Generations in farming, harness-making, and feedstuffs
Harness makers, glovers, farmers, seed merchants, pet & garden shops.... the Myhill family have played a pivotal role in the life of both Bracon Ash and Hethel, and Norfolk, and still do. Myhills continue to live at Church Farm, and the information here is taken from personal interviews and extracts from 'Trials & Inspirations - autobiography of John Myhill' © 2013.
Quite when Myhills moved from Ludham to Bracon Ash - and why - is still a mystery. In 1788 Samuel Myhill was apprenticed to Charles Thynne, collar and harness maker in Bracon Ash. Samuel was one of at least 12 children of Robert Myhill (1757-1827) and Bridget nee Jefferson (1758-1815) who married in South Elmham in 1780 and lived in Ludham. Their eldest son, Robert (1781-1868), settled in Bracon Ash and worked as a glover. Their second son, Charles Clement Thynne Myhill (1784-1860) was a 'bachelor of Bracon Ash' when he married his first wife, Susan Cossey at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich in 1807. One witness was Charles Thynne - and with those names already given to Charles Myhill there must have been a family connection or a commercial link. Furthermore, Charles Thynne took on at least one apprentice named Cossey....
Charles Clement Thynne Myhill (1784-1860)
Charles C T Myhill probably took over the harness-making business from the Thynne family. In 1827 Charles Myhill of Bracon Ash, Widower, married Maria Todd, Singlewoman, at Mulbarton Church by licence in the presence of Barney Long, Maria Watling, William Todd, Mary Ann Todd. William Todd was Maria's younger brother who became landlord of the World's End inn in the 1850s. Mary Ann Todd (1776-1875) was their mother, who ran the village shop and post office across the road from the World's End with the help of another daughter, Harriett. Four children of Charles and Maria were baptised at Bracon Ash, including Frederick Charles (or Charles Frederic) (1829-1915) who subsequently learned his father's trade and took over the harness-making business. By 1851 Charles gave his occupation as 'Farmer'.
The 1842 Tithe Apportionment lists Charles
Myhill as the owner-occupier of a house and (harness) shop as well as renting
land by Cuckoofield Lane and at Bonds Green from Elizabeth Berney of Bracon Hall.
Meanwhile, Robert Myhill (1781-1868), the glover, had married Rebecca Whiffin (1784-1827) and their 8 children were baptised at Bracon Ash. Sadly, 4 girls died fairly young and are also buried at Bracon Ash. Robert Myhill lived in a cottage with garden on The Street - near what is now the Village Hall - and rented several fields in that area and off Cuckoofield Lane from Elizabeth Berney.
Frederick Charles Myhill (1829-1915)
Charles Clement Thynne Myhill, 'Farmer and collar and harness maker', died 8 June 1860. The business passed to his son Frederick, who recorded in his Day Book that he disliked his job. In 1865 Frederick Charles married Emma Claxton (1833-1905), one of 7 children of James Henry Claxton (1805-1883) and Mary nee Precious (1801-1888) who ran Dairy Farm at Hethel - now called Church Farm. The land had once been part of the Hethel Hall estate which was bought by Hudson Gurney in 1828. James Claxton was a tenant of the Gurneys. By 1871, Frederick C Myhill gave his occupation as Farmer and Insurance Agent as well as harness maker, and it is likely that he was already handing the harness business over to someone more enthusiastic about the work than he was. He was employing George Stubbings, Journeyman Harness-maker, and his apprentice son Albert. It seems that they ran the business for Frederick Myhill, from the house and premises until it was sold to Frederick Waters in the 1920s.
In the 1881 census, Frederick C Myhill describes himself as 'in partnership' with James Claxton at Dairy Farm, and when James died in 1883 he took over the tenancy. He planted most of the trees on the farm in the 1880s and '90s. 'He loved trees as the diversity and landscaping of the area proves', comments his great-grandson John, who now lives at the farm.
Frederick and Emma had 6 children: Emma Mary Myhill (1866-1944) who remained single and became a teacher at Bracon Ash school; Frederick Charles (1867-8) and Bessie Matilda (1868-9) who both died as babies; Charles Clement Thynne Myhill (1870-1947) who lived at the farm all his life; Millicent May (1873-1951) and Frederick William (1875-1960) who was to inherit the farm and build other thriving businesses.
Frederick William Myhill (1875-1960)
William grew up with two sisters. Emma Mary and Millicent May and an older
brother, Charles Clement Thynne (1870-1947). John Myhill writes, 'Great Uncle
Charlie was the eldest and should therefore have inherited, but he was
different and was protected and cared for all his life by his sisters.' Thus it
was that Frederick was to take over the farm after his father.
During the 2nd Boer War he served with the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers as Squadron Sergeant-Major (service no.3413), taking his own horse to South Africa which was captured by the Boers. He was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps for the Defence of Ladysmith (1899), Belfast (a 1900 battle), Cape Colony and Orange Free State and the King's South Africa Medal with clasps for service in 1901 and 1902. In 1903, after his return home The Red House was built for him adjacent to Church farm.
