selected by a panel of Aldermen of the city, and the 'idle' poor, who were sent to the Bridewell for correction. On entry to God's House the inmates were instructed to bring their own bedding, clothes and a winding sheet to be used as a shroud on their death. At this period too, the Chancel of the Church of St Helen's, which had been rebuilt in the hospital grounds at the end of the 13th century, was closed off and a second floor built to house poor women. Similar alterations were made to the end of the nave as a ward for men. Surprisingly, these wards were in use, with some alterations over time, until as late as 1979.

The grounds of the Hospital originally stretched as far as Kett's Hill roundabout and contained allotments, gardens, fish ponds and even a swan pit. There is still a small cloister (the smallest in the country) and there were other monastic buildings, i.e. a Church, Refectory, Dormitory and a Chapter House. The Refectory was built in a similar style to Dragon Hall and has a Queen Post Roof and several dragons on the beam ends. It also has a minstrel gallery.

On the site of the 15th century kitchens, brewery and bake-house, Birkbeck Hall was built in the 19th century. This too, is a fine building and boasts a Hammer beam roof, one of its Historicist style features, including dragons (compare Dragon Hall) in the spandrils.

In the grounds of the Hospital there is another superb building, Ivory House, built by Thomas Ivory who had been carpenter at the Great Hospital in the 1750s. He was also the architect who designed and built the Assembly House and the Octagon Chapel, amongst other fine Georgian buildings in Norwich. This, too has had many uses over time, one of the most recent being part of St Helens Private Hospital before the present BUPA hospital was built, the music room with its prettily painted ceiling being used as the operating theatre!

All in all this was a very informative and interesting tour, which was guided superbly by Rod Spokes.

Jan Rutter / Photos: Brian Frith

Norwich Walk - Weavers and Shoemakers, 13th October 2011

On Thursday 13th October a group of about a dozen Forncett History Group members and friends met at the Erpingham Gate of Norwich Cathedral for a guided tour around the area, where weavers and textile workers of the past had plied their trade.

Our excellent guide for the event was Rod Spokes, who delivered a very interesting and informative talk and commentary, skilfully guiding us around many 'nooks and crannies' in the streets and courtyards around the Colegate area. One particularly surprising place was 'Whip and Nag Court', a quaint, council restored courtyard such as would have been seen in many areas around central Norwich. The tour also took in Blackfriars Hall, where we were shown portraits, some dating back to the 16th century, of the Lord Mayors of Norwich. Many of them had were the cloth merchants for whom the weavers worked. See slide show below.

The main manufactured article produced by the weavers was worsted (named after the village in Norfolk) cloth, which was that worn by the wealthy, and, at a later date, shawls worn by Victorian ladies over their shoulders and bustles. The weaving had originally been carried out as a cottage industry and Rod pointed out the large top floor windows of the houses that had been necessary to provide the light required for this intricate work. Unfortunately due to the stubborn refusal of the weavers to accept progress and mechanisation, in order to compete with the factories in the North, the trade was doomed to die out in the 19th century.

Rod was also a fount of knowledge about the architecture of the shoe factories of the district. We were all impressed by the quality of the buildings and the evident pride the owners had taken in them. What a contrast with modern day units! Unfortunately too, this industry has declined and none now remains in use as to their original purpose.

This was a wonderful morning and gave us all a chance to explore an area of historical Norwich, which hitherto many of us had not realised had existed. I, for one, can't wait for another opportunity to repeat the event with a different theme!

Jan Rutter /  Photos: Richard Ball

Landscape Archaeology Unit - Gressenhall Museum, 13th May 2011

On 13 May a small group visited the Landscape Archaeology Unit at Gressenhall Museum, where Dr Alice Cattermole had made an interesting selection of aerial photographs of Forncett to back up her talk about the continually developing record of the local landscape in former times. The facility at the LAU has improved noticeably since our last visit; the computerized database is more impressive and also viewable by projection, with various overlays and comparisons possible from a variety of mapping records - tithing and Ordnance Survey maps of various types. These are then used with data relating to buildings and archaeological features to establish 'snapshots' of the landscape at various times. Thanks to Alice's local knowledge and expertise we gained a great deal from the visit and are certainly keen to visit again. It was pointed out that input from Forncett folk would be much appreciated to add to the information already on file. In fact a member brought a number of items found in their house, and these are at present being analysed at the LAU.

Norfolk Record Office, 8th June 2011

On 8th June nine members of the History Group enjoyed a guided tour of the Norfolk Record Office by Victoria Horth, who explained how visitors could best make use of this remarkable facility. She also led us behind the scenes to one of the temperature-controlled archive storage areas and into the conservation lab, where a principle conservator showed how both paper and vellum documents were restored to a usable state. This aspect of the Archive Centre's work proved especially interesting to everyone. Afterwards we were able to study a selection of documents (previously suggested by the chairman) relating to the Forncetts, including plans for the Wymondham-Forncett branch line, documents relating to the 'Norfolk Arms', a fine book of maps of land ownership from 1817, the tithing map, some facts about the war memorial at Forncett St Peter and a bill of sale for the public weighbridge at the Old Sale Yard.

The chairman was pleased to introduce a guest to the meeting, Darren Bassingthwaighte, with whom he had recently been in touch. Darren's family is quite closely attached to the Forncetts, as his forebears lie interred both at Forncett St Mary and Forncett St Peter. Wearing his 'Forncett Archive' hat, the chairman had found a number of references to the family from the parish registers and the fact that a Cecil Bassingthwaighte had been cowman at Old Hall Farm for the Hightons. Albert Bassingthwaighte had been the blacksmith at Forncett St Mary and the chairman thought this occupation might prove an interesting topic for research.

Norfolk Historic Environment Record - Gressenhall Museum, 24th April 2010

Union House - Gressenhall (courtesy Norfolk Museum Service)
Union House - Gressenhall (courtesy Norfolk Museum Service)

The workhouse at Gressenhall is an imposing place with its high, stark walls and grim windows. You would never guess that inside there is a fascinating collection of information about the Forncetts - but there is. Eleven of us from the History Group were welcomed by Alice Cattermole, an Historic Environment Record Officer, to dabble our toes in an ocean of knowledge.

Every place in the Forncetts known to have an interesting history is listed - houses, churches, earthworks, spots where archaeological fragments have been found - and windmills. And every place has a folder of photographs, newspaper cuttings and articles painting the history of our villages in intriguing detail. Of course the histories are not complete. They form glimpses into the past, added to as people have found new information. 

Allyson Rae / Photos: Richard Ball