Heigham Holmes

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Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, August 2015
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright
1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Geography and history

Heigham Holmes is an isolated and little known area of marshland in the civil parish of Potter Heigham (North Norfolk), formerly known as Heigham Potter due to the extensive manufacture of pottery in the village. There was also a thriving peat digging industry, which over time unfortunately resulted in many of the extraction sites beginning to fill with water. Despite the cutting of drainage ditches these were completely flooded by the 15th century, creating lakes such as Hickling Broad. Norfolk Heritage archaeologists believe that an extensive area of peat extraction once covered much of the eastern section of Heigham Holmes. The word 'holmes' is derived from the Old Norse word holmir, meaning island, and indeed Heigham Holmes was originally a bar of sand and gravel in the large estuary which existed here in Roman times, and probably still an island in a reed-covered wetland until land drainage began in the 1600s. (Some experts, however, believe that the landscape of this area during the Roman period was very similar as it is today.) The area extends over about 500 acres and is bounded by the River Thurne (Norfolk's shortest and once one of its finest pike fishing rivers) in the south, Candle Dyke (Although spelled Candle Dyke on most maps, the name of the watercourse appears to derive from an eel catcher named Kendal who had his set - referred to as "Kendal's set" in 19th century legal documents - in the dyke. His hut is still in place but the Broads' last eel catcher, Derek Johnson, died in October 2012, and the eel traps are nowadays only used for eel population counts.) and Heigham Sound in the west, Meadow Dyke in the north and Eelfleet Wall in the east, with the highest elevation, about one metre above sea level, situated roughly in the centre. Aerial views published on the 'Britain from Above' website and taken by Flight AFL3469 during the devastating floods in the spring of 1938, when the sea defences were breached several times at Horsey, show all the surrounding lower-lying marshes submerged. LinkExternal link

TG4319 : View along Candle Dyke by Evelyn Simak TG4319 : Sailing down Candle Dyke towards the River Thurne by Evelyn Simak TG4319 : The eel catcher's hut on Candle Dyke by Evelyn Simak TG4319 : Moorings on Candle Dyke by Evelyn Simak TG4319 : Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) by Evelyn Simak TG4319 : Sailing boat travelling down Candle Dyke by Evelyn Simak

Located less than two kilometres north of the village of Martham, this man-made island is now a nature reserve managed by the National Trust (NT), who acquired it in 1987 with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Natural England, in cooperation with two tenant farmers who graze their cattle on the reserve's marsh pastures. Over the years, the land was restored back to grassland by reinstating the old water levels and creating new dykes, pools and foot drains. Today the reserve is considered a unique and internationally important wetland, comprising reed-fringed flood banks and open water, grazing marshes, scrub and wet woodland, linked by a maze of dykes and pools characteristic of the Norfolk Broads landscape and home to marsh harriers, barn owls, bitterns and cranes, avocets and redshanks. Muntjacs, Chinese water deer (both non-native species) and red deer can also be seen here. The southern part of Heigham Holmes is flooded during the winter months to provide a safe feeding and roosting area for over 18,000 geese and other wildfowl.

TG4419 : Cattle on Heigham Holmes by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Dairy cows grazing on Heigham Holmes by Evelyn Simak TG4419 : Shallow pond in a marsh pasture by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Cattle grazing on Heigham Holmes by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Old stock fence by Evelyn Simak

The only access is via a floating, automated steel-decked bridge, constructed and installed by Jackson Civil Engineering for the National Trust in early 2012 at a cost of 800,000 - a lot of money, considering that said bridge was paid for with public money when in fact the public is barred "due to restricted access via floating river crossing" for 364 days a year. (Anyone, including NT members, wishing to take part in one of the pre-booked guided tours with the ranger, available between April and October, is required to pay a fee.) The structure replaced an earlier floating bridge (dating from 1987) which was operated by pulling on a chain. As the bridge has to be left open so as not to obstruct river traffic it was necessary to row back to the other side after crossing over, in a boat provided for this purpose, to re-open it, and then to row back across the river once again. A previous bridge had been installed in the early 1920s and before that a pontoon bridge built in the 19th century and described as having required three people to manoeuvre it into position was used. Although not technically a ferry and despite the absence of any records of a commercial ferry ever having operated here this river crossing has always been known as Martham Ferry.

