Riverside Farm in 2004

Riverside Farm - Forncett St Mary

Riverside farmhouse was apparently built as a timber-framed cottage around 1645. This is based on dendrological evidence collected in 2009 by Norfolk Historic Buildings Group. Their studies suggested that the house was originally built with a smoke bay, which is usually indicative of a construction date between 1530 and 1620. So, the finding of this construction style in the mid 17th century is unusual [1]. Although supposedly built as a single dwelling, it was divided into two cottages at a later date. Despite its present name, there is no evidence that it was ever formally a "farmhouse" and so it is referred to here as "Riverside Cottage", a name apparently first used in the 1960s.

The site of the house is ancient, as evidenced by some shards of Thetford ware pottery (late Saxon) and a Charles I farthing, both found in the garden in the 1970s. The house is recorded on the 1817 enclosure map of Forncett St Mary where it is shown as being owned by "Corbould's Exors" (the executors of Corbould). The Rev. John Corbould, rector of Tacolneston, had inherited Bracon Lodge in Bracon Ash, as well as estates in Forncett and Wreningham, from his father John Corbould. The Rev. Corbould died on 3rd July 1810 but his will was obviously disputed because it was not proved until 1 April 1830! This explains the ownership shown on the 1817 map.

In the 1839 tithe records the plot (No.154) was described as "Hemplands" which almost certainly means that hemp was grown on this plot at some time in the past. Hemp was cultivated for use in ropes and cloth, and the crop could be grown on the same plot year after year. 

Plot 154 on the 1839 Tithe Map of Forncett St Mary

The owner of Riverside Cottages at that time was George Moore. He was a local man, born in Forncett St Mary in 1785, and was part of a very large Forncett family, most of whom were agricultural labourers. He and his wife, Charlotte, lived close to Riverside farm, at what is now known as Hannays. George farmed about 8 acres close to the house, all of which were owned by Thomas Brightwell (an attorney who lived in Norwich). George Moore was also a beerseller, as listed in White's Directory of 1836.

The ownership of Riverside Cottages therefore appears to have passed from the Executors of John Corbould to George Moore sometime between 1830 and 1839. The explanation for this may lie with Anna Maria Moore, daughter of George's brother, Isaac. In 1829, Anna gave birth to an illegitimate daughter who was baptised Frances Corbould Moore in Forncett St. Mary on 25th October 1829. Research strongly indicates that the father was William Corbould, who was a son of Rev. John Corbould, and was a single man, aged 23 at the time of the birth. William Corbould went on to marry in 1839 and he was himself rector of Tacolneston from 1836 until his death in 1858. So, it may be that the Moore family acquired Riverside Cottage from the Corbould estate in some sort of "settlement", possibly as a home for Anna and her daughter, Frances. Anna Moore married in 1837 and moved to live with her husband, John Todd, in Wreningham.

George and Charlotte Moore had three sons, Collins, Mark and Woodhouse, and two daughters Elizabeth and Anna. Following George's death in 1840, his widow, Charlotte, continued to live at Hannays and to run the beerhouse. She was listed as a publican in the 1841 census. Meanwhile, Collins Moore had married in 1839 and by 1841 he and his wife had moved into one of the Riverside cottages with their baby daughter; the other was occupied by Edward Marr, his wife and three children. Edward was a Hay Dealer.

In December 1846 the two younger sons, Mark and Woodhouse Moore, were involved in the theft of wheat from Beresford Farm. They were caught, and whilst Mark was cleared, Woodhouse was sentenced to transportation. He died in April 1847 at Millbank prison in London, (see A Forncett Burglary ). Charlotte Moore died in 1853 and both Mark and Collins Moore moved away from Forncett. So, Riverside Farm was presumably sold around 1853, and it seems likely that it was bought by the then new vicar of Forncett St Mary, Rev. John Edward Cooper (see later). From the 1850s onward, the cottages were occupied by a series of families, mostly agricultural labourers. There were, however, some long-term occupants.

In 1874, James Davey, an agricultural labourer, died in Hapton and the 1881 census shows that his wife, Susan, moved into Riverside cottages with her daughter, Lucy, and her grandson, William. Susan Davey earned a living as a laundress. Some years later, in 1882, Lucy Davey (age 28) married William Bowell (age 28) from Yaxley in Suffolk. William was a plate layer and had probably come to Forncett to work on the railway. William and Lucy moved into the cottage next door and they remained there for over 50 years. They never had any children.

