The elegant house now known as The Grove was built as a modest farmhouse on Wacton Road in the late 18th or early 19th century. It was only given its present name in 1863.
In medieval times the area around The Grove was known as Twaynton Green, the name coming from Tuanatuna, which was one of the four settlements in Forncett described in the Domesday Book of 1086. A possible moat shown on early maps just south of The Grove has been suggested as the possible location of a medieval house but this has not been substantiated.
The original farmhouse probably started life as a simple tripartite, two storey building. However, on both the 1813 enclosure map and the 1839 tithe map, it had gained an extra south wing that probably accommodated the kitchen.
The farmhouse on the 1839 tithe map of Forncett
The early floor plan is still evident in the house today (see below).
Proposed floor plan in 1839 (extracted from the present-day floor plan). The red line indicates the possible original tripartite structure.
The Grove - North elevation, showing what was probably the original wing.
In 1813 and 1839 the house and surrounding land were owned by William Beverley Ringer who lived at Heath Farm in Bridgham, near Thetford. The farmhouse may well have been occupied by the Ringer family in the past and could even have been built by them because there were Ringers in Forncett back in the 1700s.
Between 1839 and 1861 the house was occupied by a series of tenant farmers and the accompanying farmland increased in size from 76 acres in 1839 to 130 acres in 1851. In 1851 the farmer, John Womack, had two servants living in the house alongside his family of five, and the farm was employing 4 men.
The house apparently first acquired its name around 1863 when the 1863 electoral register for Forncett listed a freehold house and land at Forncett grove. Then White's 1864 Directory for Forncett St Peter lists John Furness living at The Grove. So, it appears that sometime around 1863 the house and its associated lands had been bought by John Furness, who was a solicitor practising in Long Stratton.
John Furness was born in January 1833, in Briningham near Holt in Norfolk, and his father, George Samuel Furness, was a farmer. However, in 1844 George Furness died at the age of 43 leaving his wife Maria and eleven children, ranging in age from 13 to a newborn.
By 1851 John Furness (age 18) was living in Stratton St Mary (Long Stratton) in the house of solicitor John Hotson and his sister, Elizabeth. He was working for Hotson as an articled clerk but by 1861 he had become a partner in Hotson's business and he was still living in Hotson's house as a boarder. However, on 7th August 1862 John Furness married Phoebe Goldworth in Morningthorpe (a village just to the east of Long Stratton). Phoebe was the daughter of a local landowner, Alfred Goldworth, who also ran a brick making business in Morningthorpe. So, it seems very likely that John Furness bought the farmhouse on Wacton Road when he married in 1862. At that time, the farmhouse was most probably still a relatively simple building with the footprint shown on the 1839 tithe map but John Furness was to enlarge the house very substantially in the future.
The initial purchase of the farmhouse and associated land may have been funded in part by Phoebe Goldsmith's family. Although Alfred Goldsmith and his wife, Phoebe, had nine children (six daughters and three sons) between 1822 and 1841, by 1859 seven of them had died and only two daughters, Elizabeth and Phoebe, remained. Alfred and Phoebe Goldworth appear to have sold up and moved to Gloucestershire to live near Elizabeth and her husband. Then, in April 1863 Alfred died, aged 65. So perhaps his two remaining daughters came into significant money?
John and Pheobe Furness soon had two children, Clement (born Nov 1863) and Herbert (born Aug 1865). However, disaster struck the family in January 1866 when Phoebe Furness died. She is buried in Morningthorpe. Herbert Furness died shortly after his mother, in May 1866. He is also buried in Morningthorpe but there is a memorial stained window to Phoebe and Herbert in Forncett St Peter church.
The Furness window in St. Peter's church - photos, Richard Ball
John Furness clearly needed someone to look after his son, Clement, and the 1871 census records that his sister, Maria, had moved in to be his housekeeper. John was still working as a solicitor but was also farming 112 acres. There was also a general servant and a groom living in the house, as well as a farm bailiff and a laundress living next door.
John Furness remarried in September 1872 in Chickerell in Dorset, to Elizabeth Winter Laver who was a schoolmistress. Elizabeth, born in 1840, was the daughter of a wealthy farmer from Chickerell, near Weymouth and so it's not at all clear how they met. John and Elizabeth subsequently had two daughters, Edith Mary (born Feb 1874) and Helen Maria (born Mar 1875).
