A Stroll Around the Village

A descriptive walk around the village of Tibenham

The Tibenham skyline is dominated by the Norman flint work church tower and around the Church is a cluster of buildings from different eras.

Standing proud is the red brick Victorian Vicarage with the date of 1880 carved over the door and built for the late Reverend T W Thompson, now privately owned. It was sold by auction after the last Vicar resident at Tibenham, Reverend Richardson, resigned in 1977. From the Old Vicarage windows, you can see the lovely Tudor twisted chimney pots of Church Farm, until recently a working farm.

In the shadow of the Church, with gardens adjacent to the churchyard, were the humbler cottages. Only two stand now, but once there was a row of five. The nearest cottage to the church gate was a harness maker's cottage and workshop.

Hidden behind the Church is Hastings Hall. This building, set in a lovely garden with a stream, has had a chequered history. It was once owned by the Bishop of Bury St Edmunds, then by Lord Hastings, Earl of Pembroke who, when he died, had his lands seized both in Tibenham and Winfarthing by his debtors. Since then it has been used as a workhouse and in 1959 was still let as three cottages. Having then stood empty for a decade, Hastings Hall has now been beautifully restored.

Lime trees surround the churchyard and Limes Farm, the Georgian house opposite, has probably taken its name from them. The adjoining barns around a courtyard have been sold and sympathetically converted into a house. Still adjoining the churchyard is the Old Parish Schoolroom, another listed building neglected for years and now converted, which still proudly displays its date of 1831. Adjacent is the row of almshouses, now completely restored. In 1848 the row contained rooms for six parishioners - today there is comfortable accommodation for three.

The Street, as it is now known, was originally called Churchgate Street and, in living memory, had two shops. The old shopfront is still visible at Railtons, and was referred to as Tommy English’s shop (probably trading from 1925 to 1959 or 1960). The Post Office Stores closed in 1994 after 150 years of trading, although the building, which is partly thatched, is much older and is also a listed building. First recorded repairs to the Old Post Office were in 1725 and in 1766 it was rethatched at a cost of 18s.2d. by Trudgill and the cost of straw was £1.11.6d. (Recently the ridge has been renewed but sadly not at that price!)

Things were different at the beginning of the 19th Century. Old Rate Books, which have hopefully survived the fire whilst in storage at Norwich Record Office, give details of eleven shops in 1836. They ranged from the normal grocers and general stores, to drapers, tailors, boot and glove makers and repairers, a pork butcher, miller, baker, two blacksmiths, a wheelwright, a saddler and a coal dealer. There were also two beer shops, as well as two pubs. The Boot on the Long Row is now a house, and The Greyhound on The Street is currently closed, but it was open until early 2022 with a fine selection of ales.

On the corner, next to the Old Post Office, is the Old Chapel - now a comfortable home, but used for worship for 120 years. In December 1848, Miss Mary Pretty sold part of the garden of her house, the Wheelwright's Cottage, to the Trustees of the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists. Her father is laid to rest in the large tomb with railings, which can still be seen. The inscribed headstone has the date engraved and a quote from Matthew ch21 v13 – "My house shall be called the house of prayer".

Across the road from the Wheelwright's Cottage was a tumbledown, neglected old building, which was once a hive of activity as the blacksmith’s forge and workshop. This has now been rebuilt. Over The Beck there is a row of cottages purpose-built for the farmworkers of Hill Farm, with the larger one for the farmer's son backing on to a field called Blacksmith Meadow. Thomas Turner bought the land from Edward Wiseman Betts in 1829 and the cottages had been built by 1842. The original name for the road was Hall Gate Way.

Past Hill Farm, and still visible from the road, are some runways built during the second World War, and used by the 445th Bomb Group of the USAF, but now used for the peaceful leisure activity of Gliding. It is the Headquarters of the Norfolk Gliding Club.

In a corner of a field belonging to Hill Farm, and visible from the road, is an old underground bunker, and the oak tree near has metal climbing rungs and a metal guard rail where the trunk splits. Many American airmen would have remembered days and nights guarding the airfield from this spot.

Back in The Street and past The Greyhound, tucked away in what was once in the garden of the White House, is an old timber hall, called the Gospel Hut. Two sisters of a Vicar lived in the White House, and the story goes that his sermons were not forceful enough with no blood and thunder, so his sisters had the Mission hut built for their own services. In living memory, Mrs Dora Rout, sister of Elijah Lambert, farmer, continued the practice with visiting preachers and an organist playing the harmonium until the early 1990s, and during earlier decades had a thriving Sunday School with the traditional Anniversary Services.

The National School was next door, where four modern houses have been built. Blomefield's History of Norfolk tells us "A handsome board school and teacher's residence was erected in 1876 with accommodation for 127" at a cost of £1,110, with Mr Henry Beswick as Head Teacher. By 1896, 140 children were on the register, but at its close in the 1980s there were only a dozen or so children who were transferred to Aslacton School, whose building and facilities were more modern.

Towards the Long Row is Priory Farm and, as its name suggests, was the site of an old priory circled by trees. Old documents refer to a wood adjoining as Abbots Wood. Another interesting fact is the original name for what we know as Pristow Green Lane was once called Priesthorpe Way or Priesthorpe Green. Another legend is that Sir Robert Buxton of Channonz Hall had houses built on this road for his three daughters. These could be the two thatched farmhouses now called Walnut Tree Farm and possibly Appleshaw Farmhouse.

The name of Long Row is self-explicit, but another anecdote I recall is of the Buxton family having used the road for pleasure with the younger men racing their gigs, carriages or even Phaetons along it. I presume many of the older houses on the Long Row were built after 1815 or renamed then. Four remind us of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon and his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. My knowledge of the west-end of the village is limited, you pass the old farmhouses of Dyson’s and Tibenham, and further along is the old blacksmith's forge and the Old Boot, once a public house.

On the 1822 Parish Map, Cherry Tree Road is unnamed, probably just known as the West End, like the farm. The narrow Low Road was called Nethergate Way. Yew Tree Farm was another large house that started out as a small cottage with one room upstairs and one room downstairs. This was constructed, like so many others, with oak beams from the surrounding forest trees with clay dug from the pits on the land, held in place by ash wattles between oak studs making the walls. The roof would have been thatched with straw, as Norfolk reed was only used close to the Norfolk Broads. But to this small house a three storey building was attached, probably added during the reign of Henry VI, with high gables and carved barge boards with Flemish influence.

On the road towards Diss, once called Pilsgate Street (I wonder why?) can be seen the lovely Elizabethan chimneys of Low Farm and Manor Farmhouse, once also thatched, and Manor Farm. Blomefield's History of Norfolk says "The Laudes Manor was owned by Richard Leming who forfeited it for rebelling against Henry III in 1264". Later it was owned by John Fisher Gurling, who was a miller. Further along the road (Mill Way, now Mill Road) there was a windmill and an adjoining house. I remember the Brown family, Albert, a bellringer, and Edith his wife, who died aged 93. She recalled many stories, one being her mother bringing her to the Mill when she was a child, to buy flour. The Lant family ran a business in 1836 called "The Bake Office", and gravestones in the churchyard recall six of their children dying before their twentieth birthdays. Mrs Brown also recalled the story, which Blomefield's History confirms, of William Lynster's daughter who married against his wishes, but was never forgiven, and on his death left everything to the Church Overseer to distribute to the poor.

So, back to All Saints' Church, as we have now completed our stroll around Tibenham, but perhaps on second thoughts it should have been called a cycle ride around Tibenham as we have covered nearly ten miles!

(c) Irene Wilson 1999 with minor updating by David Timson 2015