When Cows were on the Common

Grazing the Common

Mulbarton Common is roughly triangular, with three main exits. Each of these was narrow, to discourage grazing animals from wandering away. On the 1724 map of the parish, there are gates across the road in the SE and SW corners of the Common. Two exits, at the north end (near World's End) and in the south-east corner (near Mulbarton Hall) are still noticeably narrow. The other exit was widened when the Tradesman's Arms was demolished. On the south side of the Common, a ditch known as a 'ha-ha' that divided the Common from cultivated land can still be seen.

The Common was important for grazing - and villagers fought doggedly to keep their grazing rights. In the 1865, people vigorously opposed enclosing the Common (see below). Over forty years later, in 1910, a Parish Council amendment to the proposed 'Model Byelaws' suggests that limits to grazing had to be set:

Propositions: "That no neat stock be allowed on Common"

"That horses and sheep be allowed on the Common only during the hours between one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset"

"That no one person be allowed to turn more than 35 sheep on the Common at one time."'

Tony Kent remembers: 'In the 1930s, Les Smith was a 'keeper' on the common. When sheep were kept there, the shepherd would have his wooden hut on the common. Various villagers kept cows on the common - the Lincolns at Dairy Farm had cows there. John Stackyard, who lived in Holly Cottage in The Rosary, would drive four or five cows up to Mulbarton Common to graze and fetch them back to the the cowhouse by his house to milk them. He'd bike round the village with a can of milk on the handlebars and serve it out with a ladle. His hands and arms always looked so clean. Animals grazed right up to the door of cottages around the common and wandered to the pond for a drink. There was no traffic to worry about in those days.
H E Cross [Lodge Farm] employed a shepherd who looked after the sheep on the Common. He used a horse to set the fold at night, or for the shearing. The fold consisted of iron hurdles ('haddles' in Norfolk). Each hurdle was ten feet long and 3½ feet high and they had two axles on the bottom which contained iron wheels and if they were not oiled, 'blast bor they shrick!' [shriek!] They were pulled into position in a square then supported by wooden stakes. When the children in Sunday School were asked "Who was/is the Good Shepherd?" they replied "Mr. Adams!" - I know, I was there.'

The Pinder was responsible to seeing that the rules were kept. Billy Goward (blacksmith) is remembered as a Pinder of Mulbarton Common. According to Parish Council Minutes, he retired in July 1952 and was succeeded by Len Dack, who seems to have been the last in a long line.

Several people can remember cattle on the common through the '40s and early '50s, when the common was clear of trees. Some remember being late for school when they skirted the common in order to avoid walking past the herd of cows!

Brenda Ford (nee Collins), remembers back to the 1940s: 'The Common was a large empty space in my time with one or two ponds but almost empty grassland.'

Cattle drinking from the pond in the '30s
Cattle drinking from the pond in the '30s

Bob Jackson could remember his father having cows on the Common when he lived at Paddock Farm. 'I would be sent to fetch them at the end of the day, and often they'd be walking down the road to meet me. No problems with traffic then!'

Local farmers grazed cattle there until the amount of traffic caused problems in the 1950s. As traffic increased, grazing dwindled. Once the cattle were taken off, the common grew wild and it was no longer possible to play cricket there. There were complaints at the Annual Parish Meetings:

From Parish Council Minutes:

1953 July: No stock now feeding on the Common so thistles are growing and have become a problem. RDC should cut the thistles, but do not get it done when it is needed - would pay Parish Council to get Common cut at most appropriate time.

1956 July 5th Minutes of Annual Meeting held at the School: Mr. L. Dack asked if anything could be done to the Common which had got into a very rough state.

1957 April 18th Minutes of Annual Parish Meeting in Wingfield Hall: A complaint was brought forward in reference to the rough state the Common had got and it was suggested that something should be done to remove the small trees and bushes etc that had grown up.

In the '60s, a Commons Committee was formed to work on clearing the Common of trees and undergrowth, to create new football pitches and make the Common more 'user-friendly' for leisure pursuits. 

