By the mid 1800’s, the Harrison family of Palgrave, near Diss, owned over 650 acres of local farmland (a small portion being in Ashwellthorpe). Some of this land had been acquired in the sale of Wreningham Commons during the late 1700s. All of it was tenanted and comprised almost forty percent of the entire land area of Wreningham parish!
The two Harrison sisters had inherited the land from their parents. After the second sister died, in 1868, their entire Wreningham estate was auctioned – together with a further 1,000 acres situated in Suffolk.
The auction took place at the Royal Hotel, Norwich at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of 19th June 1869.
There may never have been a Wreningham village auction on anything like this scale before or since; hence we have chosen to brand it the “Great Farm Auction”.
The more recent Royal Hotel, in Norwich, opened at the north end of Prince of Wales Road in 1897; it closed in 1977. This very large building still exists but is now used as a business centre. It had replaced an earlier “Royal Hotel” – which was an old coaching inn, standing on Gentleman’s Walk overlooking Norwich’s marketplace. NB It was necessary to obtain royal approval before incorporating “Royal” in the naming of premises and Queen Victoria gave permision for the naming of the new hotel.
The earlier “hotel” was one of a number of old inns which had originally been built to provide lodgings in central Norwich for travellers – typically arriving in stagecoaches. Stagecoaches gave way to rail travel and, after the old Royal coaching inn was demolished, the Royal Arcade was constructed in its place.” Presumably, the queen approved this naming, too?
Our farms auction, being held in 1869, must have taken place at the original “coaching inn” premises.
Both the London to Norwich and Cambridge to Norwich railway lines had opened in the 1840s so holding a single auction for the combined Wreningham and Palgrave farms in Norwich would have been convenient for those who wanted to travel by train.
The Wreningham sale of the Harrison Estate, in its four lots, raised nearly £25,000 – including about £450 for the “timber”. Three of the lots were already self-contained farms – each already with a different tenant, so breaking the estate into separate ownerships was perfectly straightforward.
Lot 1 (today’s “Fir Grove”) comprised nearly 180 acres and its own farmhouse. The new owner was a Mr Cooper. The tenant, for now, continued to be James Rolfe.
The new owner of Lot 2 (High Common Farm – also once known as “Drings Farm”): about 240 acres with its farmhouse and two cottages, was a Mr Foster – Mr Thomas Allen Rushbrooke continuing as tenant.
The new owner of Lot 3, the property we now call “The Poplars” – or “Poplar Farm” was Sir Henry Thomas Tyrwhitt. He was the husband of Emma Harriett who was to become the 12th Baroness Berners, and was based between a home in Shropshire and, from time to time, at Ashwellthorpe Hall. Since the early 1800s, Lot 3, which included both a large house and a double cottage, had been known as “Burton’s Farm”, although the Burton family had only ever been tenants. Maria Burton had taken over the tenancy in 1857, following the death of her brother. John Bullimore was her farm steward/manager. However, within a year of the sale, Maria Burton had also died and the replacement tenant became Henry Bothway.
Lot 4, comprised a group of 4 meadows. This was situated on the south side of Mill Lane, in the general area of the current village hall, and was purchased by villager, Robert Day (shopkeeper – and father of Robert Dennis Day).
The breakup of the Harrison Estate probably set the scene for much of Wreningham’s farm ownership over the next 150 years. However, for the new owners, the timing of this auction might have been considered as unfortunate. In the early 1870s, cheap agricultural imports had starting arriving from the USA – and in quantity, too. Local farm produce prices – and land prices, slumped. In due course, this caused a very specific problem for the new owners of Fir Grove.