- The Middle Ages
- The Shape of Belton
- The Church
- The Reformation to the 18th Century
- The Enclosures
- Victorian Belton
- Railway and Market Garden
- Belton in the 20th Century
- Belton at War
- From Village to Suburb
Although we cannot say exactly when the villages of Belton and Browston were founded,
there is evidence of human activity in this area going back thousands of years. Finds
recorded by Norfolk Landscape Archaeology include a hand axe found near the Round Hills,
south of Belton. This is thought to be at least 12,000 years old. Other finds in the
Belton area are flint knives, scrapers and axe heads dating from 4,000 to 6,000 years ago
and a quartzite mace-head from the Bronze Age (2,500 BC-700 BC). Windmill Hill south of
Belton and Bell Hill in nearby Fritton are ancient burial mounds or barrows, dating from
the Bronze Age. Aerial photography carried out between 1977 and 1981 showed two ring
ditches to the south-east of Browston Hall. These may be traces of other barrows long
It is quite likely that people were already living in the area when the Romans started
settling here in the first century AD. Two thousand years ago the landscape was very
different from today. There was a large tidal estuary covering the rivers Yare and
Waveney and their surrounding marshes. It extended inland as far as present day Acle. Its
north shore was the high land overlooking the present day village of Caister. On its
southern shore today stand Burgh Castle and Belton.
The Romans were not the only people from mainland Europe interested in East Anglia.
During the 3rd century Saxons raided these shores the large estuary making them
vulnerable to attack from sea. To defend the coast the Romans built a chain of forts, one
of which was at Burgh Castle. This was completed around 280 AD. This is the most obvious
evidence of Roman occupation, but there is other evidence in the Belton area. There are
finds of pottery and coins dating from 43AD to 409 AD, the entire period of Roman
occupation in Britain. Aerial photography has also revealed markings in the fields at
Browston that indicate a large Roman farmstead. This would have been a timber framed
house with wattle and daub walls and a tiled roof, outbuildings and a grain store along
side. It would have had a hypercaust, the Roman version of under-floor heating. There are
indications of a neatly kept garden, laid out in geometric patterns which would have
grown herbs for the kitchen.
It is possible that a harbour was excavated on the inlet at Stepshort to take ships
supplying Burgh Castle. Its location would have made it suitable. Under the Romans East
Anglia flourished, but in the early 5th century troops were withdrawn. Rome itself was
under attack and its empire declining. The way was clear for the Saxons to settle here.
At first the new Saxon settlers were pagan, but from the 7th century they converted to
Christianity. In 631 the East Anglian king Sigbert invited the Irish missionary Fursey to
found a monastery. Tradition places it within the walls of the old Roman fort. With
Sigbert's help Fursey made Christianity the religion of the area.
There were further incursions from Europe. The Dane settled here and in time intermixed
with the Saxons. It is at this time, more than a thousand years ago, that communities
were founded and places given names which have come down to us today.
Belton and Browston are modern versions of Saxon names. According to Ekwall's 'Concise
Dictionary of Place Names', Belton means a village or homestead in a clearing or an area
of dry land surrounded by a fen. The latter describes Belton which sits on a low hill
above the river to the west and low lying marshy ground to the north.
Browston, which is called Brockestuna in the Domesday Book, takes its name from the word
for a badger. Ekwall suggests that the village was named after someone called Brock
rather than the animal itself.
By the 10th century Saxon government ruled England. The country was divided into counties
and the counties into administrative districts called hundreds. Belton was in the
Lothingland hundred of Suffolk. By this time the Lothingland parishes that we know today
had all been established. Lothingland was then practically an island. A branch of the
Waveney, flowing into the sea at Kirkley, cut it off to the south. The main southerly
route in was at Mutford Bridge.
In 1066 the Normans conquered England and positions of power where granted by the new
King William to his supporters. One such supporter was Roger Bigot who was made Sheriff
of both Norfolk and Suffolk. Under Norman rule the farms owned by the Saxons were given
the French name of manor and many came under Norman control. In time the manors grew and
acquired more land, not always in their own parish. In Norfolk and Suffolk manors often
overlap parish boundaries. William wanted to know what was the wealth of his new kingdom
and in 1086 a nationwide survey was carried out. The records this are known as the
Domesday Book and give some idea of what Belton, Browston and the neighbouring
communities were like.