On 12th July 1905 Frederick William married Daisy Marion King (1881-1953).
The Red House became home to a family of 2 girls, Margaret Alice (1907-1982) and Joan Patricia (1908-2002) and 2 boys, Peter (1906-1978) who became a partner in his father's firm and farm; and Frederick Robert (1913-1987) who was ordained and taught in Hong Kong (including being interned by the Japanese) and later ran a parish in Hull. It is Frederick's son, John, who runs Church Farm today.
Frederick took over local Tax Inspector and insurance broker work from his father and among his other enterprises was East Kent Dairies, which sold milk from Kent and Surrey in London. He sold this and bought the farm of which he had been a tenant, and ran it from The Red House: 'The house of an entrepreneur: with a small lake, croquet lawn, formal beds, a beech bower, summerhouse, stables and orchards on both sides.'
In 1911, Frederick had given his occupation as 'cake, manure & seed merchant', and this was the business he grew. By 1933 he was operating from a large tin shed on Church Farm, Hethel (above). His son, Peter, became a partner and by 1937 F W Myhill & Son's Feed & Seed business had moved to north Mill, Wymondham. When that burnt down in 1951 he took over a former aircraft hangar in Potash Lane (below) until Colin Chapman bought the old airfield for Lotus Cars and the rents went up.
There are many family memories of Frederick which John Myhill repeats in his Autobiography:
'He was a great patriarch, with a man (Adam) to assist him, and a maid (June) to assist his disabled daughter Peggy.'
'Grandfather was renowned in the family for having a posh "telephone voice" for conversations with the aristocracy... He held shooting parties to which local aristos were invited and he took great pride in being a judge at the Royal Norfolk Show. His seed business and herd of pedigree dairy shorthorns, enabled him to move in Norfolk's homogeneous County Set. He delighted in driving me to Stanfield Hall (site of the famous murders of 1848) to meet his old friend Mr Rackham....'
'Grandfather was very proud of the important people he knew, and did not mind bowing and scraping, flattering and giving discount....'
One such important acquaintance was a direct result of his Boer War service:
'Grandfather had volunteered for the Boer War.... It was then he made friends with a young war correspondent, called Winston Churchill. So, one evening in April, grandfather and I were having our nightly game of draughts (he was huffing me as usual) when the newly resigned Prime Minister, was ushered in. I was so tongue-tied, that grandfather sent me upstairs for his Boer War uniform (I have worn it every Christmas Day since the late 1960s). The bright colours, the shiny buttons, and the memories induced, seemed to take Winston back, and lift the "Black Dog" from him. He arrived looking grim and sad, but whilst I was getting into bed upstairs, I could hear gales of raucous laughter.'
Meanwhile, Church Farm was home to Frederick's brother and sisters plus Dorothy ('Dolly') his cousin who had been a governess in Austria and lived on Tahiti where she married an artist named Wrafter. 'She returned to Norfolk in 1935 and stayed to look after grandfather's sisters and brother. She took on the spirit of the house, protecting it from change for the next 45 years.' John remembers his visits: 'She said [the farmhouse] was "liberty hall" and we children could do whatever we liked. This was a huge contrast to the good behaviour required at the Red House, so, not surprising that this was the shelter we sought on damp or cold days.'
Peter Myhill (1906-1978)
When Frederick W Myhill died in 1960, everything went to his eldest son, Peter, though the farm and farmhouse were held in trust for his nephew, John. The seed business, 'F W Myhill & Son', continued under that name - in fact continues to this day, including Myhill Pet & Garden, now a chain of 6 stores in Norfolk. Peter Myhill sold The Red House in 1960, and the estate cottages. The farmland was rented out to Mr Rackham until John Myhill took it over in 1986.
Although brought up in Hong Kong and Hull, John Myhill,
grandson of Frederick William, knew he was in line to inherit the family farm. 'Grandfather
Myhill called me "Farmer John" so I knew from the age of four that that was
what I would be. He sent me pictures of the farm and his family and cows. He
gave me books on farming.' On one of John's
visits, 'he walked out with me and pointed as far as I could see and said "one
day all this will be yours".'
Whilst Aunt Dolly was alive, John stayed at the farm whilst training to be a nurse and tried his hand at pig-rearing and other farming activities, with somewhat disastrous results. After a devastating barn fire, he moved out.... But 'My failure as a farm labourer in 1975 had proven invaluable when I took over Church Farm in 1986', after the tenant farmer had left.
John remembers taking over, 'A barely habitable farmhouse, surrounded by equally decaying buildings, and waist-high nettles over what had been lawns and flower beds; nearly two miles from an expensive shop, with few savings and no prospects of employment; I set to work on basic cleaning, clearing and repairs. I was too busy to be lonely, but I would not have survived a year on my own...... Our first winter was terrible. The heaviest, coldest snowfall since 1963 and worse than anything since. We were cut off for three days and huddled round open fires, with no central heating and smoking paraffin stoves. After a slight thaw, pipes burst and we all suffered.'
But John and his wife - and Church Farm - survived and his story is told in 'Trials & Inspirations - autobiography of John Myhill' which can be accessed at the end of his blog.