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History of Whissonsett

A Journey around Whissonsett

On this page – The Camping Land – The Village Sign – Best Kept Village Plaque – Tourist Map – Parish Map – The Post Office – The Pubs – Village Archives.

The Camping Land

The large open area of grassland in front of the church is the Camping Land. Several parishes in East Anglia have a Camping Land, Spong or Buttlands. The area was used for archery practice and drilling the young men of the parish who might be called up to serve the Lord of the Manor in times of war.

The game of Camping which was played here dates from Roman times and was a popular way of toughening up those taking part. There was Camp, a mixture of football, rugby and all-in wrestling and ‘Savage Camp’ when boots were worn and it was quite common for participants to be kicked to death. The sport carried on for centuries until the more civilized games of cricket and football provided the opportunity for teams from rival villages to prove their superiority.

Now Whissonsett Camping Land is a car park and the venue for the village fete. The railings and the Gates to the Camping Land were erected as part of the 2000 Millennium celebrations.

The Village Sign

By the railings, in High Street, is the Village Sign which was unveiled in 1985. The winning design, by local builder Ivan Newton, was chosen from several entries in a competition in 1983.

The sign bears the name of the village as it appears in the Domesday Book ‘Witcingheseta’ which either means the settlement of the Witcing tribe or a place of watery meadows. The village is in a valley on a tributary of the River Wensum with many wells and springs so ‘watery meadows’ describes it very well.

The background of the sign shows the Celtic Cross a reminder of the Saxon settlement here. Between the arms of the cross are the stocks, which stood on Stock’s Hill until the early 1900s, one of the two windmills in Mill Lane, a Norfolk Royal apple representing the orchards at Hamrow and the Spring well which for centuries provided the main source of drinking water for much of the village. It is still here and has never run dry.

The two military figures in the centre of the sign are Lieut-Col. Derek Seagrim V.C, and Major Hugh Seagrim G.C. sons of a former rector of Whissonsett Rev.Charles Seagrim. Their heroic story is told HERE.

The small plaque in front of the sign was presented to the village in memory of Hugh Seagrim by the Karen community. (

Best Kept Village Plaque

In 1996 Whissonsett gained first place for villages with under 500 population in the Best Kept Village Competition. The village was also sucessful for several years in Anglia in Bloom. The awards and montages of pictures of the village gardens are on display in the village hall.

Tourist Map

On the wall behind the village sign is the village tourist map. This was designed in 1995 by Ann English as part of the Whissonsett Development Project and shows footpaths, places of interest and tells some of the history of the village.

Parish Map

More information about Whissonsett is shown on the large Parish Map in the village hall. This was also designed by Ann English who did most of the artwork. Tapestry panels around the central map were worked by representatives of the village organisations. It took two years to complete and was sponsored by the Norfolk Rural Community Council.

The Post Office

The Post Office is near the village sign. Whissonsett is lucky to still have a Post Office and Store which serves several other local villages that have sadly lost theirs.

The building which hosts the Post Office is one of the oldest in the village and has, over the years, been a tea dealers’, drapery, druggist, grocer and general store with a private school. It has been a Post Office since 1917 and has had only three post masters and mistresses in all that time.

The first Whissonsett Post Office was in the Terrace in London Street and the post master was James Thing. The Victorian letter box is still in use.

The Village Pubs

Once Whissonsett had three pubs, The King’s Head in King’s Road now called New Road. The Bell and The Swan and also a beer house called the Jolly Farmers, all in High Street, The Jolly Farmers closed in 1870 and the row of cottages in which it stood was demolished around 1960. The Bell closed about ninety years ago, the King’s Head in 1970 and the Swan in 2006. So now alas there is no village pub.

Whissonsett Village Archives

The collection began in 1985 with tape recordings of the memories of members of the Happy Circle (over sixties club) and scrapbooks of village events.

There are now 20 scrapbooks, kept up to date, and a large collection of tapes, copies of which are also in the Norfolk County Sound Archives, and their transcripts. The collection includes the census returns for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901, copies of the church baptism, marriage and burial registers, and school log books, village maps, the history of the parish council from 1895-1995, detailed information about many old Whissonsett families.