In Belton three men farmed 90 acres with a plough team of oxen. Another six men are
recorded, a team of oxen belonging to the lord of the manor, plus half a team, one
draught horse and 160 sheep. Away from the main settlement another 120 acres of land were
being cultivated. Browston may have been bigger than Belton. A total of 240 acres were
being cultivated and nine men are recorded. There were four plough teams, two draught
horses, 70 sheep, three goats and 14 pigs. This may include Brotherton which is in
The Domesday survey was not a census and does not include women and children. The
population of Belton and Browston may have been about 50 or 60 each. Gapton was another
community in the area. It had 190 acres under cultivation plus 4.5 acres of meadowland.
There are 10 men are recorded and seven plough teams plus half a team, one draught horse,
12 pigs and 110 sheep. Gapton Hall manor eventually became the manor with the largest
land holdings in Belton.
Middle ages ................
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Belton, Browston and Gapton all belonged to the King. Then in 1170 Henry II gave Gapton
Hall to one of his supporters, Baluri de Bosco. Bosco could lease or rent the land in
return for money, produce and labour. He could also sell the manor on to someone else.
Over the years Gapton passed from owner to owner.
In medieval England the manor was an important part of village life. There were meetings
called courts baron, which regulated the letting and sale of manorial lands, rights of
access for livestock, hunting and fishing. They enforced boundaries and appointed local
officials. A wealthy person might own several manors and leave the running of them to a
bailiff who lived on site. The courts were presided over by a steward who travelled from
manor to manor.
From Baluri de Bosco, Gapton Hall passed to Osbert de Gladeson and Ralph Gerum. Gerum
founded the Priory of St. John the Evangelist at Leighs in Essex. Then in about 1280
Osbert de Gladeson gave the Manor of Gapton Hall to the Priory. At that time wealthy
people often gave money to churches and monasteries. In return the priests and monks
would pray for their souls. It was a kind of after-life insurance policy. No doubt this
is why Osbert de Gladeson gave Gapton Hall to Leighs Priory. For most people in Belton
work was on the land. Then farms were quite different from today. Land was divided into
strips, 220 yards long by 22 yards wide (one acre) or less. Strips were separated by
grass pathways called balks. A group of strips running in the same direction made up a
furlong. A field was a large, open piece of land containing dozens of furlongs of
different shapes and sizes, and maybe hundreds of individual strips.
In Saxon times many villages had only 2 such fields, but over the centuries these
increased as more land was cleared and cultivated. The fields were separated from each
other by ditches and earth banks. The patchwork landscape of fields bounded by hedges
that we know today did not exist then. A typical peasant farmer would have many strips to
work, not grouped conveniently together but scattered about the open fields. In the
winter, after the harvest, livestock were grazed on these fields.
In 1327 there were 39 taxpayers in the parish of Belton. Each taxpayer represented a
household of some means so that the total population may have been around 250. How this
was divided up between Browston an dBelton is hard to say. Today Browston is just a
hamlet, but it may have been bigger 700 years ago.
Aerial photography has shown signs of a 'deserted village'. These are not uncommon in
East Anglia , but if Browston became depopulated, with most of its dwellings abandoned,
what caused it?
There are two main reasons for deserted villages. One is that the Black Death, the plague
epidemic which devastated England in 1349. Estimates of the deaths caused range from one
third to two thirds of the population of the country. In some areas whole villages were
effectively wiped out. Any survivors were too few to keep the community going.
The second possibility is that it was cleared to make way for sheep grazing. The medieval
wool trade was of great importance to East Anglia. Of course, it could be a combination
of the two.
Gapton village also disappeared, perhaps at this time.
The shape of Belton ................
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We have no maps of Belton from its earliest times but we can look for clues as to how it
grew. The Enclosure Map of Belton of 1814 shows a scattered village with the greatest
concentration of buildings clustered around the Green. This indicates that in early
Belton farms and cottages were clustered around a large central green on which the
inhabitants had grazing rights.
Today's Green is but a remnant of what was there originally and has been encroached upon
over the centuries. There are still some of the oldest buildings in Belton to be seen
here. In particular is the fine 17th century barn of Beech Farm. Opposite, somewhat
altered are a group of cottages, probably from the 18th century. The Green is some way
off from the church which sits on a commanding position above it. Church Lane links the
two and once continued on towards Bradwell. The latter section of the road was diverted
by the Enclosure Award. At the north end of Church Lane was another group of farms and
dwellings. Was this an off-shoot from the Green?
West of the Green is Station Road South. Its old name was Lockless Lane. It is hard to
say exactly what 'lockless' or 'locklees' means. 'Lock' can be interpreted as 'enclosed'
and 'lee' as a clearing, glade or meadow. Perhaps it was a lane leading to a piece of
cleared land away from the main settlement.
