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George Mann and Maria Riches - 1820 to 1861
Dersingham in their Time

Elizabeth Fiddick ©
He we see George Mann in later years.

On the 22nd of October 1820 friends and family crowded into Dersingham Church to attend the marriage of George Mann and Maria Riches who took their vows in front of two witnesses, Jane Banyard and Thomas Cross and thus embarked on what was to be a long and happy union.  At the time of their marriage Maria was just 16 and George 19.  They would be together for 51 years before Maria died in 1871 and George twelve years later in 1883.  Exactly when they met is not known.  George’s parents came from Roydon where he was born in 1801.  At some point after that he came to live in our village. Maria’s family lived originally in Edgefield near Holt and it was here that Maria was born and christened in the church in 1804.  So sometime after 1804 but before 1820 Maria came to Dersingham.  It is possible that Maria’s father was John Riches who is shown on the Tithe map of 1839 to occupy a cottage and lands at the top of Dodds Hill and further land out on the Marshes called The Row.  Three months before their wedding Maria gave birth to George’s son, Francis, who was christened in Dersingham Church on July 30th 1820.


They had five more sons. John was born in 1821. George was born in 1827 but died before 1830. Another baby to be christened George was born in 1830, and then came William in1835 and Henry in1839.  Of their two daughters Marianne, who was born in 1824, died in infancy but another daughter born in 1833 was christened Mary Ann.  We know from the records that George was a shepherd. The Tithe map shows that he occupied two pieces of land on the Marshes owned by John Motteux of Sandringham described as, a garden, and a shepherd’s garden.

He also occupied a cottage with a garden, which was situated on the left of the present Manor Road as you turn in from Lynn Road.  This cottage would become an Inn after the family left in 1861.The cottage George and Maria knew was probably altered to fit in with its new situation. It was to be called The Albert Victor Inn and is recorded in the 1871 census returns with the address as Heathside. Albert Victor was the older brother of Prince George (later George V.)  and died of influenza at Sandringham in 1892 shortly after his engagement to Princess May of Teck.  Many villagers will remember the Albert Victor, which ceased trading sometime in the 1980’s, and is now a private dwelling once again.

The Albert Victor and showing Westhall Cottages on the right, once the Workhouse

By the time the 1851 census was taken George is described as a Marsh Shepherd and his two sons George, now 21 and William 15, are also recorded as marsh shepherds. It is not difficult to imagine the Dersingham this family knew, as so much of it is still visible even if it has become obscured by all the modern buildings. In 1851 there were just 812 residents in 163 houses.  By 1861 this had risen to 822 residents and just 166 houses. There were very few houses along what we know as the Lynn Road. On the seaward side through to Life Wood was arable, pasture or common land. On the opposite side was the Great Pasture and then common land to the end of the village.  The houses were to be found on just one side of what we now call Chapel Road and they faced out across open land, and natural ponds, to The Wash. The first large building on the opposite side was Dersingham Hall where Marianne Brett lived with her son Edward, a solicitor, his wife, three daughters and five servants. There was just one farm at the top of Sugar Lane.  The area around the church was much as it is today although the churchyard was much smaller.  The area behind the tithe barn is called Dove House Close and was designated as Pasture.  The vicar at this time was Edward Bellamy; he did not live in the village but in Ingoldisthorpe at the Old Hall. He is buried in that churchyard with his wife Mary and his son James. It was in Dersingham church on July 12th 1856 that George and Maria’s daughter Mary Ann was married to Frederick Jarvis.

By 1858 the church was no longer the only place of worship as The New Connexion Chapel for the Methodists had been built close to The Cock Inn.  The building is still there today. At the bottom of Dodds Hill opposite this chapel was another group of cottages but you must in your mind’s eye remove the present old school buildings and restore the carstone cottage that was once the Manor House of Pakenham. Further cottages were to be found half way up Dodds Hill as they are today. It was here that John Riches, possibly Maria’s father, had a cottage and land. There were more cottages opposite The Feathers than there are today. The rest of the village lived along one side of Manor Road  They faced across Rice’s Common and up towards Sandringham. High above the village, was the windmill, a landmark for miles around, run by James Fitt.  He lived in the Mill House with his wife Susannah, three sons, a housemaid and house servant.  His brother was his assistant and he had one apprentice.  The old Bake house in Chapel Road used by the Fitts in later years still stands although the storage barn that stood next to it has been removed. 