In 1879 John Furness left the partnership with John Hotson. The reason for his decision is unknown but Hotson put a very strongly-worded announcement of the split into the local newspapers. Furness apparently set up in business by himself in Long Stratton and also opened a new office in St. Stephens in Norwich.
By 1881, John and Elizabeth were employing a governess, a groom, a cook, and a general servant. Furthermore, living next door were George and Julia Boulton, gardener and laundress who may well have been employed at The Grove. Clement Furness was now 17 and working as a clerk, probably for his father. It's also notable that in 1881 John Furness no longer described himself as a farmer, so he may have let the farmland associated with The Grove.
The split between Furness and Hotson in 1879 may be explained by a case held in the High Court in London in which Henry Colman, farmer at Home Farm in Forncett End, accused Hotson of fraud. The case, which Colman lost, was reported in the Norwich Mercury on 8th December 1883. Alongside it, the paper printed a letter from Furness suggesting that the outcome of the case was unsatisfactory, that Henry Colman's vulnerability had been exploited, and that his own evidence in support of Henry Colman had been ignored! (See history of Lime Tree Farm for details).
By 1884 the O.S. map showed that The Grove had been enlarged very substantially, converting it from a modest farmhouse to a substantial "gentleman's house". The 1904 O.S. map shows a further extension to the west elevation of the house, resulting in the floor plan that exists today.
Furness and his family now had a very expensive lifestyle and it eventually became apparent that he was living way beyond his means. As a result, John Furness was declared bankrupt in December 1896: he had liabilities of over £23,000, the equivalent of around £3m today!
EDP 17 Dec 1896
So, most of his assets had to be sold. In January 1897 the stock of his farms in Forncett and Tasburgh was sold, and in February the contents of the house were auctioned. These sales cast a light on his lifestyle. The farm sale included 26 horses, including a valuable hunter. The house sale included 500 books and 16 cases of wine.
In the 1901 census John Furness was a retired solicitor farming at Park Farm in Crowhurst in Sussex. Furness died in Sussex in 1908, aged 75.
The new owner of The Grove, in 1897, was William Crane who was a local man, born in Hethel in 1834. Crane had been the miller at Shotesham water mill for more than twenty years and it would appear that he had ambitious plans for The Grove. He rapidly built a large three-storey building to house a new steam mill. Crane called his new business "Hygiene Flour Mills" and in 1898 he was advertising for staff.
Eastern Evening News - 1st Oct 1898
However, the business was not a success. Crane would have had competition from Henry Ludkin's mill at Forncett End which had been established for at least ten years and Ludkin, being a local Forncett man, was well known in the area. By October 1900 the business, which appears to have been in the name of Crane's son, William Crane jnr., was in administration. William Crane snr. died on 19th November 1900 and his son was left to wind up the business. There were debts of nearly £7000 and assets of less than £4000. In the end William Crane's creditors received just 2s 4d in the £. Although it was never used again, the mill building remains to this day and is one of very few 19th century steam mills to have survived in the county. It was converted to residential accommodation in 2009.
Daily Press -
21 June 1901
In June 1901 the whole of The Grove estate, including the mill and its contents, were sold at auction and a new owner moved in.
Arthur Wellesley Soames - M.P.
Arthur Soames was elected as M.P. for South Norfolk in 1898 and it seems likely that he became the next resident of The Grove.
A report in the Norfolk News on 12th April 1902 said "Mr Soames was found to have suffered in health from overwork in the House of Commons and he and part of his family spent some time in quiet retreat at The Grove, Forncett..."
Soames was the M.P. for South Norfolk until 1918 he did not stay at The Grove
for any length of time.
Alfred Henry Cooper probably moved to Forncett in 1904 because in May 1904 he was initiated into the Duke of Norfolk's Lodge in a meeting at the Safety Valve. He subsequently became chairman of the Lodge and appears to have taken an active part in many aspects of Forncett life.
Cooper was born in Islington in 1849. He appears to have come from a wealthy family and from the age of 21 he made his living as a wholesale stationer but it isn't at all clear why Alfred Cooper came to Forncett.
A photograph, that was probably taken around this time, shows The Grove looking very much as it does today; although the greenhouse shown here no longer exists. The man in the deckchair may be Alfred Cooper.
In 1905 a Mr. V. Cooper living at The Grove appears to have set up a poultry business there and advertised Houdan chicken eggs and Aylesbury-Pekin duck eggs for sale.