St John's Road links the bottom of Church Lane with the marshes and river. The name may
be connected to Leighs Priory, which was dedicated to St John the Evangelist and owned
Gapton Hall manor. Earlier a smaller manor of Caxton Hall existed in the area before
being absorbed by Gapton Hall. Caxton Hall was owned by the Prior and Knights of St John
of Jerusalem, another possible link with St John. The route itself may predate these
institutions by centuries, though.
Station Road North does appear until around the time of the Enclosure. It is not on
Faden's map of 1797. This road skirts the Common and seems to be the last road to link up
to the others and give Belton its square shape.
Another early route is from Belton Green to Fritton The southerly route has been diverted
along Station Road South and down Sandy Lane whereas it once took a more direct route.
Stepshort (or Step Short) was originally the stepping-stone crossing over the dyke that
separated Burgh Castle from Belton, rather than an actual road. This road pattern
indicates Belton may have started to the east of the estuary, on relatively high ground
and pushed west to open up fields and access to the marshes. It is likely access to the
river was established at an early date.
The underlying road pattern of Belton, which was established 1,000 years ago, has
influenced the development of the village down to the present day.
The Church ................
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In medieval Belton the most important building was All Saints parish church. The priest
was probably the only educated person in the village and baptisms, weddings, funerals and
festival days were all held there. Each parish church had glebe land, which provided it
with income. Tithes, a form of tax, were also paid, but the church provided charity for
We know that Belton was Christian before 700 AD, yet the Domesday survey of 1086 does not
record a Belton church. But Domesday does not give a complete picture and we may assume
that a church was standing in Belton by then. The earliest reference to Belton church is
in a document called the Testa de Nevill. This records that it was given to the Canons of
St Bartholomew's in London by Henry I, who reigned from 1100 to 1135.
Judging by its style of architecture, the present building dates from the mid-1300's.
Also, the Rectors of Belton are recorded from 1344. By this time All Saints was under the
patronage of the Bishop of Norwich. Medieval churches were brightly painted inside. On
its north wall All Saints has traces of wall paintings depicting St James and St
Christopher, from the mid 14th century. There is also a painting of the Three Quick and
the Three Dead.
Dividing the chancel, where the altar is situated, from the congregation in the nave or
main part of the church is a 14th century screen. The baptismal font is from the 13th
century and older than the present church, so is evidence of an earlier building.
The wall paintings and stained glass windows told stories for people who were illiterate.
With painted screens, statues of saints and altar cloths the inside of medieval churches
were richly coloured and decorated.
During the Reformation English churches were stripped of their religious images which
were thought to be idolatrous. Sculptures were defaced, stained glass smashed, statues
removed and murals whitewashed over. When the Yarmouth historian J. H. Druery visited
Belton church in 1826 he found the round tower in ruins, a wooden bell cote over the
south porch and the east window, above the altar, blocked.
The Victorian period saw a renewed interest in the Gothic architecture of the middle ages
and in traditional Catholic or High Church liturgy. In 1837, the Revd Francis Howes
became Rector of Belton. Over the rest of the century he and his family restored Belton
church to something like its former glory.
In 1849 the round tower was rebuilt. The original may have predated the 14th century
church. The lower part of Bradwell's tower was probably built around 950 so Belton's may
be of similar date.
In 1866 the chancel was restored at a cost of £500 paid for by the Rector. In the 1880's
the nave was reroofed, walls plastered, floors paved with clay tiles and new pews
installed. This was paid for by subscription. In 1887 a reredos or altar back was
installed. This is carved with scenes of the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the
In 1896 Revd Howes' family commissioned the stained glass East window as a memorial to
the late Francis Howes, who had been Rector of Belton for 58 years. In the churchyard the
names of generations of Belton families can be seen. Near the footpath to the north of
the Church is a tomb. At one time, surrounded by iron railing and well tended., it looked
very grand. It is now very dilapidated. This is the tomb of the Larkman family of Belton
Hall and Belton Lodge, once gentlemen farmers and local gentry.
In 1827 Great Yarmouth was shocked to find body snatchers stealing corpses from their
churchyard. People in Belton must have worried about this happening to them for Dorothy
Smith tells in her book how her great-grandfather watched for three nights over the grave
of his father who died in 1828.
Reformation to the 18th Century ................
