The village of Martham is
situated on the northern edge of the former Isle of
Flegg at a distance of nine miles from Great Yarmouth,
the nearest town and of 18 miles from the City of
Martham was an open parish, which by
1800 had over 100 ratepayers and in addition possibly
more than a dozen households too poor to pay rates. It
was a parish where most of the people were employed in
agriculture, farming varying acreages of land which they
owned copyhold or freehold, but there were also a number
of people with special skills and yet others who rented
their property and found employment wherever they could.
My intention was to discover how people earned a living,
where people learned their skills and whether they
passed them on.
In order to discover the occupations
followed by Martham people prior to 1800, my first and
most useful source of information was the ‘Norwich
Peculiar Jurisdiction Index to wills and other probate
records’ as until 1857 Martham was a ‘Norwich Cathedral
Peculiar’. Wills had to be made if a person’s
possessions were likely to be of £5 or more in value.
Most of the wills were made by clergy, gentlemen,
yeomen, husbandmen, spinsters or wealthier widows.
However, a small number were made by other people whose
occupation was recorded. In addition a few inventories
survive. I found three of craftsmen and one of a
It was not until the latter part of
the eighteenth century that in the Burial Register there
are regular records of a person’s occupation.
The specialised occupations that I
have discovered are listed in Tables 1 to 7, where I
have also added as much information as I have been able
to find about the people who followed them.
Building workers (see Table 1) would
have been employed in Martham from time immemorial. The
few houses surviving from the 1500s, although much
altered, are a testimony to the fine craftsmanship of
those in that century who are the earliest known by
name. Carpenters would have had a hand in making these
timber-framed houses which were thatched with reeds cut
from the local marshes. In later centuries brick
replaced many of the timber framed walls but the Tudor
brick chimney stacks remain. Brick was made on The
Common before the Enclosure of 1812.
The only work in the village
obviously available for masons would have been on
maintenance to the church which was completed in the
fifteenth century. The rough mason may have built many
of the flint walls which can be seen in the oldest parts
of the houses that had later brick extensions, and on
the construction of the churchyard wall. I wondered
whether it is possible that the masons were also
bricklayers or builders of clay lump houses. Around the
village there are several very fine threshing barns of
English bond brickwork that must have been erected in
the seventeenth century and also two fine houses
survive. Did travelling bricklayers build them?
Some of the carpenters may also have
been joiners. The inventories that I have read in the
Overseers’ Account Book indicate that even the poorest
households had basic furniture, that is, tables, stools
The farmer/glazier may be an example
of how in a pre-industrialised society people
supplemented their incomes from agriculture.
Of the metal and wood workers, (see
Table 2) those who worked as blacksmiths were craftsmen
who were absolutely vital to the community as other
craftsmen depended on them to make their tools and
equipment. It is therefore not surprising that
there are several records of them. Fortunately the
inventories have survived of the possessions of two of
the blacksmiths. That of William Westgate
indicates that he could make a wide range of
articles from nails to farming implements. It
does not mention any farming equipment, so he must have
worked exclusively as a blacksmith. See Appendix 2
After his death it is possible that
there was not a blacksmith working in the parish as
William Whittaker was allowed to settle in Martham in
1728 with his family and work as a blacksmith. A copy of
the inventory made after his death is in Appendix 3. The
inventory provides evidence that he was also engaged in
Coopers did an essential job in
making vessels large and small for holding milk and
I am not sure whether the carver
worked in wood or stone.
Working as a wheelwright would have
been difficult without having a blacksmith in the
locality to make the nails and other metal objects that
were needed for the completion of his wheels and wagons.
The wheelwright and one of the blacksmiths appear to
have been contemporary workers.
For those who worked in the leather
and textile trades see Tables 3 and 4.
There would always have been a demand
locally for the cordwainers’ and shoemakers’ skills
in the making of footwear. William Hall the younger,
the inventory of whose possessions survives, was
totally reliant for his living on his trade, yet
had very little in the way of tools and
stock. See Appendix 4.
The collar maker was making the
collars worn round their necks by farm horses. It
was an important part of a horse’s harness and needed to
be a comfortable fit for the well-being of a horse
employed in heavy work.
To find a currier working is
interesting because the nearest places that I have found
with tanneries are Caister-on-Sea and Ludham. Was he
dressing the leather for the glover? I wondered whether
the gloves being made were for workers because before
1800 very few people living locally even among the
wealthier farming families were not working people.
