How men, women and children have kept Gressenhall Farm running for 243 years

PUBLISHED: 09:24 26 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:19 26 August 2020

An old picture of Gressenhall Farm. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

An old picture of Gressenhall Farm. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service


The guardians of Gressenhall Workhouse wanted to educate the children in their care. They trained them for a trade so that they would be more likely to get a job and less likely to come back to the workhouse in later life. The boys learnt tailoring and shoemaking. The girls learnt domestic science.

Industrial Farm painting by Robert Kerrison 1810. Picture: Norfolk Museums ServiceIndustrial Farm painting by Robert Kerrison 1810. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

In 1851 the Guardians decided to create an industrial farm to teach the boys farming work. In November that year eight-and-a-half acres of land behind the workhouse called ‘Mill Piece’ were reclaimed from the tenant Samuel Pearce.

Initially an average of 25 boys worked on the new industrial farm with assistance from two or three old men in the workhouse. The first report of the committee commented on the improved appearance of the boys.

The next year’s report showed that during the first two years 30 boys had been trained in the use of the spade, fork and hoe and the management of various crops including cabbages and root crops.

The report said the Guardians intended to purchase two cows to allow the girls to be instructed in dairy work.

Seed potato label - Duke of York. Picture: Norfolk Museums ServiceSeed potato label - Duke of York. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

The farm also kept pigs and in March 1865 three Scotch Firs and one oak were felled to provide the wood for the piggeries.

Over the years pigs, hay, beef, potatoes, wheat and barley were grown and sold from the Industrial Farm. Little of this produce seems to have been supplied to the Workhouse.

During the early years of the industrial farm it was managed by the master of the workhouse together with the schoolmaster Robert Bradfield.

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By 1874 difficulties had arisen. The master of the workhouse had little time to attend to the farm and the new schoolmaster was totally ignorant of farming.

Only nine boys under the age of 13 were working on the farm. As a result ‘Mill Piece’ was returned to the tenant of Union Farm. The remaining boys now cultivated two acres near the workhouse, possibly the area where the adventure playground is today, as a market garden.

The only part of the industrial farm that seems to continue in operation was the piggeries, which continued into the 1920s with up to 21 pigs a year being sold.

The boys and the old men continued to cultivate the market garden growing potatoes, onions and rhubarb which was used by the workhouse.

By 1888 peas were being grown, along with potatoes. In 1898 the children in the workhouse started attending local schools, so probably had little time to work in the garden.

In 1915 a Children’s Home was set up in East Dereham and the children were permanently moved out of the workhouse.

The garden was probably now being worked only by the old men and the casual inmates who moved from workhouse to workhouse.

Even with this reduced capacity in 1915 two tons of King Edwards and one ton of Duke of York potatoes were planted. A pretty good crop for such a small plot!

• Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse is open to visitors, daily from 10am – 4pm with pre booked tickets being essential.

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