Bracon Ash walk
By pupils & staff of Bracon Ash & Hethel School, 1977
A BRACON ASH HISTORY WALK
[Researched and produced by the children and staff of Bracon Ash County Primary School, and dated 21st June 1977]
[Walk this today and you would see even more changes - some of which have been noted in the text. For a slightly longer - and older - walk look at Village Homes]
ROUTE: Begin on the green outside the Village Hall; walk to the end of Hawkes Lane; turn right on Mergate Lane; opposite the cottages of Mergate Hall turn right though the Common and along a track back to Hawkes Lane; turn left back to starting-point.
This trail covers a part of Bracon Ash which combines the old and new as well as the typical atmosphere of a Norfolk village....
We begin at the War Memorial in front of the new Village Hall which replaced an old thatched building (above). If you look across the main road you will see the Old Bakery. Today this is a private house, but up until 1964 it was the Post Office and of course earlier a Bakery (below). This house has fine examples of 'tumbled gable ends' [note the pattern of the brickwork].
Opposite the Old Bakery and nearer the Y-junction stands Bracon House, built in 1640 as two cottages. Today it has been extensively restored and a very attractive building it is. It is noted in the deeds to the property that the owners of the cottage have the right to drive a coach and two horses down the lane to the north of the site. The thatch is beautifully restored and follows an apex design with scalloped edges. [Bracon House now looks very different - see Cottage Gallery]
Moving on the trail down Hawkes Lane, passing the very well-kept Village Hall, you will see on the right Thatched Cottage, built in 1600. Although alterations were made in 1938, this cottage retains many of its original qualities, the walls being basically clay lump and the gutters made from wood. The thatch has a base of bulrushes covered with sedge. Originally the cottage was divided into two and its historical title is that of a 'Long House'. Today it is a single dwelling and at one time was used as a laundry: the Dutch ovens and stone coppers still remaining. As a laundry it would need a steady water supply and this came from a well at the front of the house - used until recently (below). [Today it is once again 2 dwellings]
On the opposite side of the lane stands Victoria Cottage, a single dwelling again converted from two. However, apart from the cottage that stands today, there was once near this site a public house called 'The Lion'. Some of the older inhabitants can remember it standing there but none can remember it being in use as a pub. In fact, at one time there were two pubs in Bracon Ash, but these are now gone.
Walking on down the lane you will pass on your right, directly in front of a row of houses, an old pump which has been left as it must have looked when it was in regular use on a piece of public land. Further on it is good to see two old oaks still standing in front of the most recent development of individually styled and built houses. Here too is one of the many ponds to be found in the area. Some of the ponds, especially those around the church, date back to Saxon times....
Beyond the pond and on the corner stands the 'Vineyards'. This house dates from the 18th Century, although like most properties was extensively modernised in later years. With its name it is not surprising to find that many years ago there stood at the rear of the property many greenhouses used exclusively for the growing of vines (below).
At the bottom of Hawkes Lane, where it joins Mergate Lane, you see on the left Mergate Farm surrounded by its old barns and outhouses. Mergate Farm in fact dates back to the 17th Century but little is known about its exact history. Originally it was almost certain to have been thatched and although thatch remains some of it has been replaced with tiles. With its old copper beech and pond at the front, this old farmhouse overlooks Bracon Common, which today is rather overgrown but in years gone by cricket was played here (below).
Marsh Lane runs off to the left and it is not surprising to note that its name is derived from the fact that the area many centuries ago was very marshy and in fact there are today some seven ponds in the vicinity.
Walking on up Mergate Lane you will see on your left Mergate Hall, which without doubt is one of the oldest and most historic buildings in the area, the foundations dating back to the 13th Century. Throughout the centuries, Mergate Hall has gone htrough many architectural changes, but today it retains basically a Tudor and Georgian flavour. The oldest part of the building can be seen from the lane and plainly visible are the crow step gables and octagonal chimneys dating back to Tudor times (below).
Mergate Hall has a high pitched roof above long projecting eaves which run the entire length of the building and you can see ornamented bargeboards with finials on the dormers, which again demonstrate its Tudor and Flemish history. If given the opportunity, the interior is as fascinating as the exterior for there are examples of early oak panelling and Dutch tiled fireplaces. There is an unsupported staircase (Georgian) and a confessional box, for it is believed that at one period Mergate Hall was occupied by a Holy Order connected with Wymondham Abbey and that a priest concealed the confessional box in a secret staircase for safety during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In fact the stables were a chapel in the 16th Century and it was not until much later that the chapel was moved to what is today the drawing room.
The history surrounding the Hall appears endless and it is not surprising to note that Queen Elizabeth visited the Hall on her way to Norwich. For over 500 years the Hall was the property of the Appleyard and Kemp families. The Appleyard and Kemp families were linked by the marriage of Robert Kemp to John Appleyard's daughter in the 15th Century.....
Coming back to today, you will find in the grounds of Mergate Hall the original larch trees brought from Canada in 1712 and many trees, particularly yews, which are depicted in an engraving dating from 1720 (below).
Now your journey back to the Village Hall may prove difficult as nature, as mentioned earlier, has made movement through Bracon Common difficult, but you should have seen on your right a track which takes you up to Home Farm House. Home Farm is Tudor in origin and built around a simple wood frame typical of the period and in fact the most common basic method of construction until late Stuart times. It has no foundation but is built on wooden beams. Observing the gable ends which project above the roof line, you can assume that Home Farm was once thatched. On one side of the farm is an old pump, which the owners say was in use until a few years ago. Alfred Dye, a Baptist minister, lived at Home Farm as a boy and a book was written about him in 1974 which has as its front cover a picture of Home Farm as it looked in 1870:-
Farm your journey takes you back to the Village Hall and to the end of this