Stone age habitation is evident from the number of axe heads found in parts of the parish and, in common with many local villages, other signs of habitation can be traced to the Iron Age. However Barton Bendish, as we know it today, really began to take shape in late Saxon times. Bertuna was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1087AD and the more familiar name of Barton Bendish was derived from this. In the Saxon language Barton refers to an outlying settlement. Ben Dych (Bendish) means inside, by or within a ditch. This refers to the Devil’s Dyke which was a large Saxon earthwork running 9 miles between Caldecote (near Beachamwell) and Narborough. It was cast up by the Saxons as a defence against the Danes at the time of their invasion of East Anglia. Remains of the bank are still obvious either side of the main A1122 road a little way east of the Narborough turning. The bank also served as a boundary line to the Clackclose Hundred of which the area of Barton Bendish was part. The family name of De Bendich or Bendish was recorded in the reign of King Stephen who acceded to the throne in 1135.
Extensive archaeological excavations were carried out within the village on the site of All Saints church in 1980/81 and again in 1988 on the meadow opposite prior to the commencement of building work for ‘The Paddocks’ housing development.
In the reign of Henry II (1154) 9 small manors, 4 of which were in Eastmore (Eastmoor), came into the possession of the Lovell family who built a Great Hall at Barton Bendish, this stood on the site of the present Hall. A descendent, Sir Thomas Lovell, who was born at the Hall fought as a knight in the War of The Roses (1485) and was held in very high esteem by Henry VII. The Hall was later owned by a Mr Serjeant Gawdy and his family from 1579 until 1677 when it was sold to Sir Richard Berney whose descendants continued to reside there intermittently for more than 250 years. Sir Thomas Reedham Berney was the last of the Berneys to live at Barton Bendish. Remains of the old Hall form part of the present day Hall that was built in the Elizabethan style in 1856.
Many people have lived in there over the years other than those who owned it. In the 1800s The Reverend S G Read’s parents are recorded as living there having taken it over from his mother’s family, the Sewells, one member of whom, Anna, was famous for writing the classic children’s book ‘Black Beauty’.
The Bartholomews lived at the Hall in the 1920s and early 30s followed by the Parkers from 1935 to 1943 when it was taken over as a billet for the Land Army. Soon after the war the Hall and Estate were acquired by William Gotobed, his wife Gwendoline and their young adopted son Roger. William tragically died as the result of a shooting accident in 1953. The whole structure of the estate changed when the many small farms were taken back in hand. After William’s death his wife Gwendoline took over the running of the estate and sold or demolished many of the old cottages. She died aged 75 in June 1985 and Roger, who after his father’s death, had unwisely cashed in on his share of the inheritance and was divorced, inherited what remained of the estate. One year later he too unexpectedly died at the age of 45. This period proved to be a very traumatic time in the history of Barton Bendish.
Shortly after Roger’s death Feruzzi, an Italian farming and agricultural conglomerate whose UK subsidiary went under the name of ‘Agricola’, purchased the whole estate including Abbey Farm which had been in the possession of Abbey life Assurance. The present owner, Albanwise Ltd- a UK based farming and real estate company - which is ultimately owned by the Vighignolo Investment Trust (whose purposes are semi charitable) - purchased the Estate in 1992 and has ever since then invested to preserve the village historic significance and enhance the surrounding landscape.
It is interesting that in the span of twenty five years, between 1850 and 1875, so many major building works were carried out in the village. The Hall was rebuilt in 1856, St Andrew’s Church was re- roofed, restoration work was carried out on St Mary’s Church in 1865, St Mary’s Rectory was completely rebuilt in 1866, a Wesleyan Chapel was built in Chapel Lane in 1875 and the school was built in 1874.
In 1684 Mr Thomas Berney was wrongly convicted of murdering his friend Mr Thomas Bedingfield from Oxborough in a Norwich tavern and was consequently executed and in May 1867 Hubbard Lingley murdered his uncle Benjamin Black in Barton Leys Wood. Having lured his victim to the wood Lingley shot him because he wanted his job, he was subsequently tried in Norwich and found guilty which resulted in him being hanged on 26th August 1867, the last public hanging to take place in Norfolk.
