A 'Virtual Tour'
of the houses of old Bracon Ash

Let's take a 'virtual tour' around some of Bracon Ash in the company of Ted Moore to see the village as it used to be more than 50 years ago. Most of this was written down whilst Ted was talking - he moved here from Wreningham in 1942. The same walk today will show the modern infill that has taken place as the village has grown.....

Captain Kay (right) leading the Home Guard near his cottage in Cuckoofield Lane.
Captain Kay (right) leading the Home Guard near his cottage in Cuckoofield Lane.

We begin at the junction of Cuckoofield Lane and the B1113, now a roundabout. Look down Cuckoofield Lane - in the distance the gatehouse of Bracon Lodge (where Harry Bobbin lived) near the stream that forms the boundary with Mulbarton, and before then the only dwelling was Cuckoofield Cottage where Captain J S Granville Kay lived. He rose to the rank of Captain with the Royal Fusiliers in WW1. He commanded the Home Guard during WW2 and his wife, Rose, was a daughter of the Corbould-Warren family who had lived at Bracon Lodge. 

Now let's walk along The Street which was part of the New Buckenham Turnpike: an Act of Parliament 'for Repairing and Widening the Road from Ber Street Gates to New Buckenham' was passed in 1772. Now it is the B1113. Tucked away on the left was The Retreat, modernised very recently. It's possible that the X on the original postcard above indicated the entry. The Browns built it when they moved out of Bracon Hall Farm. Clifford & Clara Violet Kedge married in 1941 and lived with Mrs Brown at the beginning of the war, but sadly Clifford was taken Prisoner of War in Singapore by the Japanese and died in 1943 in Chung Kai by the notorious 'death railway'. He is commemorated on the Mulbarton war memorial, where his parents lived. His widow remarried and her second husband, Peter Butler, offered Saturday morning haircuts there. One of their daughters was living at the house until recently.

The white house in the distance on the photo (above) is Woodside 'where 'Chalky' White used to live. He was a schoolmaster at Wymondham and later at Long Stratton and he used to bike there - he knew how many times his feet went round between Bracon Ash and Long Stratton! A marvellous man. Vera White was his wife - later she moved to Mulbarton.'

The next house, Jasmine Cottage, was where Fred Waters used to live - where the bikes are sold now. This is where the harness shop used to be. There was the harness maker's right on the road and a loke down the side to get to Edie Stubbing's little shop at the back.  You had to go in sideways as it was so full of stuff- stacked up with biscuit tins! This and Stubbing's belonged to the Myhill family. Mr Waters came out from Norwich to work for Myhills in the harness shop. He added a pump where his wife Olga served petrol. He bought the harness shop and the land with it and he had a fleet of lorries too, cattle floats and everything - all during the war years and after.

Round the back of the harness shop is where old Smith used to live - I never knew his Christian name. There's a modern house in there now.

Woodland View (left) and Beech House (right)
Woodland View (left) and Beech House (right)

Then there was where the Tungates lived - the big white house which faces onto the road, Woodland View. Mansell Tungate's wife was a Middleton, another family of fruit-growers. There were fields of fruit all along the back of these houses, from Cuckoofield Lane to Hawkes Lane, Then there was Ted Bond's house, Beech House. There were three more houses up the Battery Yard - up the top end of Ted Bond's garden - which were knocked down. I don't remember them [called Spurgeon's Yard in some censuses].

Looking north along The Street with part of the Old Dairy right.
Looking north along The Street with part of the Old Dairy right.

Then there was the Old Dairy, which was no longer functioning as dairy when I came to Bracon Ash. 

Old Dairy, with front part falling down. Back right is part of modernised Bracon House.
Old Dairy, with front part falling down. Back right is part of modernised Bracon House.

The present owner adds: it was 3 cottages with a shop in the middle one and a well in the front yard and a beam that seems to have reached out over it from the main building. It is now two houses - The Old Dairy and Ashtree. The part at the front, which has now fallen down, was also once a separate 1-room dwelling with an attic - it may have been the milk room at one time. The huge chimney contained Tudor bricks and had a 'copper' or boiler on one side. There was an enormous 'copper' and two smaller ones inside the Old Dairy, one served by the rear chimney. The oldest inglenook fireplace has a Victorian iron oven, grate and an entrance to a beehive oven. Out the back was another well serving 2 stables and a 'calf' barn, with one stable housing a small 'copper' boiler. All the 'coppers' were made of steel, fed by fires and were very efficient.

