58 Damgate Street in Wymondham, is a house in one of the main streets of the market town in Norfolk. Although a main street, it was never especially busy with traffic, but things may have changed since.
We moved in, in November 1978, just one family in a long line of residents. First records of its existence appear in the1700’s, when it was built as a weavers factory. It then went on to be a butchers shop, and photographers studio, before becoming a private residence.
It was completely unlike any house our family had lived in before, which had been RAF housing, newly built homes, or early to mid 20th century houses. This was a sprawling house, obviously old, with the living quarters upstairs.
My parents had chosen it, almost as a last resort, whilst house hunting from Shropshire. Dad was in the RAF, and was being posted to Swanton Morley. He was looking towards his retirement from the RAF in 1981 and the property search circle was getting wider and wider as property was in short supply.
They took with them a list of requirements provided by all members of the family, for a ‘forever’ family home. None of us really expected they would find a place with all our requests and my parents probably had times when they doubted they would find anything at all.
We needed 4 bedrooms, and would have liked a large garden, walking distance to shops and schools, old, with character and history, Paul (tongue in cheek), requested a river as he was a keen fisherman.
(Amazing coincidence – when my parents had decided on 58 Damgate Street in Wymondham, Mum went to the library in Shawbury, Shropshire, to find out more about the area. She got chatting to the librarian, who said her aunt and uncle had lived in Wymondham, and she had occasionally visited them. On further discussion, it turned out, that they had lived in the same house that my parents were buying).
Taken from my school project 1980We moved into our house in November 1978 and the more we looked around, the more interesting it seemed. For example we discovered a cellar filled with rubble and an old half spiral staircase underneath the stairs we have now, and a large fireplace behind some wallboards. In the garden we dug up about twenty or thirty old bottles. we are not exactly sure when the house was built, but probably around 1700. On the wall we have the original Indenture dated 1878 which describes the surrounding land and tells who owned it.
The front door of the house opened straight on to the street, with a large plate glass window on each side. The door had a very small covered porch between the two windows. There were 3 small cottages along the street above us, with a rough driveway off the road and around the back of the cottages. This provided parking for the cottages and access to our carport/garage and pedestrian gate. Beyond the driveway was a garden that backed on to the Abbey meadow used by the cottages. The cottages had been built to house the weavers working in the factory, and my guess would be that they and the land behind them, all belonged to our property at one time.
Taken from my school project 1980The house is in a terraced row of houses near the bottom of Damgate Street in Wymondham. It is about the largest in the row. The houses above us are small cottages with one or two rooms. The houses below are slightly bigger and go down to the river. Across the road are some derelict cottages which have been bought and should be renovated soon. We have about a quarter of an acre. It is in an ‘L’ shape the long side borders onto the Abbey meadow, which gives a beautiful view from the kitchen window, and it goes down to the river. It seems a completely different place in the back garden, than it does in the front
Behind our house was an L shaped garden of a third of an acre. The short part of the L behind the house, was mainly paved, and is where the factory had stood. There was a brick shed, which would have been at the end of the original building. When we arrived, there was a lovely goldfish pond built into the paving, it was a great place to sunbathe too.
Behind the shed was a Bramley apple tree, and in the corner a 6′ square brick structure in decay, which had been the smokehouse when it was a butchers shop.
The long side of the L stretched down the back of the cottages on the other side of the house, to the river and backed on to the Abbey meadow. As described in the name it was a meadow, and wet! In the bottommost corner where our garden joined it, was a mud bath where the occasional grazing cows made their way down to the river to drink. Our garden when we arrived, was little better than the meadow.
Over the next two years, my parents set about the mammoth task of remedying this, so that the land could be used for growing fruit and vegetables. They dug a series of drainage trenches down the length of the garden, with inter connecting cross channels. At times the garden looked like the Somme. I don’t think anybody would believe just what they achieved. In places the trenches were two or three feet deep, with a steady decline down to the river, and all dug by hand. Mum’s back has never been the same since. Then gravel was placed in the bottom, and pipes laid. It was successful and a productive garden was created.
And so inside. When we first arrived, we had no idea what to expect, and could not have expected what we found!
Through the front door and into what had been a double fronted shop front. To the left it became Paul’s bedroom, for years cordoned off by a set of orange curtains, until Dad built a retaining wall and doorway. The area on the right was left open for most of the time, but eventually another retaining wall and door way built. This created a room on either side.
Taken from my school project 1980As the House is Now
On the ground floor, there are six rooms and a hall.
This is a fairly small room, and part of the original house. Around the walls are bright red wall boards, which makes it look a bit of a mess. Behind them is a large inglenook fireplace with a cupboard on either side. These boards will be taken down and the fireplace made into a feature. The front door opens into this room and it will be made into an entrance hall.
