Farming at Chapel/Hillside Farm, Hapton – past and present by Nancy Dunthorne

My story begins with my great-grandfather, Norton Dunthorne (1845 – 1911), who farmed in North Tuddenham, Norfolk (see photo below - the front of Chapel/Hillside Farm and he is the seated gentleman with the beard). According to lease records he appears to have arrived in Hapton in 1885 and rented farms at Hapton and Ashwellthorpe in Norfolk. The farm in Hapton (Hillside Farm) was then known as Chapel Farm and had previously been occupied by Daniel Elmer Rattee. After my great grandfather's death in 1911 my grandfather, Henry Norton Dunthorne (1883 – 1960), leased Chapel Farm (I believe he is the young man standing on the left of the photo).

Outside Chapel Farm

According to my father, Gerard Keith Dunthorne (1927 – 2010), the house and barn were built in 1534 by Sir Knyvett of Ashwellthorpe Hall.

Chapel Farm

The photo shows the farm house when it was thatched (unsure of date but before 1927). My grandfather was known as ”Harry” and his first wife, Ethel May (Eastaugh), died in 1923 following childbirth. She produced three daughters:
Madge (1910)
Sybil (1911)
Barbara (1913)
and a son Norton (1923).

Harry later married my grandmother, Queenie Gladys (Everatt) and my father, Gerard “Keith” Dunthorne was born in 1927.

Below is a page from Queenie’s photo album, showing the farm and herself, whilst expecting Keith

Queenie's Photo Album

Harry bought the farm in 1930 and the name was changed to Hillside Farm, although on some documents it was still referred to as Chapel farm. Following Harry's death in 1960 my grandmother inherited the farm and rented it to my parents.

My father inherited the farm following my grandmother’s death in 1974 and farmed it in partnership with my mother Florence Dorothy (Allen). They had three girls Judith, Nancy (me) and Sally. My sisters continue to live at the farm and I still own some of the farmland and meadowland and my partner, Tim Ward, helps me manage this.

So what was farming in Hapton like in Victorian times when great grandfather moved there in 1885?

Firstly we need to travel back in time and see the impact that religion had on the village and farmlands.

As P Cattermole describes in his 1987 booklet entitled “Hapton Church”, the village of Hapton is situated on a hill, close to a river and the slopes which are facing south, would have given useful farmland and the meadows good pasture. Hapton church was situated at a crossroads and all routes converged there. We are now left with footpaths which would have been ancient trackways and the Cow and Holly Lanes. In the Domesday book Hapton is referred to as Habetuna, and by 1086 the small manors of Habetuna and Fundenhall were controlled by the Lords of Ashwellthorpe Manor. They lived at Ashwellthorpe Hall and their widows were moved to Hapton Manor (now the site of Hapton Hall – Redwings) while the male heirs continued at Ashwellthorpe. Hapton in the 1200s was under the protection of Creake Abbey, at North Creake, which took most of the income from the tithes and glebe land (church land) and for 300 years appointed a curate on a stipend (income) for the village. When, in Dec 1506, the Abbot of Creake died without a successor, the ownership of the Abbey reverted to the Crown. Henry VII’s mother – Margaret Beaufort - was interested in scholarly pursuits and invested the income from Creake Abbey property into “Gods House” at Cambridge, which became “Christ’s College”. The Master and Fellows of Christ’s College became nominal abbots of Creake in 1507 and rectors of Hapton. The link with Cambridge survived and Christ’s College remained patrons of Hapton.

Christ’s College Agreement with Norton Dunthorne

At this stage the reader might wonder why I am including all this, but this is significant to my story and can be seen in the lease documents of Chapel farm to my great grandparent. The document, dated 31st Oct 1898, states “The Master Fellows and Scholars of Christ’s College, Cambridge to Norton Dunthorne: Agreement for the hire of lands and buildings at Hapton from year to year”

A recent visit to Christ’s College, in Oct 2018, to study their archives concerning Hapton further highlighted the connection between glebe land and the Dunthorne family, and their hospitality was excellent.

(this picture courtesy of the Master, Fellows & Scholars of Christ's College, Cambridge)

Below is a picture of the ruins of Creake Abbey as it is today.

Creake Abbey today

Let’s go back to the farmland and its layout... P Cattermole in his 1987 document on “Hapton Church” describes that farming in medieval times followed a system in which land occupiers, including the Lord of the Manor, used an Open field system. Fields were divided into many strips of land. The Lord of the Manor rented land to individuals to farm, and this land was known as copyhold which survived into the 20th century. Around the beginning of the 19th century a process known as Enclosure was changing this system and land was divided into fewer, but more manageable areas of farmland. Various strips survived, however, and I can recall these being farmed by my father. Until recently I owned one of these strip fields which was known as the “long acre”.

