Walsham has many documents from the past still surviving. Among these are four hundred and seventy four wills dating from 1396 to 1820 which contain a great deal of information. Most of them have not been transcribed. Incidentally the County of Devon has hardly any old wills, as during World War 2 those stored in Exeter were heavily bombed. In Walsham we are very fortunate to have access to so many documents.
The wills of Walsham are deposited in three archive centres. Most are in Bury Record Office, some are in Norwich Record Office and a few are in the National Archives at Kew.
Before 1858 all wills had to be granted probate by the Church. It was normally done by the Archdeaconry of the area in which the deceased had lived. Suffolk was originally within the Diocese of Norwich, and was divided into the Archdeaconry of Sudbury, extending into part of Cambridgeshire, and the Archdeaconry of Suffolk. These two Archdeaconries still exist today in the St Edmunsbury Diocese. If the deceased had lived within the Sudbury Archdeaconry, probate was granted by the archdeacon. If the deceased also had property in the adjoining Suffolk Archdeaconry, probate was granted by the Bishop of Norwich. If the person had property elsewhere, probate would have to be granted by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. The Canterbury records are now in the National Archives at Kew, and this perhaps explains why our wills are in three different locations.
The exceptions to the preceding are the wills of the village priests which were all granted probate at Norwich. This was done by an official appointed by the Archdeacon who would deal with a number of wills at a village in the area. Ixworth was often chosen, and Fornham was another place favoured. The archived wills indexed are listed with the name of the Archdeacon who granted probate. If no will was made it was listed with the Latin prefix ‘Intestato’ which meant that he died intestate. His possessions were given to his descendants or others decided upon by the Church court.
Most of the wills were made shortly before the person died, as we know from the parish burial records. In the early medieval period it was viewed with horror if the deceased had not made a will because it often meant he had died unconfessed and had not been granted absolution by a priest. In later years, particularly after the sudden deaths during the Black Death of 1348, this view was dropped and a more tolerant attitude was taken.
Typical wording at the start of a will was as follows:
‘Will of Alys (Alice) Holme of Walsham Widowe 1507
In Dei N(omi)ne (‘In the Name of God’)Amen. The last day of the month of Aprill Anno D(omini) 1507 I Alys Holme of Walsh(a)m Widowe holl (whole) of mynde and good remembrauns (remembrance) make my Test(ament) and last will in man(ner) ffolwyng ffyrst I C(om) mende my soul to Almighty God etc And my Body to be buried in the Church of o(ur) Blessed Lady In Walsham forsaid’
This particular will was difficult to read as some letters were omitted or illegible.
Most wills were written in what is called “secretary hand”. Some hand writing is beautiful but some is hardly legible. People often used abbreviations which are not used today. They also left out letters, making transcription difficult. I well remember puzzling over one word for hours before I realised it was ‘the Feast of St Michael the Archangel’ written as one in secretary hand (thefeastofstmichaelthearchangel).
This is an example of ‘secretary’ hand writing. It comes from the will of John Jessop 1591.
‘(Transcription : ‘In the name of God Amen
the nynthe daye of Apryle in the xxxiiith (33rd) yeare
of the Reigne of oure Sovereigne Ladie Queene Elizabeth
by the grace of god of Englande ffrance & Ireland defender
of the faythe etc I John Jesopp (?) of Walsham in the
Wyllowes in the Countie of Suff Tanner beinge of hole mynde)’
Note that as in most legal documents, there is no punctuation. Unfortunately all the old wills are now on microfilm which makes some of them difficult to transcribe.
It was often asked in the wills that the deceased should be buried within the church and for the priest to pray for their souls. Money was left for this purpose. It would have been a useful source of income for the parish priest as his stipend in those days could be meagre.
There are possibly hundreds of people buried within the church, that is, under the church floor. There were so many that around 1877 no more were allowed to be buried inside.
The oldest surviving will of Walsham from 1396 is of the parish priest William Pye. His will contained very little of value, mainly his clothes, bed, and a few other possessions, most of which he left to his brothers.
Although there are almost five hundred Walsham wills it must be remembered that these were of relatively wealthy people. The poor had very little to leave. To be granted absolution by the priest was probably all they got on their death bed.
Among various bequests in wills there was always something for the Church, not only St. Mary’s in Walsham but other churches and religious bodies were left money.
