Stoke Ferry 1750-1850 and the important role of the Crown Inn
How often do people walk, cycle, drive, bus or wheelchair past the old Crown Inn in Stoke Ferry without realising the enormously important role this building played in the development of our village and its surrounding district? But, firstly, let us be clear as to where the Crown Inn was sited during the period in question. It was on ‘The Hill’ at the corner of the present-day High Street and Lynn Road. It was only later that it ‘moved’ across The Hill to the premises which were formally the King’s Arms. It is these ‘new’ premises, now called Crown House and owned by 2Agriculture, which feature in many of the old photographs of the village. Between 1750-1850 Stoke Ferry was often referred to as a ‘town’ rather than a ‘village’. This was because it was an “improving village”; a genuine commercial hub for an area which covered the neighbouring villages of Barton Bendish, Boughton, Eastmoor, Foulden, Oxborough, Wereham, West Dereham, Whittington, Wretton and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Methwold and Northwold. The reason for its status was twofold; firstly, because it was strategically placed as a busy inland port on relatively high ground on the River Wissey and, secondly, it had a motivated group of local landowners who orchestrated the village’s development to their own advantage. Just as today, during this period Stoke Ferry had no administrative building in which to conduct local political and fiscal affairs, so these functions were carried out in various public houses. And by far, the public house of choice was the Crown Inn. It was here that petty court sessions, legal decision-making and meetings were held. It was at the Crown that leading gentlemen (and they were all men) and the occasional local aristocrat held their meetings to decide on draining the countryside, dividing & enclosing common lands, blocking ancient footpaths & rights of way and then insisting that public traffic use only the new Toll Roads which they themselves had devised and controlled. This in turn, was followed by frequent auctions, invariably held at the Crown Inn, of numerous plots of previously common or marsh lands which, through enclosure, had recently greatly increased in value. Then, from 1836, and in common with all English parishes, the Tithes that local landowners paid to the established church were renegotiated, standardised and reduced. In all cases it was the major landowners from each parish who wrote the necessary legislation, monitored its passage through both Houses of Parliament and, then administrated the various Acts. Further, they colluded to set up a local Association to prosecute those who were dispossessed, displaced or had lost their livelihoods through enclosure. So, let us take a closer look at some of the activities that occurred at the Crown Inn. During the 1700s (at least) there was an annual “Petty-Sessions for the Hundred of Clackclose(1) for hiring and retaining Servants.” Such sessions were held not just in Stoke Ferry but in various local villages. There was a further ancient petty session held at the Inn, called ‘His Majesty’s General Court of the Honor of Clare’.(2) Bankruptees were also called to attend meetings at the Inn to meet their creditors and service their debts. For example: “Thomas Smith to surrender on June 13 & 14 and July 2 at the Crown Inn, Stoke Ferry. Attorney, Roger Micklefield, Attorney at Law, Stoke Ferry. “(Norfolk Chronicle 27.05.1776)
In 1793 a group of prominent landowning gentry (Sir Richard Bedingfeld, Brt. and Richard Bedingfeld of Oxborough; Rev. Robert Forby and Thomas Morrill of Barton Bendish; Rev. James Oakes and Rev. Hardy Robinson of Wereham; James Bradfield, Henry Linhook Helsham, Roger Micklefield and Thomas Ebden of Stoke Ferry) gave notice in the press calling all inhabitants residing in the Parishes of Stoke Ferry, Wretton, Wereham, West Dereham, Crimplesham, Stradsett, Fincham, Barton Bendish, Eastmoor, Boughton and Oxborough to meet at the Crown Inn to establish an Association for the Prosecution of Felonies.(3) Other prominent locals were also founding members of this landowning Association.(4)
Here is a typical Association notice: “Stoke Ferry ASSOCIATION, Norfolk, For Prosecuting Horse Stealers, and other Felons. At a meeting of the Gentlemen and others, residing within the hundred and half of CLACKCLOSE, and adjacent hundreds in the said county, associated for prosecuting Horse Stealers and other Felons, held the 13th day of June 1793, at the Crown Inn in Stoke Ferry, it was then and there agreed, that Mr. ANTHONY ETHERIDGE, of Stoke Ferry aforesaid, should be Treasurer for the year ensuing; and that the articles of this Association, and all orders therein contained, should remain and be in full force until the next annual meeting, to be held on the 14th of June, 1794; at the place aforesaid; and that a reward of FIVE GUINEAS (together with all reasonable charges) be paid by the Treasurer to any person or persons who should apprehend and prosecute to conviction the stealer of any horse, mare, of gelding, from any of the undermentioned subscribers; and also a proper reward to any person or persons who should also apprehend or prosecute to conviction any other person or persons guilty of felony and other offences against any of the said subscribers. (Bury and Norwich Post 31.07.1793)
Turnpikes In 1770 the Stoke Ferry Trust was established to create a series of toll roads purely to connect the landed estates of Sir Hanson Berney (Barton Bendish), Sir Richard Bedingfeld (Oxborough), John Dashwood (Cockley Cley) and the Earl of Mountrath (Hockwold) to the commercial centre of Stoke Ferry. The regular trustee meetings were held in the Crown Inn to monitor the progress of the necessary Acts of Parliament and later to deal with ongoing operational issues along with a further 1791 extension. The Trustees monopoly on the local road transport system was then enhanced by the land division and enclosure acts for the same local Parishes. And, yet again, such decisions as were public were made at the Crown Inn.
