The Trowel and Hammer

The Trowel and Hammer

The Trowel and Hammer public house on Tabernacle Lane in Forncett End was a beer house for over a century. The history of the building is extensively documented in the deeds for the property which date back to 1783, before the pub was built.

In 1804 Francis Osborn sold a plot of land in Tabernacle Lane (plot 117 on the enclosure map below) to Samuel Stubbings, and in 1817 James Humphreys leased the plot from Stubbings for £70. 

James Humphreys was born in Forncett St. Mary in 1786 and he was a bricklayer by trade. He married a young girl, Lucy Spink (age 17) in St. Peter's church on 17th October 1809 but tragically Lucy died less than a month later. The following year James remarried, to Sarah Bilham, and the couple went on to have ten children - five boys and five girls.

The precise construction date of the Trowel and Hammer is not known but it seems likely that James built it himself in around 1830, and the name of the pub almost certainly derives from his trade as a bricklayer. The building is shown (plot 117) on the 1839 tithe map of Forncett End below, and records of the known licensees suggest that the pub was operating by 1836, with James Humphreys as the landlord. 

The censuses of 1841 and 1851 record James Humphreys as both a bricklayer and an inn keeper, and in 1851 he was also employing 2 men as bricklayers. However, the 1861 and 1871 censuses record him as solely an inn keeper. By 1861 James' son, George, had become a master bricklayer himself and appears to have taken over the business, so that by 1871 George Humphreys was employing 5 men and 4 boys.

James Humphreys died on 18th January 1872 at the age of 86, and he left the Trowel and Hammer to his wife, Sarah and thereafter to his daughter Sarah who was a schoolteacher. His executors were Abraham Lansdell, a blacksmith who had been born in Forncett, and Henry Buck, a local farmer. Lansdell was married to James Humphrey's daughter, Maria.

James' wife, Sarah, died in November 1873 and shortly afterwards the pub was put up for sale.

Norfolk Mercury 10 Dec 1873

Subsequently, James' daughter, Sarah, signed an agreement together with Abraham Lansdell, Henry Buck and the brewers Donald Steward and John Staniforth Patteson in which the brewers (and their heirs) would inherit the pub on her death.

The brewery of Steward and Patteson had its origins in Norwich in 1793. The company survived well into the 20th century and by 1961 it was described as being one of the largest non-metropolitan breweries in the country.

The Directors of Steward and Patteson – 1880s

Donald Stewart (centre back), Henry Staniforth Patteson (front right)

Only two years later, in May 1875, Sarah Humphreys died and her sole executor was Abraham Lansdell. So, at this point the Trowel and Hammer became the property of the brewery and Abraham Lansdell inherited a small cottage (now known as Willowgates) that stood on the same plot of land as the pub, just to the south (see map below). The cottage had been occupied by Stephen Buxton and his family since at least 1851 and in 1871 his 20 year-old son, also called Stephen, was a journeyman blacksmith who was almost certainly working for the Lansdell family at the smithy in Forncett End.

After the death of James Humphreys senior, the pub continued to be run by his grandson, James (1840-1924) who was a bricklayer like his grandfather. Two bricks on the east face of the present building are inscribed JH 1876 and HH 1876, commemorating James Humphreys and his wife Hannah Humphreys (née Kemp). James is recorded as the landlord from 1875 to 1881, but in 1883 the licence was taken over briefly by William Humphreys (probably James' son b.1824). 

The Trowel and Hammer – O.S. map 1884

William Humphreys was the last of the Humphreys family to act as the landlord of the Trowel and Hammer and from this date onwards there were a series of tenant landlords.

1883-1900 James Browes had previously been a police constable and was married to a woman from Tacolneston.

1904-1929 James Scott came from Carleton Rode and had previously been a miller.

1933 Marshall W Scott, son of James Scott, took over when his father died in 1930

1937 Edward Doe was born in Tacolneston in 1890 and was a bricklayer

1939 Douglas Corke came from London and had previously been a grocer and draper in Tacolneston.

Throughout its existence the Trowel and Hammer played an important part in the social and business life of Forncett residents. It was often the location for auctions of local farms and cottages and it also provided a venue not only for beer consumption but also for competitive bar games such as quoites.

EDP 28th May 1888

Norfolk News - 26 Mar 1910

The Trowel and Hammer finally closed as a public house on 1st August 1955 and since then has been a private dwelling.

The contents of this page are based on material kindly provided by John Webster