The name of this Blog is ‘BeetleyPete’. As my name is Pete, and I live in Beetley, it wasn’t that imaginative, I know. Anyway, I thought that I should write something about Beetley, in the rare chance that anyone would actually be interested to read it. I had never been here, before we came to look at this house, and decided to buy it, and live here. It did not meet many of the criteria we set, as essential requirements for what will probably be our last move in Life. There is no shop, no local pub, village green, or accepted centre of village life. It is not an English Village, in the sense that you would normally imagine. There are no cycling vicars, and a distinct absence of pastel-coloured, thatched cottages, doors surrounded by climbing roses.
Leaving the nearby market town of Dereham (or East Dereham to give it its correct name), if you head North-West, towards the coast, and the towns of Fakenham, or Holt, you will soon pass the Golf Club. After this, the street lights run out, and the road opens up, with fields either side. Turn left at Corners Farm Shop, on the road to Fakenham, then after crossing a bridge over a tiny river, you see a sign, with the words Beetley Village. This is not an attractive sign, with coloured badges that advertise twinning with some obscure European equivalent, and asking drivers to drive carefully through the village. It looks like a reject from a motorway depot, with large letters, and white on blue colours, in an oblong format. The village then runs alongside this road, for about a mile until the houses run out, and you soon see a sign for East Bilney. The Western side of this road has the older properties, some very substantial, and built at a time when the place was even more rural than it is now. On the Eastern side, most of the village comprises a development built in the late 1970s, then extended into the late 1980’s, adjacent to the riverside park area known as Beetley Meadows. This is where we live.
The former pub, facing the main road as you head North, is now a Thai Restaurant. There is a popular junior school in Elmham Road, which is also close to a farm. This is a working cattle farm, with a rare breed of beef cattle. They are visible from the road, and we can hear them from our back garden. As a lifelong city-dweller, I find this very appealing. Elmham Road also boasts many fine houses, built in different styles in various decades, and is known locally, to some at least, as ‘Millionaire’s Row.’ Further on, there is a Scout Hut, a Village Hall in need of refurbishment, and I believe that there is a church somewhere, though I haven’t seen it yet. Go a little further, and you will arrive in Old Beetley, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cluster of older houses around a road sign, no doubt the original hamlet that gave rise to the present village.
Most of the houses have the feel of a new estate, and though many are large, there are also a lot of bungalows. They tend to be well-kept, and most have at least two cars in the driveway. This is far from being a Retirement Community though. In fact, the majority of the houses are lived in by families, and there are a lot of children in the area, of all ages. Dog ownership is popular, and it seems most houses have a pet of some sort. The nearby riverside area of meadowland also includes a children’s’ play area, and a tarmac court for ball games. Both are well used, at least in good weather. With the absence of any street lighting, the village seems still and quiet after dark. There is little traffic, as the roads do not really lead anywhere. Parties are subdued, and rare, and barbeques, though popular, are not the raucous affairs seen elsewhere. The only noise pollution, and it cannot be realistically described as such, comes from the sounds of lawn mowers, and other gardening implements, and building projects for home improvements. During the day, with most of the locals at work, or at school, I can walk around for a couple of hours without seeing anyone at all. Crime is almost unknown, as are vandalism, and graffiti. Littering is minimal, and people say ‘hello’ as they pass. However, short of the immediate neighbours, it does not seem to be a place where you get to know everyone, like life as portrayed in the ‘typical’ villages of film and TV. At least not yet.
Most of the people here seem to originate from Norfolk, though I have met many, who like myself, do not. I have also met people who have never been to London, and rarely even visit Norwich, or King’s Lynn. Most appear generally, to be affluent. I am told that there is some Social Housing in a road called High House Road, but by far the majority own their own homes. The children are polite and respectful, as well as being chatty and friendly. This is a new experience to a Londoner. There, we tend to avoid all unknown children, as they are usually aggressive, or at the very least, obnoxious. Also, considering how little there is for them to do in terms of local facilities, they manage to participate in a wide range of activities, assisted by parents who have to give them lifts everywhere. Public transport does exist, though more as a concept than a reality. At the junction with Fakenham Road, there is a bus stop, and buses do occasionally stop there, usually on the way into Dereham, the only useful destination really. However, they are far from frequent, and finish at a laughably early hour. So, everyone has to have some form of personal transport, if not a car, then a cycle at the very least. Walking is not really an option. Dereham may only be three miles away, but there are no pavements, and the traffic on the road is very fast. I am sure that there must be people who do walk into town, or to the other nearby villages, though I would not chance it myself.