So, what was Hapton like when great-grandfather arrived in 1885?

According to White’s Norfolk, 1883, page 301, “It had 195 inhabitants in 1881, living on 695 acres, and has a rateable value of £1141. The soil is mostly the property of Sir Charles Harvey. …..The perpetual curacy, valued at £125, is the incumbency of the Rev. John Leach Mitchel Moore, M.A., who has a good residence and 2 acres of glebe; and the patronage, with the appropriation of the tithes, belongs to Christ Church College, Cambridge. Here is a Presbyterian chapel, which was built in 1741, and endowed with a good house for the minister, and about 120 acres of land, by a Mrs Elizabeth Gay. The Rev. James Knapton is the present minister. …..The population in 1883 was 147” (navvies were included in figures for 1881).

“POST- letter-box cleared at 4.30pm, via Long Stratton, which is the nearest money order and Telegraph office.
Alliban Thomas, farmer
Barnes George, shopkeeper
Clithero James, farmer
Dix John, vict. White Horse Inn
Drake Robert, shoemaker
Green John, blacksmith
High Miss Mary Anne, schoolmistress
Horstead Mrs Mary
Knapton Rev James, Presbyterian Chapel
Leeder Nicholas, farmer, Hapton Hall
Lockwood Thomas, farmer
Moore Rev. John Leach Mitchell curate
Rattee Daniel, farmer”

So when great-grandfather started farming in 1885, it can be seen that Hapton was a well-served and we have some idea of the village population. This was the environment he moved into.

A booklet entitled “Hapton Chapel”, dated 1930, by J K Nettlefold, page 5, explains that Elizabeth Gay was either the widow of George Gay or his son Roger and now lived in the large house in Hapton (presumably Hapton House), which had been George Gay's “and made a will in 1729, leaving her property in Hapton on Trust, for the erection of a meeting- house and the maintenance of a minister....It states simply that the meeting-house is to be for Dissenters from the church of England ,either Presbyterians or Congregationalists. The minister is to be elected by the congregation but must also have the consent of the trustees. The first minister is to be Robert Chaplin. He is to live rent free in her house, which thus became after her death the parsonage. His stipend is to be paid out of the rent from her property, which was 113 acres of land.”, (presumably Chapel Farm).

Elizabeth Gay died in 1741 and the trustees eventually started to build a meeting house in 1749, bringing timber from a meeting house in New Buckenham and building a chapel of clay lump, except the chimneys which were brick. The booklet says that almost from the first years of the Trust, amongst the trustee names are members from the Octagon chapel in Norwich.

Norton Dunthorne Farm Lease 1885

The initial lease document, dated 31 Dec 1885, between George Errington Bolingbroke Esquire and others to Mr Norton Dunthorn includes instruction “to provide gratis the carriage not exceeding the distance aforesaid of all necessary materials for repairing the meeting house in Hapton aforesaid now used by a Congregation of Protestant dissenters there and also the dwelling house of the Minister..” and was for the “Lease of a Farm at Hapton and Ashwellthorpe in Norfolk for 24 years (terminable at 8 or 16 years) from Michaelmas 1885 at £148 per annum”

So not only were my great grandparents leasing glebe (church land via Christ’s College) they were also leasing chapel property and land...Hapton was certainly under religious supremacy...

The Rev Knapton became minister in 1856 until his death in 1902.
In 1903 the Rev Alfred Edgar Rump, a member of the Octagon Chapel in Norwich, was appointed minister and thoroughly repaired both the chapel and parsonage house. He died in 1917.

After 1928 when one of the ministers resigned (Rev J B Robinson) the property and parsonage were in need of repair, so the Trustees did not appoint another minister and applied to the charity commissioners for permission to sell the farm and the parsonage, which was given. In 1930 my grandfather was approached by the trustees and purchased Chapel farm (Hillside Farm).

