29 July 2018:
A Glimpse of Dereham's History,
Some years ago, the Dereham Antiquarian Society ran guided walks to various
sites of interest around Dereham. They also produced a fine illustrated leaflet.
Times change; the walks ceased; the leaflet went out of print. All this seems
very sad, as it meant that there is a generation of people living in and
visiting the town who are perhaps unaware of its extensive historical interest.
On Sunday, Dereham Walkers are Welcome took a first step towards reversing that.
A town walk was organised, led by long time resident Dorothy Sneesby. It was
especially pleasing that the group included a visitor from France -
Maïté Viton. Crammed into the 2½ hour event were visits to
St Nicholas Church tower, Bishop Bonner’s Cottage Museum, the Memorial Hall and
Dereham Railway Station (where the walk ended with refreshments and a talk about
St Nicholas Churchyard
Starting in the churchyard, the group visited St Withburga Well and the nearby
gravestone for Jean de Narde. Jean was a French soldier who was captured and
imprisoned in the Bell Tower, but then escaped and hid in a tree. He was found,
and subsequently killed, probably because he didn't understand the orders (in
English) of his captors. The memorial was erected 50 years later by Rev
Armstrong (vicar from 1850 to 1888), who has his own memorial at the top of the
Bell Tower (Clocker)
Time was taken to visit the Bell Tower. On the first floor, Chris Stebbings
explained how it all worked, and his son Jayden demonstrated how to ring the
tenor bell (the largest). After this, a smaller energetic subgroup climbed the
wooden spiral stairs and on to a balcony at the top, from where they could look
down on the bells.
Bishop Bonner's Cottage
It was then just a short walk to Bishop Bonner’s Cottage Museum, where the
Dereham Antiquarian Society Chairman Dr Peter Wade-Martins gave a brief talk
about the history of the three cottages making up the present building, and
allowed everyone to have a quick look at the exhibits inside.
Church Street and Market Place
From there, the walk took in Church House, the Manor House, the Romany Rye, the
town sign, the Corn Hall, the Cowper Church (Cowper Memorial Evangelical
Congregational Church to give it its full title), the Assembly Rooms (home to
Dereham Town Council and Citizens Advice)) and Hill House:
Then, moving on from the Market Place to Dereham Memorial Hall.
After Dorothy explained the history of the building, Tim Birt gave us a
detailed account of the £2.7m restoration work undertaken a few years ago
before showing us the building. This included reference to the little known fact
that the swimming pool which was used there at one time, still exists under the
main hall floor - and a few of the group climbed down under the stage to see it.
The final destination was the Railway Station. The group received refreshments
from the station café, and then Charlie Robinson (Mid-Norfolk Railway
Chairman) gave an illustrated talk outlining the history of the current line,
plus much more on its current operation and future plans.
The event was oversubscribed and we were sorry to have to turn some people away.
Based on the success of the afternoon, we will be considering repeating it, and
would invite anyone interested to let us know so we can judge the demand. In
the longer term, we will discuss with the Dereham Antiquarian Society the
possibility of arranging a similar event on a regular basis, and perhaps get a
new leaflet prepared so people can look round our town for themselves.
Walk promotion flyer
(pdf, opens in new tab).
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