Dersingham Hall redeveloped by Stella Gooch

Dersingham Hall

Based on an article by local historian, Elizabeth Fiddick


The Pell family, who owned the Manor of Brookhall or Oldhall, built the original Dersingham Hall in the 17th century.  A Manor was the unit of rural organisation and was essentially a large estate owned by a Lord. The Manor House was the dwelling of the Lord or his residential bailiff and the land was divided between the Lord’s Demesne and that assigned to the labourers. 

There were seven Manors in the village of Dersingham - Gelham Manor, West Hall Manor, Snaring Hall, Pakenham Manor, Binham Priory Manor, Shouldham Priory Manor and Brookhall or Oldhall Manor.  A family named Brokedish owned Brookhall in the 13th century.  It was later granted to Sir William Capel Lord Mayor of London who died in 1516.  His son Sir Giles Capel inherited it and from him it passed to a John Pell. 

The Pells, who were descended from a soldier who had come to England with William the Conqueror, came to the village from Lincolnshire.  The name had previously been de Pelle and then Pelle.  An Alex Pelle is recorded living in Dersingham in 1403 and a John Pell rented a considerable amount of land, including some where the Institute now stands, in 1465. There is a document dated 1549 that records that John Pell bought from Paul Warne houses and lands in Dersingham, Ingoldisthorpe. Sharnborn, Sandringham, Newton and Anmer.  This John Pell married Margaret Cletheroe, the heiress of a King’s Lynn shipping family.  John and his father-in-law shipped wool to the Lowlands so that the wealth of the Pell family grew and John made frequent purchases of land in and around Dersingham.  He is listed as one of the prominent merchants in Lynn.  There were two manor houses on his property, Brookhall and Shouldham Priory.  The old Manor house of Brookhall was built in the reign of Queen Mary 1 (1553-1558) and stood in the pastures behind our present Institute.  The moat is still clearly visible.  The House was described in later documents as “Pell’s Old Enchanted Mansion” (Haunted as we would say today).

John Pell died in 1555/6 and his will of 1554 required him to be buried in Dersingham Church.  An inquisition was taken in King's Lynn and described the property of Shouldham and Brookhall thus, “ 6 messuages, 320 acres of land, 120 of meadow, 40 of pasture, 50 of furze and heath in Dersingham, Shernbourne, and Ingoldisthorps held of the Manor of Pakenham.” (A messuage is a dwelling house with outbuildings and land assigned to its use.) The son John married a shipping heiress, Margaret Overend daughter of a leading magistrate of Lynn.  He became a member of the council in 1550, Mayor of Lynn in 1560 and in 1571 he was chosen to represent Lynn in Parliament. He worked to develop Lynn’s shipping and associated trades.  John and Margaret had six sons, William, Jeffrey, Valentine, Thomas, John III and Andrew.  One of the three daughters, Joan, married Francis Cremer son of John Cremer of Ingoldisthorpe.  Another daughter Lolvena Richers of Earnshed was bequeathed in her father’s will,”my grogorayne gown”.  Jeffery and his father devoted their energies to shipping while William, Thomas and John managed the estates.  Valentine became an attorney in King's Lynn but Andrew died without having any children.

By 1601 the family had as many as six ships all named after the sons and were shipping wool from their own port at Wolferton or from King’s Lynn.  It was on August 27th of that year that two of the ships, the Valentine and the John, returned to England with the news that the French were preparing for war.  John II died in 1607 and his tomb can be seen near the altar in St Nicholas' Church in Dersingham.  The family coat of arms is emblazoned on one end and his six sons can be seen kneeling on one side with the three daughters situated on the opposite side.

The Pell family’s wealth continued to increase.  During the Civil War Valentine Pell, the son of Jeffrey, was appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk and served in the Parliamentarian forces taking command of a troop of foot.  As a Puritan family they were at odds with most of their neighbours. The Cobbes of Sandringham, the Hovells at Hillington, the Pastons at Appleton House, Le Strange of Hunstanton, Edward Yelverton of Grimston and the Mordaunts of Massingham were all Roman Catholic and Royalist. Ursula Gawsell of Watlington married Jeffery Pell’s son John and it was her father who took the surrender of the Catholics in the area at the end of the war. Valentine married Barbara Calthorp and had two sons, William and John III. William became a sea captain under Queen Elizabeth I while John married Elizabeth Pert and had a son John IV who inherited the manors. 

John IV became a Justice of the Peace and Churchwarden. There are records in Grimston showing five marriages were performed by “John Pell of Darsingham, JP. “ In 1658 John ordered that the vicarage that used to stand in the churchyard where the memorial cross now is should be pulled down.  It was described as “ a studded clay house,” and had become so dilapidated that John objected to having such a ruin outside his front gate.  The present Hall, now  converted, according to some documents was built in 1671, the same date given for the Tithe Barn.  However the Pells had been building prior to this date for in his will dated 1619 Thomas Pell states,” I give unto my nephew John Pell, all the stuffe, as tymber, stone, lyme, bricke, tyle, deale and all other provisions for the building that is within the house of my now building or in and about the grounds belonging to the said House.  And also all household stuffe within the said house whatsoever”.   The original Manor House was added to and changed over the next centuries to become the Hall we know today.  The fortunes of the Pell family changed after Valentine Pell died in 1690 without leaving an heir and the estate was willed to Robert Walpole, the father of Sir Robert Walpole.

