The History of Austhorpe House


Residents of Forncett End will probably have noticed that Austhorpe House, until recently a well-respected residential care and nursing home, has now been sold as a "development opportunity". Whilst the building looks rather sad as it awaits its redevelopment, a recent EDP article suggests that it is to be converted into three new homes and not demolished.

So perhaps this is a good time to look back at the house's history?

Probably built around 1865, the house was home to four successive Forncett families. Thomas Palmer, a local farmer and philanthropist, lived there with his wife, Martha, between 1866 and 1903. Charles Emmerson and his sister, Frances, then tried to run it as a boarding house until 1911 when it was bought by the Rev Benjamin Appleyard and his wife, Florence. Appleyard named it Austhorpe House after his family "seat" in Yorkshire. After WWI, during which he served as an army chaplain, Rev. Appleyard became rector of Burgate near Diss and the house was sold again. The final residents were John and Mabel Wales, who lived there until their deaths in 1954 and 1957 respectively. The house opened as a nursing home in 1958.

However, until recently we had no idea who built this rather unusual house. The answer came from an advert in the Norfolk News on 3rd February 1866 announcing the bankruptcy of John Gill West, an ambitious and extravagant shopkeeper in Forncett End who had considerably over-stretched himself as he owed nearly £2000 but had less than £300 in the bank! So, Gill West's "newly-erected Freehold estate fronting the road " was up for sale and it included "two convenient dwelling houses replete with every requisite for comfort and convenience" as well as "large gardens and a bowling green". This was almost certainly the building now known as Austhorpe House, which was clearly originally built with two entrance doors. What Gill West's plans were for his "estate" isn't clear. Did he intend to retire from shopkeeping and become a gentleman of leisure? In the event he and his wife left Forncett and moved to Heigham in Norwich where he worked as "tea agent" until his death in 1877, aged 75. He is buried at St. Peter's in Forncett.

Mike Merrick