Uncle Thomas: Legend of Happisburgh (in more ways than one)

For this, my second blog installment of the week denoting memorable ancestors, I turn to an uncle by marriage, Rev Thomas Lloyd. 

Those that have heard of Happisburgh (pronounced 'Hayes-brough') often first think about homes at the top of cliffs and coastal erosion. However, there is of course far more to the village. A couple of years ago, a simple search engine request threw up Thomas Lloyd as a central figure in the parish history and sent me on a path of discovery. Supposedly, I found, he is remembered for baptising an awful lot of children at once, and for holding a party for the occasion. 

The church at Happisburgh has one of the highest towers of any in Norfolk, and the graveyard overlooks the sea.

 The village sign, not far from the church, is pictured below.

At the top, a vicar is depicted, baptising a child. This vicar is Rev. Thomas Lloyd. While I was fairly sure there was some truth behind the legend of his throwing a party and baptising as many children as possible on Whit Sunday, 1793, I wanted to find out for sure. I consulted the original register and found the following - 

“Memorandum – Observing a great reluctance in the poorer inhabitants of the Parish of Happisburgh to give their children full baptism, most chiefly owing to their inability to afford their friends such little entertainment as they imagined to be suitable and necessary upon such occasions and being seriously convinced that to general a neglect of that ancient Rite, was become very detrimental to the principles and morals of the times; I invited all such as would bring their children and friends to receive full baptism on whitsonday 1793 to an entertainment; and baptised on that day one hundred and seventy persons. Thos Lloyd.”

So, if your ancestor was resident in Happisburgh in the late 1700s and you have no specific baptism record for them, maybe they were at the party! 

I know little about Thomas’ early life so far. He married my 5xGreat Grandfather’s sister Susannah Walne in Redenhall in 1782, shortly after he became vicar at Happisburgh and eleven years before the village’s memorable shindig – perhaps she helped with the catering! 

Rev Lloyd was similarly efficient with his own offspring who were both baptised within 24 hours. The couple had two sons, Thomas Henry, who followed his father into the clergy, and Randall Walne (yes, that’s two surnames as Christian names – his grandmother’s maiden name Randall, who hailed from a gentry family in the Hempnall area, and Walne for his mother) who became an Officer in the East India Army. 

Their baptisms appear in the North Walsham register, and it’s great to note the extras that you can’t get from transcriptions - if Susannah had given birth only a few days earlier they could have saved a few pence: 

“The New Stamp Duty began on the 1st Day of October 1783 for Births and Christenings, Burials and Marriages, at 3d Each- 

October 4th 1783 - Thomas Henry Lloyd, son of Thomas Lloyd Cl and Susannah his wife late Walne of N Walsham; paid 3d”


“Randall Walne son of Thos Lloyd Clk and Susannah his wife (late Susannah Walne) was born March 13th 1789, baptised privately March 13th 1789 and received into the church August 1792.”

The Stamp Duty Act 1783 imposed a charge on all baptisms, marriages and burials of 3d in order to pay for the American War of Independence. Because paupers were exempt, you may find a larger than usual amount of paupers in the registers between 1783 and 1794. 

Both also appear, together, in the register at Happisburgh out of order with the rest of the entries:

“Thomas Henry Lloyd (son of the Revd Thomas Lloyd, Vicar of this parish and Susannah his wife (daughter of Daniel Walne of Harleston in this County, Gent) was born Oct 3rd and baptised Oct 4th 1783. He was born at North Walsham. 

Randall Walne (son of the said Thomas and Susannah Lloyd) was born and baptised March 13th 1789. He was born at North Walsham.” 

A history of the family included a passage, written in Thomas’ hand, as follows:

“Susannah, the fourth child, married the Rev. Thomas Lloyd, Rector of Westwick and Vicar of Happisburgh in Norfolk, by whom she has two sons, Thomas Henry Lloyd of King’s College, Cambridge, and Randall Walne Lloyd, who completes his 15th year this 13th day of March 1804 and is far advanced in his classical studies under my own tuition.”

Sadly to my knowledge (to date) neither son went on to marry or have children as both died young. In fact mother, father and sons all died within five years, and Thomas and his wife died 'within hours' of each other.

A large tablet in North Walsham Church reads as follows:  

“Near this place were interred the remains of the Rev’d. Thomas Lloyd, LL.B., Vicar of Happisburgh and Rector of Westwick, and an active intelligent magistrate for this County who departed this life November 26th, 1813; for Susanna his wife, who died a few hours before him, aged 62; for their eldest son, Rev. Thomas Henry Lloyd, A.B., Fellow of Kings College, Cambridge, bom October 3rd, 1783, died June 6th, 1808 ; also for Randall Walne Lloyd, their only other child, bom March 13th, 1789; died in the East Indies, May 23rd, 1808.” 

