WOODBASTWICK - A SHORT GUIDE TO ONE OF NORFOLK’S MOST PICTURESQUE BROADLAND VILLAGES
Woodbastwick: A picturesque village situated about 7 miles east of Norwich stands in the centre of an outstanding conservation area in the heart of the Norfolk Broadlands. The river Bure, which flows out to sea at Great Yarmouth, serves as one of the parish boundaries.
There has been a shoot at Woodbastwick for over 200 years and in years gone there have been British Monarchs shoot at Woodbastwick. There are currently 25 drives which are maintained by the full time game keeper with help from the estate wood yard employees. The shoot is predominately driven pheasant but on occasions there are some partridge and woodcock mixed in! The shoot is set over 4600 acres with a number of drives in the main park near to Woodbastwick Hall. A typical shoot day would see the beaters and keeper meet at about 0830 with the Estate Manager/Shoot Captain. At 0900 the guns and Estate Manager/Shoot Captain meet at the Hall Barn, a magnificent converted thatched boat/store barn. Here the guns are met and are able to have tea/coffee before being briefed on the day’s proceedings. A normal shoot day would see approximately 6-7 drives with a 200 bird day as standard. Elevenses are served in the field and lunch is normally at the end of the day hosted in the Hall Barn.
Along with the shooting there is stalking available for Chinese Water Deer and Muntjac. This is in the early stages of being established with the construction of new high seats, a larder and the facilities to deal with venison production and sales.
Originally referred to as BASTWICK 1044 – 7 and later BASTUUIC (Domesday Book 1086), it did not become WODBASTWYK until 1253 (Charter Rolls). Low German “BAST” is used in the sense of lime tree or lime grove and the village sign depicts two Danish and Saxon invaders tying up the leggings with pliable “bast” found under the bark of the lime tree. “WIC” from the Latin means a dwelling place or farm, especially a diary farm and “WOD” as a prefix indicates wood, presumably to distinguish the village from other Bastwicks also in Norfolk.
The village has been owned since 1807, contains only five privately owned houses and its population has decreased from over 400 pre-World War II to about 100 today. This has coincided with changes in farming practices and the introduction of heavy machinery. The farm is predominately arable but is also home to the famous Woodbastwick herd of pedigree British White cattle which was established here in 1840 and is thought to be the oldest herd in the world kept on the same land under the same ownership.
The parish possesses a large area of marshland which is part of the Bure Marshes National Nature Reserve where many of the drainage dykes have now been dammed to hold back contaminated river water in order to support thriving plants, wildlife and insects native to Broadland. These same marshes some 50 years ago were cultivated reed beds which villagers used to harvest, moving the reed in “lighters” along the dykes. This reed was used for thatching, especially on the Woodbastwick estate where many houses are thatched as is the church of St Fabian and St Sebastian which stands in the centre of the village.
Reeds are no longer grown in the marshes for thatch and indeed, apart from certain conservation areas in the middle of the village, many houses were due to shortages of suitable reed and the expense of using it as a roofing material.
The flint church – a fine example of Norfolk thatching – is 14thcentury with its first vicar being appointed in 1311 and is unusual in being dedicated to two saints one of whom, St Fabian, was an early Pope and the other, St Sebastian, a Roman soldier. Its interior is Victorian having been comprehensively restored in the 19thcentury with every window containing stained glass.
Adjacent to the church is the village green with its round thatched pump house – a source of water for the villagers in years gone by – and two thatched alms houses with their inscription “At Eventide It Shall Be Light”. Also the old vicarage, now a private dwelling, stands nearby at the head of the private drive to the family residence. Up to the mid 19thcentury this was the Bear public house and a watering stop for teams of horses helping wagons up the hill from Horning Ferry.
The family home is Woodbastwick Hall, the first hall burned down spectacularly in 1883 and its surviving parts were used for many years as a convalescent hospital, especially during the two world wars. A second hall with 52 rooms and 365 windows was completed in 1888 and occupied by the family. In the 1940s this hall was used briefly as an Agricultural Training College before being demolished in the 1970s. Recently the family has altered and substantially added to another big house next to the river and close to Decoy Broad which has become, in 2004, the third Woodbastwick Hall.
Decoy Broad, cut off from the river Bure, has been used for many years by The Scouts as a camping and training area and some buildings, near the site of the old hall, are used by English Nature in their administration of the Bure Marshes.
The village school, which catered for about 50 children in the 1930s, closed down when the number of children on roll was reduced to six and the post office also closed in the early 1980s, there has never been a shop in Woodbastwick. The old school house and buildings have been converted into Darlow's gunsmiths operation with accommodation attached. At the blacksmith’s forge, some of whose bricks date from the 1600s, the village smith could once be seen making nails, horseshoes and repairing farm equipment. It was closed for a few years but has now re-opened and still makes horseshoes – though most of the horses are now shoed by a mobile farrier – wrought iron work and weather vanes. The buildings opposite the Forge now house a boat building, repair and renovation workshop
The Ferry Farm, on the road to Horning ferry, where the agent for the estate once lived, has now been converted to successful stables with 24 horses at livery and other old farm buildings on the site are occupied by a boat building firm and a car mechanic.
A big change has been the arrival of Woodeforde’s Brewery which has made its base in the old Street Farm buildings and has converted two adjacent cottages into the Fur and Feather public house which has proved very successful and once again the village boasts a pub!.
The Estate also has mooring facilities with some 180 moorings and a large boat yard in Horning on the banks of the river Bure.
The village does however move with the times in that the Village Hall, built with money raised for the “Welcome Home” fund for servicemen and women returning from the Second World War now serves many people from the village and the surrounding areas. When it was built in 1948, on land provided to the village by the Estate, it had a cycle speedway track where the local lads formed a team called the Woodbastwick Greyhounds. This track has now become the bowling green and the hall is presently home to the local Men’s Club, Outdoor and Indoor Bowls Clubs and the Women’s Institute.
The thriving WI was formed in 1954 and the village sign, standing opposite the church, was given to the village by the Institute to commemorate its founder President.
So we have Woodbastwick, for many years an entrant and twice a winner of the Best Kept Village Award, one of the most attractive of the many Broadland villages which is now thriving in the sense that although only 100 adults live here but there are nearly 60 jobs.
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