One item which appears frequently is money ‘for tithes forgotten or verily not well paid’.
People often left money for a priest to pray for their souls. An item which sometimes appears is a bequest for a ‘trental’. This is a requiem mass performed on thirty consecutive days. The ‘church at Norwich’ was often left money. This was obviously the Cathedral.
A favourite item left in a will was a feather bed. These were highly prized. Anyone who has slept on a feather bed knows how beautifully soft and warm it is. Again these were usually owned by the more wealthy people. The poorer classes slept on straw mattresses. Other items commonly bequeathed were cooking utensils.
There are many wills which contain interesting information. One is the will of Richard Margery who died in 1503. He too made a bequest for a trental to be held at Thetford, and bequeathed money to various other religious establishments. He left his wife Julian his closyng (close) in West Street until his children ‘come to a lawful age of twenty.’ A condition in the will was that Julian must provide for Richard’s parents.
‘She shall keep my father and mother as long as they shall live, meat, drink, clothing, linen, and woollen, firing, and washing honestly as they are to be kept. If Julian fortune to be married again and they and my father and mother cannot accord together the said closyn and 13s 4d to be at the disposition of my father and mother as long as they live, which of them live longest. My father and mother to have their chamber as they have it now, which of them live longest.’
Richard obviously thought a great deal of his parents, as it is not often one finds so much attention to the welfare of parents in wills.
It can be seen when reading his will that Richard was a comparatively wealthy man. There are a number of bequests of land to different people. His nephew John Margery was left land at Aldgrene, and his sister Agnes was left a meadow on the condition she pays a sum to each of his godchildren two years after she takes possession of the land. In addition to these people his nephews were also left money. Other beneficiaries are…
‘the poor people of the town of Pakynham where most need is for my soul the poor people of the town of Stowelantoft where most need is for my soul’.
Various guilds and John Parker the Walsham butcher also received a bequest.
It would be interesting if we knew exactly where some of the land mentioned was situated, Names change over the years. Most of what we can place is derived from the Field Book of Walsham of 1577 which has a number of references to Aldewode Green (now Allwood Green).
What we do know from the Field Book of Walsham is that the Margery family were still in the village 74 years later and still wealthy. John Margery had over sixty acres in 1577 somewhere along Summer Road. This would be a large holding for the 16th century.
It is well known that Raphe Margery of Summer Road joined Cromwell’s army and raised troops and horses in the Walsham area for the Civil Wars. Cromwell promoted him to a captain in his ‘New Army’. When Raphe died his will showed that he too was wealthy. He had property in Lincolnshire, Bedfordshire and Norfolk. This was in addition to his property in Walsham, and he left monetary gifts to his family and friends.
His will was not proven locally but in Westminster as were other wills after the Civil Wars.
Although he had eight children, this will is the last mention of the Margery family in Walsham’s will index. There is no doubt that Raphe Margery was a person of respect in the village. He was often a witness to Walsham wills, and had been a church warden in 1635.
Many Walsham wills were transcribed by the late Peter Northeast. We are indebted to him for this. Without his work a great many of Walsham’s manuscripts would not be available.
- The will of Alys Holme N.R.O Spyltymber 11
- The will of John Jessop S.R.O. I C 500/2/42.99
- The will of Richard Margery S.R.O. IC 500/2/13.142
- The will of Raphe Margery National Archives Kew Prob 11 239 Folio 340
Review 11 and 26 contain more information about Captain Raphe Margery
Copies of the wills are available on CD’s (01359 258535)
(This is an edited version of an article by John Champion. It is hoped that John will provide us with further interesting information on Walsham wills for future Reviews. Ed.)
More 1950’s correspondence from Rose Nunn
(notes by Hugh Nunn, all from 1956)
A hard spell of weather challenged village people in poorly insulated dwellings. At ‘Clematis’ the rear extension forming a scullery was particularly bleak.
‘You must be nearly frozen going to work in this. Everything gets frozen up in the scullery. The rabbits are all right. I gave them extra hay and they seem happy enough behind their ‘curtains’. Its hard on the birds, I had a few sparrows yesterday, no doubt they knew where the cat was.’
