The Beachamwell Apple

In 2006, together with a few other local residents, I purchased an apple tree of the variety ‘Beachamwell’. The whip (a central stem with little or no side branching) that I planted is now a small tree and in the last few years has begun to bear a few fruits. This year it has managed to produce a grand total of ten apples.

The trees were purchased from Bernwode’s nursery, specialising in heritage varieties, and their catalogue describes the Beachamwell apple thus:

Also called Beachamwell Seedling and, originally, Motteux’s Seedling. Mr Motteux of Beachamwell, in Norfolk, raised it, probably in the middle of the 18th century, according to Bunyard. The fruit is small with a dark green skin, ripening to pale yellow, tinged red on the sunny side, with occasional russet. beachamwell appleThe yellow flesh is juicy and Hogg calls it “a rich and deliciously flavoured dessert apple, of the highest excellence”. Bunyard, in 1920, reported that it was almost out of cultivation, though old trees can still be found locally. Ripe by November and lasting to April, it is a hardy, good bearer. It can be rather variable in appearance and the amount of russet.

Words and image reproduced by generous permission of Bernwode Fruit Trees from whom specimens of the Beachamwell Apple, and many other heritage fruit varieties, may be purchased.
Bernwode Fruit Trees

It is interesting to compare Bernwode’s description with the apples that I have now collected. Here are mine:Beachamwell appleThe shape and form is much the same, although very little of the russet colour is present. Perhaps this needs a warmer growing season than we have had. As for “rich and deliciously flavoured…” well the one I have sampled so far misses the mark by quite a distance being sharp and hard. Perhaps they will improve with storing over the winter!

Do you grow the Beachamwell apple? Why not comment below with your experiences?


Minnie Grey or The Shepherd of Shingham’s Daughter

Simon Smith writes:

This 1834 short story by an anonymous author appeared in a number of publications which can now be read online courtesy of Google Books. Both The Metropolitan Magazine and The London and Paris Observer included articles and stories covering a range of topics, while Tales for the Fireside or the Road was a collection of fiction by various authors, Charles Lamb and Edward Bulwer-Lytton (originator of the immortal opening line “It was a dark and stormy night”) being the most notable.

Tales frontThe only clue as to the authorship of Minnie Grey is in the Metropolitan Magazine, where the initials E.J. appear at the end. This is also the only version to include the subtitle, and a number of more ‘colourful’ passages which do not appear in the other publications.

The opening paragraph of Minnie Grey
The opening paragraph of Minnie Grey

While no one is likely to make any great claims for its literary merit, the story is not without charm or humour. It would appear to have been written by someone familiar with the locality, and as such provides an interesting pen-portrait of Shingham – such as it was – in the early part of the nineteenth century. While the depiction of rural life is clearly profoundly romanticised, the reference to the “appearance of independence” in the shepherd’s status offers a passing nod to the upheavals in agriculture and land ownership around that time.

Shepherd with crook
Was this carving in Shingham Church of a shepherd with his crook the inspiration for the story?

Nowadays there are undoubtedly more houses and fewer sheep to be found in Shingham; as to “a race of beings living in primitive simplicity, uncorrupted by the contamination of cities and towns … and love the only business of their lives”? Possibly not.

The most complete version of the story is available here (even though some of the second page is missing).

Beachamwell Windmills

Earlier today the latest in the Narborough Bone Mill series of workshops took place and we explored the subject of mills in Breckland. The focus was on surviving mills, both water and wind, and included a visit to Little Cressingham where there is a rare example of a mill which can use both water and wind as its power source. Although there are no sails in place, the water wheel still exists and indeed we were able to see it in operation.  It was impressive to watch this apparently crude and rustic machinery brought easily to life and to see the cogs and wheels of the mill moving smoothly and almost silently.


Little Cressingham mill
Little Cressingham mill


Great spur wheel
Great spur wheel, Little Cressingham Mill

At the time of Domesday (1086) there were some 580 recorded mills in Norfolk, all of them watermills (as windmills had not yet appeared in this country). Domesday mentions no mills (ie water mills) for Beachamwell.

The earliest known identified windmill site in Norfolk is at Barton Bendish, documented in the 14C.  It is possible that what appears to be the mill mound is still to be seen on arable land at Grid Ref TF72200520. See Norfolk Heritage Explorer Record 19092

B1975.3.1112 In the beginning of the 17C the miller at Barton Bendish was Robert Rainolls. His will of 1627 records him bequeathing to his sons several windmills including one which has been identified as standing in the parish of Beachamwell, and is known accordingly as Rainoll’s Postmill. The Norfolk Mills website gives a location for this windmill at grid reference TF73800510 but nothing much else is known about it.