There are also photographs, memories, deeds, news cuttings, copies of the Enclosure map and Tithe map and accounts of the history of the village over the past 200 years and much more. Contact Ann English at Hamrow Cottage 01328 700486.

Two books, ‘Whissonsett, a Norfolk Village'(Sold Out) and ‘The Changing Face of Whissonsett’ are recent publications based on information from the archives. They are on sale at the village post office or by contacting Ann English 01328 700486.

A transcription of the Memorial Inscriptions seen in the church and churchyard is available from Ann English 01328 700486 for details of cost. Postcards are also available.




On this page – The Dark Ages – The Enclosure Act – After The Enclosure Act.

The Dark Ages

We know very little of the history of this part of Norfolk during what are refered to as the ‘Dark Ages’. The Iceni tribe were here before the Romans arrived, and when the Romans departed some 500 years later the Saxons moved in from the Continent.

There were centuries of conflict as the Danes began to invade, and then to settle in East Anglia.

In 1066 the Norman Conquest began and from the Domesday Book survey we have the first written records of Whissonsett.

At the time of the survey the Manor of Witcingheseta was held by Ralph Bigot.

The Manor was soon passed to the family of Bozoun who held it until 1657 when Thomas Bozoun sold the entire estate to Mrs. Katherine Calthorpe for £3,600. It is possible that the Bozoun family lost much of their money during the Civil War.

The only building in Whissonsett dating from the time of the Normans is St. Mary’s Church which was built of flint with freestone dressings c. 1250. It has been much altered and restored since.

Life in Whissonsett would have centred around the church and the land with farming methods carrying on with little change for generations. The great events of history passed unnoticed unless there was a call for men to go to war. There was the occasional famine if the weather was bad and a plague or two.

The Enclosure Act

The Enclosure Act of 1812, in the reign of King George the Third, changed the way of life and the look of the countryside for ever. Every part of every parish in the country, common land, fields, gardens, orchards and all the buildings, were surveyed and maps drawn up. Land was then sold off to those who could afford to buy and was enclosed with thorn hedges. Private roads were set up for the use of the new land owners.

The part of Whissonsett now called Hamrow and beyond was the ‘Great Common’ where the ordinary people had commoners rights to keep live stock, collect firewood, and generally wander where they pleased. They had pieces of land where they could grow vegetables and keep fowl. There were large areas of other common land on all sides of the village. Now this way was changed drastically.

The Common land was parcelled up into private ownership and the land owners became farmers employing labourers at low wages.

Three Public Carriageways were set up. The first was to be called the Fakenham Road and ran from the end of London Street, across the Great Common to the end of af lane leading to Fakenham.

The second road ran from the village to join up with the Fakenham Road, this is now called New Road.

The third road was from High Street across the common land called Whissonsett Green, and the Patch Common to the enclosed road leading to Stanfield.

A public bridleway was made from the Fakenham Road across the Back Common to an ancient lane over Hurn Common towards Rainham, this is now called Hurn Lane or Clay Lane.

Five Private Roads were made, two of them were to the cottages on what is still called the Common at Hamrow, being Giants Lane and Green Lane.

The third private road was from what is now Signpost corner to the boundary of Horningtoft, and the fourth was a lane also near Horningtoft called Horninghams.

A private road was also made from the High Street across the Camping Land for the use of carriages taking the gentry to church.

After the Enclosure Act

In the village today, almost 200 years after the Enclosure Act, there is still some evidence of the changes that occured. The two ancient Parish or Church Lanes that run from London Street to what was King Street but is now New Road, and from High Street to Springwell Road intersect at the rear of the Church in the area that we know now was the Saxon settlement.

They have been used possibly for well over a thousand years. When the land was enclosed around 1812, metal turnstile or kissing gates were put at the four entrances to the Lanes. They were made in Fakenham by the firm of Garood and are listed as of historical interest. They are maintained by the Parish Council.

At the same time the beech and oak trees were planted on three sides of the Church. The area under the trees is a beautiful part of the village with celandines, snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells flowering among the grass. Some of the old thorn hedges, interspersed with oak, holly and ash trees still mark field boundaries, but most of them have been removed as the small fields and meadows were merged into large fields for modern methods of farming. Luckily there is a sucessful on going scheme of hedge and tree planting on much of the farmland in the parish.