My next plans are to find out more about Randall Walne’s time in the East Indies (thank you to FIBIS who were very helpful at this year’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live) and also to follow up the rest of the Lloyd family. 

It seems Rev. Lloyd not only provided a legend, but potentially was a legend. As ever, if there are any family links reading this article, please feel free to contact me. I’d also love to hear about any other events like that at Happisburgh!

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! 

Familiar place, unfamiliar past

Having spent many an enjoyable evening with friends at Charles Wesley Court on Belvoir Street in Heigham, it is perhaps surprising that it has taken me a couple of years to research the origins of the Court.


In our part of the world, Belvoir is usually pronounced “Bell-voir” - not “Beaver” as an Belvoir Castle, Belvoir Brewery or the Vale of Belvoir in Leicestershire – we like to be different in Norfolk. As you might imagine, the street takes its name simply from ‘beautiful view’.


Being so close to ‘old’ Norwich, with its rich history of courts and yards, it might have been possible that Charles Wesley Court was, like many others - including Beckwith Court, Chestnut Court and Wright’s Court – a reinvention of an older residential area. The original yards and courts of Norwich grew within the cramped city of Norwich, where development was hemmed in by the old city walls. As rich merchants left their grand houses for the relative space in the earliest suburbs, less well off individuals crowded into the yards and courtyards that remained behind. For anybody with an interest in the Norwich Yards (and that will be a huge proportion of those with Norwich ancestry) I cannot recommend www.norwich-yards.co.uk enough – the site provides memories and information about historical and modern incarnations of the locations in question.


However, unlike most of the old courts, Charles Wesley Court is outside the city walls in Heigham, a parish which once was completely separate from Norwich itself. It has been a long while since the parish was separate however – by the middle Victorian era it was already an area bustling with workers and tradesmen in Norwich’s traditional industries. Little did I know, living just around the corner as a student, that I was residing just metres from where some of my ancestors lived. Many were shoe makers, silk factory workers and market gardeners, key trades in the area, but they tended to live in terraced houses rather than yard arrangements like many of their 'old city' peers. (Little did I also know that just another few hundred metres away, was another ancestor on a different line – the owner of what is now the Plantation Gardens and Lord Mayor of Norwich…but that’s another story!)


Looking at the 1905 map of Norwich it becomes clear that in fact the site of Charles Wesley Court was not residential at all. In fact, a chapel occupied the space now redeveloped. Further research shows this to have been the site of the Belvoir Street Wesleyan Reform Methodist Church and Sunday School. The site must have been somewhat cramped - surrounded by workers’ houses - and no graveyard accompanied it. The Church was used as a place of worship from 1869 until relatively recently in 1988 before the site was redeveloped. 

The picture above comes with kind permission for posting here from Jonathan Plunkett. His father George Plunkett took thousands of fabulolus photographs of 'Old Norwich' - you can see more at www.georgeplunkett.co.uk. This photograph was taken 1989 at the very end of the building's life.

Picture Norfolk also includes a couple of older photos - www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk (see Picture Norfolk on the left hand menu then search ‘Belvoir’) .

The Norfolk Record Office holds the Church’s records in FC 106, although closure periods of 30 years apply to the newer records. There are baptisms, marriages and meeting minutes from the choir, Sunday School, Church Committee and Council. The Roll of Honour for soldiers killed in WWI includes several men of the congregation, including the son of one of the church’s ministers. The roll of honour can be viewed at www.roll-of-honour.com/Norfolk/NorwichBelvoirMethodist.html


Now the previous use of the site becomes clearer, the naming in turn becomes clearer. Charles Wesley (18 December 1707 – 29 March 1788) was the younger brother of John Wesley - between them, the pair are widely credited with the founding of the Methodist movement in the UK.


Charles Wesley was born in Lincolnshire and followed his father and brothers into the church in 1735 having graduated from Oxford. Charles was a prolific hymn writer, credited with the words of over 6000 hymns and writing words to fit existing music for yet another 2000, including the popular carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. I have found no evidence to date that Charles himself visited Norwich, but given he travelled all the way to Georgia on a Mission, it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. Charles died several decades before the church on Belvoir Street was built and indeed before the Wesleyan Reform Union split from the United Methodist Free Churches in 1859.


The Heigham area saw a huge amount of damage following the Baedeker Raids in 1942, but the chapel survived. It was not until very much living memory that the chapel was sold off by auction and the site redeveloped and named after a key figure in the history of the Methodist movement.


So, given the very interesting history of my friends’ home now I have spent time doing a little research, I intend not to leave it so long before researching other ‘ordinary’ places in Norfolk and Suffolk that I frequent on a regular basis. Watch this space!