Generations in farming, harness-making, and feedstuffs

Harness makers, glovers, farmers, seed merchants, pet & garden shops.... the Myhill family have played a pivotal role in the life of both Bracon Ash and Hethel, and Norfolk, and still do. Myhills continue to live at Church Farm, and the information here is taken from family documents, personal interviews and extracts from 'Trials & Inspirations - autobiography of John Myhill' © 2013.

Quite when Myhills moved from Ludham to Bracon Ash - and why - is still a mystery. In 1788 Samuel Myhill was apprenticed to Charles Thynne, collar and harness maker in Bracon Ash. Samuel was one of at least 12 children of a glover, Robert Myhill (1757-1827) and Bridget nee Jefferson (1758-1815) who married in South Elmham in 1780 and lived in Ludham. Bridget was probably the sister of Sarah Jefferson (1749-1825) the 3rd wife of Charles Thynne who were married in Ludham in 1784, and her family will be the key to understanding the move to Bracon Ash....

The eldest son of Robert and Bridget was also named Robert Myhill (1781-1868) and was also a glover. He settled in Bracon Ash where he married Rebecca Whiffin (1784-1827). They had 8 children baptised in Bracon Ash, four of whom are also recorded in the burial register and buried in the churchyard. Robert and Rebecca Myhill lived in a cottage with garden on The Street - near what is now the Village Hall - and by 1841 he rented several fields in that area and off Cuckoofield Lane from Elizabeth Berney.

The second son of Robert and Bridget was Charles Myhill (1784-1860),  a 'bachelor of Bracon Ash' when he married his first wife, Susan Cossey at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich in 1807. One witness was Charles Thynne, whose business Charles Myhill would take on and whose premises he would purchase....

Charles Myhill (1784-1860)

Church register entries and the many legal documents he signed all have Charles Myhill as his name. However, after he was buried in Bracon Ash churchyard in 1860 his family added a memorial stone inscribed Charles Clement Thynne Myhill. Did he add those names in honour of the Thynne family, or to promote his business when he became the successor to a long line of 'collarmakers' by the Turnpike through Bracon Ash?

Charles Myhill bought the harness-making business from the Thynne family. in 1820 for the sum of £237. 10 shillings. Documents indicate he was already living on the premises, and may have been running the business with or for Charles Thynne even before his death in 1812. When he bought the land, which included the shop with yard, two cottages and pasture land, he was already a man of means who could lend a further £40 to Daniel Thynne, son and Executor of Charles Thynne. On purchasing the property, he insured it for £150 in 1822, increasing that sum to £200 the following year. 

In 1827 Charles Myhill of Bracon Ash, Widower, married Maria Todd, Singlewoman, at Mulbarton Church by licence in the presence of Barney Long, Maria Watling, William Todd, and Mary Ann Todd. William Todd was Maria's younger brother who became landlord of the World's End inn in the 1850s. Mary Ann Todd (1776-1875) was their mother, who ran the village shop and post office across the road from the World's End with the help of another daughter, Harriett. Maria also had an older brother John Todd who was a successful tailor and cloth merchant in Norwich, who by 1851 was employing 20 men. In 1848 John lent £200 to his brother-in-law (folded document, above), with the harness shop and premises as surety, which Charles probably used to enable him to become a farmer as well as a harness-maker. Four children of Charles and Maria were baptised at Bracon Ash, including Frederick Charles (or Charles Frederic in the baptism register) (1829-1915) who subsequently learned his father's trade and took over the harness-making business. 

The 1842 Tithe Apportionment lists Charles Myhill as the owner-occupier of a house and (harness) shop as well as renting land by Cuckoofield Lane and at Bonds Green from Elizabeth Berney of Bracon Hall. By 1851 Charles gave his occupation as 'Farmer'. 