Elizabeth Pell continued to wield influence in Dersingham until her death in 1732.  She was highly regarded and remembered for her charity.  She gave £100 for the purchase of land in the parish and the proceeds to be given to the poor in bread and coals. Another Elizabeth Pell died in 1752.

Seventeen members of the Pell family are buried in the church and their memorials can be seen.  So after 200 years the Pell family were no longer a part of the village life and their land passed into other hands. So what became of the moated Manor House in the Pastures and the Hall we know today.  Dr. Samuel Kerrich who was Vicar of Dersingham from 1729 to 1768 inhabited Pell’s “Old Enchanted Mansion”.  He wrote. “I dwell in a house of Lord Orford’s near the church in which my predecessor lived for many years.”  Samuel’s son Thomas who also served as Vicar (1784 – 1828) made sketches of the church and “ the old house I was born in built by Pell called Brookhall”.

According to Mrs Kerrich life in the old Pell house was not always very comfortable. In 1737 she wrote to her husband who was away in Cambridge, ”I am washed out of all ye rooms below stairs.  The springs have risen very much in the garden all this week and run in ye little alleys in streams.  I mostly sit in ye little parlour and yesterday as I sat there ye water rise under my chair before I saw it and we looked into ye Great Parlour it began to come out at ye door into ye kitchen and was near a quarter of a yard deep and this morning it was all over ye hall.  William and Martin and all ye servants are trying to get it out but ye springs bubble and run sadly in ye garden still.”

From a description of the village written by Doctor Kerrich we learn that “ The inhabitants are farmers, and labourers except William Grigson Esq who lately sold his estate to Richard Hammond.”  Faden’s map of 1797 shows Dersingham Hall occupied by Hammond Esq.  Dr Kerrich and his family moved into Dersingham Hall in 1753 but it is not clear when the old “Enchanted Mansion” was demolished.  The tithe map and schedule of 1839 records the Hall and its adjoining land to be administered by the trustees of Robert Elwes.

The house and land was occupied by Mary Ann Brett a widow from Mileham   She lived there with her son Edward, a solicitor, his wife Ann and their three daughters Florence, Gertrude and Georgina.  Her sister Lucy Jane Davy from Ingoldisthorpe also lived with them. They had five servants, Jemima Ward, nurse, Elizabeth Stanford, cook and Susan Savage, the Housemaid. Ann Marie Howard, an under maid, and Esther Hardy the Under Nurse completed the household. By 1874 the house was occupied by the family of John B. Goggs who came from Swaffham. He and his wife Hannah had nine children. Edward, Mary, Agnes, Annie, Nellie, Laura and John were all born in Swaffham.  Bernard and Mildred were born in Dersingham in 1874 and 1875 respectively.  The map of 1884 shows the extensive buildings of the Hall and a large garden with a fountain and a flagstaff on the site now occupied by Croft House and the cottages.  A more extensive wood covers the area up to the present Institute and pastureland surrounds the property and stretches through to Centre Vale. There are several glasshouses and a windpump is shown.

The Directories of 1890 refer to the Late John B. Goggs and by 1896 the Hall is described as the residence of Mrs Clarkson. In 1900 Theodor Jannoch is advertising Dersingham Hall to be let furnished.  Theodor Jannoch was a florist and nurseryman who appears in the Dersingham village records from about 1881. He was a German national and conducted his business first in Brandenburg House, now Lane End. By 1908, however, he is occupying the Hall and James Stephen Edward La Fontaine J.P. occupies Brandenburg House. Mr Jannoch advertises himself as the biggest grower of Lily of the Valley in the country and some older villagers still remember the beautiful gardens and refer to the tight bend in the road as “Jannoch’s corner”.  Theodor, his wife Mary and three daughters occupied the Hall through the trauma of World War I although Theodor was interned.  He returned to continue his business until he died in 1925. His wife remained in residence until her death in 1933.  They are both buried in the churchyard and trustees administered the Hall.

During the Second World War, the old house entered a new phase as it was requisitioned by the military and Canadians troops were billeted there. One resident remembered that their cookhouse was just where the gateway is now. He remembered the tanks that were stationed there.” We used to go for a walk around the village and we looked over that stone wall that is now missing from the Church Hall back to Jannoch’s Corner and there were these dozen waltzing matilda tanks.  One Sunday morning, well they slipped off over night.”   After the war when the premises had been released from military requisition it was acquired by Mr G W Stratford and converted into Dersingham Hall Social and Camping Club.  According to the news report the hall and grounds were already in use as a holiday centre, and were occupied during the week of the report by a large contingent from South Emsall Colliery, Pontefract Yorkshire.  There may well be many villagers still who have memories of this old house and the people who have used it since 1945.

Today, Dersingham Hall, the erstwhile Gamekeeper’s Lodge, has been redeveloped into new housing.  Elizabeth Fiddick likes to remember the Pell family and all their children playing in the pastures and hopes that Samuel Kerrich, Mary Ann Brett and even her cook Elizabeth Stanford would still be able to recognise the Hall if they could return now the renovations are done.  
Dersingham Village Sign Dersingham Hall by Stella Gooch Tithe Barn by Stella Gooch

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