Bird in Hand

It’s not clear precisely when the Bird in Hand public house was constructed or even when it started in business. The 1787 map of Church Farm, which surrounds the location, shows an empty field where the pub now stands. Robert Thurston, the first landlord we know about, was understood to be in post in 1794. If both of those records are accurate, the Bird in Hand must have been constructed between those two dates.

Regarding the complete sequence of landlords, some of the records are a bit fuzzy. Perhaps the following listing is as good as it’s going to get:

In 1824, the Bird in Hand was one of about 30 public houses owned by the Cann & Clarke brewery in Wymondham.  However, in 1862, Cann & Clarke put the Bird in Hand up for sale.

The auction particulars list: ‘Stabling for 8 horses, a Gig-house, Hay-loft, Pigeries, Yard & Pump and a well-planted Garden’.

There were also: ‘two front sitting rooms, a large Club Room, Bar, Back Kitchen, Pantry, large Cellar and Five Bedrooms’. The documents stated that ‘an excellent trade in beer and spirits, is now and has been for many years carried on’.

The 1862 sale included a double cottage. This appears to be the current day ‘Highfield’ cottage, further along Church Road, then occupied by John Copeman and Jeremiah Tompson.

In due course, the Bird in Hand came under the Steward & Patteson brewery, in Norwich. 

One landlord (1888-1908), John Aves (once a shepherd) had a parallel career as a sheep-dipper. This involved him touring local farms with his specialist equipment and rinsing sheep in a tank containing seriously unpleasant compounds – probably including arsenic. No reported sudden deaths (through poisoning!) have ever come to light among his public house customers so we must assume he regularly washed his hands. He was later joined by his son (also John) in the sheep-dipping trade and who eventually inherited this other business.

The Howletts – Simeon and his wife, May, between them enjoyed the longest period in charge.

Between 1912 & 1925, Simeon had been an egg dealer and also grew fruit in his extensive back garden.

Simeon became landlord in 1927 – a job he held until his death in 1957. May took over and kept the pub until her own death in 1983.

The games of Bowls and Darts had a strong village following with regular home and away matches around the area. The bowling green was at the rear of the pub where the modern kitchen and restaurant now stand.

By the 1960s, Steward & Patteson had become one of the largest non-metropolitan breweries in the country but were overcome by financial pressures and decided to partner with the Watneys brewery.  Change continued and Watneys gained complete control.  The last of the old Steward & Patteson brewing facilities, in Norwich, had been demolished by the mid-1970s.

As a result of these ownership changes, the Bird in Hard had become a Watney Mann public house.  However, the Bird in Hand was closed by Watney Mann in 1984, shortly after the death of its very long serving licensee, May Howlett.

Within five years, new independent owners – (licensees 1989 – 2005), John and Carol Turner bought the old pub and brought it back to life with expanded premises and a much wider clientele. 

Whilst the bowls and darts competitions never returned, steady investment resulted in the much enlarged Bird in Hand we know today, complete with its busy restaurant.

Prior to the recent construction of eight accommodation units, an archaeological survey was carried out to establish any evidence of earlier occupation of the site.  The survey uncovered sherds of Roman pottery dated between the 2nd to 4th century together with traces of an assumed Roman bread oven complex for “baking on a large scale”.  The site of the Bird in Hand had clearly been involved in mass catering for much longer than many would have expected.

The National Heritage List for England includes the Bird in Hand

For those seeking a first class pub and restaurant experience, the present day Bird in Hand website can be found here.

Scroll to Top