Fadens Map of Norfolk (1797) shows no windmills in Beachamwell but 30 years later Bryant’s map does show a windmill, known as Beachamwell Postmill which was worked in the 1800s but again very little is known about it. The location is TF74000595.

The map below shows the location of these mills. It will be seen that both stood on the western edge of the parish; more interestingly perhaps (?) both lie more or less on the line of Bichamditch (the Devil’s Dyke).  Is this a coincidence?

Location of Beachamwell windmills



The starting point for any research into mills in Norfolk is the work of the late Harry Apling in his book Norfolk Corn Windmills (1984)
Online the Norfolk Mills website is a comprehensive source of information:
The Norfolk Heritage Explorer is also valuable:
Grid Reference Finder is useful for doing just that: 

Shingham Church Open Day

Tucked away in Shingham, which is now part of Beachamwell but was once a parish in its own right, lies the remote and almost unknown Church of St Botolph. This small church is now redundant, in private hands and normally locked.

St Botolph's Church, Shingham in 1981
St Botolph’s Church, Shingham in 1981

However on Sunday 13 September 2015, from 11am to 4pm, visitors will have a rare chance to see inside this ancient building when it will be open as part of the annual Heritage Open Days festival. The church dates from the 12th century. The Norman doorway with carved decorations is an outstanding feature. Inside the 15th century medieval pews are a wonderful sight, and there is interesting Jacobean woodwork, including a three-decker pulpit.

Carved panel of Jacobean pulpit
Carved wooden panel of Jacobean pulpit
Visitors in cars are asked to arrive and park at Beachamwell Village Memorial Hall from where they will be able to follow the signed footpath walk (1km) to Shingham Church. Parking at the Church is limited with priority given to less mobile visitors.

The Village Hall will be hosting a local history display. Light refreshments available.

For more information please use the Contact link on this website.

This event is supported by Beachamwell Parish Council and the Beachamwell Local History Group.

Heritage Open Days logo

Evolution of a Breckland Landscape

In his new book Professor Richard West remarks that a traveller passing along the A1122 from Swaffham to Fincham might easily dismiss the country here as featureless rolling chalkland.   But nothing, he says, “could be further from the truth”.  Intrigued by the unusual alignment of dry valleys and an atypical patch of sand and gravel overlying the chalk near Beachamwell, the author began several years of study during which he walked the land, studying maps and aerial photographs and taking numerous soil samples.

Evolution of a Breckland landscape

The result is this detailed survey, sub-titled Chalkland under a cold climate in the area of Beachamwell, Norfolk in which he describes how our local landscape has been produced by periods of cold climate during the last few hundred thousand years and in particular an ice sheet invading from the west. The melting and freezing of the ice not only resulted in the flows of water which helped to form the landscape but also produced the distinctively patterned ground which will be familiar to anyone who has looked at Beachamwell on Google Earth or other aerial photographs.

In truth this is quite often a specialised and technical text and I will admit that I skimmed and skipped various sections. Nevertheless the local references and discussion of well-known features eg Wellmere, local streams, pits and many more make this fascinating reading for anyone who knows the area. Above all it helps us to appreciate and understand why our local landscape is as we find it today – an essential beginning for a study of local history.

A notable feature of the book is the set of some 40 aerial photographs, many contributed by local resident Bob Boughen. Author Richard West generously acknowledges Bob’s contribution together with that of Sue Pennell and several other local people who helped him in his work.



Banned from Beachamwell

Beachamwell Local History Group welcomed a very special guest speaker on 12thJuly: Lady Aurelia Young.

In an illustrated talk, entitled “Banned from Beachamwell”, she entertained us with the fascinating story of the life of her father, the famous sculptor, Oscar Nemon, and his marriage to Patricia Villiers-Stuart of Beachamwell Hall. When they met and fell in love, Croatian-born Oscar Nemon was a penniless refugee from the Nazi persecution which was to cost the lives of many of his family. Patricia’s parents,  Lt. Col. Villiers-Stuart and his wife Constance, strongly disapproved of the relationship and, having failed to prevent their marriage,  banned the sculptor from visiting Beachamwell.  Nemon  went on to become internationally famous for his sculptures of many of the prominent figures of his day, including the Queen and Queen Mother, Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

Lady Aurelia Young in front of a picture of her father, Oscar Nemon, and mother, Patricia Villiers-Stuart
Lady Aurelia Young in front of a picture of her father, Oscar Nemon, and mother, Patricia Villiers-Stuart

Aurelia Young  illustrated her talk with many wonderful photographs of her father’s remarkable work, and a couple of news reels showing the unveiling of two of his most famous pieces, statues of Winston Churchill. But she also recalled her own childhood visits, with her brother and sister, to her grandparents’  home in Beachamwell, and her many connections with the village over the years. Sadly her famous father was never invited.

