Hill Farm, Hethel               

Norwich Road, Hethel                                         

Hill Farm, The Turnpike, Hethel

Hill Farm deserves its name - prominently set at the top of a hill on the former New Buckenham Turnpike - now the B1113 - shortly before the road to Wymondham. It is now a mixed arable farm of 348 acres although in the recent past it was a dairy farm and many local people remember when the current owner's father moved his whole family and farm from Scotland to Hethel by train!

Hill Farm circled on Tithe Map
Hill Farm circled on Tithe Map

At the time of the Tithe Survey in 1842 the land belonged to Hudson Gurney of Keswick Hall near Norwich and the farm was known as Gardiners Hill Farm. The tenant was Samuel Gardiner, who had probably farmed it for many years, and employed 15 'out' (= non-resident) and 1 'in' labourers for 354 acres. Samuel, a widower, was still the farmer on the 1861 census but he died 29 March 1866 and is buried in Hethel churchyard. His son William took on the farm - farming about 360 acres in 1871 reduced to 159 acres by 1881. Another son, John, took on Old Hall Farm, Forncett St Mary, which he farmed from 1861 to 1888. William Gardiner died in January 1891 and his widow Caroline continued to run the farm for a short while. The tenancy passed from the Gardiner family to George W Rackham around 1893, although Caroline Gardiner continued to live in Hethel until she died in 1921.

George William Rackham arrived from Norwich as a young farmer and is on the 1894-95 Voters' List at Hill Farm, Hethel. On 7 July 1898  he married Jane Emma Mutimer in Swainsthorpe Church and they had 8 children, two of whom died young. The three boys all grew up to become farmers in the Hethel area.

George W Rackham's skill as a farmer and cattle-breeder was rewarded in 1912 when he won the prestigious title Farmer of the Year for the 300 - 500 acre category. It was mainly a dairy farm, with a herd of 100 cows and Mr Rackham supplied milk to Norwich and to London via Ashwellthorpe station.

In the early 1930s, George William Rackham retired and moved with his wife and surviving daughters to Stanfield Hall, just over the parish boundary from Hethel. Hill Farm passed to his eldest son, George Mutimer Rackham who is listed at that address in the 1933 Kelly's Directory. George junior never married; his great love was horses, and he suffered a few spills with his somewhat wild riding! Meanwhile, his brother Philip was farming Stanfield Hall Farm for his father, and after the end of World War 2 his younger brother Hugh took on Corporation Farm in Hethel. Sadly, Jane Rackham (wife of George senior) died on 1 July 1945 - before she was able to see her youngest boy, Hugh, who was a Japanese POW. It was after this that George senior moved from Stanfield Hall into Wymondham, where he died on 11 June 1950, and Philip took on a farm at Barnham Broom.

At what point the land was sold by the Gurney family is uncertain, but one of the Georges, father or son, took out a mortgage to buy the farm of which they had been tenants. But George junior made little attempt to modernise the farm. He did eventually buy a tractor which was used with a hedge-cutter and hydraulic lift, but most of the work was done by horses until he sold up.  On 6 August 1958 the 348-acre Hill Farm was auctioned by Gaze of Diss, and bought by a Scottish farmer James (Jim) Gray. George M Rackham retired to a small-holding in Carleton Rode. 

Mr Gray moved his farm "lock stock and barrel" from Scotland - the stock being a herd of cattle. On Tuesday 15 October they were milked after lunch and taken to Kilmarnock station for a 4pm train. Next day they arrived at Wymondham siding and were milked in Norfolk on Wednesday morning! One cow developed 'milk fever' en route, so a vet met the train at Wymondham - and he turned out to be a Scotsman who had known the Gray family and farm! On the non-stop journey, Mr Gray was helped by two brothers-in-law, a neighbour and a colleague.

The Gray family moved into a house that had no electricity (despite being a dairy farm!) with the war-time black-out curtains still in place. At least there was a telephone - if a somewhat old-fashioned handset... They quickly installed a generator for milking and to supply electricity to the house. There were big changes in their first few years: Norwich cattle market moved from below the castle to its Harford site on 1 June 1960; milk was no longer put out in churns when bulk collection by lorry began on 1 May 1963; and in 1963 Hill Farm was connected to mains electricity.

A major expansion came in 1987 when Hugh Rackham (brother of George junior) retired from the adjacent Corporation Farm and Norwich Corporation decided to put it up for sale. Mr Gray bought the land but sold the buildings.

Bn the 1980s the B1113 was becoming a busy road, and it was straightened by Hill Farm. Today, the farm has passed to Jim Gray's son. It is a highly mechanised arable farm, with a flourishing livery business and space for James (junior) Gray's haulage company to park lorries.