There is no gas supply in Beetley. I presume that a population of 1200 is not enough to make it financially viable for the companies concerned. We have to have heating fired by oil. This necessitates a large tank for storage, and ours, like many others, is concealed behind a fence. This is mainly because it is a big, ugly, plastic thing, though also because theft of this oil is on the increase. We have had to adapt to an electric cooker as well. Despite my trepidations, this works well, and we soon became used to it. There is also no visible industry in Beetley, unless you count the farm, the dog grooming parlour, or the restaurant. Most of those still at work seem to work in a trade on a self-employed basis, or commute to Dereham, Kings Lynn, or somewhere else to work. There is a smattering of Policemen, a few Teachers, and some Drivers. In the nearby village of East Bilney, there is a large coachworks, where they repair and re-spray cars and other vehicles. This is listed as the main employer for Beetley, but I have never met anyone who works there.
There is a Parish Council, and it produces a newsletter called ‘The Beetley Buzz’. I know nothing about Parish Councils, though they do seem to have some say over planning applications on properties, and I presume that they would be closely associated with the local church too, at least at one time.
The village has a lot of trees, including the two protected large Oak trees in our garden. I have seen Egrets, Roe Deer, a Kingfisher, and some very large Dragonflies. A sign at the entrance to Beetley Meadows warns of Adders, so naturally, I have looked for them, with no luck so far. As well as the usual garden birds, and wood pigeons of course, we also have bats. They are very small, appear at dusk, and fly very close to you, completely silently. I look forward to their arrival every night in the Summer, and like to sit in the garden and see them fluttering around.
**Updated November 2014**
I have now discovered the origins of the name of Beetley, so I thought that I would add this information, for anyone who might be interested. This is courtesy of the Parish Council website.
A Short History of Old Beetley , Beetley and East Bilney
The earliest mention of the village of Beetley occurs in the Doomsday Book in 1086. At this time it was part of the manor of Elmham held by William Beaufoe, Bishop of Thetford. The villages name is believed to derive from two Anglo Saxon words betel or bietel meaning a wooden mallet and lea a woodland clearing i.e. A clearing where mallets were made.
The decayed parish of Bittering Magna was many years ago divided between Beetley and neighbouring Gressenhall. In 1774 Beetley together with Great Bittering and Gressenhall secured an enclosure act. At the time, 20 acres of Beetley Common were allocated to the poor for firing.
East Bilney does not appear in Doomsday, the area being split between Earl Warren of Gressendale (Gressenhall) and the Bishops of Norwich and Elmham. The village gets its name from “bin” an abbreviation from the tribal name “Billinger” and “ey” meaning isle. The later refers to the fact that Bilney was an island before the river Nar was embarked.
Thomas Bilney, a learned divine of Cambridge, who was burnt at Norwich in 1531, was supposed to have been born in the village. His ashes were buried in an urn in the churchyard. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. During Kett’s Rebellion in 1594 the upper stage was thrown down, it being finally repaired in 1906.
On land near the church called “Bloodfield” were found several spurs, horse bits, and sword hilts. The site was believed to be a battle ground during the Civil War.
In 1838 an Almshouse for three aged couples from the Launditch Hundred was built by Rebecca Pearce.
East Bilney Hall was erected in 1867 by W.T.Collison Esq.
A School Board was formed in 1874 for both Beetley and East Bilney erecting a school at Hungry Hill in 1875. The villages of Beetley and East Bilney were amalgamated into a single Parish in 1935.
Source:Beetley and East Bilney Parish plan 2004
The only Public House still open in the Parish is the New Inn on Fakenham Road, Beetley. There were at one time five public houses within Beetley and East Bilney according to http://www.norfolkpubs.co.uk, The New Inn, Gravel Pit House, The Punch Bowl, The Swan and The Horseshoes.
So there you have it. My pocket guide to a village in Central Norfolk. It couldn’t be more different to life in London, but then I suppose that is just as well really, as that was the whole point of moving here. Another time, I might try to describe Dereham…