This is separated from the entrance room by curtains, eventually a dividing wall will be built. There are also wall boards in this room, but they are neater. It makes quite a nice bedroom, but it faces straight onto the street.
This is on the same side of the house as Bedroom 1, we do not think this is part of the original house, but it must be at least a hundred years old. This will be made into another bedroom but at the moment it is a mess, as the window is boarded up and all the wallpaper is peeling off.
This is across the corridor from the spare room. It is very large and in quite good condition. The boiler is in here and it can get quite hot.
Behind the right hand front room was the staircase to the first floor. Continuing through the house the central passageway had a room on either side, on the left was a room that needed renovation and had been the photographic darkroom of the previous owner. Eventually, this would become my bedroom. On the right handside another long room, which had been part of the weavers factory, so had thick walls and step down into the room. It had no window and was to be my bedroom, before my room on the other side of the corridor was renovated. One summer evening, it was very warm and I had to leave my door open for ventilation. The next morning, I was covered in Mosquito bites, but we could not find the source of the invaders and that only become obvious later in the rebuild. The corridor led into a lean-to conservatory with a downstairs wc to the left. The conservatory door opened on to the patio.
Taken from my school project 1980Sunlounge and Downstairs Toilet
This is at the end of the corridor, it is also in fairly good condition, in the sun lounge one whole wall is glass. When the sun shines, it gets very warm, although during the winter it gets cold. The downstairs toilet is about one and a half metres square and acts as a utility room as well. It usually gets very cold, as it is not insulated.
Upstairs the staircase was open plan into the lounge. From the lounge, a door led into Mum and Dad’s room. Another door led into an inner hallway, with Elizabeth’s bedroom off here to the left, and the bathroom off to the right. Then through to the kitchen diner, which was built over the car port, and in the remainder of the weavers factory. It had a fantastic view across to Wymondham Abbey.
When we arrived and before renovation started, none of the upstairs floors were level. Beds were wedged up at one end and settees and chairs were always on the wonk. The first major refit was the kitchen during the severe winter of 1979. The floor boards were lifted for levelling which meant that we had a hole through into the carport and the outside world. Needless to say, many layers of clothing were worn to keep out the frost! It was never a warm room even when completed, but it was only a kitchen diner which was warmed by the cooking and the views from the windows made up for it.
Taken from my school project 1980Upstairs
There are five rooms upstairs and the stairs are between the entrance room and bedroom two. By the side of the stairs is a ten inch piece of hardboard. We lifted this up one day, and found a half spiral staircase, old pantiles on the floor and another door into bedroom two.
This is open to the stairwell and is part of the original house. It is about 5 metres square and has a large fire place which has been boarded up. The window is small and because of this, the room tends to be quite dark.
This leads straight from the lounge and was part of the original house. It is one of the smallest rooms in the house. The floor is fairly uneven and the roof is quite low. In all of the original rooms and bedroom two, there are black beams which give the house character. The opening to the loft is also in bedroom three.
There is a small passage leading from the lounge. It goes up a step and if you go straight ahead you find bedroom four. This seems a quite modern room, because the walls are thin, but I don’t think it is. It was probably built at the same time as the spare room. It is a very light room but doesn’t have much architectural interest. When you come out you turn left and straight ahead to the bathroom.
This is a fairly old room, but it has not always been a bathroom. The bath, basin and toilet are modern. Just outside the bathroom are two doors. The one on the left is the airing cupboard and the one on the right is the kitchen.
When we moved in, this room was very scruffy, although it was habitable, the working surfaces and cupboards were badly made. This has now been modernised, and is about the biggest and best room in the house. First the floor was taken up, the beams treated against woodworm then the floor was straightened. New units were put the walls were tiled or wallpapered.
As spring arrived, the garden area took priority. Dad was still in the RAF and did not have a lot of spare time, so the light nights were spent on repairs and renovations outside. It seems that we were sitting on the edge of the water table for the abbey meadow and the ground in the lower garden was permanently waterlogged. As stated earlier, it was obvious that nothing would grew there without drastic action to drain it. So the plan was hatched to drain the garden as described above. However, before that, we discovered that we had a cellar, which had been partially filled with rubble from previous renovations. A small hole in the floor with a stand pipe protruding from it looked very interesting and further investigation revealed a brick floored room about 5 feet below the ground floor. Removal of some floor boards allowed access to the area, which appeared to have been the probable cool store area for meat when the shop was a butchers. The entrance was under the hallway and a trap door and steps were made to gain proper access. This area now became extra storage area for shop stock, especially in the run up to Christmas. However, this turned out to be a bad idea, because as winter came on, the water table levels rose and the cellar flooded. This sad discovery was made one morning when the trap door was opened to reveal all shapes and sizes of Lego boxes floating around the cellar. It was obvious that spring water was coming up through the floor according to the weather conditions and it also explained where the mosquitos were breeding. So a small well and electric float pump were installed to solve the problem.