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In the 1530's Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome and established the Church of
England. The Reformation had begun. Some changes may have taken time to work through but
one change that took effect immediately was the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1534
the religious communities in England were closed down and their assets seized by the
State. Gapton Hall manor, once the property of Leighs Priory, was passed to Richard
Cavendish. Under the Cavendish family the manor grew, gaining land in several
When the Civil War broke out in 1642 most of East Anglia sided with Parliament against
the King. Lord of the manor of Gapton Hall was Sir John Wentworth, whose family had
acquired most of the Lothingland manors at the end of the 16th century. Sir John, who
lived at Somerleyton, was a Parliamentarian but there were Royalist supporters in
Lothingland. They arrested him and held him at Lowestoft, a Royalist town. He was not in
prison for long, though, as troops led by Oliver Cromwell captured the town without
meeting any resistance and set him free. Sir John died in 1653 and Charles II was
restored to the throne in 1660. In 1672 one of Sir John's former captors, Thomas Allin,
bought the Wentworth estates. Allin, who had fought for the King, had ended up on the
winning side. He had gained a knighthood and been made an admiral. He now lived at
Somerleyton and owned land in Ashby, Belton, Bradwell, Carlton Colville, Corton, Flixton,
Fritton, Gorleston, Mutford and Lound. One event which stands out in the 17th century is
the Great Plague of 1665. Although it is associated with London, the epidemic was not
confined to the Capital. Other towns suffered too. Belton has Parish Registers recording
christenings, weddings and burials from 1588. The Register for 1665 records 13 burials,
seven described as 'plague'. These were in April and May. This may not sound very many
but around this time three or four burials a year was normal. The hearth tax returns for
1674 show 36 households in Belton. This suggests a population of 150 to 200 people at the
time of the plague. The plague deaths represent a big increase on the usual number of
deaths and must have been a great worry to the community.
In 1666 Parliament decreed that everyone who died should be buried in a shroud of English
woollen cloth. If you buried a family member without doing so you could be fined £5. This
was to encourage the English cloth trade. The local minister had to keep a register of
burials in woollen and the relatives had to produce an affidavit sworn before a
magistrate that this had been carried out. In the Belton Parish Registers the phrase
'buried in woollen by Affidavit' appears, recording that this had been done.
Apart from the Church, the only building surviving in Belton from this period is the
thatched cottage on Station Road South which dates from around 1600. Unusually some of
its original window frames seem to have survived.
One prominent local family in the 17th and 18th centuries were the Symonds. Some of them
were merchants in Great Yarmouth and had taken a leading role in the town's affairs.
Another branch of the family settled in Browston around 1600. One of them, James Symonds
died in 1624 and is buried in Belton church. The Symonds were benefactors to Belton. When
Nathaniel Symonds of Great Yarmouth died in 1720, he bequeathed £5 per year, for 15
years, to buy religious books for the poor who could read in Belton and other villages
where he had interests.
Around 1690, the Symonds rebuilt Browston Hall and the old manor house. During the
following century three very ornate ceilings were installed. Over the entrance hall is a
large plaster eagle and a smaller eagle on the ceiling of an adjoining room. In a third
room there is a sun face in the centre of the ceiling with the Four Ages of Woman and
symbols of the seasons in the corners. This third room has a village scene in the window
bay depicting fishing, swimming, boating and courtship. There is a cottage in the
background and a church with a round tower.
Around 1800 further improvements were carried out to the gardens and 'graperies, pineries
and an extensive peachery' were built. J. H. Druery writing in 1826 ,records that
Browston Hall contained an extensive picture collection including works by Dutch masters
and the Norwich School. He describes Browston itself at this time as 'an inconsiderable
hamlet attached to (Belton). It contains a few small houses.
In the 18th century there was an increased awareness of archaeology. One local man who
devoted his short life to this study was John Ives, the son of a wealthy Yarmouth
merchant. His grandfather owned land at Belton and had built or enlarged a house there.
John Ives had a passionate interest in local history and archaeology and published books
on these subjects. Unfortunately he had been in poor health since childhood and died at
the age of 25, in1776. In his short life he had become a Fellow of the Royal Society and
a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He had also been made Suffolk Herald
extraordinary because of his knowledge of genealogy and heraldry.
His collection of books, pictures, coins, manuscripts and stained glass were sold at
auction in London in 1777. The sale took seven days and made over £2,000, which went to
his widow Sarah. In his will he asked to be buried in Belton Church , near the North wall
in line with his grandfather's grave. His monument has the Ives family arms and an oak
tree, broken in the middle. A few acorns only have fallen to the ground. This sis to
symbolise a life cut short. His father, also called John Ives, outlived him. In 1778 he
bought land at Belton, Bradwell and Burgh Castle and in 1780 bought the house that is now
the Elizabethan House Museum in Great Yarmouth. He died at Hobland Hall in 1793, aged 74.