From date plaques that can be seen on the walls of several buildings in London Street and some of the farm houses, we know that some places built before 1812 still survive. Most of the farm houses, now known as Hamrow Farm, Hamrow House, Hamrow Villa, High Farm, Lower Farm, Smallholdings, Church (or Glebe) Farm, Hill Farm and Brick Kiln Farm and the pubs date from the late 1770s.

The Rectory and Whissonsett Hall are Victorian Houses that replaced much earlier buildings. Most of the farm cottages were built around 1820 to replace the old wattle and daub thatched homes of farm labourers.

Bricks and tiles from Brick Kiln Farm, lime from Lime Kiln Lane and flints from the Stone pit on Swan Hill were used in the construction of cottages in the village. Wood from woodlands on the local farms was used by the parish carpenters and joiners. Many farm workers were employed as glaziers, brick makers and bricklayers when needed.

The village hall is built on the site of the Potters’ Barn where pipes, tiles, chimney pots etc were made and stored.

The accounts book of William Skinner 1827-1847 gives some fascinating information about life in the village at that time. He lived at the farm now called Smallholdings but at that time was known as ‘Skinners’.

There are eighty nine names, not all from Whissonsett, in the list of those who were alloted land.

The smallest sum paid was two shillings by William Mason and the largest £495 by Lancelot Robert Brown and Henry Bence.

To make up in some small degree for the loss of the use of common land three pieces of Highway Surveyors’ Land were allocated to be rented out to those who wished to work them and the income was to be used for the distribution of wood and coal to the poor of the parish.

The land has now all been sold and the income is still allocated for charitable needs by the Parish Council.

The Whissonsett Enclosure map and documents, which some years ago were discovered in the boiler room at the village hall, can be seen at the County Records Office in Norwich.

There is a copy of the map in the village hall.

More interesting facts about Whissonsett!

The area around Whissonsett, like most of Norfolk, is rich in reminders of those who have lived here over thousands of years.

The oldest finds are flint tools and weapons and then pieces of pottery, coins and the remains of buildings, many from the centuries of Roman occupation.

Metal detector enthusiasts may often be seen searching in the local fields before the next season’s crops are sown.

In 1995 when the Church Close building development began in Whissonsett it became clear that the meadow, known as Betts Field, on which the houses were being built, was part of a Saxon settlement.

Skeletons were uncovered in the field which lies at the rear of St. Mary’s Church.

Over the years human remains had been dug up in the Stone Pit in High Street and in the gardens at the rear of the Gravel Pit Cottages.

One skull was on display in the pub and school until it mysteriously disappeared.

A skeleton that was dug up during the erection of an air raid shelter in 1940 was wrapped in a sack and deposited in the bottom of a newly dug grave in the churchyard!

Before the second phase of building at Church Close in 2005 a thorough archaeological dig was carried out. Eight skeletons were found in a corner of what is believed to be an extensive Saxon cemetery, much of it now lies under existing houses. One was of a large man over six feet tall.

Other finds included shears, spindles and loom weights indicating the production of woollen goods at the settlement. Lumps of smelted iron showed evidence of blacksmiths working there. Personal items included carved bone combs, ironwork pins and what could be a book clasp.

Animal bones and oyster shells were remnants of long forgotten meals. Walls can be traced with foundations of flint and wattle and even the incorporation of Roman blocks brought from elsewhere.

A large building, perhaps a church or main village meeting place, is at the centre of the settlement. The Celtic Cross found in the churchyard could have been set up here.

When the skeletons and all the artefacts have been examined and dated an exhibition is to be held in Whissonsett village hall so we may all learn much more about the early development of the village.

The skeletons will be buried in the churchyard. It may be that some of their descendants still live in Whissonsett.

On this page – Trade Directories – 1836 Trade Directory – 1845 Trade Directory – The Tithes Map and List 1842 – 1841 Census – 1841 Burials.

Trade Directories

Trade directories are an invaluable way of finding out about the commercial side of rural life. The earliest ones in our archive are from 1836 and 1845.

1836 Trade Directories

Inhabitants, 628.

A fair for shoes and pedlary is held on Whit Wednesday.

12 shillings each year is distributed to the poor as several small benefactories are lost to the Enclosure Act of 1812.

Rector – Rev. E. C. Kemp.

Parish Clerk – John Thing.

