Category Archives: News

History Day

The next History Day, a free public event organised by the Institute for Historical Research, Senate House Library and the Committee of London Research Libraries in History, takes place on 15 November, 10:00-16:00 at Senate House, University of London.

History Day poster

Although the panel sessions are probably aimed at academics, the day includes an open history fair showcasing libraries, archives and organisations offering individual advice for your research projects.

More information on this event, including booking your free ticket, available here

Lest We Forget

Friday the 1st of July sees the Centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. Services of Remembrance are being held in this country and France.

Thiepval Memorial
Thiepval Memorial

In France the main service of Remembrance will be held at the Thiepval Memorial.  This memorial holds the names of over 72,000 men who have no known grave, but fought on the Somme.  Two of the names on the memorial are those of young men from Beachamwell, they are:-

Jacob Butters, aged 23 years, died on or since 27.07.1916

Albert Burrell aged 22 years, died on or since 12.10.1916.

Both were volunteers. They have no known grave, but are remembered on the Memorial. The dates are the last dates on which they were seen alive and this is the information given on the official Soldiers Effects documentation.  Perhaps that was the date they went ‘over the top’, or were hit by a shell, we do not know.  What we do know is that the Somme offensive went on into November, during which time well over a 1,000,000 men, British, French and German either died, were wounded or were Missing in Action.

We will remember them and the sacrifice they made for their fellow man.

Pat Stringer

A Landscape Revolution? Breckland 1700 – 1930

Landscape historians at UEA are embarking on a project which will explore the changing landscape of the Brecks in the period c.1700-1930. Many parishes experienced dramatic change during this time as heathland commons were replaced by enclosed fields and plantations.Breckland landscape with gorse The project will seek to chart these changes and record the stories behind them, drawing together existing research and presenting the findings through a new project website. Topics to be explored include:

  • How successful was heathland enclosure?
  • To what extent did traditional agricultural practices continue?
  • What impact did game management have on the landscape?
  • How significant was the role of particular landowners and estates?
  • How did tree planting develop before the Forestry Commission took charge in the 20th century?

A number of workshops and day schools are planned which will provide opportunities to find out more about researching the changing post-medieval landscape, with a particular emphasis on contemporary maps and documents.

The project leaders are keen for volunteers and local groups to get involved with the project by carrying out research, sharing existing knowledge and contributing to the project website. They emphasise that the level of involvement is very flexible. If you would like to learn more, and how to get involved, please contact Dr Jon Gregory

This is part of a wider HLF-funded project, Breaking New Ground, which encompasses a range of activities and events across the Brecks in Norfolk and Suffolk. You can find out more on the project website – Breaking New Ground

Large turnout for Local History Open Day

On Sunday, 24th April 2016 Beachamwell Local History Group held its first Open day, which highlighted some of the projects the group has been working on. There were exhibits of photographs and artefacts about the history of Beachamwell Hall and its owners, a family story from the Census Records and about St Botolph’s Church in Shingham.  A display of archaeological objects  found locally featured a Neolithic stone quern, hand axes and scrapers, a Bronze Age dagger, Roman and medieval pottery, all vividly  illustrating how our village and its environs have been lived in for many millennia. Visitors were able to “Ask The Census”  about the 19th Century  villagers, using our excellent spreadsheet, and to  view local photographs . There was something for youngsters too with a “hands on” display of memorabilia about childhood, matched to local photographs.

Visitors to BLHG Open Day
Visitors to BLHG Open Day

Many thanks to all those who loaned items for display and all who helped to make the day such a success.  The number of visitors far exceeded our expectations, and some had travelled quite a distance. We were also delighted and grateful that many brought along photographs of their own and items of interest  for us to copy and add to our growing archive of evidence about Beachamwell’s fascinating history.

Visit the News page for details of our  next event “Venerating the Ancestors” on Saturday 16 July 2016.

Flint in the Brecks

I have just picked up a copy of the latest Breckland Society publication Flint in the Brecks.

Flint in the BrecksThis is the illustrated report presenting research and fieldwork findings from a project which has been part of the Breaking New Ground landscape partnership scheme for the Brecks. Volunteers had the benefit of training in archival research into the history of flint-mining in the Brecks and also how to recognise evidence of mining and knapping in the landscape. The first comprehensive surveys were undertaken of the use of flint in Breckland churches and also of flint-mining sites. This data has added greatly to a wider understanding of this crucial aspect of the area’s heritage.