So Dersingham was considerably smaller than today and you must remove all the modern housing in Sandringham View, the Mountbatten Estate, Gelham Manor, Centre Vale, Valley Rise and Park Hill to restore the common land, the pasture land, the Marshes grazed by sheep, cattle and horses, and the extensive warren nibbled by hundreds of rabbits. George and Maria would have walked out of their cottage and looked straight over Rice’s Common and to their right across Badger Fen and Cranberry pasture out to the Wash.  Sandpit Cottage would have been clearly visible where Robert Hillings, the warrener lived with his wife Barbara and three children and some time later George Chapman with his wife Elizabeth and three young children.

The Heath in the 20th century but giving an

impression of how open everything was


Looking from the Heath to

Sandpit Cottages and the village beyond


Looking from the Heath to

Sandpit Cottages and the village beyond


When George and Maria were first married the old Manor House of Westhall next door was divided up for use as the Workhouse.  After 1834, when the Docking Union Workhouse was built these cottages were once again used for private occupation.   John Flegg the wheelwright lived there with his wife, 4 sons and a daughter.  Then there was Robert Gallop, who worked for a local farmer, his wife and 4 children.  John Lines, a retired carpenter, occupied another with his wife, daughter and two grandsons and finally there was Francis Nurse with his two young sons.


Westhall Cottages


There were four Inns where George could have enjoyed some liquid refreshment at the end of the day.  The nearest was The Dun Cow, run for many years by John and Ann Waters.   The Inn was but part of a working farm with about 135 acres and employing 3 men and 2 boys. The carstone farmhouse and other cottages, faced the farm buildings and the Inn across the road known even to many of today’s older villagers as Cow Lane. After John’s death Ann managed the farm and the Inn herself.  The old Inn and adjoining barns were demolished just before World War 11 and replaced first by a “modern” Public House and finally by Budgen’s. However the cottages on the opposite side survive to remind us of what has been lost. A few steps further on where Jubilee Court now stands was The White Horse farm and Inn.  William Smith was the Innkeeper here and ran a smaller farm of some 15 acres.  In the other direction from George’s house was The Coach and Horses still trading today. Here Thomas Taylor was the Publican.  Close by was the premises of The Cock, now The Feathers. 


The Dun Cow



Cow Lane (now Lynn Road)
looking towards King's Lynn


As auctions, and sales of property were regularly held here it was obviously big enough even then to accommodate a large number of people and of course offer suitable refreshment afterwards.  Archibald Petrie ran this Inn with its associated farm employing one man and two boys.


An auction notice as would have been seen around the village


George and his sons were Marsh Shepherds. Sheep had formed an essential part of the Norfolk farming system for centuries. They were an important source for manuring the land after crops had been gathered and were valued by landowners. In one document a great common is described in the area that supported 30,000 sheep. After the enclosure acts of the 18th century Arthur Young, the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture, noted that in Dersingham the number of sheep had greatly increased.  George would have been involved in the lambing season and the shearing.  There are wonderful carvings on the Holkham monument depicting these events.  In the summer the sheep were driven to graze on the marshes and it must have been quite a sight when all the sheep were driven down from the fields above the village and along the roads out to the marshes.  In fact in her millennium interview in 1999 Gill Griffin spoke of seeing just such an event when she was a child.  “I remember seeing all the sheep come down the road… was a picture to see those sheep because they completely blocked the road…..People used to run outside to get all the droppings.  You’d hear them coming and then you’d watch them go right down the road.”   It must have been just that way in George’s time, the sheep, the dogs, the shepherds and the villagers who gathered the droppings for their vegetable gardens.  There were many farms of varying sizes in the village during George’s time. Sheep were only part of the scene of course. The largest, Church Farm, covered 1500 acres and was run by Joshua Freeman who employed 39 men and 28 boys.  Joshua lived in the farmhouse behind the church with his wife Susan, 5 children and 4 servants.  Robert Farrin ran Hill House farm at the top of Sugar Lane.  He had 330 acres employing 10 men and 6 boys. In Chapel Road today there is the lovely carstone cottage and outbuildings that house the successful Dersingham Pottery.  On the cottage can be seen the initials G.C. and the date 1823.

Few buildings remain of the Oak Farm complex run by George Chadwick. He farmed 145 acres with a workforce of 4 men and 2 boys. George had also at one time run the Malthouse that used to stand opposite the library. In 1965 a fire destroyed The Oaks, the house that stood next to the pottery and later our surgery was built where it used to stand.


Dersingham Pottery


These are the few buildings remaining
of the Oak Farm complex
The other large farming concern was some 2-3 miles from the centre of the village but still within the parish boundary; this was Ling House Farm run by Richard Stanton.  Here 19 men and 7 boys worked the 330 acres. There were several very small concerns such as the 26 acres farmed by the Bussey sisters, Maria and Matilda.whose father had been a gamekeeper.  They were also known in the village for their dressmaking skills.  A great majority of the villagers are recorded as Agricultural labourers but there were other particular skills that were needed. 