Farmers and Yeomen – Robert Brown, Jonathon Carr, John Jarred, George Rudd, Henry Seaman, William Skinner, Henry Skoyles.

Baker – John Miles.

Butcher – William Ames.

Farrier – Robert Bradfield.

School Teacher and Tea Dealer – Nathaniel Hawkins.

Grocer and Draper – John Mason.

Shoemakers – William Hall. John Pratt.

Wheelwright- Willliam Neal White.

Blacksmiths – Robert Parker, Thomas Taylor, William White.

Corn Millers – Henry Neale, William Yaxley.

Cabinet Makers and Joiners – John Thing. James Neale.

Cattle Dealer – Matthew Yaxley.

Watch/Clock Maker – Edward Hoy.

Grocer – London Street Store, Robert Urber.

Grocer Draper and Leather Dealer – High Street Store, Robert West.

Publicans – Swan Inn-Matthew Yaxley. The Bell-Alice White. King’s Head-John Thing.
Jolly Farmers’ beer house-Edward Hoy.

Postman – James Wilmerson. Post to Fakenham Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday 8 a.m.

1845 Trade Directories

Pop. 702.

Rector – Rev. C. Kemp.

Parish – Clerk John Thing.

Lord of the Manor – Col. Jones.

Curate (Oxwick and Tittleshall) – Rev. C. J. Dashwood.

Land Owners – Mrs. M. Goggs. Thomas Hawkins. John Mason. Mrs. A. Seaman. Mrs. Rudd. Mrs. Stanforth.

Farmers – Mr. Barrett. Robert Bates (The Hall), Henry Brown. Jonathon Carr. William Jarred. John Nelson. Charles Powell. Henry Seaman. William Skinner. William Sparrow.

Pubs – Bell George Walker. Swan Matthew Yaxley. King’s Head Dennis Goodman.

Baker – Mrs. Forby.

Butcher – William Sparrow.

Shopkeeper – David Holland (London Street).

School Master and Tea Dealer – Nathaniel Hawkins.

Horse Breaker – George Walker.

Watch Maker and Beer House Keeper – Edward Hoy. (We have pictures of two of the grandfather clocks made by Edward Hoy).

Bricklayers – Henry Smith. Dennis Smith. Miller William Yaxley.

Joiners and Cabinet Makers – James Neale. John Thing. John Nelson.

Cattle Dealer – Matthew Yaxley.

Blacksmith/Wheelwright – John Fox.

Blacksmiths – Robert Parker. ThomasTaylor. William White.

Hatter/Clothes Dealer – William Barker.

Tailors and Clothes Dealers – Charles Basham. Thomas Basham. Robert Robinson. James Thing. James Yaxley.

Carriers to Norwich and Lynn on market days.

The Tithes Map and List 1842

Tithes (a tenth of rents and produce) were paid annually to the Church. The Great Tithe Barn, now long gone, was in the grounds of the Rectory.

In 1842 there were 975 acres of arable land, 275 acres of meadows and pastures and 30 acres of woodland in the parish plus 5 acres of Glebe Land which belonged to the Church.

The Tithes paid in 1842 were £344 6s.3d. in rents 327 bushels of wheat worth 7s. a bushel, 580 bushels of barley at 3s.11d. and 834 bushels of oats at 2s.9d.

In all 306 properties, land and buildings are listed with all the old field and meadow names which have nearly all been forgotten.

The main land owners were Col. Jones, The Earl of Leicester, Lord Charles Townsend. Henry and Robert Seaman, Robert Goggs, Rev. Henry Goggs, Thomas Hawkins, Henry Green, Robert and William Campbell, William Blyth, Rev. Sinklerand, Rev. Kemp.

A few people owned one or two properties but everything else was rented including most of the farm land.

There is a copy of the Tithes map in the village hall.

Other crops that were grown but not included in the tithe were peas, hay, wood and turnips.

Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and the all important horses had to be fed.

Crops produced in 2005 included wheat, winter barley, spring barley, field beans, sugar beet, apples, black currants, oil seed rape, linseed, parsley, mint, tarragon and other herbs.

1841 Census

This was the first real national census count taken on June 18th 1841, so here are a few trivia type facts from Whissonsett 1841.

