The Walnes and Warnes of Kirby Bedon

One parish in Norfolk was home to two very different lines of my family. These lines didn’t connect – at least to my knowledge to date – for nearly 200 years and finally converged when my paternal grandparents married (via Bermuda, Shropshire and Rutland!).  The parish in question was Kirby Bedon. The village is known for its two churches – St Andrew, in use today, and St Mary, already out of use by the early 1700s. The churches are opposite each other; square towered St Andrew hosting the baptisms of my ancestors while round-towered St Mary was at the time already falling into disrepair and today is an interesting ruin.  


 St Andrew on the left and St Mary on the right. Taken last summer. 

The Walne family were local gentry in Norfolk, albeit arguably not in the ‘big league’. Still, they married into several other influential local families and owned some fairly large estates in the County. They traced their heritage back to the Pulham St Mary where they had been resident ‘as long as the parish was a parish’ according to a genealogy written by an ancestor of mine 300 years or more ago, and were granted arms in neighbouring Brockdish. During the last two decades of the 1700s, my 5x Great Grandparents William Walne and Jane (nee Johnson) had several children baptised in Kirby Bedon. They were resident in nearby Whitlingham, but the church there had fallen into ruin many years earlier, providing a romantic spot for walks during the 18th century rather than a location for affairs of the church. Whitlingham is now known for it’s modern broad and Trowse’s ski slope. Goodness knows what they might of thought. Perhaps that the lake was wonderful (provided it was for the estate’s use) but that the ski-ing was a little off the wall?!

Meanwhile the Warnes family (to my knowledge the similarily of the names is a coincidence) were agricultural labourers in the village – for all I know, toiling on the land belonging to the Walnes. Another pair of my 5 x Great Grandparents, Phillis Warnes and William Coman, were having children baptised during the same years at the same church at Kirby Bedon. Their son, Stephen Coman, left the village to become a weaver in Wymondham some time between his birth in 1790 and marriage in 1815. Other members of the Warnes family remained, as we shall see later. The Walnes meanwhile continued to live locally but resided outside the parish. 

I wanted to find out more about the village to get an understanding of who lived there, where they hailed from and what they did for a living. Although it was taken several years after the time of my 4x Great Grandparents’ births, I decided to use the 1851 census to do a little digging into the lives of the village’s inhabitants. The census enumerated nearly 300 people that year (the 2001 census showed a population of 186), and some of my analysis appears below. 

First, I looked at the age profile for the village. The census notes children from a month all the way up to the eldest man in the village, aged 88. In general the profile shows a large amount of children and gradually fewer and fewer in each group as the decades go by. Not unexpected given the birth and death rates of the time. However, it is interesting to note the dip in both men and women in their 20s and 30s. Perhaps, like my ancestor Stephen, young workers left the parish to get jobs in nearby towns and cities such as Norwich and Wymondham.

I didn’t chose to analyse Kirby Bedon as a ‘typical’ village but rather as one that held an interest to me personally. However, I think in many ways it displays a familiar profile to other rural Norfolk villages of the time. In fact, if I asked you to guess the most likely occupations recorded for the residents, you’d probably be able to guess most (if not all!) of them – and you’d likely get the proportions about right too.

The vast majority of the working population were agricultural labourers. The second most popular ‘occupation’ was scholar, but more of those under 16 were already working the land than at school – the youngest boy noted as an ag lab was six years old. Most of those that were at school were taught by a governess at one of the more wealthy households. Several women also worked in the fields. The paupers, the third most populous group (although only seven, such was the dominance of agriculture) were all elderly. 

The rest of the occupations recorded appeared no more than six times each. Most were connected to farming – gamekeepers, grooms, farmers (also farm bailiffs and farmer’s sons etc), team men and a cattle dealer for instance. Women, again as expected, tended to do the stereotypical female jobs – mainly housekeeping, domestic service and cookery. 

The village had a rector (for St Andrew) who employed most of the domestic servants in the village, and whose son was a civil engineer. Kirby also had a pub, a wheelwright, a carpenter, a tile maker, a shoe maker, a blacksmith, a school master and some wherrymen (in case you were in doubt this was in Norfolk!). Where working women were concerned there was just the one governess, and one dressmaker. The final occupation mentioned was for an elderly Chelsea Pensioner. But for the wherrymen, and the lack of a post mistress, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was something a little Lark Rise to Candleford about the parish!

I also looked at birthplaces. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the children were born in the village but it was interesting to see that more than twice as many men were born in the village than women. It seems the men stuck to their villages and swapped their sisters for girls from neighbouring parishes! 

Other than Kirby Bedon itself, neighbouring parishes such as Framlingham Earl, Bramerton, Ashby, Rocklands and Poringland appear as relatively frequent birthplaces. I was amazed to find a total of 75 different birth locations amongst less than 300 inhabitants. The rest of the villages read like an index to a map of the south eastern side of Norwich – most of the places mentioned being south of Kirby Bedon rather than crossing the river valley to the north. Only six non-Norfolk places were mentioned and two of these were in nearby Suffolk. Three children were born in Cumberland but their parents were local and returned after five years. One wife came from Cornwall, a husband from London and another gentleman all the way from Ireland, marrying a Kirby Bedon girl and settling in the village.

Finally, I looked at the surnames in the village, intrigued to see how many already appeared in my family tree.  I had no idea until I completed this exercise that the Warnes name was the most numerous in the parish in 1851. It seems much of the family didn’t move away with Stephen at the turn of the century. The name Howes, another on my direct line, also appeared, although in lesser numbers. The Comans were nowhere to be seen. I am now expecting South, Adams, King and Bidwell to appear on the branches sooner rather than later: 

A total of 65 surnames showed up in the census including some I had not come across before in my local research – including Gillenwater, Varwell and Barnado. (Please forgive any mistransciptions).

To conclude, my research has been useful to understand the context of Kirby Bedon as a village and given an insight into the sort of community that once operated there. Of course the census can only reveal so much and as family historians it would be wrong to suggest paper records are the be all and end all. I would love to know more about the characters that appeared on the schedule – whether the Chelsea Pensioner regailed stories of distant battlefields, whether the Irish labourer was singled out by his accent and most of all, if the Warnes’ knew of the Walnes – and if so, whether they thought much of them! 

4 Responses

  1. I love the way you have made your own graphs (i assume theya re yours cause i had to do some similar ones and the presentation seems similar)

    I think it's stricking the population age, it reflects how villages are nowadays and it makes me think it is a bit sad.

    Anyways, great article, as always

    Thanks for posting this wonderful peices of information

    W.U Hstry Team

  2. Fascinating! My mother was a Warnes and I have traced my forebears back to Isaac Warnes, my great great grandfather who was born in Kirby Bedon in about 1830. He moved to Kirstead Green where his wife was born. I guess this may mean we are distantly related. If you have any further information, I am currently working on the next generation back and would be delighted to receive any help available.

    All the best with your research.


  3. I’ve just come across this post researching my own family tree which dates back to 1753 in Kirby Bedon. The Daniels family lived there until the mid 1800s when they moved to London. My great great great grandmother was a Mallet! And my 6th great grandmother was a Mary Walmer(?), could have been Walne? Thank you for the interesting read!

    1. Thank you for your comment. It’s lovely to know that posts are still being read years down the line and reminds me to get back to it when time allows!

      Best of luck with your research, and if you find a Walne let me know…

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