The tiled house far left is the Old Dairy. The thatched cottage with low walls was rebuilt as..... (next photo)
The tiled house far left is the Old Dairy. The thatched cottage with low walls was rebuilt as..... (next photo)

My grandmother lived in one of the cottages, where Bracon House is now - it belonged to Betts' farm then. Another double dwelling was round the back of Bracon House and another tiny cottage where Spinks lived by a walnut tree. They were all condemned by the Council, but Betts insisted his workers were rehoused in the Council Houses, which were built on land he'd owned in 1937. It's hard to imagine now that one of those cottages was rebuilt as Bracon House! This house still retains 2 original inglenook fireplaces, one with a beehive oven, and some of the original downstairs beams are still in place.

Bracon House
Bracon House

Jesmere where I live, plus Bracon Cottage next-door, was built in 1909. I was told the same builder built Victoria Cottage in Hawkes Lane and The Retreat and the bricks came from Swainsthorpe, down Brick Kiln Lane. They were built for Mr Watling's workers at the bakery, and later his son Loftus lived in one half.

Jesmere Cottage (left) & Bracon Cottage (right), probably taken soon after they were built.
Jesmere Cottage (left) & Bracon Cottage (right), probably taken soon after they were built.

Then on further was an old thatched cottage which was knocked down and stood in front of where Sunset bungalow sits now.  Round the back was another cottage that I was told used to be the pub.

Now for the story about the pub. I never knew it, but opposite what is now the Village Hall, behind where Sunset now is, there was a typical pub property and you went up steps with two iron rails to get into it. There was a cellar underneath the house but you couldn't get into it other than going through the thatched cottages (where Sunset is now). There was a well there too. I warned the builders when the extension was added - they didn't believe me till they levered up some slabs and there was a well! It's now in Sunset's front room! It's open with a lovely glass top as a table.

No-one remembers what the pub was called, but it might have been The Lion because the field opposite, by the phone box, was called Lion's Close on the OS map [The Tithe map of 1842 has a Lions Fields behind the cottages, and the census returns for 1861 to 1901 each have Lion Hill off The Street with four families living there, but no hint of a pub or beer-house.]

Watling's: bakery (right), shop (in and through lean-to) and house (centre). looking south.
Watling's: bakery (right), shop (in and through lean-to) and house (centre). looking south.

On the opposite side of the road was Watling's shop, Post Office and bakery. More about that under shops. The Village Hall, or Reading Room stood on the green, and behind that was a pair of thatched cottages that are still there now....

Village green with now-demolished thatched cottages (left); Village Hall (right, behind ash tree); existing thatched cottages (centre).
Village green with now-demolished thatched cottages (left); Village Hall (right, behind ash tree); existing thatched cottages (centre).

The two thatched cottages near the Village Hall are Hollyhock Cottage (where I lived when I was first married in 1952) and Old Peculiar (where I lived with my parents lived for 10 years). I knew someone, a man who was a rat catcher ['Waxy' Cooper], who used to live in Old Peculiar before my parents, who told me that Hollyhock Cottage used to be the laundry for Mergate Hall - two bedrooms above and a massive drying room downstairs. The new house next-door stands on the drying yard for the laundry. Our house had a well just outside the back door and my mother would stand milk inside the well to keep the milk cold.

Now we'll go down Hawkes Lane. It has been called 'School House Lane' in 1861 & 1871 (when the old village hall was a village school) and 'Hawkes Watering Lane or Old School Lane' in 1881, and Hawkes Watering Lane in 1891. In 1901 it was as today - Hawkes Lane. The numbers in Hawkes Lane were a postman's nightmare: our house, Old Peculiar, was No 65 because it belonged to the Mergate Estate. Then The house down the end of Marsh Lane (now The Cottage) was No 66, the gardener's and groom's cottages at Mergate Hall are numbered like that too.

Hawkes Lane with the Council Houses (left) and Victoria Cottage (right) featuring on a postcard!
Hawkes Lane with the Council Houses (left) and Victoria Cottage (right) featuring on a postcard!

On the right-hand side, four Council Houses were built in 1937. Then on the left hand side of Hawkes Lane you come to Victoria Cottage which used to be a pair. After that is The Willows which was built by Mr Felstead who bought the rose nursery from Morse. Mr Felstead used to grow cucumbers and when you went down the greenhouses the cucumbers would drape over your shoulders! There were no leaves on the cucumbers and when I asked "Why?", the man said "I don't grow anything you can't eat"!