The report contains a wide range of photographs taken specially by Nick Ford, as well as accounts of two of the project’s key discoveries: the diaries of Frank Norgate, a late nineteenth century amateur archaeologist who documented the flint history of the area, and the remarkable flint murals of William Carter, a master flintknapper in Brandon.

Copies of the report can be ordered by emailing (the report is free, P&P is £3). Visit the Breckland Society website at

Military History of the Brecks 1900 – 1949

The Breckland Society is running a Military History of the Brecks Project 1900 – 1949.  There  are a surprising amount of very important sites in the Brecks: WW1 tank training grounds; training, army and POW camps, airfields and bunkers.  The project will provide some training in archival research for volunteers including archaeological fieldwork and oral history recording. Perhaps more interestingly is a chance to walk and survey some of these sites; we are even trying to arrange access to normally strictly off-limits sites within the STANTA battle area – I would stress that nothing is confirmed yet!

Attending the training events is an essential requirement to come and survey the sites.

Beachamwell pillbox
Beachamwell pillbox

Our first event will be at 13.15 on Friday 19th February at Suffolk Record Office (SRO) in Bury St Edmunds.  The SRO staff will be showing us around, how to use the reading room, and displaying some of their relevant documents.  It will be free to attend and would be a perfect starting point for anyone totally new to archival research.

Anyone interested should contact Peter Goulding by e-mail at

Concerning Snowdrops

Double snowdrops in Sawpole Plantation
Double snowdrops in Sawpole Plantation, Beachamwell.  Photo: Sue Pennell

Constance Villiers-Stuart achieved a degree of fame with her pioneering and influential book  Gardens of the Great Mughals published in 1913 and followed this with Spanish Gardens in 1929. In later life her interest in plants and gardens continued in several directions: with her own garden at Beachamwell Hall – which she opened regularly to the public; as President of the East of England Flower Clubs; organising flower arrangements at Lynn Festivals and lecturing widely on floral topics. In her eighties she travelled to Russia to see the recently restored Peterhof  Gardens at St. Petersburg. During the 1940s and 50s she also wrote regularly for the Eastern Daily Press. Here is a typical, and seasonal, article which appeared in the EDP on 6 February 1951:

Just when everything is feeling dull and flat, and the winter and cold spring stretches interminably ahead, the first snowdrop appears. Walking under the beech trees to escape the bitter wind, a gleam of sunshine catches the tiny green spears pushing up through the russet red of last year’s leaves, a most rewarding sight. A mild day or two and the snow seems to have fallen again in drifts and patches all over the woods.

It is difficult to realise that snowdrops are not English wild flowers, they are so plentiful in some places. They must have been loved and brought here long ago, for wherever there has once been a habitation, a cottage or little farm, when all other trace is lost, there are the snowdrops and a sheltering yew.

The Dutch flower painter Jacobus van Huysum, in his famous series of the months, places a few slender bells, with a prized winter pear, on the balustrade in front of his January bouquet. Most likely it was the Romans who first brought them here, as well as the pheasants who share the beech woods. They found these flowers in Greece and on the very top of Mount Kotos, in the wild country outside the port of Salonika, they grow luxuriantly as our troops in the 1914 war found to their surprise. [Constance’s husband Lt-Col Patrick Villiers-Stuart was at Salonika.]

These bulbs, unlike other bulbs, cannot be forded with success. Dug up, put into pots and brought into the house they grow tall and leggy, all leaf and green stalk. Aconites look well treated in this way , especially in a shallow bright blue bowl, where their short stalks and round golden heads show to advantage, but snowdrops transplanted are disappointing.

Perhaps the best way to arrange snowdrops indoors is to pick them and tie them in little bunches surrounded with a frill of bronze ivy leaves. It is a tiring occupation all this bending down and that may be one reason why one rarely sees these flowers used in any great quantity. However arranged snowdrops can look most decorative. If enough bunches are picked and place in a cut-glass bowl with a spray of ivy leaves to form a handle, a very attractive centre-piece can be devised. Soon the bright hyacinths, daffodils and tulips will fill our rooms and a whole year of gay flowers will go round before we remember and again enjoy the delicate snowdrops that defy the cold winter.