Originally there were three churches in Barton Bendish, St Andrew’s, St Mary’s and All Saints. It is curious that they were all built so close together at more or less the same time.
All Saints stood opposite St Andrew’s and is believed to have been built on the site of a small wooden church. The first recorded rector was John Clare in 1325 and the last, Reverend Richard Jones in 1779. All Saints was demolished in 1788. Some material from the church was used to renovate St Mary’s but the greater part was used for making a new road. The new rectory, built in the 1960s, occupies what were once the burial grounds and All Saints House stands on the original site of the church.
St Andrew’s is the church currently in use and is thought to have probably been the first to be built. Parish records exist dating back to 1695 but it is known that the first rector of St Andrew’s was Roger de Elmham in about 1230. The roof was originally thatch that was replaced with new timbers and slate between 1851 and 1868. The tower was shored up for twenty years between the 1960s and the 1980s until sufficient funds were available to make the necessary repairs.
St Mary’s was last used for services in 1967 and was made redundant in 1974. The present building is in the early 14th century style and the wall painting of St Catherine broken on a wheel is also believed to date from that period. The first rector to be recorded was Hugh de Swafham in 1308. Originally St Mary’s had a tower but it fell down during a storm in 1710. Money from the sale of the bells and lead from the roof of All Saints when it was demolished was used to repair the little church in 1789. The unique late Norman doorway, dated as being about 1140, now at the west end of St Mary’s was moved there from All Saints at about the same time. Repair work also included replacing the thatched roof with tiles.
Further restoration work was carried out in 1865 and a newspaper report in 1903 stated that ‘the roof, which was formerly of tiles and thatch, was now slate’. This roof was removed and replaced with thatch in 1976 as part of restoration work carried out after St Mary’s was made redundant in 1974. The western stone bell turret was erected in 1871 to the memory of Sir Hanson and Lady Berney.
In 1787 the rectories of All Saints and St Mary’s were consolidated and in 1885 they were united with that of St Andrew’s.
The old Rectory in Church Road was built in 1725 and was the home to the resident rectors of St Andrew’s until the 1930s. St Mary’s Rectory (now known as Score House) was totally rebuilt in 1866 using red and white bricks and freestone. It was home to perhaps the most famous of all Barton’s rectors who was described as ‘ A venerable and beloved personality’. The Reverend Stephen Gooch Read served the parish for 59 years from 1865 until his retirement in 1924, he was affectionately known as Parson Read and died in November 1926 a few weeks short of his 94th birthday.
In 1929, 77 hectares of land on the northern side of the parish was transferred to Beachamwell reducing the size of the parish to 1,593 hectares which includes the hamlet of Eastmoor.
In the 1700s the poor of the three parishes, All Saints, St Mary’s and St Andrew’s, had land set aside for them to cut turves for firing and in 1729 it is recorded that there were three small cottages, close to where the new rectory now stands, inhabited by poor people. There are still odd parcels of Church or Glebe land in existence around the village.
A Wesleyan chapel was built at Barton Bendish (in Chapel Lane) in 1875 and another at Eastmoor in 1899. Both have now been converted into houses.
The school was built in 1874 by the Lord of the Manor for 80 children to carry on the work of one built 30 years earlier although village records show there was a teacher, Ann Ficking, in 1836. In the 1930s and early 40s Mrs Dale was particularly successful and several children from the village passed the 11 plus and went on to Grammar School which meant that they had to cycle to Downham for there were no taxis or school buses in those days.
The shop that for many years had served the village eventually closed in the late 1970s. Polly Riches was shopkeeper from the early 1900s. A few years after she retired, grandson Eddie took it over with the help of his wife Marjorie. After it’s closure it was converted into Hyde House.
The Post Office alternated between the two cottages numbers 26 and 27 that were built in 1713. It amalgamated with the shop in 1967. The first post master was listed as being William Bailey in 1858 followed by 4 generations of the Horn family who ran it from 1881 until 1965.
