In this blog, I follow a paper trail to uncover a succession of owners of a small farmhouse in Town Green, Great Ellingham.
I begin with the auction of the property in 1884, and take the ownership back to at least 1800, and, perhaps, even further to the 1700s.
The Crown Public House in the background. Postcard courtesy of Attleborough Heritage Group
We begin the story at an auction held at the Crown Public House in Great Ellingham on 22nd July, 1884.
Local man Ellis Carter, the licensee of the Chequers Public House in the village, successfully bid for a Homestead and an enclosure of land in Great Ellingham. He paid £320 for the Homestead and £65 for the land.
The property and land were just two of seven lots of premises and land in Great Ellingham, offered for sale by the executors of the late Mr Robert Boyce.
Two lots comprising each a piece of land were withdrawn – perhaps the bidding was short of the reserve price, but a Mr Charles Corston and a Mr Bailey each successfully bid for two other lots of land.
Earlier in the month, a notice appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle announcing the auction on the 22nd July. This provides more information about the property.
This notice appearing in the newspaper tells us that ‘the Homestead‘ comprised ‘a small farmhouse with barn, stable, cow house and other buildngs, a cart-lodge with granary over, garden and four inclousures of excellent arable and pasture land,’ containing altogether six acres, three rood and 34 perches (6a 3r 34p). It also tells us that apart from a ‘wasted tenement‘ and four acres which were copyhold of the Manor of Ellingham Hall, the property was freehold.
The additional piece of land also purchased by Ellis Carter at the auction adjoined Hingham Road.
Previous Owner Robert Boyce
We also know from the notice that the previous owner of the Homestead and land was Robert Boyce.
The Norfolk Registers of Electors from at least 1842 to 1883 reveal that a Robert Boyce living in Hockham (Great Hockham) owned a freehold house and land at Town Green, Great Ellingham.
A schedule to an ‘Estates and Occupations‘ for Great Ellingham which dates around 1830s-1840s, reveal the following property and land which Robert Boyce purchased in succession to ‘Widow Dennis and Benjamin Dennis‘:
- No. 483 Far Home Piece comprised 2a 2r 11p
- No. 484 Near Farm Home Piece 1a 2r 28p
- No. 485 Orchard & Barn 1a 0r 27p
- No.486 House, Outbuildings and Garden 0a 0r 18p
- No. 487 Common Frontage 1a 1r 30p
- No. 502 Bramble Row 4a 0r 12p
- No. 542 Common Allotment on Town Green 3a 1r 5p
- No. 548 Hall Croft Close 4a 0r 2p
- No. 549 Hall Croft Close 3a 1r 32p
- No. 550 Hall Croft Field 2a 0r 14
- No. 589 A Plantation 2a 0r 14p
The schedule to the ‘Estates & Occupations‘ also tell us that the property and land was at one time occupied by William Burch (probably when owned by the Dennis family). John Flegg was a later occupant, and was living in the property at the time of Robert Boyce’s purchase in 1832.
Occupier John Flegg
From a notice of an auction of a ‘desirable property’ and land in Great Ellingham, which appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle on January 7th, 1832, we know that John Flegg was occupying the Homestead at Town Green at that time.
The notice described the property for sale as a farmhouse with barn, stables and other outbuildings (and about seventeen acres of land) in the occupation of Mr Flegg.
The notice also mentions ‘an inclosure of land called Bramble Close’ (which is numbered 502 in the above schedule) and ‘an inclosure of land late parcel of the Commons of Great Ellingham containing 3a 1r 5p’ (numbered 542 in the above schedule).
Accordingly, it was in 1832 that Robert Boyce purchased the property from the Dennis family, following the death of ‘widow Dennis’ in 1831.
Indeed, the Court Books for the Manor of Buckenham Castle Outsoken (which I mention again below), tell us that at a court held for the Manor on 17th September, 1832, Robert Boyce, a glazier, of Great Hockham was admitted as a copyhold tenant to certain copyhold land of the Manor lying in Great Ellingham, on the ‘surrender’ of Robert Willomatt Dennis, the son and heir of Robert Willomatt Dennis (c.1775-1829), and grandson of Mary Dennis.
