KIRSTEAD is a small village in South Norfolk. Its name means the settlement with a church (kirk stead) so there must have been a church there from the earliest times. Its population has remained fairly constant since records were begun with the 1801 census, when there were 168 people living there. This had increased to 230 by 1821 and in 2001 there were 249. This is not its most populous however; in 1851 it reached its apogee of 259 souls.
Kistead was on the route of the 11B bus to Bungay when I travelled the B1332 road daily on the way to school. Only in those days it was designated an A road. This was an Eastern Counties bus, painted red and always a double decker. (The Cullings buses that travelled the back roads were mainly single deckers painted yellow and grey.) It could be quite draughty because the platform at the back was open to the elements, and in winter this could make you journey a cold one.
The bus stop in Kirstead was outside the Green Man pub, but there wasn’t often anyone to stop for. When you wanted to get off the bus you had to get up and let the conductor ring the bell; ringing it yourself was frowned upon. I suppose the conductor needed something to do, but of course once conductors had disappeared (which happened in less than a dozen years of the time of which I write) you had to ring it yourself.
Since the early 70s the houses in the village have been by-passed and you can drive past it without even knowing it exists. It was in many ways a livelier place half a century ago when I was a lad. It was certainly somewhere that grand things happened 200 years ago, as we are about to hear. This part of the village is called Kirstead Green, where on Saturday the 18th of July 1807 a prize fight was held between two local men. It was undoubtedly fought outside the Green Man which would have done good business from the crowd; and what a crowd there was. It even reached the pages of the Norfolk Gazette, the local newspaper. The reward was of £40, and this enormous sum of money was not easily won. The contest went to 85 rounds over two hours. It was between William Underwood of Seething and John Chase of Brooke, villages on either side of Kirstead. Underwood was the victor.
The Green Man was still a pub in the 1950s and a little further along the road on the other side was a garage which sold REGENT petrol. I remember stopping there once for petrol in my Dad’s Singer and getting a pencil with Regent written on it in red white and blue. Shortly afterward in 1956 British firm Regent was taken over by an American oil giant (Texaco) which in those days caused a minor outbreak of patriotic rage. We liked our independence in those days. BP was of course the largest British petrol company, but in those days it was linked up with the Dutch company Shell-Mex. National Benzole was proudly independent and the nation in the title was of course the UK. Benzole was particularly patriotic choice of fuel because the coal shale which was used to produce it was mined here in Britain.
Past the Regent garage the next road to the left is the Seething Road. The end block of cottages next to the main road was where my wife’s granddad Robert and his wife Auntie Bessie moved in about 1959. The cottages were very small and made of wattle and daub, and once done up as a single cottage it was still not large. Robert Fitt had married Bessie, his late wife Alice’s sister, some years after his first wife had died in 1936. The family moved to Norwich about the time war broke out. Robert who had been a policeman in Wells worked as a builder after he had retired from the force. Aunt Bessie moved to Kirstead and lived there until she moved into sheltered housing in Churchill Place in Brooke. Doris (née Fitt) was Robert’s youngest daughter and Doris Turner (as she became on marriage) and her husband Albert were my parents-in-law. They did a lot of work for Aunt Bessie on the house in Kirstead. The whole Turner family including their daughter Molly (now my wife) would cycle over there from their home in Norwich frequently. They would have passed my home in Poringland on the way, but that was long before I knew Molly. She remembers the banks of primroses along the ditches in Seething Lane; they are still there. Kirstead is only a couple of miles from Bedingham where Aunt Bessie was born as reported in my post of 25 May 2012, so she was going back to her roots. Auntie Bessie was one of ten children, and the family name was Jarvis. Her granddad William Jarvis was born in Southwold.
The Green Man (built 1716) stood with its three Dutch gables facing the road. It drew its last pint in 1964. Until 1956 it had been a Youngs Crawshay and Youngs pub, and for the last eight years of selling ale it was a Bullards house. Opposite the Green Man was the farmhouse where my mother’s friend Lorna lived, when she was first married. They kept dairy cows on the farm in Kirstead Green and I remember visiting several times. After a few years the by-pass was built right through the middle of the farm, With the compensation Lorna and her husband were able to buy a larger farm in Shipmeadow across the border into Suffolk.
Kirstead church is a couple of miles or so out of the village and is much closer to Brooke than to Kirstead Green, where most of the inhabitants now live. St Margaret’s church was restored and largely rebuilt in 1864. There is a painting by John Crome of the church as it used to be with a thatched roof and wooden bellcote. This is kept in Norwich Castle Museum but is not on display. although the image is available on the internet. Auntie Bessie and her husband Robert Fitt are buried somewhere in the churchyard, but it is slightly overgrown. When my wife and I called in there in the summer of 2012 we could not find their grave. This wilderness makes it fine place for the study of natural history, but it is not so good for family historians searching for signs of relatives.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA