West Dereham Sign Gary Trouton

West Dereham Heritage Group

April 2012

Our first open meeting of the year proved to be a popular subject with a large audience attending from other villages as well as those from West Dereham.

The well known collector, Peter Bates, from Hilgay came along with part of his large collection of Rural & Domestic Bygones. His theme was based on the main industry in the village for the last 300 years, that of Agriculture.

Tools and implements from the bizarre to beguiling, it was nearly two hours of fun and interest all delivered with Peter’s rich West Norfolk accent.

The evening very much reminded me of the Anglia Television programme that used to shown some years ago hosted by Dick Joice, a Norfolk Farmer and his researcher Eddie Anderson. Many of the tools and implements were used by small farmers and market gardeners who earned a living from less than 5 acres of land from sowing, cultivating and harvesting a wide range of crops. Hand tools by the cartload which all looked jolly hard work from cutting hay and silage to pitching sheaves and straw.

Things for doctoring and tending livestock to horse harness and motoring. Old lamps for the home and vehicles and things for food preparation and cooking many of which some members of the audience remember using.

I was allowed to demonstrate how a Barley Fork was used although I did take issue with Peter’s description, I have always known this particular tool as a Barley Gatherer which saw use in the years before the Self Binding Reaper, a machine that not only cut the corn but tied the sheaves as well. Before 1910 corn was cut with a scythe or a Sail Reaper which both left the corn crop lying in long swathes. With wheat and oats the straw is long and could be gathered easily by a small corn rake before binding into sheaves but barley tends to be short with rather sharp awnes and as this job was done mainly by women and boys this tool made the job easier. The tool was pushed under the swath with a couple of wooden handles from which protruded two or sometimes three iron rods which the user then pushed along under the swath of barley. The crop lay at right angles to the rods and it was pushed forwards until sufficient of the barley had collected at the user end to make a shoof or sheaf. It was then upended by allowing the rods to stick in the ground thus leaving the gathered amount to await the person who’s job it was to tie up the sheaf either with twine or the corn itself could be twisted in such a manner to make a tie

There were a number of items that were a mystery to Peter so the audience were invited to say what the item might have been used for. Where the answer was the same from a number of people one might be of the opinion that this was its intended use but there were still a few articles that remained unclassified.

Chairman, Jack Walker thanked Peter for coming and a number of members rallied round to help Peter load up his vehicle before a well deserved pint in the bar.


Since the formation of the Heritage Group in 2005 we have investigated a number of local stories that relate to the Abbey and its inmates. We are sufficiently confident that most of these assertions are not based on fact and have only been in existence for about 100 years.


Lets look at the facts, the Abbey was founded in 1188 and dissolved in 1539. During that time it would have been an engineering impossibility to construct a tunnel of the length needed to reach the Church. For a start it would have continually flooded even at a depth of just 10 feet. Without shoring it would have also been unstable and with wood being the only material available to do this it would have soon rotted so again highly improbable.

The area the tunnel would have been driven through was later mined after 1873 for seams of coprolites which were located on top of gault clay at depths of up to 25 feet.

These pits were spread right across the line from the Abbey to the Church but there are no reports of the discovery of any ancient tunnel workings in those areas.

What was the tunnel for?


The Abbey did not house Monks as such but the occupants were know as Premontratensian Canon of which there were at most 12 under the leadership of the Abbott. There certainly could have been a man there who was disfigured in some way, leprosy was a common disease in those days having been recorded for over 4000 years previously. From the late 12th century Crusades to the Holy Land from Norman England had been taking place. Perhaps this man had suffered awful battle wounds to his features from which he had recovered and on his return sought sanctuary in the Abbey. It was said he required the Tunnel so he could attend at the Church but not be seen by other parishioners? Having said all that we have no recorded evidence of this and again it seems to have been instigated by bogymen stories told to children in the early part of the last century.

I have seen what could be described as a Pig Faced Mans head but it is in the form of a huge natural flint stone the features having been carved out by the action of water.

I am not prepared to say where it is other than its in the Village somewhere.


Sightings of these recorded in late 1930 to about 1950 but are in fact lead sheeting used to protect wooded sluices and flumes which fed water driven mills and pumps late 17th to 19th century. These were likely to have come from the old Abbey watermill, the remains of which were finally demolished around 1820. Some of this lead was sold by William Wright (tenant farmer)in 1940 for scrap metal when he was clearing up round the Abbey on instructions from the War Agriculture Committee

We have published this now in response to claims made on the Radio Norfolk programme broadcast on Sunday mornings called Treasure Hunt before Christmas.

Richard C. French.

March 9th. 2012.

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