ASHWELLTHORPE'S BYPASS - 19th CENTURY STYLE
What makes you happy to live in your hamlet, village, town or city - its beauty, tranquillity, community spirit? Its community spirit nowadays, as in many villages I suspect, comes and goes depending upon the local issues of the day; strongest and friendliest when fund-raising for the village hall or church, for the playgroup or for children's play equipment. There can be a great feeling of "togetherness" when campaigning for retention of public or school bus services or introduction of speed-limits; there can be ill-feeling and antagonism when some in the village might favour a new development of some kind whilst others are vehemently against such an impaction.
And it is this aspect of community life which brings to mind an intrusion planned and carried out in 1869/1870 when the road through the village was moved away from its very close proximity to Ashwellthorpe Hall.
Bryant's Map of Norfolk 1826
Ashwellthorpe Hall and its estate of 1100 acres was the ancestral home of the Berners Barony which Emma Harriet Tyrwhitt nee Wilson inherited from her uncle in 1871. However, in 1853, Harriet had married Sir Henry Thomas Tyrwhitt of Stanley Hall, Aston Abbots in Shropshire and although they spent much of their married life at Stanley Hall they also lived occasionally at Ashwellthorpe Hall. In 1869, whilst living at the Hall, the Tyrwhitts wished for the road through Ashwellthorpe leading from the Turnpike towards Wymondham, to be moved away from the Hall. The "old" road led down towards the Hall from just west of the cottages at Gravel Pit Hill, then between the small lake and Ashwellthorpe Hall, through and past Hall Farm land to the green in front of the church, where there was a watering pit.
On 13 August 1869 Sir Henry wrote to Ashwellthorpe's Surveyor of Highways, Charles Watts Harvey, requiring him to give notice to the Churchwarden (also Charles Watts Harvey!) to assemble the inhabitants of Ashwellthorpe at a Vestry Meeting - the governing body of the parish - to hear his wish and proposal for this diversion. Charles was tenant of the Estate's largest farm - Church Farm - and had good connections with Sir George and Lady Emma Tyrwhitt. The proposal was to stop up the existing public road from a point in front of the Church nearly opposite Church and Yew Tree Farms, for about 1170 yards in an easterly direction, ending close to the Gravel Pit Hill road to Wreningham.
The following photographs from 2006 and 2022 illustrate the line of the old road to the Church Green most of which is now on completely private land.
Then the route for a diversion was proposed with a new public highway of 1138 yards between those two points, to the south of the stopped-up roadway. The fields through which the new road was routed were - from the east - the Five Acres (opposite Sunnyside), Smither Close, Snipers Meadow, Breakley Close, Lay Close, Lower Pightle, pasture land and part of the grounds of Church Farm, all land belonging to Berners. The land use was then part arable and part pasture; although arable now, some field names were still used at the beginning of the 21st Century - Smithy Piece, Snipes, Lay Piece.
Lord Berners had already consented in writing on 12 August to the road being moved to other parts of his land and Charles Watts Harvey duly put up the notice on 14 August on the principal door of the Church convening "a Meeting of Inhabitants in Vestry to be holden on the Nineteenth day of August 1869 for the purpose of considering the wish and proposal of Sir Henry Tyrwhitt" and "determining whether the said part of the said Public Highway should be diverted and stopped up and the said proposed new highway be made in lieu thereof".
The Vestry Meeting took place in the Church and the leading inhabitants present - or perhaps the only ones present as no other names were recorded - were: Sir Henry Tyrwhitt, Charles Watts Harvey, William Dewing (who farmed the c. 36 Acres Yew Tree Farm) and Robert Harvey (who I believe farmed the Estate's Hall Farm). This Vestry meeting duly resolved that it agreed to Sir Henry's wish and proposal and that it was "expedient" for the existing road to be diverted and entirely stopped up and that the new public Highway should be constructed.
The next step was for Charles Watts Harvey, as Surveyor of Highways, to place Official Notices in the newspapers of the application due to be made before Justices of the Peace at the Quarter Sessions to be held at the Shirehouse of the Castle, in Norwich, on 5 January 1870. These Official Notices appeared in four issues of the Norfolk Chronicle from 6 to 27 November 1869.
Two JPs ventured out to Ashwellthorpe on 3 December 1869 to view the old Highway and the proposed route for the new road. They found that the new route would be "nearer and more commodious to the public" than the old road and at the Quarter Sessions the new route was "ordered to be set out and made and appropriated as a Public Highway".
It was later recorded on 27 July 1871, that the new Highway had been completed and put into good condition and repair "and is likely so to continue". To seal its fate as the route through Ashwellthorpe, it was resolved at another Vestry Meeting on 18 March 1885 that "application be made to the County Authority to declare the road or Village Street running westwards" from the Norwich/New Buckenham road towards Wymondham as far as Ashwellthorpe's Parish boundary - which measured "One Mile, Seven Furlongs, Fifty Yards" - to be a "Main Road" under the Highways and Locomotive (Amendment) Act of 1878.
So, a new road was planned, agreed and completed in just over a year with no apparent dissent. It could not happen today!