His monument in the church records that he was 'possessed of great property in this
His widow Mary, married Thomas Fowler who bought the Gunton estate near Lowestoft. Thus
Thomas Fowler became a major land owner in Belton at the end of the 18th century.
Belton's most striking house from the 18th century is the Old Hall on Station Road South.
This dates from the early 1700's and its classical architecture is meant to impress on us
that its builder was a person of learning and taste.
The Enclosures ................
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At the beginning of the 19th century Belton was described as a 'small scattered village,
in a picturesque dell, opening to the vale of the Waveney.' Farming still involved strips
and furlongs on the open fields as it had done so for hundreds of years. The population
of the parish was about 350.
There were changes taking place however. New farming methods had been pioneered in East
Anglia. There was also pressure to consolidate the old scattered strips into larger land
holdings. This would make farming more efficient. These improvements involved fencing off
the new land holdings, this was called enclosure. It would also be applied to common
lands and waste grounds on which villagers grazed their few head of livestock.
An Act of Parliament was needed to allow enclosure in a particular place and
commissioners were appointed to supervise the process. The results were good news for the
big landowners, but bad news for the poor villagers who could loose their access to
grazing land. In 1809 Parliament passed an 'Act for Inclosing lands in Bradwell, Belton,
Fritton'. This was a private Act of Parliament, paid for by the local landowners who
would benefit from it. Three commissioners were appointed, Henry Jermy of Sibton, Suffolk
(Esquire), John Drugmore of Swaffham, Norfolk (Gentleman) and Cammant Money of
Somerleyton, Suffolk (Gentleman). They took evidence from the interested parties and in
1814 presented their decisions in an Enclosure Award.
The open fields of Belton were divided up among the land owners, in proportion to the
value of the land they owned. The common and waste lands were also divided up. The new
fields were then fenced off or enclosed to mark their boundaries and stop livestock
wandering on them.
786 acres were enclosed by the Act, in a parish of 2,000 acres. Nine acres of land was
set aside for the poor of the parish. This is the Poorlands, situated on the east of the
Beccles Road, south of the Browston crossways. It was rented out and the income used to
buy coal for the poor in winter. This charity is still active and managed by the Parish
Council. Land was also set aside to provide sand and gravel for repairing the roads
within Belton. This was south of the Poorlands. Roads were diverted around the new land
holdings where necessary and new roads created. The status of roads and footpaths within
the parish was confirmed. The Award is still the main source of information when deciding
rights of way issues.
Sluices were put on drains to improve land drainage. The upkeep of these was paid for by
rates on the landowners who benefited. They were also required to appoint a drainage
reeve to supervise maintenance.
The Award specified the type of fences to enclose the land and the depth and width of the
ditches. Banks of earth were to be made from the earth taken from the ditches and planted
with whitethorn hedges. While the hedges were growing hurdles were to be put on the
banks. The cost of fencing was to be met by the respective landowners. The Award also
settled boundary disputes between Belton and Burgh Castle and Fritton.
The cost of the enclosure to Belton was £2,896/8/6d (£2,896.43p), divided among those
included in the Award. This was an enormous amount of money so only the better off
landowners could be involved. The ordinary people of Belton had no say in what
In 1814 the major landowners in Belton were Thomas Fowler, who had acquired John Ives'
land through marrying the latter's widow; the Hon. George Irby, Magdalen College, Oxford;
Thomas Morse and George Anguish, lord of Gapton Hall manor.
The five year gap between the passing of the Act in 1809 and the Award in 1814 is due
largely to a dispute over the New Road linking Belton to the main Great Yarmouth-Beccles
At that time Belton was linked to the main road by Beccles Road which runs east from the
Green. At the north end of Church Lane a road ran across country towards Bradwell Church.
The Enclosure Award diverted Church Lane into its present shape and did away with the
cross country route. Instead a new road was planned to link the north side of Belton with
the main road. This New Road would cut across land in Bradwell owned by Thomas Morse, one
of the wealthy local landowners. As a result he would loose part of his land and receive
no compensation in return.
Morse objected to the New Road at two special meetings. presided over by county
magistrates, to deal with such objections. However, he did not succeed in stopping it.
The meetings were held in 1810 and the following year a surveyor arrived at the field in
question to mark out the road.
