A Question of Drawing the Line


Most Forncett residents will confidently state that they live either in Forncett St Mary or in Forncett St Peter but, as the following story demonstrates, it is possible to live in both parishes at the same time! When the boundary line between the two parishes was drawn it ran right through the middle of Street Farmhouse on Low Road, and the boundary is still marked today by a post on the verge outside the farmhouse (see photo below). 

Street farmhouse - JHW
Street farmhouse - JHW

In 1830, this situation posed a problem for the parish authorities in a case relating to the interpretation of the Poor Law. The information comes from a document in the Norfolk Record Office. In brief, responsibility for the poor and needy fell upon the shoulders of the parish where they lived, and officers were appointed to administer the system.

The 1813 enclosure map of Forncett shows Street Farm to be owned by a T.T. Marcon Esq. and the parish boundary can clearly be seen to pass straight through the farmhouse.

Thomas Theodoric Marcon was born in Edgefield in about 1792 and married in Hempstead in 1814. He and his family then lived at Street Farm in Forncett until Michaelmas 1830 when the property was sold by the Mortgagee and Thomas was evicted. So, under the Poor Law, Thomas, who had lost his farm, should then have been able to obtain poor relief from the parish. However, this led to an argument between the two Forncett parishes about whether Thomas was a resident of Forncett St. Peter or Forncett St. Mary. Very careful measurements were then taken of the location of Thomas's bed in relationship to the parish boundary! The document reads:

It appears that the boundary line between the two parishes goes completely along and though the middle of a passage underneath the bedroom occupied by the pauper during the whole of his residence upon the Estate. The width of this passage is four feet so that two feet on each side lie in each parish and the head of the bed in which the pauper slept stood over that part of the passage which is in the parish of Forncett St Mary but not close to the partition dividing the room in which the pauper slept.

By about an inch, occasioned by the projection of a screw, and the thickness of the woodwork of the head of the bed is four inches and an half. So that, supposing the pauper to have slept so far down his bed that his head laid nine inches from the bedhead, these respective quantities deducted from the 24 inches the part of the room in the parish of Forncett St Mary would still leave 9 or 10 inches, a sufficient space for the pauper's head to rest in the parish of Forncett St Mary the remainder of the bed and room is in the parish of Forncett St Peter. The annexed plans will confirm this explanation.

Using these detailed measurements, an independent view was sought from three judges on the Norfolk circuit. The judges acknowledged that "there is no reported case on this subject". However, they agreed unanimously that "when the pauper was in bed his head rested in the parish of Forncett St Mary and consequently his settlement is there."

In summary, where Thomas Marcon laid his head was indeed his home, and so Forncett St Mary parish was liable to pay Marcon's poor relief.

Information from NRO - PD421/75/2