It’s not clear when the Bird in Hand public house was constructed or even 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 would have been constructed in the six or seven years between the two dates. Regarding Landlords, some of the records are a bit fuzzy. Perhaps the following listing is as good as it’s going to get?
|1794||Robert Thurston||1927 to 1957||Simeon Howlett|
|1829||Levi Scott||1957 to 1983||May Howlett|
|1836||Thomas Mann||1983 to 1984||Jackie Noy|
|1838 to 1852||James Curtis||1989 to 2005||Carol & John Turner|
|1852 to 188?||Alfred Claxton||2005 to 2008||etc|
|1888 to 1908||John Aves||2008 to 2019||etc|
|1911 to 1922||Alice & Samuel Folkes||2019 to current||etc|
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 and a “gig” house; two front sitting rooms and 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 – which appears to be the current-day “Highfield” cottage, then being 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 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. 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 business and who eventually inherited this “other” trade.
The Howletts – Simeon and his wife, May, between them enjoyed the longest period in charge. Simeon got under way in 1927 but died in 1957. May took over and kept the pub until her 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 a modern block now stands.
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 matches never returned, steady investment has resulted in the much enlarged Bird in Hand we know today, complete with its restaurant and the more recent addition of guest accommodation.
Prior to the construction of eight accommodation units at the Bird in Hand, several years ago, 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 longer than most people had expected.
The present-day National Heritage List for England includes the Bird in Hand