Myrtle Cottage - Wiffen's Loke
Known as a homestead, Myrtle Cottage stood in fourteen acres of land at the north west corner of the green. It was an open hall yeoman's house predating the sixteenth century in the manor of Hethersett Cromwells. Aligned north-south and facing east, it now stands in one-third of an acre.
The sixteenth-century timber frame section, under pantiles, has been rendered and colourwashed. This originally adjoined an earlier timber-framed dwelling to the north which was demolished and replaced at the turn of the eighteenth century by a brick building with dormers showing the date 1729. Brickwork is Flemish bond and the roof plain tiles. Around 1600, the house, now 20m long, was upgraded by the insertion of a stack and upper floor. At the same time, a crowstepped gable was built in English bond to abut the north end. It was later raised and jettied at the quoins to accommodate the higher 1729 build. The centre porch and south-east dormer are recent.
Inside, there are signs where a cross passage in the timber-framed section separated the service end from the hall. That end has a window, with iron lozenge bars, which is now blocked. Other features include an inserted floor with wide chestnut boards, early iron casements with pintle hinges, an inglenook with evidence of a bread oven and some wattle and daub. Exposed studs with carpenters' assembly marks give a clue to the earlier house.
The north rear boundary wall is all that remains of a Victorian carpenters' shop, stables and chapel of rest, and a small rise in the centre of the garden conceals a sawpit. A 13m well still functions near the gable at the front.
Myrtle Cottage has been occupied since well before the sixteenth century. The first established owner was Nicholas Call who would have known the house in its open hall form c. 1590 with an open hearth in the centre of the hall. Robert Freeman, a yeoman, acquired the farm from Call and with his wife Alice most likely upgraded the house by building the gable, inserting the stack and upper floor, and glazing the windows. On Robert's death in 1634 his sons inherited. Clement received the farm, and Jeremiah a cottage called Thaxters. Robert's daughters and grandchildren received annuities.
In July 1652 Clement and Jeremiah were appointed headboroughs at a Hethersett Cromwells Court Leet. This was a system of mutual pledge to enforce good behaviour. It gave authority to act as jurymen and make court presentations on minor neighbourhood offences. When Clement died his son Robert took over and the daughters again received annuities.
Robert and his wife Susan lived in that time during the seventeenth century when belief in the supernatural prevailed. They buried a Bellarmine bottle under their hearth which was referred to as a witch bottle. It contained bent pins, cloth pieces and other items which were believed to ward away evil. Two of their daughters, Bridgett and Susan, married Robert and William Wiffen at a double wedding in St. Remigius church on the sixteenth of March 1703. On her father's death in 1719, Susan and William Wiffen were left the farm.
William, a mason by trade, ran the farm and a building business and within ten years had demolished the medieval north end of the house and rebuilt it in brick. In 1719, he took up the Quaker cause and joined the Wymondham Meeting. He became committed, and in 1737 attended the Archdeacon's Court to register his dissent from the established church and obtain permission to hold religious worship in his house. (A conventicle certificate granting this appears on page 57.) William died in 1743 and the farm passed to his son Robert a bricklayer. He remained head of the household for the next fifty one years. His son Robert took over in 1794. He was killed by a bull in 1799, and as he was not married, most things passed to his brother John. At the time of Enclosure, a lane was created on land allotted to John Wiffen to link the Homestead and the adjacent Starres, now South View, with the new road later to be called Lynch Green. Two hundred years later in September 1999, by consensus, that lane has now been named Wiffen's Loke.
The three generations of Wiffens were active Quakers. All the men served as elders and trustees of the meeting houses and burial grounds in Wymondham, Mattishall, Wramplingham, and Hingham. They were respected builders. John Berney, rector of Hethersett records c. 1736 "pd to Wiffen ye Quaker for work about my study £29- pd for bricks and lime for ye same £18". Farming activities prospered for over a hundred years as demonstrated by the will of John Wiffen, Gentleman. He too was a bachelor and left, in 1826, three estates (farms), a cottage, four annuities averaging £25 and one for his housekeeper of £40 and sixteen legacies of £400 each. John was the last of the Wiffens to hold Myrtle Cottage, a significant and influential family of devout farmers and tradesmen. Perhaps it was a wise judgement by his great-grandfather,Robert Freeman, when he chose his daughter Susan instead of the eldest son, to take care of the family holdings.
The estate passed to a nephew, John Ringer, Gentleman of Tuttington Hall, near Aylsham, and then in 1838 to his nephew Robert Wiffen Blake an alderman and magistrate of Norwich. He sold the farm to Richmond Ibrooke the next year. In 1845 Ibrooke paid homage to the Court of Hethersett Cromwells and enfranchised the property for £45. It thus became freehold. Throughout the nineteenth century, owners did not live in Myrtle Cottage so the land was farmed by tenants. John Curson a lime burner and builder, already established in Hethersett, acquired the tenancy in 1879. For the next eighty-four years the Cursons' business flourished. John was killed when his horse, frightened by a steam engine, threw him at the bottom of Eaton Hill. His son Robert, a carpenter, took over the tenancy and was able to purchase freehold in 1906. He died in a similar tragic manner when his pony and trap overturned on a bend in Lynch Green. John, the third generation, managed the business from 1928-63.
From 1900, the Cursons became the major building contractors in the village. In addition to the usual trades, they had blacksmith and wheelwright facilities and ran an undertaker's business. Trees were sawn into planks by hand in the sawpit for all aspects of their trades, including the making of coffins. The family farmed the land until Robert's death. Sufficient cows were grazed to support a village milk round. Signs of the dairy are still visible in the kitchen. The death of John Aves Curson in 1963 marked the end of a long, continuous era of occupation of Myrtle Cottage not only as a place of dwelling but also of local industry.