Tom & Lizzie Doubleday outside their cottage home, which was replaced by a pair of council bungalows in one of which they were rehoused.
Tom & Lizzie Doubleday outside their cottage home, which was replaced by a pair of council bungalows in one of which they were rehoused.

After that was the clay-lump cottage where Tom & Lizzie Doubleday lived, which was replaced by a pair of Council bungalows. I was told that the owner didn't pay the rates, so the Council took over the land but rehoused the Doubledays in one of the bungalows.

Lodge Farm, Hawkes Lane
Lodge Farm, Hawkes Lane

And then on to Lodge Farm. Mr Bowles farmed here when I came to Bracon Ash, then Mr White; it was a mixed farm. There were nurseries as well, which belonged to the farm before the war, but I don't remember them, and behind The Vineyard. They tell me the field had a whole row of nurseries. I only remember the nurseries the Morses' had - rose nurseries. Lodge Farm wasn't originally a farmhouse - it used to be called The Beeches was built some time before 1900 by James Church for his growing family. He ran the vineyard until his son Joseph took over. [More on that under market gardening.]

Mergate farm house
Mergate farm house

No more houses after the old Vineyard right down to Mergate Farm. Tom Betts ran it as a diary farm so there were lots of out-buildings. I must tell you a little story! It's about what is now called Hawkes Barn. It was after Hardy's did it up to live in. Because I had worked there Mrs Hardy asked me to visit (about 1990?) when the barn conversion was done. I went down there and Mrs Hardy took me round and when we got to where the kitchen is I said "Why did you put kitchen there! That was where we put all the calves which had ringworm! " 

Horses drinking from the pond near Mergate Farm at junction of Hawkes Lane, Marsh Lane and Mergate Lane
Horses drinking from the pond near Mergate Farm at junction of Hawkes Lane, Marsh Lane and Mergate Lane

There was a little old house down the end of Marsh Lane that was always named Mud Hut (The Cottage). Then round to Mergate Hall where the Jewsons lived: 

Mergate Hall (looking very like today)
Mergate Hall (looking very like today)

There were several cottages there. Coming back through the Common there was Home Farm, which was part of the Mergate Estate. Mr Westgate had the farm then - another mixed farm. Later Betts bought it when the Mergate estate was sold [in 1948].

If I may I would like to take you up Poorhouse Lane now. There was nothing down there except two pairs of cottages right up the far end on the right hand side and on the other side there was a single house where Chartwell House now is. Coming back a bit towards the main road, there were  two houses, one where Ladler (Smith) and his uncle and aunt lived; the other where Jessie Howlett followed on from a family by name of Button. Then down to where Brooms is now, there was a pair of cottages side onto the road that belonged to the Berneys and went with the White's farm - Lodge Farm, and another pair facing the road where Frank Ellis and John Daglish lived. A pair of houses in Poorhouse Lane caught fire.  An old tradition led to the Lord of the Manor having, every year, to gift to the residents of the cottages, 5 cwt of coal and enough red calico to provide the woman in the house to make a petticoat.

Whether there were poor houses there I don't know. The name has been changed from Pauper's Lane in the first instance and changed to Poorhouse Lane. But there was never a big Poor House there. I could have bought all those houses up there for 10 shillings the lot. The sale was at the Worlds End and if I'd had 10 shillings in my pocket I would have bought the lot!

School House, attached to Bracon Ash & Hethel School
School House, attached to Bracon Ash & Hethel School

From the end of Poorhouse Lane, Laws Lane takes you round to Bonds Green. All the houses there now were there when I came to Bracon Ash. Round the corner was the school and school house, then more Council houses. There were 3 teachers and a good number of pupils when I came - but I went to school in Wreningham. 

Looking from the South (from Bell Meadow): L > R - (former) Rectory Barn; (old) Rectory; Bracon Ash Church
Looking from the South (from Bell Meadow): L > R - (former) Rectory Barn; (old) Rectory; Bracon Ash Church

Coming back towards the church there was the church barn and Rectory - now the Old Rectory, and even the Not So Old Rectory is not a Rectory any more! Mr Watling rented all the land round there and hired the barn. Then there was Bracon Hall, and a pair of cottages where the chauffeur and gardener for the Berney family lived. Bracon Hall Farm was right across the fields on the East Carleton road - that had a big barn and some workers' cottages nearby. And that brings us back to The Turnpike!