Robert Boyce likely purchased the Great Ellingham property and land as an investment, and let the property and land to tenants. He died on the 15th May, 1884, just two months before the auction of his property by his executors in Great Ellingham.
Going back around 15 years prior to the auction of the property in 1832, a Survey of Great Ellingham 1817-1819 reveals that at that time Widow Dennis and Benjamin Dennis were the owners of the same property and land as listed in the schedule to the ‘Estates and Occupations‘ (1830s-1840) which I have listed above. Their tenant was William Burch who had married Mary Dennis, a daughter of widow Dennis (and sister to Benjamin).
If we go back further to c.1800, a Particulars and Valuation as undertaken by the Commissioners for the Inclosures in Great Ellingham, reveal that ‘Robert Dennis for Mary and Porter Dennis’ owned the following property:
- 451 Hall Croft Close 3a 1r 32p
- 452 Another Hall Croft Close 4a 0r 2p
- 468 Far Home Piece 2a 2r 11p
- 469 Near Farm Home Piece 1a 2r 28p
- 470 Orchard with Barn 1a 0r 27p
- 471 House, Outbuildings and Garden 0a 0r 18p
- 489 Bramble Row late Negus 3a 1r 39p
- Allotment upon Town Green 1a 1r 30p
- Allotment upon Town Green 3a 0r 5p
- Allotment upon Town Green 0a 2r 0p
- Allotment in Stony? Field 0a 2r 13p
- Allotment in Hall Croft 2a 0r 14p
The numbering used in the schedules to the Particulars & Valuation c.1800 does not concur with the numbering used in the schedules to the Estates & Occupations 1830s-1840s mentioned above. However, the numbering does accord with an 1802 Map of Great Ellingham!
Where was the House in Town Green?
Using the 1802 Map with the information from the Particulars & Valuation, we can pinpoint exactly where the Dennis family’s property was at Town Green, which is the same property later purchased by Robert Boyce in 1832, and subsequently by Ellis Carter in 1884.
Extract from 1802 Map of Great Ellingham. Original held at Norfolk Record Office. Russell James Colman Plans. Cat. Ref. C/Ca 1/84. With kind permission of NRO
The black dot on the above extract from the 1802 map of Great Ellingham shows the position of House, Outbuildings and Garden (471), as well as the Orchard with Barn (470) owned by the Dennis family. The map also shows some of the pieces of land also owned by the Dennis family and which are also listed in the schedule to the Particulars & Valuation of 1800.
Mary Dennis’s Claim in relation to the Inclosures c.1799
The Statement of Claims c.1799 also relating to the Great Ellingham Inclosures, reveal a claim by ‘Mary, the wife of Robert Dennis & Porter Dennis her son‘ in relation to:
One Messuage, one Tenement wasted, and 9 acres of Land occupied by themselves. 13 acres of Land occupied by Robert Barnard. Of which one Tenement wasted, and 4 acres are copyhold of Ellingham Hall, 3 acres 2 rood of Ellingham Rectory and 2 acres 1 rood of Buckenham Castle Outsoken.
Mary Dennis also claimed certain rights benefiting her land and property over the commons and waste lands in Great Ellingham.
The Statement of Claims c.1799 indicates that the Dennis family were living at the property in Town Green at that time.
Although the house and most of the land was freehold, the Manorial Records may tell us more about the Dennis family, and when the copyhold land came into their hands.
At a Special Customary Court of the Manor of Buckenham Castle Outsoken held on the 17th September, 1832, it was confirmed that at an earlier Court held on 30th May, 1787, Mary (the wife of Robert Dennis) and Porter Dennis, her [then] youngest son, were admitted copyhold tenants of the Manor ‘by virtue of the last Will of Anthony Porter‘.
The Court Books also recite an extract of Anthony Porter’s will. He bequeathed all his freehold and copyhold property and lands in Great Ellingham (or elsewhere) to his niece, Mary Dennis, and her [then] youngest son, Porter Dennis, for their use during Mary’s lifetime.
Anthony Porter had himself inherited the copyhold land on the death of his own father, Anthony Porter, around 1730.
As the Manorial Records only deal with copyhold land, I cannot say with any certainty whether or not the freehold house owned by widow Mary Dennis was also inherited from her uncle Anthony Porter.
Further, if Mary had inherited the house from her uncle, did her uncle inherit the house in Town Green from his father (also with the name Anthony Porter) in 1730?