Eastern Daily Press - 7 April 1905
This business was almost certainly being run by Alfred Cooper's son, Victor Mercer Cooper and it may mark the start of poultry farming at The Grove which continued until at least the 1950s. Victor Cooper emigrated to Canada in 1911 where he subsequently married.
In 1911 Alfred Cooper was living at The Grove with his sister-in-law, Adelaide de Horne, and two servants. He listed his profession as colonial merchant stationer and employer, suggesting that he was still running his business in London. Indeed, he had retained his home in Islington where his wife Mary and two of their children were living.
Alfred Cooper died on 11th June 1916 at his London home; 24 Highbury Quadrant, Islington. His son, Henry de Horne Cooper, who was also a stationer, was living at the Islington address and was probably running the family business. Alfred Cooper left an estate of more than £24,000 which was a very substantial sum in 1916 (equivalent to around £2.5m today). The Grove was presumably sold following Alfred Cooper's death.
The new owner was Ernest Henry Brasier Barwood, who was born in London in 1870 but for the past decade he had been running a dairy that was located in Wheatsheaf Yard - off St Stephens in Norwich. The 1921 census shows that Ernest, his wife and his daughter, Alice (aged 15) were living at The Grove, along with Ernest's widowed mother and two servant girls. Ernest described himself as a farmer.
Alice Barwood trained as a nurse, and in 1933 when she had achieved her SRN qualification, she apparently opened a nursing home at The Grove. This is referenced in Kelly's Directory and was also advertised in the newspaper.
Yarmouth Independent - 13 May 1933
However, the nursing home venture didn't last very long and by 1937 the Barwoods had left The Grove and there was a new resident listed in Kelly's Directory.
Francis Ellis is first recorded at The Grove in 1937, although he may have been there since about 1935. Ellis put The Grove up for sale in 1938 but obviously failed to sell it. He was still living there in the 1939 register when he described himself as a retired poultry farmer.
World War 2
Information about The Grove during the war years comes from a copy of a lease signed in 1941 (and renewed in 1943) between the furniture manufacturers Wallace King Ltd of Norwich and the owner of The Grove who was named Otakar Jestrabek. The lease allowed Wallace Kings to store furniture and other items in the disused Grove Mill.
Extract from the 1943 lease
Mr. Jestrabek was a Czechoslovakian citizen and a chemist by profession. This information comes from a UK patent that Jestrabek filed in 1946, in which he gave his address as Westgate-on-Sea in Kent. So, by 1946 he may have sold The Grove.
How and why Jestrabek came to The Grove is not clear but it seems likely that he had fled Czechoslovakia to escape the Nazis. Otakar Jestrabek died in Glasgow in 1960 and his executor was Zdenka Jestrabek. Ms. Jestrabek is listed in a database of Holocaust Survivors which gives her birth date as 1919. So, she may well have been Otakar's daughter.
The Hardesty family
The next owners of The Grove were Robert and Marjorie Hardesty who moved from The Croft in Cheney's Lane to The Grove in around 1950. The Hardestys ran a poultry business called Hilltop Chicks at The Grove and advertisements for the chicks appeared regularly in the local press between 1950 and 1964.
Around that time Beryl and Basil Gray lived at Grove Cottage, on The Grove estate where they worked for the Hardesty family looking after the hatchery for Hilltop Chicks. Their son, Alan Gray, recalled helping his parents at the hatchery before they moved to Chestnut Cottage, opposite Chestnut Tree Farm on Long Stratton Road in about 1962. From 1964, for at least five years, they ran the Central Stores in Forncett End, which was owned by the Hardesty family.
Robert and Marjorie's son, Robert Anthony David Hardesty (known as Tony) married in 1974 and he and his wife, Anne, moved to The Grove in around 1983. Robert Hardesty snr. died at The Grove bungalow in November 1986.
In 1987 Tony and Anne opened a rifle range in one of the barns at The Grove. The Grove gun club later moved to Suffolk but is still operating and is one of the largest gun clubs in the UK.
In 1990 the Hardestys founded The Adult Adventure Playground Ltd. and ran a wide range of adult activities including archery, clay pigeon shooting, assault courses, rally car driving, go karting and tank driving.
Tony Hardesty retired in 1999 and he and his wife sold The Grove in August 2001.
The Grove is now a private residence.
With particular thanks to Mechelle Tumber and Anne Hardesty for their invaluable help in researching this page.