The Norfolk Arms

The Norfolk Arms

The Norfolk Arms public house (sometimes called the Duke of Norfolk Arms) is shown on Bryant's map of 1826 (see above). The Grade II listed building is on Low Road Forncett St. Peter, close to the junction with Mill Lane and is reported to date to the early 17th century. It is now called 'Church Cottages'.

Church Cottages
Church Cottages

Copyright IoE Mrs Caroline Beer. Source Historic England Archive ioe01_15116_04 

The pub dates back to at least 1790 when it was known as the Sope House (also variously written as Soap House, Sop House and Soup House). It has been suggested that the building was originally known as the Soke House. The term soke dates back to the Norman Conquest and is thought to relate to the holding of a court. A sokeman belonged to a class of tenants, found chiefly in the eastern counties, who could buy and sell their land, but owed service to their lord's soke, court, or jurisdiction.

On Saturday 7th August 1841 a meeting was reported to have been held at the Soap House, Forncett St. Mary by the Tithe Commissioners for England and Wales to discuss the Apportionment of the Rent-charge to be paid in lieu of Tithes.   

References in various directories, censuses and parish records identify the licensees of the pub as:

Thomas Mason 1790 (Soap House)

James Spinks 1794 (Sop House)

William Moore 1813 - 1834

Mary Moore 1834 - 1845

John Moore 1846 - 1865

William and Mary Moore (nee Roberts) were living at the Norfolk Arms in 1813 when their son William was baptised. William snr. died in 1834 and the license was taken over by his wife Mary who, in turn, passed the license to her son John in 1846. John Moore was declared insolvent in 1860 but was still the innkeeper in the census of 1861.

Norfolk Chronicle 18 August 1860

The Norfolk Arms appears to have closed down in about 1865 and the property was purchased by the church. The Parish records of Forncett St Peter contain papers dated 1865 to 1889 which contain reference to the purchase of the Norfolk Arms `alias the Sope House'. On 26 September 1866 the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society visited St. Peter's church in Forncett (reported in the Norfolk Chronicle of 6th October) and were told by the Rev. W. G. Wilson that:

"Courts continued to be held, until last year, in the Norfolk Arms or "Sope House" as it was commonly called, which, being no longer needed for that purpose, is now, by favour of the trustees of the present duke, about to pass into my hands, as rector of Forncett St. Peter."

Business at the Norfolk Arms may have dropped following the opening of the Railway Inn (later renamed the Safety Valve) in 1851. However a beer license was later held by English's Stores which opened in Low Road in about 1868.