White’s Norfolk, 1883, page 70, also gives us information regarding agricultural practises - that the four course or Norfolk system of cropping is the best, which covers a four year period – the first being roots (mangel-wurzel, swedes or white turnips); second being barley; third being grass seeds such as clover, ryegrass and the fourth wheat. This had improved the abundance of yields of wheat and barley. Page 72 tells us the following: “The weekly wages of the common farm labourer varys from 12 s to 14 s; but at turnip hoeing and at all sorts of taken work he could earn from 2s 6d to 3s a day. His harvest wages also average £7, which will be about 35 s a week long as a man and a pair of light horse will plough an acre and a quarter of land in a day, it is not likely that steam cultivation, for some time at least, will become general in this county. On the other hand , steam thrashing engines have entirely superseded the old horse-power machines, and the still more ancient flail is hardly to be found in many parishes. Reaping machines are common now on even small farms, and grass mowers are to be found all over the county””

Norton Dunthorne Inventory of Livestock & Farm Machines

So, great-grandfather presumably farmed the Norfolk four course system and had livestock & horses. He died on Sept 10th 1911. The Oct 11th 1913 the inventory of livestock and farm machines relating to the deceased Mr Norton Dunthorne to Mr H N Dunthorne, estimated the property at £779 three shillings and ninepence. The list included one horse iron roll, 2 norfolk ploughs, 3 iron pig troughs,1 short and 2 thatching ladders,ransomes iron horse rake, massey harris grasscutter, 2 harvest waggons averys weighing machine and weights, bushell and shovel. No mention of any tractors...

So my grandfather, Harry continued to lease the farm... He farmed the land for over 50 years and died in 1960. As I have already mentioned, the farm was known as Chapel Farm until the Chapel trustees approached him to purchase it, which he did in 1930 and the farm was renamed Hillside Farm.

Appointment of Harry as Foundation Manager

Harry played an active role in the community and became Foundation Manager at Hapton School. A letter dated 1 Aug 1917 stated “at a meeting of the governing body of Christ’s College held yesterday afternoon you are appointed a Foundation Manager of Hapton School from the date of Mr Cross's resignation”

(this picture courtesy of the Master, Fellows & Scholars of Christ's College, Cambridge)

Harry's first wife Ethel May (Eastaugh) was also involved in community life and his second wife – my grandmother (Queenie Gladys Everatt) - was also actively involved. From letters of reference in 1962 I learnt that my grandmother was the church organist. She conducted prayer meetings for women; organised a Sunday school; was also a school manager and managed the first aid post during the 2nd world war.

My grandmother possessed a guest book showing entries from 1935 and comments from people who stayed at the farm for holidays.

I know very little about the impact of the First World War on Hillside Farm, although great-grandfather continued to farm. Land girls were deployed during the War but I do not know of any assisting on the farm. The Second World War had more impact, with two of grandfather’s children serving in the forces: Norton Dunthorne (born 1923) fought in Burma and Barbara Dunthorne (born 1913) the nursing services in Africa. Grandmother manned the first aid post in Hapton and my sister informed me grandfather was in the Home Guard. Once again, I do not know of incidents of land girls on the farm.

I remember Dad saying that it was lighter when they were harvesting at night during the War (this would have been due to 2 hrs difference in British summer time). He recalled an incident when he was in a field with a friend and an aircraft flew over, which was German, so they had to hide in a ditch. In Dad’s writings he noted “in 1944 a landmine moved the west end of the house 8 ¾ to the south (presumably inches). In the first year of the Second World War the government paid foreign producers two and a half times the price they paid to English farmers so no one would sell. My father was a patriot so he sold. Later the government doubled the price so farmers could expand production, we could not. The second year most farmers sold at the higher price after harvest my father didn’t sell. My brother and I told him to sell as the Navy were sinking a lot of submarines and the price of crops would drop which it did and my father only got the low price again, much to my relief my father then followed other farmers so we were able to start expanding production after three war years.”

More of Queenie's Photo Album

Photos from Harry’s time show the farm circa 1930 – above is a picture of the ladies bringing the harvest tea into the field and the “shocks” of corn clearly visible in background. Pictured is Queenie Dunthorne with hat (grandmother), Keith (Dad) about three year old, Harry Dunthorne (grandfather), the boy in front with the hat is possibly Norton Dunthorne , girls Sybil and Madge Dunthorne, unsure of the boy looking down.

Below is a picture of Queenie and Keith with shocks of corn in background.

Queenie in the Corn

I am not aware of when tractors were first used on the farm. My father talked about an International tractor. In one of his farm work diaries he has an entry, Mon 9th Jan 1956, “Fred Allen's Auction Flo & I bought International W6PxP tractor, one 2 horse heavy roll one mare called (Peggy)...”

