29 July 2018:
A Glimpse of Dereham's History,

Town Sign
Heritage Trail
Leaflet Some years ago, the Dereham Antiquarian Society ran guided walks to various sites of interest around Dereham. They also produced a fine illustrated leaflet. Times change; the walks ceased; the leaflet went out of print. All this seems very sad, as it meant that there is a generation of people living in and visiting the town who are perhaps unaware of its extensive historical interest.

On Sunday, Dereham Walkers are Welcome took a first step towards reversing that. A town walk was organised, led by long time resident Dorothy Sneesby. It was especially pleasing that the group included a visitor from France - Maïté Viton. Crammed into the 2½ hour event were visits to St Nicholas Church tower, Bishop Bonner’s Cottage Museum, the Memorial Hall and Dereham Railway Station (where the walk ended with refreshments and a talk about the railway).
Jean de Narde

St Nicholas Churchyard

Starting in the churchyard, the group visited St Withburga Well and the nearby gravestone for Jean de Narde. Jean was a French soldier who was captured and imprisoned in the Bell Tower, but then escaped and hid in a tree. He was found, and subsequently killed, probably because he didn't understand the orders (in English) of his captors. The memorial was erected 50 years later by Rev Armstrong (vicar from 1850 to 1888), who has his own memorial at the top of the churchyard.

Bell Tower (Clocker)

Ringing the 
tenor bell Time was taken to visit the Bell Tower. On the first floor, Chris Stebbings explained how it all worked, and his son Jayden demonstrated how to ring the tenor bell (the largest). After this, a smaller energetic subgroup climbed the wooden spiral stairs and on to a balcony at the top, from where they could look down on the bells.
Adjacent to the ringing landing is the clock mechanism. This used to require regular winding which involved climbing the spiral stairs and inserting a large winding handle, to lift the running weight - quite a workout. But now it is automatically would with an electric motor: Bells

Bishop Bonner's Cottage

Exhibit from 
Bishop Bonner's Cottage Bishop Bonners Cottage
It was then just a short walk to Bishop Bonner’s Cottage Museum, where the Dereham Antiquarian Society Chairman Dr Peter Wade-Martins gave a brief talk about the history of the three cottages making up the present building, and allowed everyone to have a quick look at the exhibits inside.

Church Street and Market Place

From there, the walk took in Church House, the Manor House, the Romany Rye, the town sign, the Corn Hall, the Cowper Church (Cowper Memorial Evangelical Congregational Church to give it its full title), the Assembly Rooms (home to Dereham Town Council and Citizens Advice)) and Hill House:
Hill House
Then, moving on from the Market Place to Dereham Memorial Hall.

Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall
After Dorothy explained the history of the building, Tim Birt gave us a detailed account of the £2.7m restoration work undertaken a few years ago before showing us the building. This included reference to the little known fact that the swimming pool which was used there at one time, still exists under the main hall floor - and a few of the group climbed down under the stage to see it.

Railway Station

Railway Station
The final destination was the Railway Station. The group received refreshments from the station café, and then Charlie Robinson (Mid-Norfolk Railway Chairman) gave an illustrated talk outlining the history of the current line, plus much more on its current operation and future plans.

The event was oversubscribed and we were sorry to have to turn some people away. Based on the success of the afternoon, we will be considering repeating it, and would invite anyone interested to let us know so we can judge the demand. In the longer term, we will discuss with the Dereham Antiquarian Society the possibility of arranging a similar event on a regular basis, and perhaps get a new leaflet prepared so people can look round our town for themselves.

Walk promotion flyer (pdf, opens in new tab).

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