Smallburgh: A Story of the Trorys

Nestled between Wroxham and Hickling, just under 15 km north east of Norwich, Smallburgh misses much of the tourist traffic heading to honey pot locations. Perhaps for that reason, this is a lovely part of the world. Today the village is, as it’s name might lead you to believe, a small place in terms of population – just 518 in 2001. Don’t be misled though. The name is nothing to do with the size of the place but actually derives from the River Smale, now known as the River Ant, which borders the parish.

Despite being a somewhat diminutive parish in terms of numbers – if not acreage – Smallburgh once punched much above its weight in terms of local influence. In 1785, a House of Industry was constructed, one of the ‘Norfolk Hundred Incorporations’ formed by local acts of parliament. The House provided a place for the poor and infirm of all the parishes of the Tunstead and Happing hundreds except North Walsham. This meant that it catered for over 40 parishes in North Norfolk. Indeed, Smallburgh’s influence was great enough with this facility that even until the 1974 local government reorganisation, the local Rural District Council was that of Smallburgh.

Extended in 1836, the House of Industry did not become the Smallburgh Poor Law Union until 1869. Long before this time, in 1808, the burial ground lying to the south of the site was consecrated (see the NRO’s catalogue at Today, only a commemoration stone remains to show the location of the cemetery, shaded in this peaceful part of the Country by several large trees. The church’s parish register contains many burials which contain the words “from the work house”. So many, that the official regularly just notes ‘do’ under each successive entry.

The old House of Industry burial ground in Smallburgh. Look closely and you can see the commemoration stone by the fence to the left of the picture.

The House of Industry appears to have never been used to capacity. Having been built to house 800 souls, it seems to have regularly housed less than 100, and rarely any able-bodied inmates to use its own ‘one penny tokens’ on local produce. In later years, much of the building was boarded up and finally demolished in the 1950s. Only some minor buildings (now residential) survive today, along with the telltale street names of “Workhouse Road” and “Union Street”. For more about the workhouse, please visit Peter Higgenbotham’s website:

Excuse the effects, I couldn’t resist a little fun with the photographs! To the left are buildings remaining, to the right the road sign.

So to St Peter’s church, a newer structure on top of what was once possibly a much older building. The church lost its tower in 1677, probably before my ancestors arrived. Unlike Alderton in Suffolk there is no suggestion that the tower’s collapse brought about the demise of a local cow during a Sunday service! The west end as we see it today was constructed only in 1902, replacing a small square tower as sketched in a drawing hosted by Picture Norfolk (search ‘Smallburgh’ at It is not a ‘typical’ looking church, as in one a child might draw with a high square tower and oblong nave. In my opinion this works in the building’s favour – this is not a church that will blend in with others I have visited recently.

To my untrained eye, the bells hang in too narrow a surround, and the walls are too high for the ‘tower’ and the length of the building. However, I love the crossed-keys on the outside and the somewhat minimalist nature of the interior, complete with steps covered by a grate in the aisle and a spiral stair case to nowhere in the wall. It’s quite easy to imagine my forebears standing at the font or the alter.


Nearby Dilham also has a unique place in my memory because its ‘ruined’ tower is rather too perfect and could perhaps be a folly. Not being an expert on medieval churches, I direct you to Simon Knott’s fabulous for more enlightened observations than I could possibly give.

The well ordered gravestones, almost all in family groups, are something of a boon to genealogists on the trail of their ancestors. Nestled in the back corner lie several members of the Trory/Trorey family. My last direct line Trory was my 4x Great Grandmother Hannah Trory, baptised in the village in 1821. Before her, I have tracked her father James (baptised 1800 in Smallburgh) and grandfather John (possibly baptised a few miles away in Sutton in 1763?). Beyond John, my trail currently falters. 

Mr Pewegwin and I take a look at my ancestor’s grave. Just occasionally I trust my significant other with my camera!