Did the Dennis Family live in the House at Town Green?
Although the Dennis family owned the house in Town Green for a lengthy period of time, the Dennis family may only have lived in the house in Town Green for a short time.
Marriage & Children
Robert Dennis had married Mary Willomatt (Willimott/Willimot/Willomat) in Saham Toney in 1773. They were both living in Saham Toney at the time of their marriage.
At least 8 children of Robert and Mary Dennis were baptised in the Parish Church at Watton. However, their son Anthony (who may well have been their last child), was baptised in the Parish Church at Great Ellingham on the 23rd June, 1799. Sadly, Anthony was buried in the churchyard of the same church on October 29th, 1801. I believe that it was around this time that Robert and Mary Dennis lived in Great Ellingham.
Another son, Porter Dennis aged 29, was buried in the churchyard of St James on the 21st June, 1814.
Death of Robert Dennis & Mary Dennis
Robert Dennis was ‘of Watton’ when he made his will on the 21st November, 1805. He died in Watton in 1814.
Widow Mary Dennis was ‘late of Watton’ when she died in 1831. It appears from the will of Robert and Mary’s son Robert Willomatt Dennis (c.1775-1829) that Robert (most probably as the eldest son of Robert and Mary Dennis) was the heir to his mother’s property and land in Great Ellingham in which she had a lifetime interest.
In the event, Robert Willomatt Dennis (a tailor of Watton) died in 1829, two years before his mother. Further, Mary’s sons Porter, George and William also predeceased their mother.
It was the executors and trustees of the will of Mary’s son, Robert Willomatt Dennis, who sold the Homestead at Town Green to Robert Boyce in 1832. Mary’s grandson, also named Robert Willomatt Dennis, the only son of Robert Willomatt Dennis (c.1775-1829) was a beneficiary of his father’s estate.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century when Mary Dennis owned the Homestead in Town Green (and, perhaps, lived there for a short while) , the neighbouring property to the north was owned and occupied by widow Elizabeth Barnard. The adjoining property to the south, was owned by Benjamin Turner, who at that time, lived elsewhere in the village.
1802 Russell James Colman Plans. Great Ellingham. Catalogue Ref. C/Ca 1/84.
1799-1842 F W Horner, Records of the Surveyors to Commissioners for Inclosure in Parishes in Norfolk and Suffolk. Great Ellingham (Act 1799). Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: NRO, BR 90/2
1800 Inclosure Commissioner’s Particulars and Valuation, Great Ellingham. Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: NRO, MC 2213/119
Great Ellingham Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD609. Also available at https://www.familysearch.org/
1753-1847 Manor of Buckenham Castle, Lathes, Close and Priory. Court Book. Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: MC 1833/8 -MC 1833/16. 1595-1847 also available at https://www.familysearch.org/
1799 Statement of Claims. Great Ellingham Inclosure. Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: MC 2213/118
Watton Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD 218. Also available at https://www.familysearch.org/
Saham Toney Parish Regiters. Norfolk Record Office. PD 566. Also available at https://www.familysearch.org/
Great Hockham. Memorial Transcriptions 1647-2003. Norfolk Family History Society. www.norfolkfhs.org.uk
“England, Norfolk Register of Electors, 1832-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2HBX-TFG : 18 July 2017), Robert Boyce, 1842-1843; citing Great Ellingham, Western division, Norfolk, England, Record Office, Central Library, Norwich; FHL microfilm 2,149,022.
Will. Dennis, Robert, of Watton. Norfolk Record Office. ANW, will register, 1814-1816, (1814) fo.84, no.47. Viewed via Norfolk Sources wesbite. http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk 16.02.2021
Grant of Administration. Dennis, Mary, of Watton. NCC administration bonds 1829-1831 no.171. 1829-1831 Viewed via Norfolk Sources wesbite. http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk 16.02.2021
Will. Dennis, Robert Willomatt, of Watton. Norfolk Record Office. ANW, will register, 1829-1831, (1830) fo.60, no.51). Viewed via Norfolk Sources wesbite. http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk 16.02.2021
Norfolk News 26th July, 1884. Viewed via British Newspapers Archive https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk 14.02.2021
Norfolk Chronicle January 7th, 1832