Land division and enclosure Numerous notices of enclosures were placed in all the newspapers that served the county of Norfolk; though this was of little use to most of the local population who had minimal or no land holdings, little or no literacy and were unable to have the cost of a regular newspaper. So, their ability to air any “…Objections …, or desirous of any Alterations …to apply to the Commissioners at their next Meeting, appointed to be held at the Crown Inn at Stoke Ferry” was somewhat limited. The types of land that were divided and enclosed (privatised , if you will) were Common Fields, Half Year Lands, Fen Lands, Lammas Meadows, Heaths, Commons, and Waste Lands.(5) Enclosure meetings held at the Crown Inn included decisions on compounding common lands in at least the following parishes; Stoke Ferry, Borough Fen, Didlington, Foulden, Falgate, Gooderstone, Didlington, Oxborough, Northwold, Wereham and Wretton. Examples of such meetings include: A meeting regarding the Enclosures at Foulden where the “Commissioners staked out ten roads across common land linking the villages of Foulden, Falgate, Gooderstone, Didlington, Oxborough, Borough Fen”. (Norfolk Chronicle 02.06.1781)
“NOTICE is hereby given, that the Commissioners named and appointed in and by an Act of Parliament, entitled, An Act for dividing, allotting, and enclosing… [lands] in the parish of Northwold, in the county of Norfolk … at the house of Richard Curtis, being the public inn known by the name or sign of the Crown, in Stoke Ferry, in the said county, for the purpose of proceeding further in the execution of the said Act.” (Norfolk Chronicle 18.02.1797)
and, quite starkly,
Such notices often included long, detailed and complex descriptions of the staked boundary of each enclosure. For example, the boundary of the Northwold Enclosure criss-crossed the Wissey which was then a meandering and shifting waterway and included references to local landmarks which may now be long forgotten (e.g. Turnpool, Great Reach, Exandon Ware, Daisy Corner). Interestingly, enclosure notices for Stoke Ferry and Wretton included details of 4 public roads and one public footpath which were to be ‘stopped up and discontinued’ in Stoke Ferry and, similarly, 5 public footpaths in Wretton which suffered the same fate. All these footpaths and public roads crossed the lands owned by just three Stoke Ferry Gentlemen; Roger Micklefield, James Bradfield Saunders Bradfield and Anthony Etheridge.
Auctions The now enclosed ‘improvable’ land was usually sold by auction at the Crown Inn. Here is just one example: “Pursuant of the powers vested in the Commissioners from the above Enclosure Act for dividing and inclosing the Common Fields, Half-Year Lands, Lammas Meadows, Heaths, Commons, and waste Lands, within the Parish of Foulden”. This concerned five lots of farm land covering; “61 acres of White Fen and 56 acres of common at Highmoor. Particulars from Mr. Brown of Diss and Mr. Robert Crowe of Northwold”. (Norfolk Chronicle 09.06.1781) Numerous other auctions were held at the Crown including one in August 1837 where the Crown itself was up for sale as an “…Old Established, FREEHOLD INN and Posting House….with Yards, Gardens, Stables and Paddock…”. So, in summation, I think it is evident that a small number of influential, entrepreneurial landowners shaped lives and the landscape of Stoke Ferry and its surrounding area. In Stoke Ferry itself, these landowners included such well recorded names such as Micklefield and Bradfield and bearers of both these names became the principle holders of land and buildings in Stoke Ferry and Wretton. Perhaps lesser known is the name, Etheridge which also appears in this article. This was another family of landowning businessmen who owned property in Stoke Ferry (e.g. Moulsham House and ‘The Cobbles’(6)) and were joined by marriage to the Bradfield family. All three family names are commemorated in the lawned graveyard surrounding All Saints Church on the Hill; a virtual stone’s throw from the old Crown Inn. I do hope you have enjoyed this brief look at the role played by the old Crown Inn in the formation of Stoke Ferry. Perhaps it will provide some food for thought the next time you pass through “The Hill”.
References (1) Also referred to as The Hundred and Half of Clackclose. Between Anglo-Saxon times and the nineteenth century Norfolk was divided for administrative purposes into hundreds, plus the boroughs of Norwich, King's Lynn, Thetford and Great Yarmouth. Each hundred had a separate council that met to rule on local judicial and taxation matters. (2) The Norman Earls of Clare were once the baronial owners of lands of Stoke Ferry. The court of the Honor of Clare was a feudal court where petty criminal issues were resolved and tenants/sub-tenants paid their dues through a bailiff or constable. (3) Such Associations were also being created by other Norfolk landowners at this time, for example The South Erpingham Association, Aylesham. (see Norfolk Chronicle June 14, 1794) (4) James Bloomfield, Richard Curtis, Anthony. Etheridge, John Morley, William. Nurle and James Ward, E. Youngman, all of Stoke Ferry; Robert Catton, John Houchen and Thomas Ingey of Wereham; Tomas Rolfe and Richard Wallis of Wretton; Robert Thorrold of Boughton; William Dungrey, John Filbee, Master Godfrey and John Oldham from West Dereham; William Filbee from Foulden; W. H. Clarke, Abraham. Cock, John Caney, George Eyres, Robert King, John Newton, James Wortley and John Wortley all from Methwold; H. V. Foyster, John Wright and John Young from Northwold. (5) There were two types of Common Land; whole year land, where there was all-year access, and half year land where access was available from Lammas (1st August) to Candlemas (2nd February). Lammas meadows were areas owned by local families and not enclosed. Each owner could take a crop of hay off their patch in July, then, from Lammas Day to February, the land became a common grazing area. (6) A Farthing for the Ferryman, Richard L. Coates, The Harpsden Press, 2019, p180.