Rare visitor to Beachamwell

According to a couple of newspaper cuttings a hoopoe was spotted in the grounds of Beachamwell Hall, probably sometime in the mid-1950s. (Unfortunately the cuttings are not dated but other evidence suggests this date.) The appearance of this rare bird apparently attracted a good deal of attention from bird spotters.

Newspaper cutting go hoopoe sighting

The puzzling fact is that this event took place in December, as recorded in the following report from the EDP by ‘E.A.E’ i.e. Ted Ellis, the well-known natural history writer and broadcaster:

Hoopoe on the lawn news cutting


It’s interesting that he seems to be a little sceptical and notes that the bird doesn’t quite meet expectations. Nevertheless he does give it his imprimatur as the ‘Beechamwell hoopoe’.

Here’s what one looks like:

Photo by Dûrzan cîrano        CC BY-SA 3.0

Whilst a December sighting might seem unlikely for a bird which is supposed to spend the winter in Africa, the Birds of Britain website confirms that this would not be the first such occurrence, and also gives other interesting facts about hoopoes in Norfolk .

Has anyone ever seen another hoopoe in Beachamwell?


‘Wartime Domesday Book’ now available online

Earlier this month one of the most important sources of data for students of 20th century British history, and particularly for family historians, was made available online. Stored for the past 76 years in a government building in Stockport, the 1939 National Identity Card Register was taken in order to enable the government to issue identity cards and ration books, and also to aid conscription. Registration was compulsory and it is thought that only a few people slipped through the net of enumerators recording individual  names, date of birth, address, gender, employment status, job and marital status on 29 September 1939.always_carry_id

The normal ‘100 year’ rule doesn’t apply because this wasn’t an official Census. Nevertheless you will not be able to view details of any person born within the past 100 years who is still alive. The 1939 register was maintained with details of those who died only until 1991. Therefore for anyone who was born less than 100 years ago and who died after 1991, you will not be able to view their details (although there will be a method of notifying Findmypast of their death, with suitable proof, so that their record can be opened for viewing).

It is free to search the 1939 register on the Findmypast website – with a charge to see an individual’s details plus local maps and demographic statistics from 1939. The maps are an essential part of the background information – because, during and after World War Two, literally thousands of urban streets disappeared and no longer exist.

The newly released survey is of additional importance because it is the only available national survey of England and Wales’ population between the census of 1921 and that of 1951.  The 1931 census data was destroyed in a fire in 1941 – and the census operation scheduled for 1941 was cancelled due to the war. The government says it intends to release the 1921 census in 2022  ” in accordance with the non-statutory ‘100 year rule’ which was adopted to reflect this undertaking of confidentiality”. Despite numerous protestations and challenges, the government seems to be sticking firmly to this position.

Read more at The 1939 National Identity Card Register website at

A Sprig of Nobility running to seed …

A recent post about the Beachamwell Apple mentioned that it was also known as Motteux’s Seedling.  John Motteux, who raised this variety, inherited Beachamwell Hall and estate from his father, also John Motteux, in 1793. He evidently took a great interest in horticulture. He was an early member of the Horticultural Society (later the Royal Horticultural Society) and in 1826 he was awarded the Society’s silver medal for ‘his great attention to the Cultivation of Fruits in his Garden in Beechamwell in Norfolk as proved by his frequent exhibitions of its produce to the Society’.

Also in 1826 George Cruickshank published his satirical print Exhibition Extraordinary in the Horticultural Room. It depicts officials of the Society and others in the Great Room of the Horticultural Society in London and contains a wealth of detail and political allusions which presumably would have been familiar at the time.

Exhibition Extraordinary in the Horticultural Room
Exhibition Extraordinary in the Horticultural Room by George Cruickshank  © Trustees of the British Museum.

In the foreground stands a figure in a blue jacket, arms akimbo. He is described as follows:

 A dandy, out at elbows and with patched trousers, stands aggressively in back view: A Sprig of Nobility running to seed—mem—while in this state not to be trusted out of doors—if kept under lock & key it will receive the benefit of the Act [for the relief of debtors] (‘Mr. Motheaux’, i.e. John Motteux, d. 1843, a Vice-President of the Society, and very rich).

And so we have this tantalising glimpse of Beachamwell’s John Motteux … or do we? The British Museum cautions that the identification of Motteux in the print may be mistaken. And indeed H.R. Fletcher’s history of the RHS describes Motteux as ‘short and stout’. Nevertheless it It would be satisfying to know if this portrait and description are in any way accurate.