BEESTON-NEXT-MILEHAM is a small village in the heart of the county. It is called Beeston-next-Milehan to distinguish it from two other Beestons in Norfolk; Beeston St Andrew just north of Norwich and Beeston Regis next to Sheringham. Somehow it still hangs on to its pub, the Ploughshare. This has been on the site since at least 1575, although it has had some years of closure in recent times. Beeston also retains its church, a post office and shop and a Primary School, but it seems a forgotten corner of Norfolk nonetheless. Yet for its very moderate size it has produced some well-known characters. The most famous must be Jem Mace the prize-fighter. He became the first world champion boxer by beating Tom Allen in America in 1870. He was born in Beeston in 1831. On a more local level the journalist and humourist Keith Skipper also comes from Beeston. He was born there in 1944, one of ten children, to a father who worked on a local farm.
I wonder if it was Church Farm? My great-grandfather Henry Rivett was the farmer there in the last quarter of the 19th century. His son Ray inherited the farm and did not die until 1950. Two of his other sons were also farmers in Beeston. Henry was born in Shipdham, a much larger village between Dereham and Watton. As a young man Henry moved a few miles away to Beeston where he was boarding with farmer and cattle dealer Arthur Claxton while he continued to learn the trade. At the time of the 1871 census Claxton was a 43-year-old widower with a young son, living in the Street in the village. He farmed 100 acres employing 4 men and 2 boys. Henry moved into his own place, Church Farm, in about 1875 when he married Rebecca Alston. They were certainly living there in 1881 when he had 70 acres and employed 2 men. (When his father, also called Henry, began farming in the middle years of the century he had only five acres and employed no one.)
Henry and Rebecca’s eldest son Albert Harry had been born in Beeston in 1876; Rebecca Alston herself had been born in New Bradenham near Shipdaham, where her father had been a farmer and pig dealer. Henry Rivett’s grandfather had also been pig dealer in Southburgh a few miles away. Was this how the young lovers met – through pigs?
When one of Henry’s sons, my grandfather Charles Rivett was married he settled in Cawston, a village halfway between Norwich and Holt. He had already left Beeston and was learning the draper’s trade in Yarmouth, which is where he met Constance Rutter his future wife. He had been given the choice by his father of going into farming or drapery. His brothers Albert Harry and Ray chose farming and were helping their father at Beeston, but Charles and Reggie chose drapery. Grandfather Charles died before I was born but he used to tell my two sisters stories beginning “When I was lad in Beeston…” One story involved catching eels in a pond and putting them in a watering can for safe keeping – only it wasn’t safe; they crawled up the spout and were off! My Grandfather’s business at Cawston was much more than a draper’s shop, being a post office and general stores as well. Although Cawston was some miles away from Beeston it was fairly easy to reach by train. The nearest station to Beeston was Great Fransham, just a couple of miles away. Half a century later Keith Skipper would cycle to catch the train to Swaffham, where he attended Hammond’s Grammar School. The journey by train to Swaffham only took a quarter of an hour.
To reach Cawston you went in the other direction to Dereham. From there it was only a few stops along the line to County School station and just beyond that the Aylsham Branch diverged from the Fakenham line taking you directly through Foulsham and Reepham to Cawston. In 1922 you could get on the train at Fransham at 8.04 and with just one change at Dereham arrive at Cawston at 9.08. This was all on Great Eastern metals. Aunt Maud was an unmarried daughter of Henry and Rebecca Rivett and in 1910 visited her brother Charles Rivett from Beeston; I know because I have a photograph of her on a shooting party at Cawston. I dare say she made the journey many times. Maud moved to Norwich with her mother after she was widowed and they lived in a house in West Parade. The two ladies are mentioned in Sheila Upjohn’s book When I was your age. Dear Aunt Maud was a lovely person, and I remember her when she was living in a very small bed sitting room in Earlham House in Norwich. It was quite a come down from having tea on the lawn at Beeston with a footman in attendance, or even from living in a large and elegant house in West Parade, but Maud was never the slightest bit bitter about the way her life had turned out. Charles’s younger brother Reggie moved to High Wycombe to pursue his career in drapery. After the First World War when Charles returned from the front he was persuaded to move to Buckinghamshire as well. The two brothers were close friends. Both Reggie and Charles eventually returned to Norfolk; my grandfather Charles to Kings Lynn where he established a successful draper’s shop, and his brother Reggie (who had retired from a similarly successful business in Buckinghamshire) to a medieval hall at Brisley, not many miles from Beeston. It was a very different type of accommodation to that of his sister Maud.
Of the other children born in Beeston – my great aunts and uncles – Albert Harry the oldest had inherited the farm at Beeston. His second son took a farm at Hethersett and his daughter attended Norwich High School where she was a year or two older than my sisters who were also pupils there. Frederick came next and was a farmer in Water End Lane in Beeston, and he was married with two young daughters in 1911. Albert Harry and Frederick both married daughters of Joseph Middleton, a farmer of the next village to Beeston, Litcham. Another farming brother Ray died in an accident at a notorious cross roads in North Norfolk 1950; he was married to Gertie but childless, and was living in Beeston at the time of his death. This was Beeston Regis however, not the Beeston he was born in. My sister went to Aunt Gertie’s funeral in 1951.
I met Henry’s daughter Hilda and her husband Ralph Wace in January 1981, and this is the account I wrote at the time; Then to Field Dalling to see Aunt Hilda. She connected me immediately with the picture Maud used to have. She is much like Maud and very bright and charming. Ralph too is very spry for 86 (Hilda is 89) – still drives his car and prunes his apples. He gave us some which we later had baked. We swopped family news for about an hour and met their son Richard Wace as we were leaving. Ralph Wace had spent his working life as a farmer in Norfolk and he and Hilda were living in retirement in a bungalow in Field Dalling .
Mabel Rivett married Edward Crane, a timber merchant of East Dereham. His father William Crane it was who founded the company of trailer makers, latterly known as Crane Fruehauf. This was originally known as W. Crane trailers. The story goes that the timber firm was so inundated with timber following a tremendous gale that they turned to making wagons as a way of using the wood! Perhaps it was the great gale of February 1908. They prospered greatly after the First World War as the growth of motor transport produced a huge need for road trailers. The company used to have factories at Dereham and North Walsham, but these closed over 10 years ago and now Fruehauf trailers is based at Grantham in Lincolnshire. Their spinster daughter, Aunt Winnie (Winifred Crane, 1901-1989) lived at Drayton near Norwich. She exercised her little terriers in Ghost Hill wood in nearby Taverham. She died a year before I moved to Taverham. My sister Tiggie and I visited her in her superior white-painted bungalow about ten years before she died.
Florence Rivett spent her latter days living in Earlham House as did Maud, but Florence lived in a more spacious apartment. I remember calling on her once. I can’t find out very little about her, and I am even uncertain whether she was married. I think she had been, but I do not know her married name.
The youngest daughter Olive (b. 1896 when her mother was 44) moved away from Norfolk on her marriage to a Londoner (Ronald Burr) and they ended their days in Canterbury. They lost touch with the rest of the family and I only recently learned of their existence by trawling through the records online. Olive Burr lived to be almost 100 and died in 1993. She was the last of the original Rivett family of Beeston.
CLICK HERE to see a picture of Church Farm, Beeston.