All posts by Philip

Looking back … looking forward

At its recent AGM the Beachamwell Local History Group looked back on a successful 2018, and forward to activities and events in 2019.

In the past year ‘The Churches of Beachamwell’ event was a large scale effort and rewarded with praise and appreciation from visitors. The group organised three public talks – Mary Ann Prior’s talk about Constance Villiers Stuart, Georgette Vale on “Miss Reeve’s battle” ( which unfortunately was cancelled because of illness) and Jill Mason on Mary Caney, the subject of her 2017 novel about a local agricultural labourer born in 1790.

The meeting discussed a wide range of ideas for future projects, including:

  • Photographs of today’s villagers outside their homes (comparing with historical photographs).
  • A display about “village characters”.
  • To research the history of the village school, and to organise a talk on the topic of education in local rural schools.

    Beachamwell School 1916
    Beachamwell School 1916
  •  To explore and record the contents of archive material recently made available from the ‘Parish Chest’.
  • A longer term plan for an exhibition in the summer of 2020 on Farming in Beachamwell, Past and Present

The group agreed that a visit to the Norfolk Record Office would be useful to research documents for the school and farming projects.

New members are always welcome to join us. No expertise of specialist knowledge required, just an interest in the history of Beachamwell and finding out more about the village and its past. Follow the Contact link above to get in touch.


A good time was had by all

The Churches of Beachamwell – Sunday 23rd September 2018

Following weeks (indeed months) of preparation, heavy rain greeted the morning of The Churches of Beachamwell event. Would anyone want to turn out on such miserable day? Indeed they would and, as the rain eased at lunchtime and eventually the sun itself was glimpsed, the various venues were filled with visitors enjoying the exhibitions and events. In St Mary’s Church a display focussing on  the history of the religious buildings in our parish attracted attention and interest. Meanwhile a group of hardy walkers braved the rain to follow a guided walk to St Botolph’s Church at Shingham.

“It was a joy to come to, with everything easy to read and accessible …”
“… walk leader very knowledgeable and the exhibition in the church was excellent as were the flowers.”


Remote, and tucked away at the end of a long lane apparently to nowhere St Botolph’s is normally locked to passers-by. Today visitors were delighted to have the chance to see inside this ancient building and experience the charm of its simple interior.

Beachamwell Village Hall staged an art exhibition of the local church buildings as seen in paintings, drawings and photographs. Also on view was the archive of local history photographs. And the Village Hall was a welcome destination after the damp morning to enjoy a bowl of soup, a bacon roll, and delicious cakes.

“I was so impressed with the organisation, wonderful exhibition in St Mary’s and the village hall photographs of old times, not to mention the refreshments.”
“… the displays were so professional”


In the afternoon the medieval benches of St Botolph’s were filled by an audience for a short programme of poetry and song.

Poetry at St Botolph's Church, Shingham
Poetry at St Botolph’s Church, Shingham

Poems inspired by our churches  were read by their authors; the unaccompanied voices of the singers drifted in the venerable air. Many agreed it was the highlight of the day.

“An amazing show on Sunday … congratulations all round”
“A wonderful experience”


Having researched and produced a good deal of material for this event, we are now looking at ways of sharing it further – watch out for news.

The poetry of Beachamwell Churches

A new booklet of poems inspired by the places of religious worship (five!) in Beachamwell has just been published.

The Churches of Beachamwell booklet cover

To tie in with the forthcoming exhibition The Churches of Beachamwell, James Knox Whittet asked members of his Creative Writing Group in Beachamwell to write poems inspired by the four churches (some now in ruins) and chapel in the parish. The resulting anthology will be on sale at the Beachamwell Fête & Country Fair on Saturday 1st September and also at The Churches of Beachamwell event on 23rd September. Copies are also available (price £5 + postage) direct from James Knox Whittet (Tel: 01366 328895). Proceeds go to The Friends of St Mary’s, Beachamwell – Registered Charity No:245456

Sunday Past

St Mary’s
Once these pews were filled with Sunday faces
scrubbed and shining in their Lord’s Day best.
In this church, the families knew their places,
the path to follow to be among the blessed.
Thin eastern morning sun and candle light
lit the congregation chanting with one voice.
While sermons spoke of being equal in God’s sight,
did those with little, find little reason to rejoice?
But together in communion with the saints
they marked the passing years and holy days,
their Sunday voices raising few complaints:
at Christmas, Easter, Harvest they gave praise.
And the squire and his wife, with smile and nod,
saw Beachamwell give thanks to them, and God.

Leah Spencer

Beachamwell Pillbox

About 28,000 pillboxes and similar fortifications were built in England in 1940 in preparation for an anticipated invasion. About 6,500 remain; one of them in Beachamwell, north of Walters Cottages (Map Ref TF 7444 0660). A good view can be had walking along Long Drove, aka Searchlight Drove.

Beachamwell pillbox, 2018
Beachamwell pillbox, 2018

It is a standard type 22 pillbox, built using brick shuttering and concrete, and part of the perimeter defence of the Royal Air Force airfield at Marham. The neighbouring parish of Barton Bendish has two similar pillboxes, quite close together, and presumably also part of the Marham airfield defences. The hexagonal structures has loopholes for use by riflemen in five of the walls, and a door in the sixth wall , in this case with small loopholes on each side of the doorway.

Beachamwell pillbox in 1995
Beachamwell pillbox, 1995. The wide angle lens disguises the fact that the pillbox is hexagonal

The Norfolk Heritage Explorer lists the pillbox here . Mistakenly they describe it as octagonal. However they do point out that the 1946 RAF aerial survey  shows the pillbox as part of an almost destroyed complex of small circular structures, probably a searchlight battery, with associated huts. The photograph in question can be seen on the Norfolk Historic Maps website.

According to a document in the Norfolk Record Office in 1949 Norfolk County Council Planning Department considered the future of the pillbox and recommended that “this defence work be place in Category ‘B’ on amenity grounds”. It is not known what this signifies but the pillbox is still standing.

Further information

Defence of Britain Archive available through the Archaeology data Service. The entry for the Beachamwell pillbox is here .

The Pillbox Study Group website has just about everything you would ever want to know about pillboxes and associated anti-invasion defences.


Born in Beachamwell – Buried in Westminster Abbey

I wonder how many sons or daughters of Norfolk have been laid to rest in Westminster Abbey?  None come readily to mind[*], and so it is all the more remarkable that the small village of Beachamwell can claim this honour for one of its own.

Portrait of Benjamin Ibbot
Portrait of Benjamin Ibbot by an unknown artist. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Although a figure of some standing in ecclesiastical circles during the first quarter of the 18th century, the Reverend Benjamin Ibbot is now largely forgotten. He was born in Beachamwell in 1680, the son of Thomas Ibbot, vicar of Swaffham and rector of Beachamwell. Like his father Benjamin also became a clergyman. He gained his BA at Cambridge University in 1699; was made scholar of Corpus Christi College in 1700 and graduated MA in 1703. He soon obtained a position with Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, first as librarian, and subsequently Cambridge chaplain. In 1707 he was installed as Treasurer at Wells Cathedral.

"an ingenious and learned writer, and a judicious and useful preacher" Chalmers Biographical Dictionary

In 1714 Benjamin Ibbot married Susanne Powell at the parish church of St Martin Outwich in the City of London. Two years later George I appointed him to be one of his chaplains and then in 1717 by Royal Mandate created him Doctor of Divinity. Further clerical appointments followed: assistant preacher at St James’s Piccadilly, rector of St Paul’s Shadwell and prebendary of the collegiate church of St Peter Westminster. In 1724 he retired to Camberwell suffering poor health “impaired by the fatigue of constant preaching to very numerous congregations.” He died there on April 5, 1725, and was buried in Westminster Abbey on 13 April in the east side of the south transept. Unfortunately  he has no monument and his gravestone never had an inscription. Benjamin Ibbot had no children.  He left all his worldly goods to his wife who died aged 78 in 1764 and was buried at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire.

After his death a selection of his writings was published for the financial benefit of his widow: Thirty Discourses on Practical Subjects.

Thirty Discourses on Practical Subjects
The title page of Thirty Discourses on Practical Subjects, 2nd edition

Also the 16 sermons he preached for the Boyle Lectures in 1714 and 1715 appeared in book form.  Robert Boyle founded these lectures to serve as a public forum in which to consider the relationship between Christianity and the new natural philosophy (in other words ‘science’) then emerging in European society. Benjamin Ibbot’s contributions were entitled On the Exercise of Private Judgment, or Free-Thinking. During his lifetime Ibbot had published a translation of Samuel Pufendorf’s De habitu religionis Christianae ad vitam civilem an important work in the development of natural law, tolerance and religious freedom. In a different vein he was also a writer of poetry. His poem A Fit of the the Spleen  – in imitation of Shakespear appeared in the best selling poetry anthology of the 18th century: A Collection of Poems by Several Hands; edited by  Robert Dodsley. However Ibbot’s pleasure at inclusion might have been soured by the satirical lines added to his effort by Alexander Pope.
Read A Fit of the Spleen

[*]Sir Cloudesley Shovell, born in Cockthorpe Norfolk, was a naval commander and ultimately Admiral of the Fleet. He drowned, together with all 800 men on board, when his flagship wrecked off the Isles of Scilly in 1707. Lurid tales are told about the fate of his body. He is buried in Westminster Abbey and commemorated by an impressive memorial by Grinling Gibbons.


