Tunstead is said to have been a scattered settlement in Anglo Saxon times, amongst clearings of an extensive woodland. Its name – then Tonesteda – derives from the Old English tun (meaning enclosure, settlement or farm) and stede (meaning place).
When the Domesday details were completed in 1086, it was already in the Tunstead Hundred with a population of 29 villagers, Roger of Poitou as Tenant-in-chief and Albert Grelley as Lord of the Manor, the value of the area being £11, 5s. Also recorded were meadow, 17 acres of woodland, 12 pigs and 16 plough teams. Interestingly, another document called the Little Domesday Book came before it’s ‘Big Brother’ and as the ‘first draft’ or ‘circuit summary’, covered the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk only. The information gathered was never transferred to the Great Domesday Survey, so Little Domesday remained the final record of East Anglia. Also of 1086, it names Tunstead’s Lord of the Manor as Alfer, from the reign of King Harold, who died at the Battle of Hastings.
The Manor was given to the Norman lord, Roger of Poitou (Poitiers). He lost most of his lands by supporting Robert of Normandy, William the Conqueror’ son. He recovered most but not Tunstead, as by Henry ll’s reign (1154 – 1189), it belonged to the de Grelley family. In 1260, Thomas de Grelley was granted a weekly market, which was no longer operating by the 17th century, but is remembered today as Market Street.
Dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, the parish church is said to have been built by the Flemish Weavers in the 13th century, but this large building has few nearby houses. Records suggest the community previously located around the church – as it is in neighbouring Worstead – was wiped out by the Black Death (1348-9) and had it been built later, Tunstead church might have been much smaller as terms of the Reformation banned the building of large churches. Apart from the chancel rebuilt in 15th century and covered with lead, it has a nave, two aisles, a square tower, and originally 5 bells, though not all of these may be used today. A unique addition is a raised platform 3ft wide and crossing the east wall of the chancel. Below this is a small, low and windowless tunnel-vaulted chamber, only accessed through a small doorway. It’s only light comes through a floor grating of the platform above. The platform may either have displayed relics or was the “stage” for performing miracle plays, while the vaulted chamber was possibly a strong room, but neither have been confirmed. The first Rector was William de Derleton, instituted in 1307 and the last, Simon de Brusele, in 1344. Thereafter, the incumbent has always been a Vicar, the first, Henry de Tatterford, taking office in 1351 after nomination by the Bishop of Norwich.
When I became connected with it, Tunstead was one of a group known as ‘The Five Parishes’, sharing the honours with Ashmanhaugh, Beeston St. Lawrence, Hoveton St. Peter and Sco Ruston. The vicar was the Rev. Howard Whyntie on whose appointment to Wells in Norfolk, came Alan Boar. Both lived at Ashmanhaugh Rectory, now a private dwelling and all these parishes have since gone their separate ways in subsequent reorganisations. Apart from church services, parish members enjoyed the existence of the Communicants Guild, a group meeting socially in the former Ashmanhaugh School (now the Preston Rooms), at regular intervals, but since disbanded.
While Sub-Organist at Tunstead under Mrs. Rice, I recall two major events. One was a Confirmation in 1963 taken by Eric Cordingley, then, newly consecrated Bishop of Thetford two days earlier. The other was a Carol Service in 1970 which I devised, using the entire church and Wroxham Church choir singing. This included using the platform above the High Altar and to the best of my knowledge, neither have since been repeated.
On 16 April, 1955, St Mary the Virgin church became a Grade 1 Listed building with an address of Culley’s Pit Rd, Tunstead, Norfolk, NR12 8HT still continuing today. Although currently powered by an electric blower, the organ was hand-pumped in my time, by Jimmy Bird.
Given the location and local geography, not many people might associate Tunstead with a Workhouse, but there was one. With a wide encatchment area, the Tunstead and Happing Workhouse was located on Workhouse Road, in Smallburgh and built in 1785, as a large H-shaped main building with several other smaller ancillaries. The Tunstead Incorporation was one of the few to issue its own coinage as Workhouse Tokens in the early 1800s during a national shortage of copper coins. They were spent locally to buy bread and basic commodities.
Until 1834, Tunstead & Happing was one of the Norfolk Hundred Incorporations formed by Local Acts of Parliament in the latter half of the 18th century. Its membership was every parish in the Tunstead & Happing Hundreds except North Walsham. After 1834, it’s status as a Local Act Incorporation exempted it from most of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act provisions, so the Commissioners treated it as a Poor Law Union. Expiring on 9th October 1869 when the Smallburgh Poor Law Union replaced the Incorporation, the union’s operation was overseen by an elected 46-strong Board of Guardians.
In 1894, the British Medical Journal set up a “commission” to investigate conditions in provincial workhouses and their infirmaries. After visiting Smallburgh, they reported that buildings once accommodating up to 800 inmates, now housed only 70 and a large part of the site was closed.
The Master reported able-bodied inmates were rare. Sanitary arrangements were “non-existent” with commodes in the wards, and privies distantly located outdoors. The house had no running water, so no baths were taken. The well-cultivated garden was plentifully stocked with vegetables and fruit trees but by 1924, the workhouse was closed and inmates had moved to the Loddon & Clavering union workhouse at Heckingham. Smallburgh’s main building was demolished in the 1950’s with some structures remaining for residential and agricultural use.
The Olive Branch
I recall being told how a building starting as an early 17th century farmhouse became an inn during 1790, with William Hewett as the first licensee. Named the ‘WILKES HEAD’ in 1841, it became better known more recently as the ‘Horse & Groom’, closing in 2005 to become today’s Olive Branch restaurant. Records list William Marler as victualler in 1854 and Thomas Marler likewise in 1883 but also a wheelwright. No doubt they are from the same family as Cyril Marler once living at Dairy Farm and a 1970’s Tunstead churchwarden, with a Mr.York.
Village signs go back a long way but during the 20th century it became fashionable to replace many, often depicting local historic events or perpetuating lost landmarks. Tunstead’s original sign was made in 1965 by Harry Carter, an art and woodwork teacher at Hamond’s Grammar School in the 1960s and whose craftsmanship helped create numerous East Anglian village signs. It was presented to the village by Tunstead W.I. in 1965, to celebrate their 50th anniversary. But by 2012, the sign had decayed, so the children of Tunstead Primary School helped to create a replacement. This also stands on the corner of Market Street and Ashmanaugh Road, displaying the children’s ideas to depict aspects of the village. The Tunstead Barrel Man above comes from the old English word ‘tun’ (a barrel and a pot-bellied man). Other sections show St Mary’s Church, the school, a tractor ploughing and a Workhouse token.
Today, Tunstead is a sprawling village of about 330 homes and around 700 residents. Most of the parish is located on Market Street, with an additional 33 homes in Anchor Street, which is nearer to Smallburgh. For several years, Tunstead Hall was occupied by members of the Mack family and today, Hall Farmhouse, of 1826, remains alongside Market Street.