Some of those who worked in the
leather and textile trades, the weavers, currier and
glover may have been examples of people employed under
the ‘Putting-out’ system whereby rural workers would be
supplied with raw materials by merchants who later
bought their finished products and sold them on, on an
That a merchant and woollen drapers
lived in the Parish suggests that this could have been
the case. The sort of yarn the spinsters were spinning
is unknown. I have not found evidence that flax was
grown in Martham. They may have spun wool supplied to
them, as sheep were not part of the economy of Flegg at
number of tailors recorded (see Table
5) indicates that there was always a need for their
craft. Here is an example of a
son following his father in his trade. William
Creasey was the son of Richard; therefore it is
very likely that he learned his skill at
home. They were an intelligent family.
William’s son William probably became
Woollen drapers were dealing in
woollen goods and could have been supplying cloth to the
With the number of
households in Martham steadily increasing
by 1800, there was obviously a potential
market for the consumption of food and drink and
countless other commodities (See Table 6).
There was from very early times a
windmill on the high ground to the east of the village,
providing employment for a miller to grind the cereals
grown on the vast arable fields of the parish. Cattle
were pastured on the extensive areas of common land
alongside the River Thurne, but I think many of these
may have been fattened for markets elsewhere. From
reading inventories one gathers that pigs, geese and
chickens were kept which were more likely for local
consumption and provided the butchers with work.
Whether the fisherman worked on the
rivers of the Broads, fishing for eels or pike, or at
sea is not known. From his possessions listed in the
inventory made after his death, it seems that he was
also a farmer.
Finding a record of a shopkeeper in
Martham is exciting. He would have been selling goods
supplied by wholesalers. (Was Thomas Rising the Martham
equivalent of Thomas Turner of East Hoathley in Sussex?
He also held the offices of churchwarden and overseer).
This is another example of an enterprising farmer.
The Rising family had been Yeomen
farmers in Martham for almost two centuries. Here we
find James Slegg marrying Thomas’ daughter and
continuing the business.
From the eighteenth century onwards
there are records of a public house in Martham – built
by Lacons Brewery and requiring a publican.
There are no further
details of the sort of enterprise that the merchant was
involved in or of the business of the tallow chandler,
except that he would have been dealing in tallow candles
which would have been a valuable commodity in every
household that could afford to buy them.
Table 7 lists other occupations that
I have found. It illustrates the increasing
diversity of employment in the parish.
The boatman may have had
a wherry on the River Thurne which at that
time was the main transport route for heavy
The carrier would have
been carrying small goods by road to other local
From the names of the
Parish Clerks I think they were local men who
had been fortunate to be educated at the charity school
set up in Martham in the late 17th century as a result
of the bequests of Christopher Ames (1622) and others.
The Vicar and Churchwardens were
trustees of the ‘Endowed Non-classical school’ with the
schoolmaster being mentioned in the Terriers of the
Records show that the barber did
return to Martham but I could find neither a record of
his burial or a will. Why two labourers were
wealthy enough to make wills I have yet to discover.
The gardener may have been growing
fruit, vegetables and herbs for local
people. I think it is unlikely that even the
grander households would have had flower gardens.
The dog whippers would have been paid
by the churchwardens to control the dogs taken into
church services by farmers, if they created a
Having studied these occupations of
Martham people I regret to say that I have been able to
discover where only a few workers learned their skills
and whether they passed them on.
It is possible that some were
indentured apprentices, but their documents have not
survived. I also wondered whether the regulations
regarding apprenticeships were enforced in rural areas.
Some may have passed their skills through family links
even though they may not be father to son except in rare
cases. Those whose apprenticeships are recorded in
Yarmouth and Norwich seem to have been sons of the
wealthier and their apprenticeship, a passport to a more
prosperous town life. See Appendix 7.
With the Parish Registers being
incomplete, unreliable and partly illegible, it is
impossible to say how many of the people studied were
born in the parish. If someone had moved because a job
was available, the question arises whether he had to
have a settlement certificate in order to do that.
Studying the registers in order to locate people’s
records has been fascinating. I have been able to create
several family trees that have produced some interesting
revelations. This is just the beginning of a most
interesting and worthwhile study.
W = will BT = Bishop's
Transcript BR = Burial Register
A true and perfect Inventory of all
the goods chattles and personal estate of William Westgate
of Martham in the County of Norfolk Blacksmith
lately deceased apprised by Edmond Boyce and Francis Frost
the 26th day of Aprill 1714 in manner and form as
(Signed) Edmund Boyce
N.R.O. REFERENCE not stated but indexed
An Inventory of the goods and Chattles
of William Hall late of Martham Deceased Apprised the 23
day of January 1729 By Mr Robt Suttfeld, Mr William
Seavarey and Thomas Myleham