Regarding tractors - he owned an Allis Chambers for many years, Fordsons, a Same and a John Deere grass cutting tractor in later years. He never bought a Combine Harvester - contractors were hired at harvest time and we did not have a Bailer. Probably tractors didn’t make an appearance until the 1940s or 1950s. I remember a cart horse (shire) called Peggy was still in use in the early 1960s and I recall as a small child being allowed to ride on her back as she pulled a farm wagon.

The picture below left shows my grandfather Harry and grandmother Queenie circa late 1950s/1960s, whilst below right shows my father Keith in his teenage years and he was a hard working young man.

Harry and Queenie Keith Dunthorne

My father’s work diaries

Recently I found some of his diaries/farm work record books, which cover periods during Oct 44, 45, 46, 47 and 1951, 52, 53, 54, 55 and some of 65. There are also some entries from my mother.

Mention of testing cows for illness is included in his diaries. He also mentions on Friday Dec 7th 1951 that foot and mouth disease had broken out at a farmer’s in Tharston and “we are taking all precautions”. I recall foot and mouth disease in the 1960s and having to put your feet (with footwear on) in baths of disinfectant on entering the farm premises. We didn’t get the disease at the farm.

The picture of the farm years shows a hard work ethos. Winter was a time of hedging, ditching, clearing up rubbish; spring a time of cultivation; summer harvesting and autumn/winter a time for threshing the corn. Faggots of firewood were taken to the school and people in the village were helped. On one occasion there was mention of a load of muck being taken to Colonel Copeman at the parsonage. Sacks were mended, buildings were repaired, the barn was thatched by at least two different thatchers, the horses were taken to the blacksmiths to be shoed, and implements were repaired & maintained.

There are a few mentions of trips out to London - one entry, dated 11th Dec 1953, “I went to Earls Court Fat Stock show in London with the Wymondham YFC” (Young farmers club); there were outings in the car (which my mother drove). Christmas Day in 1944, which fell on a Monday, was marked with a brief entry of “holiday. Usual work.”. But a picture emerges of a good community of hard working men and help from boys & girls in the village and relatives as can be seen with the list of farm helpers in the 1950 diary.

Some of the last diary entries are written by my mother in 1965- Thurs 11th Feb 1965 “In the afternoon we all went trimming again on the hedge and ditch on the west side of the Comans leaving off at 4.30 then we came home & milked”.

A Fordson tractor was owned at farm in July 1947 since there is mention of one of the workmen taking it to be overhauled

Keith and Flo

My father and mother continued to farm Hillside farm and became the owners after the death of my grandmother in 1974. They worked long hours, 7 days a week since it was both an arable and livestock farm. My mother died in 1994 and my father died in 2010. Although in later years he was unable to carry on farming he could still be seen in his grass cutting tractor or rolling the fields as he advanced in years. The picture below was taken of my parents in the mid-1970s on one of the backfields; the top of the bank of the Holly Lane is in the background.

Today it seems farming is all about productivity, size and reduction of man power, although the trend has moved back towards conservation of the environment - wildlife, hedgerows etc. My partner, Tim Ward, has learnt to scythe and has attended a hedge laying course and has implemented his scything into the management of some of my meadow land.

So how did my father farm in later years?

I would say he was an exception to the rule in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He was mechanised to a degree but I think he was one of the last farmers in Norfolk to “sack up” corn from a trailer after it had been combined. Most farmers were using grain storage silos or barns and had dryers in the later 1970s. He did eventually auger corn into a shed but it was later than most farmers. I believe his style was more Victorian farmer. We used pitch forks & sickles; mucked out cow sheds by hand with forks; pulled wild oats out of cornfields by hand by carrying sacks on our shoulders and walking around the fields; picked large stones up from the fields to avoid damaging the implements; hoed beet by hand; dressed seed corn through an old fashioned dressing machine. A handle manually was turned to operate sieves and the corn was poured into the top of the machine and the sieves separated the best seed from the smaller grains and rubbish. The seed grain ended up through a shoot onto the floor and had to be shovelled into sacks and stored ready for seed planting the following year.

We had a small dairy herd and the cows were milked by hand. At one time milking machines had been purchased but the cows apparently did not like them. The milk was put into churns which were collected by lorries and taken to the milk marketing board at Norwich (site of Tesco at Harford Bridges) We drank raw milk, i.e. unpasteurised, in those days.

Harvest time in my childhood was a very social time. Relatives, friends and people in the village came along to lend a hand or see the combine harvester. We never owned a combine or baler but hired farm contractors to do this work. In the 1960s combines filled the sacks of corn on the combine and these were deposited on the field and had to be manually collected and lifted onto a trailer for transport to the farm buildings.