The General Biographical Dictionary; compiled by Alexander Chalmers. 1761 and several subsequent editions. Available at Google Books

Leonard W. Cowie ‘Ibbot, Benjamin (1680 – 1725)’  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 9 Nov 2017]

Online list of famous people buried at Westminster Abbey

History of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, by Robert Masters



Suffering and Misery in 18th century Shingham

Parish Registers are a vital source for family historians, providing the facts of names and dates for milestone events in our ancestors’ lives. However they can also offer the local historian a wider view of the times they record. The following is a transcript of burials on one page of the Parish Registers for Shingham:

♦ Mary, daughter of Robert & Catherine Reader, buried 28th January 1767 [Robert & Catherine were married in 1762 and so presumably their daughter was aged under 5 years].
♦ A poor travelling woman, found dead after the snow, name unknown, buried 10th February 1767
♦ Thomas Towler, his wife Mary, late Bird, buried 24th December 1778
♦ Hannah & William Towler, children of the said Thomas & Mary, buried January 8th 1779
♦ A poor man, found dead in an outhouse, name unknown, buried December 1784
♦ An infant the child of Anne Bone named & buried the [date missing]
♦ Thomas, an infant, the Child of Anne Bone, buried 25th October 1785
♦ Charles Constable, married man aged 60 was buried 4th March 1789
♦ Ann Dalton Davy, Illegitimate aged 4 weeks buried April 11th, a Pauper
♦ Sarah Davy Mother of this infant buried April 14th aged 17, a Pauper
♦ Henry Rudling, son of Richard and Ann Rudling, aged 2 years buried March the 7th 1790

This extract is a wretched catalogue of poverty and child death. It is difficult to imagine Christmas 1778 for the Towler family: both parents buried on Christmas Eve, and two of their children a few days later.

The old churchyard today at St Botolph's Shingham
The old churchyard today at St Botolph’s Shingham

Not many old gravestones remain today in Shingham churchyard. The unfortunates listed above would have had no substantial markers for their final resting place.

The Parish Registers for Shingham 1708 – 1837 have been transcribed and published by the Norfolk & Norwich Genealogical Society.



Trailing the Hidden Heritage of High Lodge

New project with an impressive programme of free events

The Forestry Commission has been awarded £610 000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project at High Lodge, Santon Downham to make a new trail into Thetford Forest which will link and interpret its landscape history, wildlife and forest management.

The 4.2km all-ability trail will make the forest and its heritage more accessible for everyone as it will have a smooth surface suitable for families, less experienced cyclists and those with access limitations. Benches and shelters will give ‘rest places’ and meet the needs of those with restricted health and mobility.

Warren Bank at High Lodge
Warren Bank at High Lodge (Photo: A J Spidy)

During the two-year project, there will be opportunities for everyone to explore and research the history of the landscape, take part in archaeological surveys and investigations and learn new heritage skills. There will be training to carry out wildlife surveys; to help produce activities for schools and families and to contribute to interpretation. All are free to participants and those who have booked a place will not have to pay the site entry charge.

If you are interested in this project and would like to be involved or book a place for any of the activities, please email or telephone 0300 067 4556 or write to Project Manager, High Lodge Heritage Project, Forest District Office, Santon Downham, Brandon, Suffolk IP27 0TJ.

Marking time

It is difficult to hide the fact that the Beachamwell Local History Group has been essentially dormant so far in 2017. However we are planning to become more active again in the near future and we are currently organising a programme of talks and events, starting with a talk on Oxborough Hall in November and with more events to follow in 2018. Details will appear here soon.

If you don’t already, please consider subscribing to the website and so receive news and blogposts automatically by email. Just enter your email address in the box at the foot of the page, and click on the Subscribe button.

For interest, a couple of images from our archive:

Beachamwell Hall open to the public
This picture is from the Eastern Daily Press, probably the early 1960s, and shows the owner of Beachamwell Hall Constance Villiers-Stuart with her inseparable companion, the pug Bogie Bluedoor.
School children watch thatching on roof of Beechamwell Church
This picture appeared in the Eastern Daily press on 11 July 1950 with the caption: “Children of Beechamwell Primary School have a lesson on thatching on the roof of Beechamwell Church, now being renovated.”


Fantastic Finds

A wealth of archaeological finds has been discovered in Breckland. Just in Beachamwell itself we saw at last year’s Local History Open Day the range of items found in gardens or fields in and around our village.  Artefacts on display stretched from the recent past as far back as the Palaeolithic.

