Spixworth was a small village while it belonged to the Longe family. In 1845 it had a population of 52. The Hall was demolished after the Second World War, having fallen into disuse and disrepair. Since the family sold up, the village has been developed and now it counts as a dormitory for nearby Norwich. It has a pub-the Longe Arms-dating from before the war. The arms on the signboard however are not those of the Longes; presumably the family objected to the use their insignia for such a purpose. The pub was only built in the 1930s after the grip of the Longe family was loosened to some extent. Spixworth also has a school and a Post Office, a branch of Coltishall Surgery and a Village Hall. It has no library.
The church is an unusual shape with its entrance a small door in the west end of the south aisle, and it has a narrow tower on the south west corner. The incumbents are listed in the church from 1285, and two members of the Longe family were rectors for over 50 years in the eighteenth century. (The Longe family owned the village.) There is a Georgian Royal Arms painted in the west end, and a Victorian list of the 10 commandments in wooden frames. There is a fine stone tomb of William Peck who died in 1634; he bought the manor of Spixworth in 1612 and built the hall. It has a long Latin inscription which demonstrates that for all its grandeur the monument was not aimed at the ordinary people of Spixworth. It begins like this (I translate loosely): “TURN YOUR EYES HITHER, O TRAVELLER; William Peck lies interred within this marble tomb which you regard so attentively. He was a pious man and a generous benefactor to the poor…” He had four sons and four daughters, and his widow was named Alice.
The Rectory was built in 1705 by the Revd John Hoadly and enlarged in 1756 by the Revd John Longe. Hoadly was rector for less than two years. No sooner had he finished the rectory than he was off on his travels, first to Salisbury, and in 1730 he was appointed Bishop of Armagh in Ireland. The Revd John Hoadly was Archbishop of Dublin from 1742 until his death in 1746. He had been born in Tottenham (now part of Greater London, but in the 17th century an outlying village of Middlesex). He had come to Norwich as second master of Norwich Grammar School in the cathedral close, a job he held in conjunction with his appointment in Spixworth; his father was headmaster of the school. The Rectory was replaced by a smaller building, on the site of its former stable block, in 1985.
The racy tale The history Pudica, a Lady of Norfolk (published in 1754), has a section in which the hero (Dick Merryfellow) stays at Spixworth Hall. It was owned by Frank Longe at the time, although so many Longes were called Frank (written more formally as Francis) this information is not of very great value. In fact this was the Lord of the Manor who was born in 1726. He had inherited the title in 1735 at the age of nine. Frank Longe was called Frank Spixworth by Richard Gardiner, the author; a very transparent version of his name which was not intended to fool anybody. His wife Tabitha (née Howes) was, in Gardiner’s opinion, “one of the greatest Beauties of the Age, (but Beauty was the least Accomplishment of that Lady).” Richard Gardiner and Frank Longe had been contemporaries at Cambridge and had been great friends ever since. Frank’s only fault (in the author’s opinion) was a dislike of puns, which were normally forever on Gardiner’s lips.
There is a memorial to two men of the parish who were killed in the First World War, one a member the Norfolk Regiment and one who had served in the Coldstream Guards. There is also a memorial to the three who died in the Second World War; this was not because it was a more bloody conflict, but because by then the size of the village had increased considerably.
Because the Longe family were so dominant from the time they bought the manor in 1693, most of the history of the village is the history of the family. Anybody (and there may be someone) who wishes to learn a bit more about the history of Spixworth and especially the Longe family should turn to my book, Spixworth; History and Landscape in a Norfolk Village. In case you are wondering, most of the material contained in this blog is information I have acquired since the book’s publication in 1998.
Over 100 years old, the village letter box still works well; the only thing that makes it seem its age is the rather small slot – fine for postcards, but not much else! Now there is a surcharge on larger items such small postal openings might have a resurgence. With the privatisation of the Post Office and the growth of email, how much longer will such letter boxes remain? This one is in a wall of Grange Farm, the part of Spixworth near the church, that has the oldest buildings in the village. In so far as the old village had a heart it was here around the church.
Apparently the undoing of the Longe family arose from Francis Bacon Longe, who had been the Edwardian Surveyor General of India from 1904 until 1911. He married a divorced woman in London in 1905. The were two male children of her first marriage. This not only produced a scandal at the time, it had consequences for Spixworth Hall. He had already dispersed the contents of the hall in a auction sale on inheriting it in 1911 as had no intention of living in at Spixworth upon his return to England. On his death in 1922 he left no children of his own, and a large part of his inheritance went to his widow. She in turn left the money to the children of her first marriage upon her death in 1951. This impoverished the Longes, who kept the hall but had much difficulty maintaining it.
The last of the Longes to be Lord of the Manor of Spixworth was the Revd John Longe, Francis Bacon Long’s brother. He was Rector of Yelverton to the south of Norwich, and although he was left the house, death duties and the loss of much capital to his brother’s widow meant he had difficulty keeping up repairs to a large old property. It was let to the Gurneys who moved there from Earlham House. Reginald Gurney died in 1931, and his widow Maud moved out in 1936. The Revd John Longe died in 1939 at the age of 80 and has a tablet in Spixworth church. Incidentally he christened my sister Christine in 1936. She was born in the village of Alpington which has no church, and it was joined with Yelverton parish.
After they had sold Spixworth Hall and left the village the Longe family maintained a prominent position in Norwich life. A descendant, Desmond Longe, was President of the Norwich Union Group in the 1970s and Chairman by 1980. At the time it was still a independent mutual company as it had been since its foundation in the early years of the nineteenth century, not the Aviva it has since become. It fell victim to the demutualisation craze of twenty years ago.
There was even an attempt to de-mutualise the Co-op. In view of their recent problems it may have been the best thing for the organisation. However the set-up of Norwich Union was nothing like the Co-op, and I remain to be convinced that the change to Aviva has benefited anyone except the shareholders.