When Morse heard of this he got together some of his men and drove the surveyor off his
land. Each time the surveyor and his men returned they were driven off again. This went
on for a year.
Then in 1813 the two sides battled it out in court. Finally an independent adjudicator
was appointed. There is no record of his findings but the road was built. The enclosure
had a major effect in defining the shape of Belton. It would be another 150 years before
anything so radical happened again.
Victorian Belton ................
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When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 industry was growing, towns were expanding
and life in Britain generally was changing. The was most obvious in the towns and cities
but life in Belton was changing too.
The Census of 1851 gives us one of the clearest pictures yet of life in the parish. There
were 80 agricultural labourers, the largest group of workers. They made up about one
third of working males. This does not include children who worked on the land instead of
going to school.
The next biggest group were the 30 servants such as maids and farm servants. These were
mostly young girls. 'Going into service' was one of the few jobs available to young
women. You did not have to be rich to afford a maid at that time. Every middle class
household had at least one.
Another job for a woman was laundress. With no washing machines wash day was hard work
and those who could afford it would send their washing to a laundress. Belton had seven,
including one in Browston.
Among the other trades in the parish were seven blacksmiths, (including apprentices), six
carpenters, five shoemakers, four bricklayers, one brick-maker, two farm bailiffs, three
fishermen and the inn keeper at the King's Head. There were 11 farmers, but only one
market gardener. That would soon change.
Out of 158 children of 12 years and under, only 14 are recorded as scholars. At that time
Belton had a school but it was obviously not well attended. This was Belton's first
proper school, the National School started in 1835. National Schools were charity schools
linked to the Church of England and widespread before the start of State education in the
It is hard to say why the school was so poorly attended. It is true that children from
poor families were kept away to do jobs like bird scaring, stone picking and helping with
the harvest. Education was not free, nor was it compulsory. It seems that the school was
rundown. Also the school master was 74 years old and perhaps no longer up to the job.
Despite the apparent poverty of Belton only three people were recorded as paupers, that
is receiving charity from the parish. Most people worked for as long as they could and
then relied on their families to look after them. The three paupers were too old to work
and had no-one to support them. They were lucky to be living in their own homes, though.
Most paupers were sent to the workhouse, a place feared more than prison. The workhouse
for Belton parish was at Oulton, quite a way off.
Most of the people in Belton worked with their hands, but their were a few who formed the
upper crust of local society.
At the top was the Rector, the Revd Francis Howes, who had arrived in Belton in 1837. In
1851 he was 44 years old and lived with his wife Mary Ann 35, their four sons and four
daughters aged from 11 months to 10 years, his sister Dorothy, two nursemaids, a
housemaid, cook and general servant. They lived in the Rectory opposite the Green.
Compare the Howes family with the Guytons of Stepshort. William, 43, was an agricultural
labourer living with his wife Jane, 42. They also had eight children, ranging from
William junior, 24 to Sabina, a three month old baby girl. They lived in a cottage with
no servants to help.
At Browston Hall John Baker, solicitor, lived with his wife Emma, and a lady's maid, a
housemaid, a cook and groom. Meanwhile at Browston Hall Farm, Edward Stannard, bachelor,
lived with his sister Harriet, who was his housekeeper, their niece and two servants. He
farmed 207 acres and employed six labourers.
The lord of the manor was the railway magnate, Samuel Morton Peto, of Somerleyton Hall.
The most populated parts of Belton village were still Lockless Lane (Station Road South),
the Green and Goffin's Lane (Sandy Lane). Seven families lived at Stepshort, some way off
from the main village and almost a separate hamlet.
By 1861 Belton had grown to 516 inhabitants. There were now eight market gardeners and
115 agricultural labourers. Laundresses had increased from six to 24.
Another group which had greatly increased was the scholars. In 10 years it had grown from
14 to 70 and included children from the poorer families. This may have been because the
school was rebuilt in 1860 and now had a new school mistress, Miss Norton.
The new school, which included a teacher's house, was built on the site of the old one
and cost £700. £200 came from the will of Mrs Fowler, the rest from Government grants and
voluntary subscriptions. In 1896 it was enlarged to take 170 children. By then
attendances were regularly over one hundred.
Another new arrival during the previous decade was Police Constable Thomas Denny, 34, his
wife and 5 young children. He was the first 'village bobby' and lived on Belton Green
In the 1860's a sub-post office was established in Belton with Noah Pole the
sub-postmaster, The letters went via Great Yarmouth and the nearest post office to supply
money orders was Gorleston.