The most popular names were John 56, William 43, Robert 33, Thomas 33, Mary 57, Elizabeth 43, Sarah 37 and Ann 37.

Unusual names were Delilah, Peace, Bathsheba, Karenhappuch, Pleasance, Bartle, Aldridge, Silvester, Jeremiah and Elijah.

William Valing was the Police Officer.

Children under the age of 15, In Hamrow 55. In the village 231.

People over 65 , only 22. the oldest Margaret Fox aged 92.

Men and boys, agricultural labourers 78, plus 3 shepherds, 2 vermin killers and a gardener.

Rev. Kemp had 8 children between the ages of 3 and 13, he employed a footman and three maids.

Charles Green at Brick Kiln Farm employed a man servant and 4 maid servants.

Karenhappuch (nee Hall) was married to Jeremiah Makins, they lived at Lower Farm and she sold lots of home made sausages.

There were 18 burials in the churchyard in 1841

Jan 1841 – John Reeve 17, Henry Jarred 2 months.

Feb 1841 – Sarah Ann Clark 7 months.

March 1841 – Martha Powell 72.

April 1841 – Mary Pratt 43.

June 1841 – William Walker 7, Thomas Taylor 82, Elizabeth Lake 5 weeks.

July 1841 – Catherine Hall 83.

Aug 1841 – Elizabeth Goodman 1 month. Joseph Annison 5. John Lusher 7 weeks.

Sep 1841 – James Dack 11. Jane Pratt 12.

Oct 1841 – Elizabeth Annison 9 months.

Nov 1841 – Elizabeth Eldridge 78. Elizabeth Neale infant.

Dec 1841 – William Bates infant.

William White’s History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk 1864 and 1883 can be found at GENUKI`s Whissonsett 1864 and Whissonsett 1883 pages (external links opening in new windows).

Whissonsett village heroes

On this page – The Chapels – The Reading Room – Sports and Pastimes – Playing Field and Village Hall – Education – 1935 Trade Directory – Whissonsett in 2006.

The Chapels

People began to break away from the Church in the early 1800s and built chapels instead.

Whissonsett had two chapels.

A Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in High Street around 1830 and was replaced by a larger building in 1886 which was renovated in 1954.

It closed in 1973 and is now a private house. It was always refered to as the ‘Top’ Chapel and the stores in High Street was the ‘Top’ shop.

London Street had the ‘Bottom’ shop and ‘Bottom’ Chapel which was a Wesleyan Chapel built in 1854 and replaced with a new building in 1903. It is also now a private house.

The ‘Top’ and ‘Bottom’ descriptions are in relation to the Swan Hill.

The Reading Room

The Reading Room was built by Ann Stangroom as an alternative place to the pubs where young men could read library books and newspapers or play games such as darts, cards, dominoes and snooker. It was also used for village entertainments, dances, concerts, whist drives, parties and wedding receptions.

Mr.and Mrs. James Bambridge from Newcastle were the caretakers from 1910 to 1928.

Mr. Bambridge was a keen photographer and many of the pictures in our archives were taken by him.

As people became more mobile with bicycles and local buses and were able to travel to the town cinemas and dance halls the Reading Room fell out of favour. It was turned into two cottages and later sold. The money was invested and the income, used to provide Christmas gifts for the elderly of the parish, is still used as the Ann Stangroom Trust.

Ann Stangroom always wore a long black dress and a lace Victorian cap and rode a large tricycle. She carried a bag of sweets in the front basket to reward children who helped push the tricycle up Swan Hill.

Sports and Pastimes

As people became more educated they were no longer content with the daily grind.

The Odd Fellows had a large number of members who met in the Swan club room until the landlord put up the rent. They bought themselves the Odd Fellows Hut which was put to good use as a village meeting place for all kinds of entertainments.

The Whissonsett Young Farmers Club began in 1944. They formed a concert party which put on shows and pantomimes all around the local villages. It later became the North Elmham Young Farmers and 2004 saw the Diamond Anniversary celebration.

Under the guidance of Mr. Hayes the school master the village produced formidable football and cricket teams. The Cricket Club was started in 1919 and carried on until 1965. The girls were not forgotten, they played netball and stoolball.