Words: Maggie Mackenzie

Archaeology at Oxburgh Hall

There seems to be a sudden burst of archaeology in Oxborough. As part of the national British Festival of Archaeology there is an opportunity coming up to see live excavations at Oxburgh Hall where work continues to unearth what is thought to be a 16th Century Brick Kiln.

15th century brick making
15th century brick making

It was used for construction on the Oxburgh estate but has been buried for centuries.
You can see the National Trust archaeologist and his team dig and record and learn about this fascinating part of Oxburgh’s history.

Wednesday 15 and Friday 17 July (closed on Thursday 16)
Normal admission

Please note that this is a small excavation and entails a 30 minute walk from the car park to the site.

The People’s History of Thetford Forest

Breaking New Ground is a landscape partnership largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and designed to celebrate the Brecks and its unique social history, landscape character and the myriad of rare and unusual specialist plants, insects, birds and other species that make their home here.

One strand of their work is called A Window into the Past and comprises several fascinating projects including The People’s History of Thetford Forest.

Thetford Forest, along with Kings Forest, is the largest lowland forest in the UK.  It was established in the 1920s by the Forestry Commission and has had a huge impact on the character of the landscape.  Many people have lived and worked in the Forest, employed in a variety of roles and allied trades. Their memories of what became the biggest lowland land-use change in Britain have yet to be documented.

Thetford Forest

The People’s History of Thetford Forest seeks to address this before it is too late.  The wealth of knowledge and experience, stories and memories will be recorded and an oral history archive created.  Interviews will also be held with those in equivalent roles today, to compare changes in working practices and conditions.

The project, delivered by The Forestry Commission, will add to knowledge and understanding of the development of the modern landscape of the Brecks, and provide volunteers with new heritage skills. It is being led by Vicky Tustian , Forestry Commission and Anne Mason, Heritage Consultant.

The Project needs volunteers to be trained in oral history interviewing, editing and typing up recordings and in cataloguing archival materials, to help create an oral history archive documenting the history of Thetford Forest.

If you would like to be involved – whether you have memories to share or you’d like to volunteer for the project –  contact Vicky Tustian – or 0300 067 4551

  •  BNG is organising workshops to support this project:
    Oral History Research and Interview Techniques – 18th July
    Oral History Cataloguing and Archiving – 18th July
    A Visit to Norfolk Records Office – 24th July

More information on the Breaking New Ground website at


Swaffham Market 800

This year Swaffham celebrates the 800th anniversary of its Saturday Market.

The centrepiece will be a Celebratory Weekend July 18/19th featuring re-enactment company Black Knight Historical who will take the town back to 1215 with a Medieval Encampment based on the Campingland featuring an array of exciting interactive attractions. These attractions will include: a medieval market, pottery, costume design, archery displays, have-a-go archery, fire eaters, battles, minstrels, knights and ladies on horseback, roving story tellers and much, much more! Re-enactments of the signing of the Market Charter and the Magna Carta will take place on a stage under the Butter Cross.

There will be guided walks around the town’s historic sites, displays of work produced by local school children, merchandise on sale and the launch of a special Market Anniversary Ale. Entertainment and activities will also be taking place in the Market Place, including live music, visual entertainment and a Hog Roast.

Look out too for other events later in the year including a Festival of Markets Weekend linked to the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival taking place 17, 18 & 19 September.

Information from:
Around Swaffham
Iceni Partnership
Twitter: @SWAFFMarket800
Facebook: SwaffhamMarket800

Recent Archaeological Discoveries in Norfolk

David Robertson from Norfolk County Council’s Historic Environment Service gave an excellent talk to the Beachamwell Local History Group last week on the Archaeology of the Brecks. We realised that in this part of the world we live in a landscape extremely rich in links to our past.Horse and rider

David now sends details of the forthcoming conference Recent Archaeological Discoveries in Norfolk which takes place at Blackfriars’ Hall, Norwich on Saturday 20 June, 10am-  5pm. This promises to be a day of fascinating talks on Norfolk’s newest archaeological research with papers from the Palaeolithic to the Second World War and everything in between.

Tickets are £18 (£16 concessions). Further details and booking at