Walsham had characters, many of whom were frequently seen around the village as they walked or cycled, especially to visit the various shops in ‘High Street’. One such was Willie Finch who lived in the thatched house more recently occupied by Mr and Mrs Albert Largent. on the Badwell Road. He regularly attended Chapel Services and those who remember him will recall Willie mounting his bike by putting his foot on an extension of his bike’s rear wheel axle and launching himself onto the saddle! Sadly our correspondent reports:
‘Dad says poor old Willie Finch is laid up now and ‘They’ have sent for his nephew Trevor’.
Jumble Sale at Congregational Chapel School Room – apparently a source of hats.
‘There is a lot of stuff in the school room for the Jumble Sale this afternoon – hats, shoes, linen, foodstuffs, furniture, pictures, china. Its marvellous where it all comes from. They are also having sausage rolls on sale for refreshments at 4p each and cups of tea at 3p. I reckon it will be a good do if plenty of buyers turn up’.
Weather – wet then warm.
‘Hasn’t it turned warm suddenly? This nice wind will dry the gardens. Everywhere is like a quagmire. Miss Hewer (she lived at ‘Holmwood’ next to Nunn’s shop) had a minor flood in her back places so Lawson and Colin have been repairing the roof these last three days.’
Mr Fred Large’s funeral – he had been blacksmith at Messrs Harry Nunn and Sons and lived for years up Crownland Road in a house more recently occupied by Mr and Mrs Jim Kenny. (Fred) was killed by an American serviceman’s car whilst riding his bike on the turnpike at Hepworth.
‘I went to Mr Large’s funeral and the Chapel was full. There were a lot of Methodists from villages where he had preached. I didn’t go up to the cemetery. Cars reached from the Chapel down to the old ‘Swan’ Inn.’
The USAF were occupying Shepherds’Grove. Their aircraft types varied over the years.
‘I shall probably be going for a walk this afternoon and Simon says he wants to go round Red House Road to see the Thunder-Streaks and he wants to see if the Piper Family Cruiser is up there.’
Homegrown vegetables were vital to pretty nearly all Walsham families, either grown on a home plot or on one of the three different village allotment areas. Our correspondent refers to ‘ rover ‘ potatoes, a picturesque term for a self sown spud from the previous year.
‘We had a fair rain last night. I dug up some rovers as they are quite sizeable. We had quite run out of old potatoes. We also had a few peas and some strawberries.’
What the paper’s said 100 years ago
In April 1915 the area around Ypres in Belgium had become a pitiless battlefield. Outside the town is Hill 60, named after its height in metres. It was built from the spoil of a railway cutting. This strategic position was much fought over and many attacks and counter-attacks took place. On April 19th the Norfolk’s 1st Battalion, along with other regiments, took over the line and witnessed some of the fiercest fighting. Many soldiers lost their lives on Hill 60, and it was at this time that Walsham’s Albert Smith, aged 25, was killed in action. His father had been a regular soldier in the Indian Army and it was during a spell of duty in Burma that Albert had been born. At one time the family lived at Bridge Cottage in Grove Road.
Albert Smith’s name is on Panel 4 of the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.
Bury Free Press 15/5/1915
‘Times allotted to drill the Volunteer Training Corps. are to be on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons in Mr West’s meadow at The Grove. There will be firing practise on a miniature rifle range.’
‘It has been decided that there will be no cricket matches this year but training sessions will still take place.’
Bury Free Press 22/5/1915
‘On the 24th May 1915 the 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment were attacking some German trenches on the Menin Road near Ypres. They were forced back by machine gun fire and clouds of choking gas. Sergeant Charles Hunter Hayward was killed in action that day. His father, William Edgar Hayward, who lived in Summer Road, was for 30 years Walsham’s church verger. Charles Hayward, 29, was buried in the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery in Belgium.’
Bury Free Press 19/6/1915
‘24 pairs of gloves and mittens, 2 pairs of socks, and 58 other garments for those serving abroad have been knitted by the school girls of Walsham. The wool was kindly given by Mrs West. Four schoolboys collected a guinea which they sent to the National Sailors Society. For the national egg collection for the wounded soldiers the schoolgirls contributed 300 eggs and the school boys 150 eggs plus 10 shillings.’
Bury Free Press 26/6/1915
‘On Saturday the funeral took place of 8 year old Ella Lucy Nunn. A service was held in the Congregational Chapel before interment in the cemetery. There were many floral tributes including one from her school friends and teachers. Deep sympathy goes to the family of Mr P. R. Nunn of Fernside Cottage.’