The Frost family were the blacksmiths.  Their smithy I believe stood just behind our library next to open common land and natural ponds.  They lived in a cottage further down Chapel Road.  The Mitchell family were the hurdle makers. Hurdles were the light fences used to pen the sheep and naturally in constant demand.  The several members of the Flegg family were all wheelwrights.  There was also a woodman, a sawyer, and a woodcutter to supply the materials for these occupations.  Cattle were also reared on the farms.  Arthur Young commented on the bullocks that were fattened on the marshes. At the beginning of the 19th century 20,000 cattle and 80,000 sheep were recorded as being driven to London from Norfolk.  Here Robert and John Balding were recorded as cattle dealers while one John Balding is also listed as a drover. At this time several families still earned a living from fishing.  8 men are listed as fishermen and 7 women as Fish Women. They would mostly have been involved with the mussel and cockle beds in the area. 

The Skelton family are particularly interesting.  In the Tithe schedule of 1839 George Skelton is recorded as the keeper of the Wild Fowl Decoy, which is still recorded on modern maps. He must have been a familiar sight and friend to George down on the marshes. The usual method of decoying was to feed wild ducks using tame ducks as decoys.  A signal would be given and the tame ducks would swim up the dyke, which was roofed with netting.  The wild ducks would follow and once beneath the net roof their fate was sealed. At this time 1861 Mary Skelton was a widow and a new decoy keeper has not been recorded.  Mary and her two daughters are listed as fish women while William the son is a fisherman. There were several carpenters and joiners in the village as well as several bricklayers.  William and George Chambers who are recorded as bricklayers will feature in the fortunes of the Mann family later. 

Maria would have had frequent dealings with the shopkeepers.  There were two large concerns.  John William Parker was a grocer and Draper.  His family would come to run Parkers Stores that many villagers can still remember trading at the bottom of Sandringham Hill in the premises now selling beds.  Enoch Beckett ran another large grocery and drapers.  It was Enoch who was responsible for completing the census returns and on a personal note I wish that he had taken just a little more time over them, as his writing can be very hard to read at times.  The Beckett family would eventually run the Post Office in the building we know today. 

Charles Reynolds ran another concern and there were two butchers.   The Terringtons, Henry and John, not only had a shop but were also Boot and Shoemakers.  Then there were two tailors, a milliner and several dressmakers.  Another important member of the community well known to the Manns was Abraham Davis the carrier.  He would transport goods and sometimes passengers to and from King’s Lynn and other villages and so join with the other carts and carriers travelling from Snettisham, Heacham and Hunstanton regularly to Lynn. Abraham died in 1899 and the vicar commented at the time on, ”the quiet voice of the obliging old carrier…heard for many years on the Lynn Road urging on his old horse.”  There was also a postal service.  In 1854 letters could be received from the mail gigs at 7a.m. or despatched at 6.15 p.m. from Isaac Bunn’s place of business. This was the long cottage next to King’s Croft, which was an important shop in the village for many years well into the 20th century. Later Enoch Beckett took over as the postmaster for the village.  

There were of course many children in the village. It was not until 1875 that the village school was built at the bottom of Dodds Hill but even before the 1870 Education Act there was a school in the village.  Barbara Day ran a school in her property at Dodds Hill and several young women are recorded as schoolmistresses such as Jane Scott, Jane Holland and Georgina Coe. Most of the children recorded as scholars are between the ages of 5 and 12 but there are a few older ones still listed as scholars. We know that some 47 boys were employed on the farms. There was John Balls aged 10 who was employed as a Crow boy. James Nurse, 10 was a Cow boy as was Robert Chambers while his older brother John 11, was a shepherd boy.   William Nurse was an Errand boy while other young boys are simply listed as agricultural labourers. It is likely George and Maria’s children attended the school when they were small but it is certain that all the adults and children would have been actively engaged on the farms at Harvest Time. So this is the village where George and Maria spent their early-married life and raised their children.  In the ten years between 1851 and 1861 the population recorded only increased by 10 and there were just 3 additional occupied houses. But after 1861 two events were to bring great changes to the village and to the family Mann.

The basis of this article, initially for  Village Voice Issue 46, is a book entitled 'The Mann and Walker Families with their Consorts' written as a family history by Mr Don McLean of Shipdham in Norfolk who has given us kind permission to use whatever material is included. Elizabeth Fiddick has, in her usual efforts to tell the full story, done additional research which is used to significantly supplement the original.