William Wilkin was recorded as the first publican of the Spread Eagle in 1836. John Gee who was also a master wheelwright followed him in 1845. In a census taken in 1871 the name of the public house appeared temporarily as The Berney Arms. In the latter part of the last century there have been a number of people who have held the licence.
Many houses in the parish have been demolished within living memory. There were
2 cottages beside the track to Barton Leys Wood, this was also the site of an old brickworks.
2 cottages beside the track to the Fen (Channels Wood)
2 thatched cottages opposite Hill Farm.
2 cottages at Field Barn.
2 cottages at the Glebe (close to the farm buildings).
A wooden house on the left hand side half a mile along the Eastmoor road from Barton.
The Red House along Murgot’s Lane.
A Farmhouse on the Smeeth.
A thatched cottage and a bungalow behind the shop.
3 cottages were also converted into the farm offices at Hill Farm.
A bungalow once stood where the Bowling Green is now.
Church (Hardings) Farmhouse beside the church (now the site of ‘Blandings)
3 thatched cottages, numbers 28, 30 and 31, that stood behind and beside number 29.
The Barracks which were a terraced row of back to back cottages. There were 5 at the front and 5 at the back which were originally 2 rooms up, one leading into another, and one down. Many families were brought up there. It is thought the houses could have been called that because barracks for archers may have stood on the site where the cottages were built and Buttlands Lane may have got it’s name from where they practised. The Barracks were demolished circa 1968.
2 cottages stood about halfway along the footpath between Avenue Farmhouse and Chapel Lane.
There were also 5 cottages along Chapel Lane (formerly known as Cripple’s End), 2 were opposite the footpath, 1 where the road bends and 2 where the Anglia Water building is now situated.
Abbey Farmhouse for a time was also 2 dwellings.
Recent building has taken place at Hatherley Gardens, The Paddocks development, Sandmere, Four Hills Wood, St Andrew’s Barn, The Limes, The New Rectory, All Saints House and 2 new farm cottages in Buttlands Lane.
In 1672 there were 98 hearths and stoves in Barton Bendish that were subject to taxation and in 1801 the population was 355. It had risen to 495 in 1851 but fell back to 381 in 1901. In 1948 there were 362 people living in the parish.
For centuries farming was at the heart of village life even until the 1960s when mechanisation inevitably took over. Now only a handful of people are employed on the estate farm and not all of those live in the village. Agriculture provided a livelihood for most of the families and what is now one large estate was originally divided up into many small farms each supporting a family and some even employing other labour full time as well. As can be seen by the photographs there were many children in the village and numerous social activities. Barton Bendish and Eastmoor were small rural communities where everyone knew everyone else and no doubt each other’s business as well! They were what in today’s terms would be described as ‘close-knit’. Combined with fewer land workers it was probably the closure of the village school in 1974 that accounted more for the changes to the village than any other factors. Like many small rural villages retired folk now outnumber schoolchildren. Families that had lived in Barton for many generations have dispersed and there are few left to walk in their ancestor’s footsteps.
The Rumballs could be traced back through the parish registers to 24th January 1700 when John (then spelt Rumbol) was buried at St Andrew’s. Mary Rumball married a William Palmer on June 5th 1744 at the same church. Records show that members of the family worked as plumbers, glaziers, painters, shopkeepers, carriers, farmers and gamekeepers over the centuries.
The Whitfields were first mentioned in 1736 as farmers and other familiar names such as Cooper and Crome appeared later in the 18th century.
The Horns were a well known family who lived in the village for a century and a half. The men of the family were blacksmiths and carpenters while the women kept the post office. Rebecca was the first beginning in 1881,then Ellen Horn took over as post-mistress for 35 years from 1895 until 1930, daughter Gladys followed the tradition for another 27 years. Nurse Mary Horn, perhaps the best known of them all, arrived in the village when she married Arthur in 1939. She acted as District Nurse for many years and helped to bring most of the local children into the world. She was chosen to unveil the newly erected village sign in 1990 and died on December 31st 1994 at the age of 88.
