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Dersingham Folk
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Butterfly Hall
The Founding of a Farm
Elizabeth Fiddick ©

The middle of the 19th century saw the development of that marvel of the age, the railway.  The great steam engines travelling the country at speeds undreamt of before were a thrilling and frightening sight.  Some were convinced that such speeds were injurious to the health and well being of the inhabitants of the country and predicted dire consequences.  Nevertheless by 1845 King’s Lynn had joined the “railway mania” when a meeting at the Town Hall launched the construction of a local line.  By 1848 King’s Lynn was linked to London and a wooden station had been built near The Walks.  The company that was to oversee the construction of a line to Hunstanton was first practically organised in 1856 but it was not until 1861 that the Act of Parliament was finally passed so that building could commence.  Between 1856 and 1861 the ownership of the land over which the line would travel had to be established and negotiations with the landowners over suitable compensation had to be conducted.  Several Dersingham villagers, including George Mann, occupied land on the marshes along the proposed route. On 12th February 1859 Parliament passed an Act that enclosed several acres of Common land in the village.  This land lay on the Lynn side of Manor Road, which was part of Rice’s Common, and a further enclosure, was made alongside the track called the Drift opposite Manor Road.  The enclosed land was divided into plots, which were awarded to several villagers.  George was awarded two plots numbered 80 and 90.  Plot number 80 was 6acres, 1 rood and 26 perch alongside the Drift.  Plot 90 was 1 acre, 2 rood 30 perch situated at the top of the present Heath Road just as it descends towards Manor Road. It was on plot 90 that George was to build the barn and the house to establish his farm.  


George of course was not the only villager to be awarded plots of land.  But enclosing common land was never going to be entirely popular with everyone.  The villagers defended their common rights.  In the reports of the petty sessions at Hillington in August 1859 James Green, Miles Lines and Henry Chambers of Dersingham were charged by Mr. Richard Stanton farmer, with trespass and wilful damage.  The report goes on, Mr. Stanton said he had a piece of land which was formerly part of the common but which was now enclosed and that the defendants had trespassed on this land thereby causing damage to the growing crops.  He had caused notices to be put up cautioning persons not to trespass; but this appeared to have no effect; he was therefore compelled to take proceedings with a view to putting a stop to it.  He did not wish for a heavy penalty; but in the event of any future case of the kind he should press for the full penalty and damages.  The defendants were ordered to pay 8s. 6d. each costs.


In 1861 there was a further dispute when Hon. Spencer Cowper of Sandringham sought to enclose 75 acres of Cranberry Fen.  A meeting was held at the Dun Cow by the Enclosure Commissioners to settle the dispute between ”The Lynn & Hunstanton Railway and Dersingham Common Right Owners. Having already lost several acres of Common land in 1859 the villagers clearly did not wish to lose any more.  Perhaps they also considered that if further land was to be enclosed then, like George Mann, Richard Stanton, Henry Riches and others, they also deserved compensation for the loss of their rights. During the hearing it was established that Cranberry Fen was not mentioned in a previous Enclosure Act, possibly that of 1859.  There was also much discussion concerning the value of the cranberries gathered by the villagers from the common, the turfs and the grazing rights.

So it was in 1858 that George began the building of the barn (above), which still stands in Heath Road today. The date is interesting as the Enclosure Act was not passed until 1859 but clearly George considered he could start.  He hired George Chambers as the builder. 

The Chambers family are recorded in the Directories and Census returns as bricklayers and builders.  The 1841 census records William Chambers and Mary his wife with 2 sons and 2 daughters.  George Chambers was then just 8. Evidence of the work of his family can be seen on the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Chapel Road built in 1878. On either side of the door are the two stones laid by H. Chambers and W. Flegg on the one side and W. Asker and W. Chambers on the other.  In Post Office Road a stone on the Wesleyan Chapel built in 1890 records G. Chambers & Son as builders.  The original bill from George still exists and tells us he charged £226 to construct the chapel plus an extra 1s for Piers and 4s.4d for cutting and pointing the front. H. Chambers was also on the building committee for the Forester’s Hall and the stone there confirms Messrs. Chambers as one of the building contractors. Our George was 25 when he began the construction of the barn.  The barn itself is not particularly large.  It is built of English Bond brick and chalk blocks with an outside facing of carrstone The chalk probably came from the Dersingham chalk pit which is shown on the 1839 Tithe map on the left of Sherborne Road just past Mill Road.  At that time it was worked by James Fitt the mill owner.  The carrstone doubtless came from Snettisham as it was considered of superior quality to that from elsewhere.  There had been a carrstone pit in Dersingham.  The Tithe map records James Fitt as occupying the Car Stone pit although it is described as arable land.  Some of the older villagers still refer to the crossroads of Mill Road and Shernborne Road as Carpit Corner. The late Mr. Peter Reynolds recalled both pits in his Millennium interview,   “ the chalk pit is now very much grown up with blackthorn and bushes.  The carrstone pit when I was a kid had the upper layer of it was very soft sand…and the stone was in the bottom part.”  He described the carrpit as “on your right hand side just before the cross-roads.” In the barn small areas of the original floor constructed of brick and pamments of beaten earth can still be seen.  There is a large doorway at the front and opposite to it a smaller door, which leads into what was the farmyard.  The roof is covered with heavy Norfolk pantiles and it is only because extra roof trusses were fitted that it is still standing. 