Bronze Age dagger found in Beachamwell
Bronze Age dagger found in Beachamwell

But would you recognise the pin of a Roman brooch or an Anglo-Saxon loom weight if you found one? Can you tell the difference between Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools? A forthcoming training day at Gressenhall should help answer these and many other similar questions. Organised by Breaking New Ground and delivered by staff from the Norfolk County Council Historic Environment Service, the day will teach you what to look out for and where to go for further advice and help with identification. In addition a flint knapper will be on hand to demonstrate how stone tools were made.

For an idea of the kinds of archaeological finds that have already been discovered locally visit the Portable Antiquities Scheme website at and search for Beachamwell. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a DCMS funded project to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are discovered throughout the UK, many of these by metal-detector users, but also by people whilst out walking, gardening or going about their daily work. This site also offers useful advice on the identification of finds.

Fantastic Finds – Saturday 11 March, 2017. 10am – 4pm
Union House, Gressenhall, NR20 4DR
Free, but must be booked in advance. Further details and booking at

To see details of other events in this area of possible interest to local historians please visit our What’s On page

The Puddingstone Track

After watching Tony Robinson’s recent TV programme about the Icknield Way, I turned to my copy of Shirley Toulson’s East Anglia: walking the ley lines and ancient tracks to see if I could find out more about the Icknield Way in Norfolk.East Anglia: Walking the ley lines and ancient tracks

The Icknield Way claims to be the oldest road in Britain – ‘old when the Romans came’ – and runs from Norfolk to the Dorset coast. The derivation of the name is generally considered unknown, although some (and it seems plausible to me) say it may take its name from the Iceni tribe and it is true that it connects the Iceni base in East Anglia to other parts of Britain.

In many places the route is not particularly well-defined and various alternatives are claimed. In Norfolk several places have been suggested as its terminus including Caistor-by-Norwich (site of Venta Icenorum, Roman town and capital of the Iceni) , Yarmouth and Hunstanton. Evidence for the latter comes from the 13th century road names at Dersingham: Ykenildestrethe and Ikelynge which were identified by W G Clarke in In Breckland Wilds. And this western route was the one chosen by Tony Robinson’s programme. The interest for Beachamwell is that this route is claimed to pass through the parish along what are now Bridleways 3 and 18. The Connecting Threads project on footpaths in Beachamwell researched this and you can read more at:

Returning to Shirley Toulson’s book we find that she chooses to refer to the local section of the Icknield Way as the Puddingstone Track. The route of the Puddingstone Track (and its name) was suggested by Dr. Ernest Rudge during the 1940s and 50s. He thought that it was the remnant of a route used by flint traders in the late Palaeolithic period, stretching all the way from Norfolk to Stonehenge. According to him the route was marked out by a succession of marker stones consisting of a type of ‘puddingstone’ or conglomerate rock. This distinctive rock is a conglomerate sedimentary rock composed of rounded flint pebbles cemented together by a younger matrix of silica quartz.

Hertfordshire puddingstone
Hertfordshire puddingstone © Ian Petticrew. Image from the Geograph British Isles project. CC-BY-SA-2.0

It is largely confined to the county of Hertfordshire, which, as we shall see, causes some problems for Rudge’s claims.

In Norfolk Rudge identified a series of stones marking the track south of Heacham. Unfortunately Toulson reports that she was unable to find most of these when writing her book  (published 1979). One stone she did find was the Cowell Stone which lies on the boundary of Beachamwell parish at its north-west corner, at the side of Bridleway 3 where it crosses the A1122. The problem for Rudge’s thesis is that the Cowell Stone is not conglomerate rock. Continuing south there is another stone at Drymere. This was moved (in the 1970s?) from a position on nearby Forestry land to its current position at the side of the road, just to the east of BR3 – the putative Icknield Way or Puddingstone Track.

Glacial erratic at Drymere
Glacial erratic at Drymere

But once again this is not conglomerate rock but another glacial erratic (sandstone?). The next stone mentioned by Rudge is further south at Cranwich.  No individual stone has been found here, although Toulson notes that the base of the round church tower is decorated with a ring of gritty carrstone which Rudge may have claimed as puddingstone.

Thus it seems that the puddingstone theory doesn’t come to much. Apart for the lack of puddingstones, there are many glacial erratics and similar rocks around and some are bound to be on any route you choose. (Compare with the ley line fallacy which is amusingly debunked  by Tom Scott on his Magical Mystery Ley Line Locator.)  But whatever we call it and however the route was established and marked, it seems likely that our ancestors have been walking through Beachamwell en route to distant places for several thousand years.