Many people used to combine one occupation with another. The licensee of the Spread Eagle in the 1850s, John Gee, was also a wheelwright and later in the 1930s Fred Bellham combined public house duties with that of agricultural haulier.
Although there are no records of either a permanent butcher or baker, these services were offered by tradesmen from surrounding villages, there is one mention of a farmer, Charles M Raven, who was also listed as a miller and baker in 1851. However the village shop sold almost everything that might be needed from second hand furniture and paraffin to sweets and it was even possible to have boots not only mended but also made in the village. But these were hard times and money was short so many families were relatively self- sufficient and could do most things for themselves.
In 1920 Barton Bendish attracted much interest from the national papers, particularly the Daily Mirror, when it was dubbed ‘the loneliest place on the face of the earth’. This followed a court case at Downham Police Court that was attended by a correspondent from the Daily Express who duly filed a report. Two summonses had been made against Mr George Frederick Blake for infringements to the Agriculture Minimum Wage Rates. At the time Mr Blake was acting as agent for the trustees of the estate at Barton Bendish. His solicitor, in his defence, said that the village was so remote that it could only be got to by plane or car and that newspapers did not reach it and therefor government orders were not known. He believed that the village had a parson ‘but it is so far afield it would not be surprising if the people lived in a state similar to that of the ancient Druids’. Despite his pleas on Mr Blake’s behalf the defence was rejected and fines were imposed.
For centuries agriculture provided a living for most of those in and around Barton Bendish. There were many small farms then that now compromise the one large estate. Families gleaned a living from such places as Hall Farm, Glebe Farm, Hill Farm, Church Farm, Abbey Farm and Avenue Farm plus two or three at Eastmoor that were let and ensured the landowners a regular income. In those days even a few acres could provide a supplementary income and there were other even smaller parcels of land where people kept a few cows or grew some crops. Helped by her neighbours and family, Ruth Mason, who was widowed and lived in The Barracks after the war, was able to grow enough sugar beet on hers and an adjoining garden to pay her rent for the year. Many people then kept a few chickens and a pig to provide them with meat. Poaching rabbits or pheasants too was common and in all honesty country folk were probably much better fed than those living in towns during and immediately after the war.
Even up to as late as the early 1960s farming was very labour intensive. Irish men would be employed from May to January to work singling, weeding and harvesting the sugar beet and helping to harvest the corn. Women from the surrounding villages, as many as 40 of them, would also work on the land helping with the lighter manual work of picking sprouts or gathering potatoes and vegetables such as carrots, that were grown locally, and had to all be pulled by hand. Then there were no giant machines that could do everything in one pass as there is now.
Mechanisation had begun to creep in very slowly in the late 1800s. In 1890 Charles Young Hewitt, who was a farmer in the parish, was recorded as owning a threshing machine. Gradually other machines were introduced that increasingly did men out of jobs. Power provided by stationary engines running on petrol meant that it wasn’t necessary to have mains electricity connected and the original bucket type milking machines that were introduced enabled one man to milk many more cows than when they had to milked by hand.
The Second World War resulted in land that had not previously been cultivated being brought into production. The deep dykes around the Channels Wood were dug out by Italian prisoners of war to drain some of the fen land. Land Army women were billeted in the Hall to work the land because so many local men had been called to serve their country.
In the 1950s there were still only a handful of tractors in use and the horse remained an important tool but they not only worked at a snail’s pace compared with modern machines but also needed a lot of caring for before and after they’d done their day’s work. In the harvest field they would be used to pull binders to cut and bundle the corn. The sheaves then had to be stooked up to dry before they were loaded by hand onto tumbrels or wagons and taken back to the farm, unloaded and built into stacks which were often then thatched to keep them dry. After that came the sugar beet to be carted and then muck and in spring there was ploughing, a man and a pair of horses could do only an acre a day, preparing the land then sowing the seeds. Summer time was hay making time and then once again it was harvest.
