Dereham, East (St. Nicholas)

DEREHAM, EAST (St. Nicholas), a market-town and parish, in the union of Mitford and Launditch, hundred of Mitford, W. division of Norfolk, 16 miles (W. N. W.) from Norwich, and 101 (N. E. by N.) from London; containing, with the hamlet of Dillington, 3834 inhabitants. This place, formerly called Deerham, from the number of deer by which it was frequented, and distinguished by its adjunct from a village of the same name, is of very remote antiquity. During the heptarchy, Withburga, youngest daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles, founded a monastery here, of which she became prioress, and which was subject to the abbey founded by Ethelfreda, another daughter of King Anna, in the Isle of Ely. Withburga was buried in the churchyard, and in 798 her remains were removed into the conventual church, whence, after the destruction of the monastery by the Danes, they were in 974 translated to Ely, where they were enshrined with those of her sisters, in the cathedral of that city. A spring here, to which miraculous cures were attributed, is said to rise in that part of the churchyard where she was first interred; in 1752 it was converted into a bath, and in 1793 inclosed in a brick building by subscription. The town suffered severely from fire in 1581, and in 1679 the greater part of it was by a similar calamity reduced to ashes.

It is pleasantly situated, nearly in the centre of the county, and though formerly the meanest town in Norfolk, has within the last century been so materially improved, by widening and levelling the streets, as to be now a handsome town. The houses are in general neatly built, and of modern appearance, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with excellent water; the town is lighted with gas, for which purpose works were constructed in 1836. The theatre, a small building of brick, is opened every alternate year by a regular company of performers: a book club, under good regulations, is patronized by the respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood; and on the site of the ancient market-cross a handsome assembly-room has been erected by subscription. The former trade in worsted is now discontinued: two ironfoundries and two breweries are carried on in the town, and a large brewery and malting establishment at South Green. There is a railway to the Wymondham station of the Norfolk railway; also a line to Lynn; and in 1846 an act was passed for making a line from Dereham to Fakenham and Wells, 22½ miles in length. The market is on Friday, for corn, general provisions, cattle, and pigs, for which last and for corn East Dereham is the most considerable mart in the county: the fairs are on the Thursday and Friday before Old Midsummer-day, and on the Thursday and Friday before Old Michaelmasday, for cattle, sheep, and toys. The county magistrates for the division hold petty-sessions every alternate week. The powers of the county debt-court of East Dereham, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Mitford and Launditch.

The parish comprises 5222a. 3r. 21p., of which 3544 acres are arable, 625 meadow and pasture, 190 woodland, and 150 common, the last being appropriated for fuel, &c.; in the immediate vicinity of the town are various orchards and gardens. The land is rich, and the surface interspersed with several picturesque hamlets, and handsome mansions. The living is a rectory and a vicarage, the latter with the living of Hoe annexed: the rectory is a sinecure, valued in the king's books at £41. 3. 1½., and held on lease from the crown; and the vicarage is valued at £17. 3. 4., and in the patronage of the Rector. The vicarial tithes have been commuted for £413. 6. 8., and the rectorial for £826. 13. 4.; the vicar's glebe consists of 43½ acres, with a good house, and the rectorial of 2¼ acres, with a rectorial manor. The church, formerly the church of the monastery of St. Withburga, and made parochial in 798, is a spacious cruciform structure, partly in the Norman and partly in the English style, with a tower rising from the intersection, and open for a considerable height to the interior of the church. Connected with the transepts are the chapels of the Holy Cross (over which was the treasury of St. Withburga), St. Mary, and St. Edmund, and on the south side of the chancel are three stone stalls, with a double piscina of elegant design; the font, supported on an octangular pedestal, is beautifully sculptured, and in the south transept is an antique oak chest, richly carved, taken from Buckenham Castle. Among the monuments is a white marble tablet to the memory of Cowper, the poet, who resided in this place for the last nine years of his life, and was interred in the north transept of the church; in the same tomb are deposited the remains of his friends, Mrs. Unwin and Miss Perowne. The bells, which from their weight were supposed to endanger the tower of the church, were removed into a massive tower, built for their reception in the reign of Henry VII., on a site detached from the rest of the building. There are places of worship for Particular Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyans. Schools are supported for the poor; and several charitable bequests are distributed among them, amounting to about £170 per annum; exclusively of the town lands, producing a rent of £118. 10., for general purposes; and of land, yielding £216, for the repair of the church. Bishop Bonner was rector of the parish from 1534 to 1540. Lady Fenn, well known, under the name of Mrs. Lovechild, &c, as the authoress of various works for children, died here in 1813.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.