The Reverend Arthur Charles Wilson Upcher, born in 1815 at Sheringham, was installed as Rector of Wreningham and Ashwellthorpe in 1852. He was also the grandson of Henry Wilson, 10th Baron Berners (the local Manor). When the post of rector became available, in 1852, he would have been a prime candidate because the Wreningham and Ashwellthorpe position was in the gift of the Manor. The Rev Arthur Upcher and his wife were the first occupants of the new Rectory, in Church Road, which was completed in 1854.
The wider Upcher family, based in Sheringham, were significantly wealthy. His wife, born Isobella Wodehouse, was the granddaughter of an earl.
Records show a very marked increase in the number of baptisms taking place in the years following the new rector’s arrival. Closer examination tells us this wasn’t caused by an increase in the local birth rate, but a catching up process due to baptism numbers falling off during the previous rector’s tenure. Many of those newly baptised were in the teens or early twenties. Perhaps he considered the previous incumbent to have been slacking?
From the listings in R D Day’s ledger, we can see the Rev Upcher was the largest account customer at the shop. The ledger also records that Rev Arthur Upcher commonly settled his shop account once every year!
The annual Rectory bill ran to about £50 – a considerable sum at the time. R D Day must have been relieved whenever the rector turned up to pay.
Large houses generally employed staff and the Rectory was no different. Newspaper advertisements from the period include advertisements for: a housemaid (1868), a governess for the children (1869), a footman (1871) and an elderly lady’s maid (1876).
In the week before Christmas 1884, R D Day’s ledger records the Rev Arthur Upcher buying 100 oranges. There were nearly 100 households in Wreningham. Perhaps he was aiming to entice every household to attend the Christmas Day service?
On 5th November 1873, eldest daughter Jane Charlotte Upcher, married (Robert) Harvey Blake Humfrey. The latter was eventually to assume the Mason (of Necton) title – based at Necton Hall, just outside Swaffham.
The wedding must have been the most amazing affair for the village to witness – probably from a distance, for most.
A newspaper describes Church Road having “triumphal arches” of flowers “under the direction of Mr Skillet of Dereham”.
Details of the day are shown in this extract.
Finally, everyone was entertained by fireworks. The next evening, 70 parishioners were invited to tea at the Rectory.
Note: Two of the guests listed in the newspaper article “Mr and Mrs Legh” and their daughter, a bridesmaid, were related to the Wreningham Upcher family. Mrs Upcher’s sister, Emily Jane Wodehouse had married William Legh who later became known as 1st Baron Newton. Their ancestral seat was at Lyme Park in Cheshire. Perhaps it’s not surprising that William Legh gifted Jane Charlotte Upcher a “handsome gold necklace with three pendants set with pearls and diamonds” as a wedding present.
Six years later, on 22nd July 1879, the Isabella Upcher, died.
The village’s Victoria Jubilee booklet from 1887 makes reference to the Rev Arther Upcher returning to Wreningham from Brighton, in an invalid carriage, on 31st March 1882. There was also an advertisement in the local press – printed on the 11th March 1882, looking for someone to take morning and afternoon services at Wreningham “for four Sundays” – with transport available from Wymondham Station. In due course, a Rev Rogers and his family moved into the Rectory – with the Rev Rogers assuming some of the duties. The Rev Arther Upcher gave a first sermon after his illness on 30th September 1883 – almost 18 months after his return from Brighton. There are no further references to him being in poor health so we might assume that he made a suitable recovery.
Second daughter, Emma, remained at her father’s side and supported him until his death, in 1896; after which, she left the village. The Reverend had been in post for 44 years.
On 14th July 1896, there was an auction to clear his possessions from the Rectory. An outline summary of the auction lots is shown from one of the local newspapers.
Such lists are interesting because they paint a picture about aspects of life we might, otherwise, find difficult to imagine.
The reverend had already provisioned the new stack of hay for the pony, whilst there was still plenty left from the previous supply!
An African Legacy
The Rev A W Upcher’s second surviving son was James Hay Upcher. After being ordained in 1877, and having first had ministries in East Anglia, he decided to undertake missionary work in Africa. He settled on Southern Rhodesia – now known as Zimbabwe, and travelled to its capital, Salisbury – now Harare.
James Hay Upcher’s first task involved the construction of a brick Cathedral after which, he moved around the country, becoming Vicar General of the Diocese of Mashonaland. It’s interesting to note that the property next door to the Robert D Day’s shop (opposite the school) is called Mashonaland Villas.
In about 1900, tribal wars broke out in a place now known as Chivhu, south of the Zimbabwean capital. Upcher, now an Archdeacon, was given the task of establishing a church mission in the area and he named the mission “Wreningham” after his birthplace.
Nearly 90 years later, a great niece of James Hay Upcher travelled to Zimbabwe to trace the life and times of her ancestor.
She discovered a new church under construction at Chivhu and, in 1997, a party travelled from Wreningham, Norfolk, to witness the dedication of this new Zimbabwean church by the Bishop of Harare.
Connections between the two churches continue to this day.