The invention of combine harvesters meant that one man could do quickly in one process what it had taken days for many to do. Precision drills meant that beet no longer needed chopping out and sprays controlled the weed growth. Even though the land around the village varies greatly, fields on the edge of Breckland (near Beachamwell) are light and sandy, others are chalky and heavier while some are black peaty fenland, they all grow crops well. The livestock gradually disappeared, most of the grassland was ploughed up and now the only animals to be seen, apart from four or five bullocks grazing the paddocks, are a few horses.
In the span of not much more than a decade the number of farm workers was reduced to a fraction and the structure of Barton Bendish changed. There were no longer jobs locally and people sought work out of the area meaning that they spent the day times away from the village or moved to the towns as many did.
Barton Bendish Estate was one of the finest partridge shoots in the first part of the 20th century. Even today it is easy to see why, for the lay of the ground and the multitude of thick hedges, which fortunately have not been destroyed as so many were in the 50s and 60s, are a memorial to sporting times of the past. Indeed the Black Princes Frederick and Victor, sons of the Maharajah Duleep Singh one time owner of Elveden Estate, were guests at Barton. A record number of wild partridges are reputed to have been bagged over Narborough Hill, and a hundred brace of wild Grey partridges were shot in one day by guns standing on Pepper Hill, with drives being made from different directions. Pheasants were reared and during most of that period at least two gamekeepers were employed. Today game shooting no longer takes place on the estate.
In the 1920s and 30s brood bitches from the now defunct Downham pack of foxhounds were kennelled at the Hall and their puppies ‘walked’ there until they were mature enough to join the pack. Hunting however continues on the estate and both the West Norfolk Foxhounds and a visiting beagle pack meet at Barton at least once during the season.
Team sports have never featured greatly in village history although an enthusiastic football team flourished for a while in the 1920s. Barton Bendish Football Club was officially formed in January 1920 with Sir Thomas Berney acting as chairman, Mr C. G. Stratton as vice chairman and E. Brunton appointed as captain. In what was left of that first season more games were lost than won.
The club was better organised for the 1920/21 season. Various rules were laid down including one stating that the use of bad language had to be dealt with by the committee ‘as they will think either by caution, a fine or suspension’. It was also agreed that players should wear the club colours (green and black) for all matches. Subscriptions were set at 2/- per member and a decision was made to hire the Oddfellows Hall (village hall?) for meetings and as a dressing room at a cost of 10/- for the season. Mr C. G. Stratton offered to start the club again with a new football which he also did in subsequent seasons. Mr Rutterford offered the same ground to play on at Pepper Hill (the field just past St Mary's Church). S Ely was appointed as captain and was authorised along with H. Clarke to procure goal posts from the Narborough Camp at reasonable cost. The captain was also given leave to dispose of the old ball and the goal posts were to be taken to Mr Horn’s to be repaired.
The 1921/22 season saw a decision that only Barton and Eastmoor members should be eligible to play because of the dissatisfaction that outsiders had been allowed into the team. However this decision was reversed the following season as there had been difficulties in raising a full team of locals. At a general meeting in July 1922 it was decided to procure new goal posts and to buy nets for the coming season.
The following year, in August, the general meeting decided to purchase a pair of goalkeeper’s gloves even though the club was in debt. Because of this situation a dance was hastily arranged. Billy Riches was M.C. and music was provided by Miss Staines from Fincham on the piano accompanied by Mr Shingfield from Gooderstone on the violin. Shopkeeper Mrs Riches kindly donated three cakes that were auctioned and realised 10s/6d. Proceeds from the evening amounted to £2. The team did well that season by winning 13, drawing 7 and losing only 7 of the 27 matches they played.
The club continued to go from strength to strength and for the 1924/25 season it was decided that Tom Cooper and George Whitfield should be appointed as groundsmen to mark out the ground and put up the nets for a payment of 6d each per match. There are no records after the 1925/26 season when only 18 games were played of which 7 were won, 5 drawn and 6 lost.
While football teams, like cricket teams at Barton, have come and gone perhaps the most enduring sport to be played in the village is bowls. The bowling green, still in use today, was officially opened in 1952 although before that the game was played in front of Avenue farmhouse courtesy of Commander Mansfield.
The above extracts are reproduced with the kind permission of Jill Mason.