HISTORY OF LITCHAM
11. Halcott Family & the Tanning Industry in Litcham
From Elizabethan times, one of the chief industries of the village was the tanning of hided for the manufacture of leather; and at least two f the Litcham tanning families, the Halcotts and the Collinsons, made considerable fortunes, and their descendants became country squires. Matthew Halcott, for instance, whose father had migrated with his family to Litcham from Beetley in about 1610, was wealthy enough to purchase, in the 1660s, the entire estate of Hoe Hall, which his son Matthew received a a marriage settlement.
The Halcott family were notable benefactors to the Church and to the poor. The tower of All Saint’s Church was built during 1668-9, at the expense of Matthew Halcott and, in 1672, he paid for a new bell. His brother, John, in his will of 1677 gave directions that an alms house should be built, which stood at the lower end of Church Street, for the benefit of two aged poor men of the parish; and he too paid for a church bell in 1682. In 1682 another John Halcott, son of Matthew, donated a communion cup and a flagon, both inscribed with his name, to All Saints Church.
Matthew Halcott died in 1674, and he bequeathed in his will a close of three acres in the village by the East Hall Green and a pightle of about one and a half acres, to his son Matthew, on the condition that he and his heirs should pay to the churchwardens and overseers of the poor of Litcham thirty-five shillings annually by quarterly payments. This money was to be used to buy bread for the parish poor and every Sunday morning eight pence worth of bread was shared out amongst the eight of the poorest men and women present at the Church porch. This practice continued until bread rationing was introduced during World War II.
At the beginning of the 17th Century the Collinson family had previously possessed; “The Chapel-house or the Hermitage, the site of the manor of Felton’s otherwise Pinfold Yard”. This property was purchased from George Collinson by Matthew Halcott’s father and was later known as Priory Farm. After nearly 200 years in the Halcott family the farm was bought back by William Collinson in 1798, and it stayed in the Collinson family until 1917. An out-building of Priory Farm was probably the site of an early tannery. During the excavation of the earthen floor of the building known as Priory Barn a great number of horns and cattle skeletons were discovered.
12. Poet and Blacksmith – Christmas Burgess and the Litcham ForgeLitcham’s long lost poetical blacksmith Christmas Burgess, a famed “champion blacksmith” who made the racing plates for Egremont who came second in the 1932 Grand National, offers us an insight into his life when as a young man in 1934.
He appears in Puddy’s history book, helping open the rusty doors to the “fire station” in Front Street. Young Burgess together with a the newsagent, Captain Symonds, “got between the shafts” and pushed the fire engine out for a practice. The fire team had to dig a hole in the stream by the meadow “as it was an August drought,” so that buckets could be passed to fill the engine. Five men pumped each of the handles and a jet of water shot through the leather hosepipes. A Mr William Yaxley gave a deft twist in the direction of many spectators who gathered on the bridge giving several a hilarious soaking!
Christmas lived at the Old Forge in Butt Lane, and died in 1968. The land on which the forge stood is currently being redeveloped. Ownership of the land can be traced back through many owners to 1750 and it was in 1923 that Mr Burgess “of Martham” paid £300 to Herbert Woodhall, a former Litcham Blacksmith, for the Forge.
Below is one of his many poem which may be ahead of its time but by today’s standards a bit non PC:
THE OLD WAYS
Sing a song of the old ways,
Tell me a tale of the past
Of the time when Britain was mighty
And everyone thought it would last.
When men raised their hats to the ladies
And ladies wore dresses and skirts,
Children respected their elders
Or had a sharp tap where it hurts.
When lovers were pleased to get married
And made do with little they had.
Kept out of debt and were happy
And children knew their own Dad!
When parents showed by example
The way and means to get by,
Through hard work and honest endeavour
And today those rules still apply.
Tell me the tale of the schoolroom
When teachers were strict and upright
Where discipline ruled and we knew it
But we all learned to read and write
Where they taught us the value of friendship
And to get stuck in with a grin an spirit de corps
That was solid working together to win.
We listened and learned when they told us
That nothing was gained by the cheat
Played hard by the rules,
Triumphed, and stood on our own two feet.
So sing a song of the old ways
Of pride in the land of our birth
And tell the world of this Britain;
THE NOBLEST PLACE ON GOD’S EARTH.
Eric Puddy’s : “History of a Mid-Norfolk Village” (1957)
Compiled and edited by David Sheppard, Chair Litcham Historical Society and Julia Bloomfield