At the Rectory, the Revd Howes family continued to grow. His eldest son was a 20 year old
medical student. There were 9 others, the youngest only 6 months old. Mrs Howes, 45, was
helped by a governess, a dressmaker and four house servants.
The growing population of Belton needed amenities. In 1857 local farmer David Claxton
gave land for a Primitive Methodist Chapel on the edge of the Common. About 30 years
later he helped raise funds for a bigger chapel to be built on the site. There was no
minister living in Belton so the services would have been conducted by a lay preacher or
a circuit minister. The chapel was demolished in the 1960's.
In 1886 the Misses Howes, daughters of the Rector, and Sir Savile Crossley MP of
Somerleyton laid foundation stones for the Belton Institute. This red brick building with
Gothic windows on the front was designed by Yarmouth architect Sidney Rivett. It was the
village hall and was run by a local committee. The Institute was used for many different
functions: Parish and Parish Council Meetings, dances, parties, club and society
meetings, whist drives, polling station.
Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is that it was the venue for Sir John Mills first
public performance. His father Lewis Mills was headmaster of Belton School around the
time of the First World War. The young John, dressed in a sailor suit danced a horn pipe
at a concert organised by his father. It went down well and drew great applause.
Interviewed on 'Desert Island Discs', nearly 90 years later, Sir John said that it was
this first taste of show business that made him want to become an actor.
After the sub-post office opened in the 1860's, postal services in Belton continued to
improve. In 1900 Belton Post Office was offering a full service including money orders,
telegrams, express delivery, parcel post and savings bank. The Post Office was on Station
Road South, not far from the Rectory. There was a market garden beside it and some
stables. One of the postmen kept a horse and sometimes delivered mail on horseback. This
would have been useful for delivering to Browston.
By the late 1880's Belton had a tourist trade. The Belton Gardens were laid out to the
side of and behind the King's Head. These were pleasure gardens, where visitors could
enjoy the flowers, take tea or have a drink, and buy produce to take away. There were
also novelties to see, like oranges and other fruit growing under glass. It became very
popular with Yarmouth holiday makers who came out in horse drawn brakes and charabancs.
The King's Head itself was originally an 18th century country inn. Because of the success
of Belton Gardens extensions were made to building in 1900. It was now the King's Head
Hotel and even had a public telephone. On Good Fridays there was a fair at the King's
Head called 'Mother Brown's'. This attracted visitors from Great Yarmouth who got up to
pranks and possibly worse. In 1908 the Parish Council complained to the landlord and the
Police, saying the fair was a public nuisance. It seems to have died out after that.
The Railway Tavern was now a fully licensed public house. It is an 18th century building,
long pre-dating the railway. It must have had another name before the railway arrived,
but it was a beer house and so its 'pub' name does not appear in the directories.
As the population of the country grew in the 19th century, industry expanded and life
became more complicated new forms of administration were needed. In 1889 County Councils
were created and Belton came under East Suffolk. Below the new County Councils new Parish
Councils and Rural District Councils were created in 1894.
Belton came within the District of Lothingland and on 31st December 1894 the first
meeting of Belton Parish Council took place in the Belton Institute. The new council was
drawn from a cross section of the parish, from gentlemen to labourers but mostly from the
market gardeners and farmers. The decided to hold four regular meetings a year but in
their early years, they seemed to meet rather irregularly.
Railway and Market Garden ................
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In 1839 'The Gardeners Chronicle' had predicted that the London vegetable markets
would one day be supplied by market gardens much further away from than those on
the outskirts of London, due to the spread of the railways. This became a reality
for Belton on 1st June 1858, when The East Suffolk Railway's Belton Station opened. (It
was renamed 'Belton and Burgh' in 1923). Until then the village had been quite an
isolated place. By horse-drawn vehicle Great Yarmouth was over an hour away. Now the
same journey could be made in minutes. More importantly, London and its produce markets
were only hours away. The growing of fruit and vegetables for local consumption and sale
on Yarmouth Market was well established but small scale. Now it was worthwhile producing
large quantities for London. With the railway came the market gardens, something with
which Belton would be associated for the next 100 years.
Some of the local farmers, like Thomas Farman, converted to market gardening. Others
combined market gardening with their own trades including inn keeper, coal merchant,
butcher, shopkeeper and even postman and parish clerk. It seemed market gardening
provided an opportunity for everyone. It certainly provided an opportunity for
agricultural labourer William Guyton of Stepshort. With his son, also William, now
living in Lockless Lane they turned to market gardening and over the coming decades
built up a thriving business.