Many farm buildings of the 1850’s collapsed due to the weight of the roof causing the walls to buckle.  This is what happened to the cart sheds and pigsties on the other side of the farmyard.  Halfway up the rear interior wall is a chalk block on which is incised, ”George Chambers, Bricklayer, Dersingham Sept. 1858.”  

The house was built later and still is a large comfortable dwelling. In 1938 it was described as containing a front entrance hall, drawing room, 4 bedrooms, kitchen, pantry and larder.  At the time it was built villagers drew their water from wells or in some cases from the streams that ran through the village.  George’s house had a large well at the rear, which was 22 feet deep and supplied good water.  There was also a soft water cistern built with the house.  This collected the water from an outhouse roof and part of the house roof to be used for domestic purposes.  Mains water did not come to village until just before World War 11. There is an entry written in the school logbook for January 5th 1942 in large capital letters, WATER LAID ON.  Before that time there were many wells in the village.  Eric Cross remembered the well behind The Albert Victor in Manor Road.  The villagers, who would come to collect their water in buckets carried on a yoke across the shoulders, shared this.  Kenny Martins also remembered this and that washing water was fetched from the dyke down The Drift. Beatrice Roper remembered on washing days taking pails to fetch water from a tap at the side of the road.  She also recalled visiting her granny who lived opposite the Chapel.  “Granny used to get a pail and get the water from the well.  The well water was lovely to drink.  Much better than our water now.” She recalled that this well was behind a row of cottages opposite the Chapel.

Once the house (above) was complete George, his wife Maria and son Henry moved in. Note that it's brickwork is particularly atrractive and skillfully laid   They called their home Butterfly Hall  (now Heath House) and by 1871 the family were established there with a farm of 44 acres.  The farm prospered under George’s management.  He purchased a further 2 acres of land from Mrs. Brett who lived at Dersingham Hall. She is described in the Tithe Schedule as a Landed Proprietor with a House, Yards and garden, a cottage with garden and The Meadow, which was an area of pasture opposite the church.  She is listed as the landowner of the Mill worked by James Fitt.  We also know that at the time of his death George had two cottages with gardens occupied by Edward Mitchell and Joseph Flegg. He grew corn, turnips and mangolds and had horses, cows, calves and fowls.  Maria died in 1871 so she did not live to see her youngest son Henry marry Rachel Walker in Sandringham Church on the 23rd October 1879.  Henry and Rachel had nine children one of whom died at just 1 year and 6 weeks. George died in 1883 aged 83.  Henry inherited the major portion of the farm but all members of the family were well provided for.   Henry continued to farm for some years but had given up the farm shortly before he died in 1917. 

Everything was finally sold when Rachel died in 1938 although their daughter Grace continued to live at Heath House, as it was now known until shortly before she died aged 94.  Rachel and Henry’s grandson Eric then took over. When the house came up for auction at The Feathers on the 13th July 1938 it was noted that electricity was installed to the barn and that mains water was available. Some villagers still recall using oil lamps and candles before the “electric” came. (Mr. Cliff Riches recalled that a meeting was held in The Forester’s Hall to discuss the whole matter of bringing electricity to the village.  “There was an old boy called Donkey Daw- that was his nickname.  He had a donkey and cart.  He lived right next to the Post Office. He was a proper old country man and he got up, ”What was good enough for our fore fathers is good enough for us.  We don’t want the electric light and we ain’t going to have it.”)  The two semi detached cottages were available at a rent of £12 and £15 per annum.  It was noted that the second cottage had the right to use the well on the property of the other.

The barn has had a very interesting history.  At first as long as it was part of the farm it housed livestock, farm implements and crops. During the 1914-18 war it became the living quarters for the crew of the anti-aircraft gun that was stationed on the common as part of the ring of defences in the area.  The stone on which the gun was mounted is still there although well hidden now in the trees. Before 1940 R. and T. Houchen ran their taxi business from the barn for a rent of £7-16s-0d per year.  During World War 11 the Auxiliary Fire Service used it although the regular brigade remained at Sandringham. Its later use was as a builder’s workshop.
Just after George began to build his barn and Butterfly Hall the villagers would have been excited by the news that The Prince of Wales had bought Sandringham and would soon be living there. The coming of Royalty would have a profound effect on the area and many Dersingham villagers including the Manns and Walkers would become closely involved with the estate.
Originally published in Dersingham Village Voice Issue 47
The basis of this article is a book entitled ‘The Mann and WalkerFamilies and 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 has, in her usual efforts to tell the full story, done additional research which is used to supplement the original.

Below is Heath House in 2019 showing off it's beatuiful Magnolia. (
© Mike Strange ) Note that the end of the house is faced with carrstone