The Steward Family From Hethersett

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In the year 654 Withburga, daughter of a Saxon king, first arrived at what was then a deer enclosure and, guided by a vision of the Virgin Mary, set to work to establish a religious community.

So well did Withburga succeed in her enterprise and so great was her fame that 300 years after her death pilgrims still flocked to her tomb.

It was a state of affairs which proved too much for an envious Abbot of distant Ely, who arranged a banquet for the residents of Dereham and, while they were busy with ale and venison, seized her remains and whisked them away to his own cathedral.

This 10th century body-snatch did no harm to Dereham for a spring with curative properties promptly sprang from the empty tomb. Withburga was proclaimed a saint and the pilfrims continued to flock to the town. Withburga's well can still be seen today outside the west end of the parish church. All other traces of her monastery have been lost.

Dereham was laid waste by Danish raiders and later partly destroyed by two great fires which swept through its centre in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some medieval buildings remain, notably the church, part of which dates from 1220 and Bishop Bonner's cottages which stand nearby and now house the town's museum.

Bishop Bonner is remembered as the man who sent Archbishop Cranmer to the stake when Mary Tudor tried to reverse the religious reformation started by her father. Henry VIII.

More recent and renowned Dereham residents have included George Borrow, author of the classics "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye," who was born at Dumpling Green on the southern edge of the town, and the poet William Cowper, who spent his latter years at a house in the market place.

Completing a Dereham literary treble is John Fenn, who discovered and transcribed the Paston letters, more than 1,000 items of correspondence which reveal much about middle class family life at the time of the War of the Roses. Fenn's House, Hill House, stands in the market place and is still lived in today, just one example of the Georgian rebuilding work which followed the second of Dereham's great fires.

Behind other 18th century facades there now lie modern shops and offices which retain the charm of that age.

Tourist Information

Dereham holds a small market on Tuesdays and a large market on Fridays. The centre of the town has the Queen Mother's Gardens and the town also has a golf course and a swimming pool. Nature lovers are catered for in the Vicarage Meadow and Neatherd Moor areas of the town. On the edge of town is a restored windmill with an adjoining picnic area.

Two miles north-west of Dereham on the B1146 at Gressenhall stands the Norfolk Rural Life Museum where visitors can step back in time to enjoy Norfolk of the past.

For more information on Dereham contact Dereham Tourist Association, The Bell Tower, Church Street. Telephone 01362 698992

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