In the programme for the Grand fete & Children's Sports Day, Whit Monday, June 3rd, 1968 (price sixpence), Major J G Steward, Lord of the Manor, writes:
Welcome to the Mulbarton Sports and here's hoping you enjoy yourself and perhaps win a prize. The Mulbarton Sports were held on the common regularly until recent years when the ever-increasing traffic on the roads around the common made cattle and sheep grazing without a 'pinder' impossible and consequently grazing stopped. As a result the common became overgrown and it was not until the Parish formed a Mulbarton Common Committee to administer and maintain the cutting of the grass etc. that it has been possible to hope for the common being used for recreation and sport.
It is hoped that this afternoon's event will help the funds of the Common Fund and village organisations besides giving all those attending the chance to enjoy themselves.

The Committee and a team of volunteers worked most Sundays of 1967-1968 and their hard work came to be much appreciated:

A letter in Eastern Daily Press, January 1968:

Crouch End, London, 
31st December 1967.
Sir - A friend of mine has just sent me a cutting from the EDP about the restoration of Mulbarton common and it has given me a real joy and satisfaction as the great-granddaughter of the Rev. Richard Spurgeon who was Rector of Mulbarton from 1812 to 1842. I well remember riding over the with my father to see the splendid common, sheep trimmed, aided by horses, ducks, fowls and a couple of goats.
The last time I saw the common, about seven years ago, it was a desolation indeed. I cannot say how grateful I am to the parishioners and those who have helped them to restore this, one of the few commons existing, relics of a more peaceful age, when that juggernaut, the motor car, was undreamed of! By the way, I hope in clearing up they will not level out Billy Grimes' and Sally Grimes' "Holes"; their legend is nearly as old as the common itself.
As an old lady of 96, I cannot hope to see Mulbarton common again, but I am glad to think that I can imagine it as it was in my childhood days, trimmed and enjoyed by its rightful possessors, the animals and the fowls.
                                        Yours etc.,                       ELLA COLLIER (Mrs.)

The Common in 1975 with saplings planted round the pond near the play area
The Common in 1975 with saplings planted round the pond near the play area

Extracts from the Grand Fete & Children's Sports Day programme, Whit Monday, May 26th 1969 from 2 pm (price 6d!) - organised by the Mulbarton Common Committee:

I am sure many people will be pleased to learn that a programme of tree planting is being considered by the Common Committee. I am sure that the Common will be even more attractive and interesting by the addition of trees.
The transfer of the rights of the Lord of The Manor relating to the Common, to the Parish of Mulbarton, is in the hands of solicitors and when the transfer has been completed I believe the Parish will be unique in this respect.
Finally my congratulations to the Mulbarton Young Wives in raising the required sum for the swings and slide recently erected on the Common.
[signed]                         Major J. G. Steward                                      Lord of the Manor. Mulbarton.

The Threat of Enclosure

From Minutes of the Vestry Meetings, 1865 (the predecessor of the Parish Council)

That the Common be Enclosed:

At a Vestry Meeting held on Thursday 4th May, 1865, Captain Bellairs in the chair,
It was proposed by W Todd and seconded by W King that a Committee composed of the following Ratepayers, viz:
Capt. E. Bellairs
Mr. Jas Turner
Mr. Wm Riches
Be hereby appointed to enquire into the right of depasturage on the Common Mulbarton with power to apply to the Lord of the Manor as to his views thereon, and as to whether he would be a party to the Enclosure of the said Common provided it were wished by the majority of persons interested, and to obtain a legal opinion relative to these matters, if necessary, and give in a report of their proceedings herein to this meeting which stands adjourned for the purposes of receiving the same to the 29th Inst. At 11 am at the World's End Mulbarton.

'On 27th May, 1865, considerable opposition was manifested, not only by the villagers, but by the citizens of Norwich, to an attempt made by Capt. Bellairs to enclose Mulbarton Common. A meeting was held in the village at which a strong protest was made against the proposal, and it was asserted that if ever the ancestors of Capt. Bellairs had possessed the power to effect the enclosure, they had allowed their rights to lapse.' (Norfolk Annals)

As Parish Council Minutes show, villagers continued to be vigilant about any attempt to enclose the Common. The Common was officially registered to prevent any development. Dr Leaman's proposal to build a new surgery on Common land was strongly opposed. Most recently the first Chemist Shop was objected to because it was a new-build on Common Land. Although the Lord of the Manor retains some rights, care of the Common is shared between the District and Parish Councils.

The Common WAS closed - as a Foot & Mouth precaution in 2001
The Common WAS closed - as a Foot & Mouth precaution in 2001