Taken from my school project 1980Cellar
This is underneath the spare room, the entrance is at the bottom of the stairs. When we first discovered it through a four inch square gap in the floor it was full of rubble. The original entrance had been blocked up, so that had to be excavated. It tends to get very wet as it is below the water level. There was an old hand pump, but that was replaced by an electric one. The walls have been painted and shelves put down, to store jams etc. Beneath the fire place in the spare bedroom, is a large stone arch, it is quite fancy, and we do not know what it was used for. On each side, built into the wall are shelves. The cellar must also be old, and may have been used as a ‘damp course’
So the underground was sorted and the room above the cellar could be converted into my bedroom after the chimney had been sealed.
Taken from my school project 1980Before 1878 we are not sure of the history but since then records have been kept. The next section, includes the history since 1878.
John Henry Hall
In 1878 the house was bought by a butcher John Henry Hall. Before that it was owned by Samuel and William Clarke, but we nothing of these two. The house was in Mr. Hall’s family until 1947.
He had the front two rooms as the shop and kept animals in the garden (he used to slaughter them himself, in what is now our garage). It was a pork butchers and at the bottom of the garden is a small room where the pigs were ‘cured’.
On the cellar floor are blood stains and animals were probably kept down there.
1907; Mr Hall died leaving the property to his wife. His grandson and granddaughter, both had shares in it. A bit later, the grandson sold his shares to the sister. She got married to a Mr Sheldrake and they lived here until 1947.
Mrs Sheldrake is still alive and a couple of months ago, my mother invited her to come and see the house. She told us that the downstairs toilet used to be the kitchen. The sun lounge was just a shelter and had only three walls. Quite a few of the rooms were at one time or another a small lounge.
The lounge had been smaller and part of it had been a landing. The other upstairs rooms had all been bedrooms. She told us, when she was having her daughter, the midwife came to stay for a few days. She would not have her sleeping in her room, so she put her in what is now our bathroom, and the people next door could hear her snoring.
She sold the house to a Norwich Butcher who must have gone bankrupt because after four years it was owned by the mortgage company.
In about 1958 the house was bought by a man called Mr Ellis, we think he opened it as a bookshop because when the kitchen floor was taken up his advertising card was found. He didn’t seem to do much with the house, and the garden was described as a bit of a jungle. He lived in the house for fifteen years, and now runs a bookstall at Norwich Market.
Mr Davidson and his wife moved in about 1973. They have done about the most to the house. It was originally built as a weavers factory. He pulled down most of it. Although it was actually listed, but an eyesore according to the neighbours. He probably remodernised alot of it. In the garden he built two goldfish ponds.
He opened the shop as a photographers and the spare room was his dark room. The entrance room was his show piece and he put the red wall boards up. Apparently the lounge which was already dark, had been painted dark green, and the spiral staircase covered and a straight one installed. He also blocked up the cellar.
In 1976 Mr Dixon and his wife bought the house. When they moved in, they made the house into living accommodation only. They probably regretted this as they later wanted to open an antique shop and were refused permission. Mr Dixon installed gas fired central heating and decorated the upstairs main living area. He did lot to the garden and blocked up the goldfish ponds. He cultivated most of the garden and made the shrubbery. He lived here for two years and now xxxxxxxxxxxx
We are not sure when the house was built, but probably around 1700. Originally much smaller and built as a weavers factory.
It was definitely built after 1611, because in that year, there was a great fire ( started by some gypsies), and most of the wooden houses were burnt.
The Abbey of Wymondham was built in 1107 and one of the walls in our garden is part of the original Abbey boundary wall. Although now the boundary has been moved back.
By 1700 the weaving trade was beginning to die out. In this part of the country weaving was very widespread. Probably alot of the owners of small cottages around our house worked in the factory.
Whether or not the house was a weavers factory when John Henry Hall bought it, we do not know, but probably not.
We now think the house may not have been built as a weavers factory, as that part of the house does not seem the same as the rest. The outside walls of the original part are very thick. Perhaps three or four bricks thick but the walls of the weavers factory part are not. The size of brick it was built of is also different. Also a back door was found along the wall where the factory starts.
Although before I moved into this house, I was interested in old houses and the old way of life, since I have moved in, I have been able to find more out about them. The way houses were built, the history of our house and surrounding area and of Wymondham. In the future I hope to be able to find more out especially when further renovation is done to the house.
Angela Sanderson 1980.
Researching the history of 58 Damgate Street, was our first foray into historical research. Cynthia paid several visits to Norfolk Records Office in Norwich, taking me with her on a number of occasions. With a group of likeminded people, she set the balls in motion, to found a museum to research and record the fascinating heritage of Wymondham. This became the Wymondham Heritage Museum, located at the Bridewell in the town.
Angela Weatherill, additions and corrections, David and Cynthia Sanderson 2021