Mr. Hayes and the allotment holders started up the Horticultural Society and the ‘garden boys’ from the school won many prizes at the annual shows with the vegetables from the school allotments. The Shows, with sports, a fete and an evening dance, were held on the Rectory meadow and lawn. The cup given by Mr. Hayes in 1932 is still awarded at the Horticultural Show.

The Whissonsett Small Holders’ Credit Society was set up after the 1914-18 War to provide pieces of land on which people could keep stock or fowls and grow fruit and vegetables to help feed their families. There were 30 members with Sir R.Winfrey M.P. as the President and Mr. Sidney Stangroom was the vice president.

The Whissonsett Scout and Guide Troops were set up by Miss Audrey Buxton in 1909 and she carried on in charge until her death at the age of 77. Generations of boys and girls remembered Miss Buxton with great affection.

The Whissonsett and Horningtoft W.I.was formed in 1935 and the ladies are still going strong, having celebrated their seventieth birthday.

From 1949 to 1952 the Whissonsett Cycle Speedway was very popular. The track was in the old gravel pit in Mill Lane. Large crowds turned up on Sunday mornings to watch the Whissonsett Diamonds riding against teams from Beetley, Mileham and the Helhoughton Angels.

Playing Field and Village Hall

With all the various sports and activities that were taking place it became obvious that a proper village hall and playing field were needed. Fund raising began. Loan certificates were sold to raise cash and all kinds of fund raising activities, including gymkhanas, were held.

In 1949 the playing field was bought and in 1953 the village hall was opened with the new Whissonsett Bowls Green behind it. Some of the first people to use the hall were the members of the newly formed Happy Circle Club for the over sixties.

The hall is still very well used but there are no longer any football players or cricketers using the playing field.


In 1874 the village school opened in Whissonsett.

The children of the better off folk received their education from governesses and tutors at home, at ‘dame’ schools or boarding schools.

There were at least three boarding schools in the village, at Rose Cottage, above the High Street Store and at the Rectory.

Children from Horningtoft, Oxwick and Pattersley were registered to attend Whissonsett school and in 1874 there were 174 names on the register.

Mr and Mrs Blake were appointed as teachers at a joint salary of £100 a year. They were followed in 1880 by Mr and Mrs Bailley, and in 1891 by Mr and Mrs. Brown.

Many children began working at the age of ten or were needed at home to help look after younger brothers and sisters. The fees of 2d. for the first child and 1d. for the rest was often beyond the means of their parents. Many just prefered to be free and not to sit in school all day.

In 1891 attendance at school became compulsory and the salaries of the teaching staff depended on the numbers on the attendance registers. An attendance officer, James Thing, was appointed to round up errant pupils.

In 1896 Mr. and Mrs.Garner were the teachers. In 1901 Mr. and Mrs. Francis, with Miss Louisa Bateson who had joined the staff in 1885, at a salary of £40 a year began to get some order into the school.

In 1914 Mr and Mrs Charles Hayes were appointed and the excellent reputation of Whissonsett school grew until Mr. Hayes retired in 1943. Miss Bateson retired in 1929 after 44 years.

In 1961 all the pupils over 11 went to Litcham school.

Mr. Thatcher was the head master from 1949 to 1969 when there were 40 children on the register.

The school closed in 1993 when there were only 13 pupils left.

1935 Trade Directory

This is the last directory that we have.

The Rectory. Rev. J. Coulter.

The Hall. William Townshend Stovald.

Able Percy. Baker.

Ayers William Butcher and Poulterer.

Barker David King’s Head.

Barraclough’s Stores Grocer,draper and hardware merchants.

Barrett Alec Builder. Barrett Walter Smallholder.

Bayfield George Blacksmith.

Bird John Lower Farm.

Blazey Ernest Baker.

Brown George Carpenter Parish Clerk.
Crane Ernest Threshing Machine Proprieter.

Daniels George Butcher and Farmer.

Deadman Percy High Farm.

Green Bertram Smallholder.

Grimes Edward The Swan.

Howling James Cycle dealer.

Hunt Stephen Smallholder.

Mason Horace Smallholder.

Nelson Reginald grocer and Post Office.

Bayfield George James Sec,Odd Fellows Lodge.

Ringer Ernest Farmer and Landowner.

Reading Room Secretary Miss Daniels.

Stacey Bertie Insurance Agent.

Stangroom Leonard Hamrow Farm.