Before he died in 1860, Charles wrote a draft Will which would have given his Executors many headaches but would have delighted lawyers if they had to unravel the bequests!  His desire is that 'my two sons Frederick Charles Myhill and William Myhill should continue to carry on my trade and occupation as they are now carried on by me for the term of 3 years..... they allowing my two daughters Maria Myhill and Matilda Myhill to reside in the house in which I am now residing should they so desire....'. He is particularly anxious to give extra money to Frederick Charles 'as a remuneration to him for his services in carrying on my trade' without receiving any wages. There is no suggestion any of his children have or will marry and have heirs! In an amendment he wishes that 'my son Frederick Charles Myhill should continue to carry on my trade of collar and harness maker solely for his own benefit' and the land to be farmed jointly by him and his brother William. In fact, Frederick Charles did take on the business and his brother William the farmland, but before long both sons married, Charles was moving into farming at Hethel and William took on a farm at Fundenhall.

Church Farm (formerly Dairy Farm) Hethel
Church Farm (formerly Dairy Farm) Hethel

Frederick Charles Myhill (1829-1915)

Charles Myhill, 'Farmer and collar and harness maker', died 8 June 1860. The business passed to his son Frederick, who recorded in his Day Book that he disliked his job. In 1865 Frederick Charles married Emma Claxton (1833-1905), one of 7 children of James Henry Claxton (1805-1883) and Mary nee Precious (1801-1888) who ran Dairy Farm at Hethel - now called Church Farm. The land had once been part of the Hethel Hall estate which was bought by Hudson Gurney in 1828 and James Claxton was a tenant of the Gurneys. An account of 1851 states that he was paying an annual rent of almost £142 on 156 acres plus £10 land tax and bills amounting to £31 4s 2d for work by carpenter, thatcher, bricklayer and blacksmith. 

By 1871, Frederick C Myhill gave his occupation as Farmer and Insurance Agent as well as harness maker, and it is likely that he was already handing the harness business over to someone more enthusiastic about the work than he was. He was employing George Stubbings, Journeyman Harness-maker, and his apprentice son Albert. It seems that they ran the business for Frederick Myhill, from the house and premises until it was sold to Frederick Waters in the 1920s.

Frederick & Emma Myhill at Church Farm (then Dairy Farm), Hethel. Probably about 1900.
Frederick & Emma Myhill at Church Farm (then Dairy Farm), Hethel. Probably about 1900.

Hudson Gurney of Keswick died in 1864 and his large estates were put in trust. In 1878 the trustees renewed the lease on the Dairy Farm at Hethel for 12 years, jointly to James Claxton and Frederick Charles Myhill. The huge Indenture dated 9th November 1878 sets out in great detail the rent to be paid, the responsibilities of landlord and tenants and penalties for not keeping to the same. The farm is still 156 acres in size and the annual rent now £220. The Landlord keeps the timber and mineral rights, apart from small amounts of timber, marl, clay, brick earth, sand and gravel needed for repairs and also the shooting rights and any game apart from rabbits and hares which the tenants can take. There are requirements to keep land and premises in good condition and even the farming method - the Norfolk 4-course rotation, is set out in detail for the arable land: clover or grass for 1 year; followed by winter or spring corn for 1 year; followed by turnips or other roots for a year; and finally barley of spring corn, to be undersown with clover or grass for the following year. No doubt this ensured good traditional methods, but stifled any innovation! Much of the document details what is to happen in the final year of the tenancy, in preparation for the departure of one farmer and the arrival of another.... That was not needed, for 12 years later another, very similar (but simpler) document, is drawn up, but this time with Frederick Charles Myhill alone and at the reduced rent of £145 per annum - such is the slump in farming around 1890....

In the 1881 census, Frederick C Myhill describes himself as 'in partnership' with James Claxton at Dairy Farm, and when James died in 1883 he took over the tenancy. He planted most of the trees on the farm in the 1880s and '90s. 'He loved trees as the diversity and landscaping of the area proves', comments his great-grandson John, who now lives at the farm.

Myhill family - labelled centre is Frederick Charles (in top hat) and front row right are Daisy Marion & Frederick William
Myhill family - labelled centre is Frederick Charles (in top hat) and front row right are Daisy Marion & Frederick William

Frederick and Emma had 6 children: Emma Mary Myhill (1866-1944) who remained single and became a teacher at Bracon Ash school; Frederick Charles (1867-8) and Bessie Matilda (1868-9) who both died as babies; Charles Clement Thynne Myhill (1870-1947) who lived in Bracon Ash all his life; Millicent May (1873-1951) and Frederick William (1875-1960) who was to inherit the tenancy and in due course purchase the farm and build other thriving businesses. A delightful letter survives, sent to Emma by her brother, Walter Claxton from the Falkland Islands where he was serving with the Royal Marines - written on 15th October but unfortunately no year given!

Funeral of Frederick Charles Myhill at Hethel, October 1915 – Reuben Ellis in front leading horses.
Funeral of Frederick Charles Myhill at Hethel, October 1915 – Reuben Ellis in front leading horses.

Frederick William Myhill (1875-1960)

Frederick William grew up with two sisters. Emma Mary and Millicent May and an older brother, Charles Clement Thynne (1870-1947). John Myhill writes, 'Great Uncle Charlie was the eldest and should therefore have inherited, but he was different and was protected and cared for all his life by his sisters.' Thus it was that Frederick was to take over the farm after his father.
During the 2nd Boer War he served with the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers as Squadron Sergeant-Major (service no.3413), taking his own horse to South Africa which was captured by the Boers. He was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps for the Defence of Ladysmith (1899), Belfast (a 1900 battle), Cape Colony and Orange Free State and the King's South Africa Medal with clasps for service in 1901 and 1902. In 1903, after his return home The Red House was built for him adjacent to Church farm.
On 12th July 1905 Frederick William married Daisy Marion King (1881-1953). 
On their engagement, Fredericks mother wrote to Daisy, 'As I suppose by this time your engagement is an "accomplished fact" I write to say how very pleased we are that you have consented to make Fred happy. I hope Mr & Mrs King and others of your family were willing to accept him for you....
'In himself I believe he is good enough for any girl (even you, young lady) a;ways having been most kind and affectionate to us all at home. He has a good business capacity and we have never known him otherwise than honourable and straightforward in all his transactions....
'I tell Fred he should not have spoken to you so soon. You ought to have had another year of freedom and "play-time"..... but he was afraid somebody else might step in and spoil his chances!.....
P.S. I don't want to make out my boy is an Angel, as then perhaps you might not care for him!'
Unfortunately we don't have Daisy's reply, if any....!

The Red House became home to a family of 2 girls, Margaret Alice (1907-1982) and Joan Patricia (1908-2002) and 2 boys, Peter (1906-1978) who became a partner in his father's firm and farm; and Frederick Robert (1913-1987) who was ordained and taught in Hong Kong (including being interned by the Japanese) and later ran a church in Hull. It is Frederick's son, John, who runs Church Farm today.

The Red House, Hethel with (lt) Margaret Alice (‘Peggy’) Myhill (1907-1982) & (rt) Joan Patricia Myhill, (1908-2002). The house was built in 1903 for Frederick William Myhill.
The Red House, Hethel with (lt) Margaret Alice (‘Peggy’) Myhill (1907-1982) & (rt) Joan Patricia Myhill, (1908-2002). The house was built in 1903 for Frederick William Myhill.

Frederick took over local Tax Inspector and insurance broker work from his father and among his other  enterprises was East Kent Dairies, which sold milk from Kent and Surrey in London. He sold this and bought the farm of which he had been a tenant, and ran it from The Red House: 'The house of an entrepreneur: with a small lake, croquet lawn, formal beds, a beech bower, summerhouse, stables and orchards on both sides.'

In 1911, Frederick had given his occupation as 'cake, manure & seed merchant', and this was the business he grew. By 1933 he was operating from a large tin shed on Church Farm, Hethel (above). His son, Peter, became a partner and by 1937 F W Myhill & Son's Feed & Seed business had moved to north Mill, Wymondham. When that burnt down in 1951 he took over a former aircraft hangar in Potash Lane (below) until Colin Chapman bought the old airfield for Lotus Cars and the rents went up.

F W Myhill & Son with their employees, vehicles & premises in Potash Lane, Hethel
F W Myhill & Son with their employees, vehicles & premises in Potash Lane, Hethel

There are many family memories of Frederick which John Myhill repeats in his Autobiography:

'He was a great patriarch, with a man (Adam) to assist him, and a maid (June) to assist his disabled daughter Peggy.'