‘Trory’ is not a common name. Interestingly, it is one that appears to have origins very much localised to the Hickling/Smallburgh area of the Norfolk Broads. Personally, I have a theory that potentially an original John, who may have married a ‘Brigitt’ in 1750 (French sounding? Or a red herring?), was of Huguenot descent. Perhaps this is too tempting an explanation to explain the sudden arrival of the Trory family, but I am hoping that the parish records, as opposed to the parish registers, may hold some clues when I get a chance to sit down and go through them. It is said that many of the Huguenots who settled in Norfolk were employed draining the Broads to the north east of Norwich – could this apply to my own family?

Curiously, neighbouring stones from the 1800s for husband and wife – in not one but two cases – feature different spellings of the name; sometimes ‘Trory’ and sometimes ‘Trorey’. Just goes to show how surnames have only become standardised in relatively recent times. Those entries in the register that include occupation describe this family line as husbandmen by the 1800s (free tenant farmers below the social status of a yeoman). To my knowledge to date they avoided spending any time within the local House of Industry.

Local people reading this may make a connection between the Trory name and Trory Street in Norwich, not far from Chapelfield Gardens – if you know the connection I’d be interested to hear it! I think it is very likely that there is one, as even in 1841 the surname was likely restricted to Norfolk. It seems that everybody with Trory ancestry in Norfolk is ultimately related to one another. (No jokes about our wonderful County please!). It is true to say that the men bearing this name were quite prolific, often having more than ten children, which explains how perhaps one original gentleman bearing the name came to leave such a legacy in the County.

Smallburgh is a fabulous example of a North Norfolk settlement with a rich history. There is nothing better than visiting the places connected to your tree – you never know what you might find! If you have any Trory ancestry feel free to get in touch, I would be very interested to hear from you.

0 Responses

  1. my grandfather, Walter Ernest Trory, who was born in Norwich, maintained that Trory Street was named after one of his forbears who may have been a mayor of Norwich. I looked at Trory Street a few days ago and it appears to date from around 1830-40, which predates our family tree so far. We were told the name was of Viking origin, along with several similar derivations, coming from the god Thor. This would explain the start in Norfolk.

  2. I am responding on behalf of my mother who had the maiden name of Pauline Trory. Like the above she feels that 'Trory Street was named after one of her forbearers. My mother has the impression that the Trory line she originates from came over in the potato famine from Enniskillen in Ireland. She has a birth certificate which was registered in 1874 for the birth of a William Henry Trory. The birth certificate was registered in Henstead in the sub district of Humbleyard and the birth was at Newton Flotman with the name of William Henry Trory(12/04/1874) The father of this birth was a James Trory who had the occupation of a baker. I don't know if any of this information ties up with your Trory tree.

  3. Hi, yes William Henry and his father James are both on my tree. James was born in Dilham, Norfolk around 1834, son of James (born c1801 in Smallburgh) and Rebecca nee Gilden (I'm reading straight from a tree that I haven't done much research into for a while so that would need checking in primary sources). James born 1801 is a direct ancestor of mine – that takes you back before the 1840s famine at least.

    From the limited research I've done, my best guess is that the road is named after a William Trory. It looks like he owned land locally, and may have sold the land for building or had the street built himself – otherwise, he was a local influencer and the road might have been named after him (William Trory was elected to Norwich Common Council in 1830). There are lots of deeds at NRO that you could use to do more research and find out more (see I haven't found a mayor by the name of Trory. Trory Street is on the 1880s OS map but not on the tithe map, so that gives a rough date. I would put it before the 1875 Public Health Act and it's close to Chapel Field Gardens so perhaps a relatively early development beyond the city walls. Unfortunately, I haven't researched William and I don't know where he fits in at the moment. He was possibly baptised in Norwich 1785, the son of another WIlliam and Hannah, OR, it's the older William the street's named after – or someone else!

  4. Very interesting article. I’ve been discovering the significance of the Smallburgh area for the Trory/Trorey family. My grandmother is Joyce Trory (1922) whose 2nd great grandfather is James Trorey (1800). Having read that your ancestor is Hannah Trorey who I didn’t have on my tree, I discovered she was a child of James’s first marriage to Elizabeth Whillimite (c.1791) – clearly an even more unusual surname than Trory if the sparse Google results are anything to go by!

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