In the words of George Christopher Davies (18491922), a local government official and author, taken from his book 'The Handbook to the Rivers and Broads of Norfolk and Suffolk', published in 1880, "The ferry is a large raft, which is kept in a recess on either side of the river, and floated across, reaching from bank to bank when required. There is no one to tend it, and if it happens to be on the other side, a wayfarer must wait until someone appears on the other side to get it across. It is a wonderfully clumsy thing to look at, and is not regarded with friendly eyes by the wherrymen, who run their wherries full tilt against it too often at night, or when, with wind astern, they are unable to stop. One wherryman, exasperated beyond endurance, let his wherry go at it with all her force when running before half a gale, but only smashed the bows of his vessel, not moving the ferry a bit or injuring it, for its heavily bound with iron to withstand such experiments".

In 1926, the farmers who owned land on Heigham Holmes decided to improve their access and on 7 September signed a document which declared that "Each proprietor shall forthwith on signing this agreement pay to an account to be called the Martham Holmes Floating Bridge Account at Lloyds Bank, Great Yarmouth, a sum proportionate to his or her acreage of such amount as may be required to provide a floating caisson bridge with all necessary fittings, gear and appliances for the holding in position and pulling out and in, and with the quay headings on either side of the river, and to keep the same in repair so as to furnish the means of access and transport between Martham Holmes and Martham, which bridge shall forthwith be obtained and put in commission." The bridge was ordered from Fellows & Co Ltd of Great Yarmouth (later Richards, the shipbuilders) Ltd and it was delivered and installed with the new quay headings in June 1927 at a cost of 460 for the bridge; 427 for piles and pile-driving, swing post (apparently the propeller shaft of a disused Yarmouth drifter), buffer post, concrete, labour and cartage and 9 for a small boat. The boat was for returning to the other side of the river after re-opening the bridge when a vehicle had crossed. William Bracey and Oliver A Starling (an engineer, agricultural implements agent and wheelwright) were appointed managers and hence entitled "to collect and apply the moneys provided by the proprietors for the purpose of keeping the said floating bridge etc in efficient working order and condition." On 13 December 1926, the Potter Heigham Drainage Commission agreed to donate 30 towards this new bridge, which replaced the older bridge described by George Christopher Davies (see above).

TG4419 : Opening The Bridge by Peter Jeffery TG4419 : Hand-operated swing bridge across the River Thurne by Evelyn Simak TG4419 : The end of the road at Martham Ferry by Evelyn Simak TG4419 : The new bridge at Martham Ferry by Evelyn Simak

TG4419 : The new bridge at Martham Ferry by Evelyn Simak TG4419 : The new bridge at Martham Ferry by Evelyn Simak TG4419 : The new bridge at Martham Ferry by Evelyn Simak TG4419 : The new bridge at Martham Ferry by Evelyn Simak

Until well into the 19th century much of the land in the parish of Potter Heigham, including Heigham Holmes, was owned by the Bishop of Norwich who was also the lord of the manor. The bishop leased his land to tenant farmers, the names of which are recorded in the 'Title Deeds, Manorial Records, Maps and other records relating to the Bishopric Estates in Potter Heigham Parish (1667 - 1853)'. In the 16th and 17th centuries, William Burway (Aug 1665), Edward Eyre (Feb 1667/Nov 1668), Thomas Damant (Dec 1712), Robert Cory (1716), S Briant (Oct 1726), John, Thomas and William Savory (June 1713 - July 1776), Sir William Paston (1733 - 1776) and Thomas Artis (1757) all had leased extensive parcels of land on Heigham Holmes "otherwise the Holmes in Heigham Potter". Engle Knights of East Somerton in 1790 obtained the Lease of Land in Heigham Potter for Three Lives from the Lord Bishop of Norwich. (Throughout the 18th century, leases for three lives were in fairly widespread use and often for a term of years, usually 31 or 41 years, or for three lives, whichever was the longer. A three-lives lease expired when all three people named in the lease had died and tenants frequently named young relatives, hoping that at least one of them would survive for many years.) The smaller and periodically flooded pastures adjacent to the island's southern perimeter and immediately north of the River Thurne were owned by marsh farmers such as William Creasey Ewing, Benjamin Bell, Robert Rising, William Pollard and James Symonds. The Trustees for the Reverend George Merriman's widow held a small parcel of land further to the north-east.

TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (parchment) by Evelyn Simak

TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (parchment) by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (parchment) by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (parchment) by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (parchment) by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (parchment) by Evelyn Simak

Faden's map - the first large-scale map of the whole county, surveyed between 1790 and 1794 and published in 1797 in London by William Faden, Geographer to His Majesty - shows an enclosure devoid of any buildings and presumably a cattle yard, at approximately the centre of the island which, barely a metre above sea level, is also the highest elevation. By the time the enclosure map for Potter Heigham was drawn, in 1806, a house, and a barn adjacent in the east and at right angles, had been built at this location. The exact date of its completion is not recorded but the house would appear to have been ready for occupation in the autumn of 1792, as is attested by a memorandum appended to a legal agreement according to which Robert Cory (the lessee) refunded his landlord William Savory for the kitchen fitments and utilities: "Rec'd of Mr Cory three Guineas for a Bath Stove in the Parlour, Range Hakes Crane & Oven in the Kitchen of the Holmes House, By me" - dated 6 October 1792 and signed by William Savory with a 'X'. The names of the people who moved into this new house are not known.

TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (document) by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (document) by Evelyn Simak TG4420 : Heigham Holmes (document) by Evelyn Simak

The buildings are again mentioned in a document dating from 2 October 1794, announcing the sale of the Holmes Estate: "To be now sold by Auction all those lands, marshes and pastures called Heigham Holmes and also all those lands and Pastures called Spurnings and being in or near Potterheigham held by Lease for Lives of the Lord Bishop of Norwich at the annual Rent of 5 together with the Messuage or Dwellinghouse late new erected, Bullockshed, Yards, Garden, Well and Appurtenances on the said Holmes." The Spurnings, an area of apparently quite boggy common land shared by the parishioners of Potter Heigham, Ludham, Catfield and the proprietors of land on Heigham Holmes in equal measures, extended from the south-western end of Meadow Dyke in the north all the way south along the western edge of Heigham Sound.

"Also a freehold marsh adjoining part whereof is used as a drift way from Martham Swim (area adjacent to where what is today known as Horsey Road crosses the Hundred Stream, a drainage channel dividing the Hundred of Happing from the Hundred of East and West Flegg) onto the said Holmes the whole containing exclusive of the Spurnings, uproads of 100 acres which Premises are now in the occupation of Mr Thomas Francis (Thomas Francis and his brother John were born in Ingham, North Norfolk, in 1743 and 1756, respectively)
on a Lease wherein six years will be unexpired on the 10th instant at 50 a year - with an exception of the Parlour Chamber and Garden, Landlord paying one half of the Tithe and Poor Rate and of keeping the ditches etc in repair. There are now very good lives in existence, the one aged about 29 years and the other about 26 years - Mr William Savory and Mr Charles Pollard respectively". The sale took place in the "Oak at Martham". (The Royal Oak was the only licensed public house recorded in Martham in the late 1700s and the landlord in 1794 was Richard Bell. The pub closed in the late 19th century.) The buyer was Engle Knights, a beer brewer from Winterton. The seller was Robert Cory of Great Yarmouth, Registrar of the Admiralty Court, one-term Mayor of Great Yarmouth and a solicitor by profession, who bought and sold property. The Cory family is documented to have held land on Heigham Holmes at least since the early 1700s, some of it leased from John (and later William) Savory and sub-leased to Thomas Francis.

Detailing the "Particulars of the Holmes Estate", said document also informs that "The occupiers of land in Heigham (at the time Potter Heigham was often referred to as just Heigham) pretend to have right of Shackage (ie to graze their cattle) on the Holmes for Cattle Levant et Couchant (a term generally applying to trespassing cattle which have remained long enough to have lain down to rest and risen up to feed) from old Midsummer to three weeks and three days before old Michaelmas and in some years a few cattle have been turned on, but none in this year it being attended with much danger and Hazard as the Cattle are obliged to be boated off and on they having no other way of getting on the Holmes".


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