'Grandfather was renowned in the family for having a posh "telephone voice" for conversations with the aristocracy... He held shooting parties to which local aristos were invited and he took great pride in being a judge at the Royal Norfolk Show. His seed business and herd of pedigree dairy shorthorns, enabled him to move in Norfolk's homogeneous County Set. He delighted in driving me to Stanfield Hall (site of the famous murders of 1848) to meet his old friend Mr Rackham....'

'Grandfather was very proud of the important people he knew, and did not mind bowing and scraping, flattering and giving discount....'

One such important acquaintance was a direct result of his Boer War service:

'Grandfather had volunteered for the Boer War.... It was then he made friends with a young war correspondent, called Winston Churchill. So, one evening in April, grandfather and I were having our nightly game of draughts (he was huffing me as usual) when the newly resigned Prime Minister, was ushered in. I was so tongue-tied, that grandfather sent me upstairs for his Boer War uniform (I have worn it every Christmas Day since the late 1960s). The bright colours, the shiny buttons, and the memories induced, seemed to take Winston back, and lift the "Black Dog" from him. He arrived looking grim and sad, but whilst I was getting into bed upstairs, I could hear gales of raucous laughter.'

Frederick William Myhill (1875-1960) with young Frederick Robert (1913-1987) & dog Billy at Church Farm or Red House c.1916.
Frederick William Myhill (1875-1960) with young Frederick Robert (1913-1987) & dog Billy at Church Farm or Red House c.1916.

Meanwhile, Church Farm was home to Frederick's brother and sisters plus Dorothy ('Dolly') his cousin who had been a governess in Austria and lived on Tahiti where she married an artist named Wrafter. 'She returned to Norfolk in 1935 and stayed to look after grandfather's sisters and brother. She took on the spirit of the house, protecting it from change for the next 45 years.' John remembers his visits: 'She said [the farmhouse] was "liberty hall" and we children could do whatever we liked. This was a huge contrast to the good behaviour required at the Red House, so, not surprising that this was the shelter we sought on damp or cold days.'

Peter Myhill (1906-1978) at home at The Red House, 1910
Peter Myhill (1906-1978) at home at The Red House, 1910

Peter Myhill (1906-1978)

When Frederick W Myhill died in 1960, everything went to his eldest son, Peter, though the farm and farmhouse were held in trust for his nephew, John. The seed business, 'F W Myhill & Son', continued under that name - in fact continues to this day, including Myhill Pet & Garden, now a chain of 6 stores in Norfolk. Peter Myhill sold The Red House in 1960, and the estate cottages. The farmland was rented out to Mr Rackham until John Myhill took it over in 1986.

John Myhill

Although brought up in Hong Kong and Hull, John Myhill, grandson of Frederick William, knew he was in line to inherit the family farm. 'Grandfather Myhill called me "Farmer John" so I knew from the age of four that that was what I would be. He sent me pictures of the farm and his family and cows. He gave me books on farming.' On one of John's visits, 'he walked out with me and pointed as far as I could see and said "one day all this will be yours".'
Whilst Aunt Dolly was alive, John stayed at the farm whilst training to be a nurse and tried his hand at pig-rearing and other farming activities, with somewhat disastrous results. After a devastating barn fire, he moved out.... But 'My failure as a farm labourer in 1975 had proven invaluable when I took over Church Farm in 1986', after the tenant farmer had left.
John remembers taking over, 'A barely habitable farmhouse, surrounded by equally decaying buildings, and waist-high nettles over what had been lawns and flower beds; nearly two miles from an expensive shop, with few savings and no prospects of employment; I set to work on basic cleaning, clearing and repairs. I was too busy to be lonely, but I would not have survived a year on my own...... Our first winter was terrible. The heaviest, coldest snowfall since 1963 and worse than anything since. We were cut off for three days and huddled round open fires, with no central heating and smoking paraffin stoves. After a slight thaw, pipes burst and we all suffered.'

But John and his wife - and Church Farm - survived and his story is told in 'Trials & Inspirations - autobiography of John Myhill' which can be accessed at the end of his blog.