Williamson Walter Church Farm.

Whissonsett in 2006

Whissonsett has about the same population of 450 as it had 100 years ago.

In 1901 eighty per cent of the houses were rented properties and apart from two railway men everyone worked in the village. A few people owned horse drawn vehicles or bicycles. The rest had to walk.

Over 100 people worked on the land.

There were 239 children under the age of 16.

Of the 450 parishoners 334 were born in Whissonsett and only 27 were not born in Norfolk. How things have changed!

Popular names included Edith, Gertrude, Maud, Ethel, Hilda, Blanche, Sidney, Albert Arthur, Herbert, Percy and Cecil.

Today Whissonsett has three arable farms, a chicken farm, a few sheep, pigs, chickens and riding horses.

There is a Post Office Stores.

Many of the old barns and farm buildings have been converted into homes. The school, the pubs, the chapels, the shops are all private houses.

The council houses which replaced some of the very old cottages are now mostly privately owned.

The butcher, the baker, the blacksmith, the harness maker and all those who over the centuries made Whissonsett village have long gone but they are not forgotten.

Now and again, if you are very lucky and live where once they lived you may catch a glimpse or hear a sound of Whissonsett past.

Whissonsett village heroes

The bravery of Whissonsett’s Derick* or Derek Seagrim VC and his brother Hugh GC has provided two of the most stirring and moving episodes of World War Two.(*see note on name at bottom of the page).

And Hugh’s sacrifice has created a unique and lasting bond between this Norfolk village and a community more than 10,000 kilometres miles away in the hills of Burma.

Hugh and Derick were two of the five sons of Whissonsett rector the Rev Charles Seagrim, all of whom had careers in the armed services.

Derick/Derek, born in 1903, became an Air Liaison Officer in East Africa at the outbreak of war and later took command of the 7th Battalion the Green Howards during the Greek and Western Desert campaigns.

On the night of March 20 1943, Lt Col Seagrim was first man into an enemy machine-gun position and personally accounted for 20 of the troops.

Disregarding his own safety, his bravery inspired his men to overcome the strong enemy opposition and hold their objective. Lt Col Seagrim urged his troops forward despite being wounded. Two weeks after this action, he suffered fatal wounds in another attack.

A posthumous award of the Victoria Cross was announced on May 15 1943.

Uniquely, his brother Hugh was awarded the George Cross — making the pair the only two brothers to win Britain’s two highest awards for gallantry.

Major Hugh’s sacrifice took part in another theatre of war, the jungles of Burma, and made him a hero to the Karen tribespeople he led against the Japanese army.

Hugh began his guerilla mission against the Japanese in 1941, and in 1942-3 moved deep into the jungle of the Burma-Siam border, building up a deep rapport with the Karen people.

His irregular forces launched raid after raid on the Japanese troops. Hugh, dressed in Karen costume became a legend to the tribespeople, his height (six foot four inches) earning him the nickname of Hpu Taw Kaw (Grandfather Longlegs).

Stung by the attacks, the Japanese turned their attention on the Karen villagers. Eventually, in March 1944, the enemy conveyed a message to Hugh that unless he surrendered they would kill one Karen for every day he was at large.

On March 15 Major Seagrim gave himself up, knowing he was sacrificing his life to save his beloved Karens. He was taken to Rangoon and was eventually shot on September 22 1944.

Forty one years later, representatives of the Karens joined 150 villagers at the dedication of the Whissonsett village sign.

The sign has as its centrepiece Hugh and Derick, the two brave Whissonsett brothers whose sacrifice for freedom will echo down the generations.


And the Karens, who have never forgotten Hugh’s courage, dedicated their own simple and moving plaque at that 1985 unveiling.

“To Grandfather Longlegs,” it read. “We remembered, so we came to thank you”.

*note on name – The Whissonsett War Memorial lists Lt Col Seagrim`s first name as Derick, The Sfax War Cemetery in Tunisia has a Headstone marked Lt. Col. D. A. SEAGRIM, VC. Most Victoria Cross `lists` have Lt Col Seagrim`s first name as Derek.

The Seagrim Brothers are mentioned on the Roll Of Honour Web Site, the site is dedicated to those who have fallen and their Memorials.

Hugh Seagrim GC

Derick Seagrim VC

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