The Market Town of East Dereham in Norfolk, or Dereham
as the locals call the town, sits in the middle region
of Norfolk some fifteen miles from Norwich in rolling
agricultural land. Dereham is one of Norfolks most
ancient towns, able to trace its history accurately all
the way back to 654AD.
Todays Dereham is a flourishing busy
market town with a lot to offer the visitor. It has a
good range of shops, a golf course, swimming pool
restaurants and cafes as well as a Tourist Information
There is a great deal of history
associated with this town including: a saint, a famous
poet, an enthusiastic burner of Protestants, the man
responsible for publishing the historic Paston Letters
and a 19th century linguist and traveller.
In the centre of the town near the
Guildhall is the Queen Mothers Walled Garden where you
can sit and while away the hours. Close to the church of
St. Nicholas is Bishop Bonner's Cottage, a delightful
thatched 16th century cottage now a museum of local
artefacts and interest.
The Norfolk Rural Life Museum and Union
Farm at Gressenhall provides another great experience
for families. Its a museum, in a former workhouse
illustrating how Norfolk people lived and worked over
the past 150 years. The farm has rare breeds of
livestock, and horses pull the plough and do other jobs
around the farm.
The original church of St. Nicholas was destroyed in 870
by the Danes. It was rebuilt and extended by the Normans
in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 16th century a
bell tower was constructed which was used as a prison
during the Napoleonic wars. One of these prisoners, a
French Soldier was shot as he tried to escape and his
grave can be found in the graveyard. The volunteers in
the church will be most happy to point out some of the
interesting details of the church both inside and out.
Bonner – Was an
enthusiastic burner of Protestant heretics during the
reign of Mary Tudor. Edward Bonner was the rector of
Dereham from 1534 to 1538 before being appointed Bishop
of London. When Mary Tudor came to the throne in 1553
everyone knew that she would try to restore the Roman
Church to the English Nation. To this end Bishop Bonner
was responsible for sending many a person to the fires
and stake at Smithfield. His house In E.D. was
constructed in 1502, a timber framed building with walls
of brick, flint, wattle and daub. There is a delightful
pargetting - a frieze of flowers and fruit design on the
Fenn – (1739-1794) – Who was
responsible for publishing the ‘Paston Letters’.
Correspondence by a well known Norfolk Family about
family life at the time of the War of the Roses. Fenn’s
house can be found in the market place called Hill
House, which is still a private residence.
Withburga died in 743AD and
was buried in the churchyard. Unfortunately in the 10th
century the Abbot of Ely decided that he wanted her
bones in his own cathedral at Ely. So he and some monks
raided St. Withburga’s tomb and removed her bones.
However, from her grave a spring of purest water sprang,
which was gifted with the art of healing. You can still
see this spring in the churchyard, shaded by flowers and
Cowper (1731-1800 ) described by
George Borrow as ‘Englands sweetest and most pious bard’
spent the last four years of his life in Dereham with
his housekeeper and companion Mary Unwin. He lived in a
house in the market place where now stands a
congregational church. There is a lovely stained glass
window to Cowper in the church of St. Nicholas.
Borrow (1803-1881) – the famous
linguist and traveller was born at Dumpling Green just
outside Dereham. Hhe remembered his home town in his
works ‘Lavengro’ - “pretty quiet Dereham with thy
venerable church in which moulder the mortal remains of
'Englands sweetest and most pious bard’. Of course he
was referring to William Cowper.