Later the corn which had been combined was released via a spout into a trailer, with spouts, onto which sacks were attached and filled, tied and wheelbarrowed around the trailer and taken back to the farm to be stored. The straw was baled for animal bedding and the bales were collected via pitchforks and manually stacked in sheds. The hay was cut and baled around June and stored for animal feed. Any straw not wanted was burnt “stubble burning” - although this practise has now been stopped. I remember in my teens going stubble burning with pitchforks which carried burning straw along the straw rows and set light to them. Quite fun!

We were ruled by the weather at harvest time and worked long hours, sometimes working in the barn and sheds by the light of Tilley lamps. Up until the mid-1970s the barn roof was thatched but this was destroyed by a gale in 1976 and Dad rebuilt the roof, with help from various people.

In the autumn it was time to harvest the mangles. These were beet for cattle, although one of the villagers (Mr Leonard Tooke “Lenny”) used to make some potent mangle wine! Mr Tooke also helped out with many of the farm tasks. The beet were manually pulled up and put in lines and the tops were cut off with hooks. We then had to use pitch forks and collect them in the trailer and store them in beet hales in the stack yard. When full, the beet hale was covered with straw and the beet were used for cattle feed in the winter. As a child I remember seeing coypu on the farm – these lived by the stream and came up to the farm to eat the mangles. At one time sugar beet was grown and these went to the sugar factory.

In the winter or wet days the sack mending was done with sack needles and pieces of string (usually red bale twine). Dad hired sacks from a local contractor for harvest time but had some of his own which when they developed holes required repair.

We kept chickens for eggs and fed these on oats which we grew. We also kept cockerels for meat and for many years Saturday lunch time was always roast chicken! Sunday lunch was cold chicken and Monday lunch was chicken soup!

My eldest sister remembers the threshing engines visiting the farm in the 1960s. I vaguely remember standing on one of the corn stacks in the stack yard, but cannot remember too much about the process. The threshing engines went from farm to farm in the autumn to thrash the corn but this was in the days before the combine harvesters.

We had numerous cats on the farm which were always having kittens and always had a dog to help with the “ratting”. Dad would keep a tally of the rats he shot. Mum was often in the vegetable garden and we grew our own potatoes and vegetables and lettuces etc.

Judith, Mum and Grandparents

This picture below shows my eldest sister as a child, Mum in dungarees and grandmother (we called her Nana) and grandfather on the front lawn at the farm.

Dad employed farm labourers to help with the farm jobs and always had us girls as extra pairs of hands, our school friends also enjoyed coming to stay at the farm and were always keen to help out. My best school friend, Debra, who lived in Norwich, was always a welcome visitor at the farm and helped with milking the cows, the harvest and various farm tasks including pulling up the wild oats. Debra enjoyed the country life and looked forward to her stays at the farm. She has an excellent memory and we often speak about our days on the farm, helping my father and listening to his stories.

In the autumn we picked blackberries from the meadows and Mum always made a jam called blackberry jelly which was delicious.

Lucy Catchpole and Barbara

We had a housemaid called Miss Lucy Catchpole who had been at the farm for many years – she had watched my father grow up. She was an excellent cook and always provided plenty of home cooked cakes for the workers at harvest time. She looked after us whilst my parents were out on the farm and did the household chores etc. The picture left shows Lucy with Barbara Dunthorne. (Lucy is in the dress on the right). We were all very fond of Lucy.

We did not have family holidays because my parents were always at work but as children in the school summer holidays we always had an outing to Gt Yarmouth and Dunwich (where our relatives lived in the coast guard house).

I remember the farmhouse was very cold in the winter. We had no central heating, just open fires and some mornings, in our bedrooms, there was ice on the inside of window panes. We were always glad to get downstairs and dress in front of a blazing fire. We had no inside toilet until about 1968 – we used an outside toilet. We also had no hot water until about that time. Water was heated in a copper. Despite some lack of modernisation, my childhood days on the farm and memories are of happy times and freedom and space to explore the countryside. The lokeways were always full of flowers and butterflies, the summers seemed long and hot and the village was full of life and friendship.

Nancy, Sally and Judith

Photo of Nancy, Sally and Judith Dunthorne (from left to right) “the girls” in the 1960s – our dungaree days.


Hapton Church – P Cattermole July 1987 (printed by Norwich School)
Hapton Chapel 1930 – printed by A.E. Soman &Co.,Ltd. Norwich
Blomefield Norfolk Vol 5
Whites Norfolk 1883

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