Miss Anne


In January this year I wrote a History Note entitled "A poet in the churchyard" that related to one of the four magnificent stained-glass windows at St. Peter's church. Another of the windows, the Thorsby window, is in the North Aisle of the church and was installed in 1883. This window shows Saints Simeon and Anna and is "Dedicated to the Pious and Beloved Memory of Robert and Ann Thorsby by Charlotte Simmonds 1883". 

Photo of the Thorsby window by Richard Ball

So, who were Robert and Ann Thorsby and how were they connected to Charlotte Simmonds?

Robert and Ann Thorsby were a brother and sister who were born in Norwich (Ann in 1798 and Robert in 1809) and for many years Robert was a baker in West Pottergate Street, Heigham. They arrived in Forncett in about 1860 to take over the running of Forncett Stores in Forncett End, opposite the top of Tabernacle Lane. Sadly, Robert Thorsby died in November 1867, aged 58, and he is buried in St. Peter's churchyard.

Ann continued to run the shop for a few more years but by 1871 she had retired and had moved to live at Church Cottages next to St. Peter's church. Until about 1865, Church Cottages had been a public house called The Norfolk Arms but when it closed down it was transferred to the ownership of the church who converted it into three dwelling houses for Forncett residents. Ann Thorsby lived here until she died in October 1879; at the age of 81.

It was four years later that the window, which was made by A. L. Moore of London, was installed at St. Peter's, apparently at the instruction of Charlotte Simmonds, Ann Thorsby's executrix. It is typical commercial glass of the period and cost £50 (equivalent to around £7000 today). Surprisingly, Ann Thorsby's will makes no mention of a possible window but the window was mentioned elsewhere.

When Ann Thorsby lived at Church Cottages the vicar of Forncett was William Grieve Wilson who served here from 1847 to 1896. After Grieve Wilson's death, his wife and his daughter, Agnes, moved to London where, in 1903, Agnes wrote a book, called "Friends of Yesterday", about a fictitious Norfolk village called Sedgbrook that is clearly based on Forncett. The book is illustrated with photographs that appear to be contemporary but there is no mention of where they were taken or by whom.

Chapter 5 of Agnes Wilson's book is entitled "Miss Anne" and includes a photo of a woman standing at the door of her abode. The story describes a woman who, in her later years, rented a "cottage under the shadow of the Rectory limes". She was apparently a dedicated churchgoer and friend of the vicar and, most tellingly, Agnes writes that "she never told him that she had put aside a sum of money for a stained-glass window to be placed in the church at her death".

It seems almost certain that Agnes was writing about Ann Thorsby whom she would certainly have known and whom she describes with affection. So, did Ann really save up to purchase the window in the church and is the photo in Agnes's book actually a photo of Ann Thorsby? We will probably never know!