The 1884 O.S. map shows two cottages 

The Great Flood - August 1912

In August 1912 an intense depression tracked into the Norwich area and dumped over eight inches of rain on the locality. Such intense rainfall overburdened the watercourses like the River Tas, which rose well beyond its flood level especially along Low Road, Forncett St Mary. The floods inundated many of the nearby dwellings and one of the most seriously affected was Riverside Cottage.

The story of what happened then was recounted to a later resident, Marilyn Tolhurst, by a neighbour, Jim Woolterton, who was born in Forncett in 1904. Jim lived nextdoor to Riverside (in what is now known as Kingsmuir) probably from 1905, when his father died, until his own death in 1976.

Jim Woolterton in 1975 (age 71)

Jim recalled that the footings of Riverside Cottages were washed away and the structure was in danger of collapse. However, the local blacksmith, William 'Billy' Mickleburgh, saw a way of saving the cottage. He gathered a team of heavy draught horses and roped them into position around the sagging timbers of the cottage, so that they could drag the whole framework back to its rightful position. When the flood had subsided, cement footings were poured to support the timber structure, which as a result can be seen to this day.

1914 Auction

Riverside Cottage was put up for Auction in September 1914. It was described as a "double cottage" but appears to be arranged as a single dwelling. It was occupied by William Bowell at a rent of £7 per annum. The Sale was instructed by "The Misses Cooper" who were Mary and Rosa Cooper, the unmarried daughters of the Rev. John Edward Cooper who had been rector of St. Marys from 1853 to 1908. Rev. Cooper died in Forncett in April 1914 at the age of 91. So, it would appear that the cottage had been formerly owned by the Rev. Cooper, and, as he had arrived in Forncett in 1853, he may have owned the cottages since the death of Charlotte Moore in that same year.

William Bowell continued to work on the railway until at least 1921 and he died in 1934, aged 81. Lucy Bowell died in 1945, aged 92: she had lived in the cottage for over 70 years! However, for the last six years of her life she occupied just the south half of the cottage, because in late 1939 Herbert and Florence Drake, who had just got married, moved into the north half of the cottage. Herbert was the son of William Drake who lived on Low Road just beyond Yew Tree Farm. Florence was born Florence Dennett in Whitchurch in Hampshire but had been fostered in Forncett.

In the 1940s the cottages had no running water or electricity. Lighting was by oil lamps and water came from a well further along the road (outside Kingsmuir on the 1905 OS map). Electricity and water were installed in the 1950s. The cottage was rented and, although at one time the Drake family were offered the chance to purchase it, they felt it was in a poor state of repair and not a good investment. There was an old "barn" on the Riverside plot adjacent to the road, but it was in a poor state and was demolished in the late 1960s or early 70s. Soon after moving to Riverside Cottage Herbert Drake was called up and joined the RAF. After the war Herbert kept poultry and Florence taught at Forncett St Peter school. The couple subsequently had two daughters, and the family lived there until about 1962.

Sale in 1966

The cottage (now called Riverside Cottage) was put up for sale in 1966 with vacant possession. It was sold to a G. Grady for £1200. A handwritten copy of sale particulars by Irelands agents in Norwich is held by Norfolk Record Office. The cottage is described as:

"Attractive thatched country cottage, known as Riverside Cottage. The property is built of brick, lath and plaster. It is well situated in a quiet country lane in this attractive village. A village shop is within easy reach, as is Forncett railway station, and this line provides a convenient service to both Norwich and London." The rateable value was £22. 

Renovation in the 1970s

In about 1974 Marilyn and Peter Tolhurst moved into Riverside Cottage and undertook major renovation. They repaired the roof timbers and replaced the thatch with tiles. They also installed an internal bathroom by dividing up the third bedroom at the south end of the property.  

Around 1985 the cottage was sold. The new owner was Barbara Hopkinson who moved to Forncett from Woodbridge where she had run a bookshop. Ms. Hopkinson ran a bookselling/publishing business from Riverside Cottage. She also extended the kitchen at the rear of the property. At this time the name of the house may also have been changed to Heron House.

On 17 July 1995 Riverside Cottage was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Lee who extended the property by adding a conservatory on the south side and building a two-storey extension at the rear. They also changed the name again to Riverside Farm. The Lees left in 2007 when the house was bought by the present owners.


1. The Tacolneston Project. A Study of Historic Buildings in the Claylands of South Norfolk. Journal of the Norfolk Historic Buildings Group. Vol. 4. (2009)

With particular thanks to Mary Yule, Marilyn Tolhurst and Evelyn Riches for their invaluable help in researching this page.