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Hethersett Hall

Hethersett Hall is a late-Georgian mansion which stands in parkland, set well back, on the south side of the turnpike bounded to the west by Kissing Alley. It is shown on the 1799 Enclosure map and was built as a gentleman's family seat. In 1985 the house was converted for use as a residential care home for the elderly.

The Hall is of historic importance to Hethersett. It is a two-storey double-depth property built of brick, now colourwashed, under a hipped slate roof with eaves decorated with paired wood modillions. Window openings were for recessed sashes under flat brick arches. Since 1985 considerable building has been undertaken at the rear and to the right to accommodate the needs of residential care and two-thirds of the windows of the main house are now in modern materials. This work has been undertaken in keeping to blend with the earlier architecture.

The principal facade facing north east has a forward canted bay off-centre to the left with three windows at both levels. There are five bays to the right and three to the left. Double entrance doors to the left of the canted bay are set under a portico supported by two pairs of Tuscan columns with modillions above. All are built with modern materials. The portico replaces an earlier enclosed porch which had side windows. The south-east return to the left with three bays had a later extension of a flat-roofed bay to the left. French doors lead out to a full-length verandah with a glazed roof supported at the front by five cast-iron square columns decorated with spandrels depicting the Star of David. A modern building to the north-west end covers most of this side. At the rear, a new wing comes forward from the right.

Much of the original character inside the house has been retained. Visitors are greeted by a Palladian-styled entrance hall with pillars, decorated ceiling and an oak staircase. A four-hundred-year old carved stone fireplace and oak linenfold panelling, which came from Costessey Hall when it was demolished c. 1920, has been installed in two rooms.

Although the hall is now a home for the elderly, it has been linked to the Back family since it was built. Its first occupier was Thomas Back, a solicitor with strong Norwich connections, being sheriff 1802, alderman 1808 and mayor 1809, as well as being deputy lieutenant for the County of Norfolk. In 1818 he agreed to purchase 500 acres of land (including Coleby's, later Church, Farm) close to the hall. He died suddenly on 21 February 1820 in the Council Chamber at the Guildhall, aged 52. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas Back, aged 13 years, in accordance with his will executed on 26 October 1818 and codicil dated 22 October 1819.

In 1854, the hall was leased to Henry Back, his brother, by Thomas Back for fourteen years, together with Coleby's Farm. In 1868, the hall and lands were sold to Thomas Back by George Emmanuel Kett. They were leased again to Henry Back for a further fourteen years. Just before Henry died on 15 July 1878, he purchased some 18 acres of the Cromwells estate for 1360. For some years he had been of "unsound mind" and Thomas Back died in 1886.

John Alfred Back, when occupying the hall on 30 September 1891 agreed a settlement on the marriage of Hatfield James Back to Ada Louise Hume. These latter two died on 6 November 1902 and 11 December 1916 respectively.

William Henry Back, son of Henry and Fanny Back, married on 5 October 1885, Marion Edith Browne of Hill House. They had four sons and five daughters. After his death in 23 June 1920, more land was added when Henry William Back, their eldest son, purchased Norgate's Farm, lying between Suckling Lane, the turnpike and Ketteringham Lane, for 3050. Marion died on 11 July 1922 aged 64.

The hall, together with 504 acres of land, including five cottages, two farms, the Hethersett Racecourse and other buildings, etc., was put up for auction in 1924 by the heirs of Thomas Back, who had died intestate in 1886.

It was bought by Edward Gladden in 1924, who lived there until 1933. He was a keen racehorse owner, and had a horse named Hethersett which was entered at the local racecourse and elsewhere.

The influence of the Back family in the district was not confined to the hall. The gravel pit site was one area of control, as was Cantley Farm, on the boundary with Cringleford and Ketteringham. In 1818, an acre of the Gravel Close(field) was surrendered by Robert Plumptre and his wife, Elizabeth, to Thomas Back for 200. On his death in 1820 this was transferred to his eldest son. Two acres were conveyed to Henry Back for 70 on 26 February 1847, and the whole site was conveyed to William Henry Back on 11 October 1878. Cantley Farm was leased to Thomas Back for eight yearsfrom 11 October 1854 to Mary Gurney, and again on 14 January 1870 to Thomas Tice. Many village events took place in the grounds of Hethersett Hall, Woodhall and the Priory. The minute books of the present Hethersett Horticultural Society make interesting reading. The earliest have disappeared though it would seem that the society was formed c. 1924. Meetings were held in the winter with a Rose Show in June and an Annual Show in July. These shows must have been great events. In 1929 they included bowling for a pig, kicking football, hoopla, coconut shies, skittles, hidden treasure, nail driving, basins & bowls, guessing the weight of a member of the committee, darts, coins in water... etc, plus children's sports and a tug-of-war with Ketteringham. There was dancing in the evening to a band with a lady vocalist. Mr Humphrey Back played an important role in the Society especially at the beginning, as Vice-President and later as President. Members often visited his garden.