WEST DEREHAM HERITAGE GROUP

Report of the last two meetings of WD Heritage group

This report covers two meetings, the first on April the 16th. which was a round table discussion at the village hall. Pam Walker has done a lot of work on the 1841 census filling in details that are not normally shown and trying to name the families living in a particular cottage. Paddy Murfitt was able to demonstrate with his lap top the overlaying of the modern map with that of the O.S. map of the 1890s. The viewer is then able to see any changes to building footprints and field boundaries.

On the 6th of May we had one of our periodic visits to places of historical interest and on this occasion it was an evening trip to the Churches that are enclosed by the Stanford Battle Area. This area covering up to 30,000 acres is under the control of the Ministry of Defence and Ruth Marsters, who organised the trip, had to book over a year in advance. The window of opportunity is very small owing to the large amount of military activity and the ever increasing need for training purposes. Visits are allowed at certain times of the year with priority given to those who have relatives interned in the cemeteries of the churches.

A small coach was hired and 47 people from Downham Market, Stoke Ferry ,Boughton, Whittington and West Dereham travelled to the site which is situated about 7 miles north of Thetford. Our party included relatives of those people who once lived there. Conducting our tour was R.S.M. Gedge. There is a large hut where some archive photographs are on show and two cousins, who had never met before, one of whom was able to recognise his Uncle on one of the prints. His relative who was with another party happen to be standing near by when he pointed this out to those he was with.

There are four Churches standing today, there were originally six but two fell into decay after the Reformation and by the 19th century very little remained. Still intact are St.Andrews at Tottington, All Saints at Stanford which has a round tower, St. Andrews at Langford which has no tower and St Mary at West Tofts which was a medieval building extensively restored by Augustus Pugin in the Gothic style during the 1890s.

We were able to go inside to view the splendid Gothic decoration for which Pugin is so well know for. The permanent staff hold a Christmas service in this Church.

For those readers who may be unfamiliar with the history of the place I will offer a brief account. During 1940 the British Army was being re-trained after the retreat at Dunkirk. This area was selected, one of several others in the UK to represent Northern Europe where those training here would eventually end up fighting WWII. The significance of these battle areas was to use live munitions and therefore civilians could be at risk if they were still living on the land and using it for their normal activities which was mainly farming. There is a case where a farmer was shot dead while moving cattle at the Orford site. Most were tenants of the landowner Lord Walsingham and compulsory evacuations commenced in July 1942. In all nearly 1000 men, women and children were put off the property. A safe period was granted in August-September to harvest the corn crops that had been drilled the previous spring. It also included two pubs, The Cock Inn at Stanford and The Three Horseshoes at West Tofts, a school and the Post Office at Tottington, an area covering 17,000 acres.

Today the site is of Special Scientific Interest, wildlife abounds and it is a safe breeding place for the Stone Curlew which at one time was nearly extinct.

Richard French

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