The railway had the biggest impact on Belton since the enclosures. As well as
stimulating the local economy it changed the appearance of the village. It cut a
diagonal from south-west to north-east, coming in on an embankment across the Common to
the station at road level, with a level crossing beside it. It then pushed through a
cutting between fields in the centre of the village, under Bell Lane bridge, then out
across another embankment and over bridges on St John's Road, by the King's Head, and
One unintended effect of the railway was that it attracted a number of suicides. These
were tragic events but the outcome of one was so unusual that it deserves to be told. In
1889 a young woman called Rose Burrage, who lived with her father, a market gardener's
labourer. discovered she was pregnant. She was unmarried and did not tell her father.
One Friday in October of that year, as the time approached for the baby to be born, her
friends noticed that she was depressed. That evening she went out to buy a newspaper and
The next morning a railway platelayer, walking along the line to Belton, found her body
on the track. To his surprise he heard a baby cry. A mid-wife was sent for and she found
a newly born baby boy, still attached to his dead mother, under her skirts. A doctor
from Gorleston concluded that she had been hit by a train, knocked unconscious and a
little later died. He thought the baby must have been born while she was lay dying on
the track. The Coroner's jury at the inquest returned a verdict of 'suicide while in a
state of temporary insanity'. Remarkably, the baby survived and grew up without any
injury caused by the strange circumstances of his birth.
By 1900 there was a large concentration of greenhouses to the north of the Green and
Station Road South. There were other groups of greenhouses on Station Road North and
behind the King's Head. In them grew tomatoes, cucumbers, cress, early lettuces and other
early vegetables. These were crops that had come to Belton in little more than a
From the late 19th century on cut flowers became an important part of market gardening.
These too were grown in greenhouses in the winter and outside in the summer. Hardy's of
Newcastle were a major wholesale dealer and took flowers by the rail-truck load, packed
During the interwar years market gardeners were still a big part of Belton life. In the
1929 Kelly's Directory seventeen are listed, including E. F. Guyton who gives his
telegram address as 'Tomato, Belton'.
After the World War Two market gardening went into decline. In 1959 local people
protested at the proposal to close the Southtown-Beccles railway line. The closure went
ahead nevertheless on 2nd November. When the railway closed it was a blow to the market
gardens that were now having to compete with foreign imported produce. Some produce would
still be sold locally, but the end of an era was approaching for Belton.
Belton in the 20th Century ................
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Of growing concern to the Parish Council in the early 20th century was the state of the
roads and road safety. The existing roads were not designed for the new motor vehicles
and overhanging trees, high fences and sharp bends were a problem. Increase in motor
traffic in the early years of the century caused damage to gravel roads and threw up a
great deal of dust.
Working with the Lothingland District Council road junctions were altered, in particular
the junction at the Crossways. The Automobile Association were also approached for help
in supplying danger signs.
In 1924 Station Rd South was resurfaced with granite tarmac. The following year Station
Rd North which was in a very bad state was rebuilt using over 400 tons of flint to give
it a new foundation. Improvements were then made to New Rd and St Johns Rd in 1927/28. By
1928 Belton Parish Council were congratulating Lothingland on the condition of the
parish's roads, now resurfaced with tarmac.
Roadmen's wages at this time were 25 shillings (£1.25) per week basic rate, 28 shillings
(£1.40) for a 48hr week in winter and 29 shillings (£1.45) for 50 hrs in the summer.
Despite the increase in motor traffic, there were still many horse drawn vehicles. As
late as the 1930's there was a village blacksmith, Henry Payne, shoeing horses. After the
War he retired to a new council house in Dashwood Close.
Taking in laundry continued in the 1920's and 30's. Henry Terrace on Station Road South
was known as 'Soapsuds Terrace' because of the washing done there. Monday and Tuesday
were washing days, Wednesday and Thursday were ironing days and Friday was packing up.
The customers were the boarding houses in Great Yarmouth.
There were still fishermen in Belton and at New Year there was a service of thanksgiving
in All Saints Parish Church for their safe return after the autumn herring fishery. The
church was decorated with nets, lamps and lifebouys and an anchor made of white flowers
was placed on the War Memorial table.
In 1932 the Parish Council asked Lothingland to build council houses in the village.
Lothingland District Council agreed and early in 1934 H A Holmes & Sons of Great Yarmouth
began work on eight houses in Sandy Lane for a total of £2,200. Six of the new tenants
came from Belton, one from Browston and one from St Olaves. The rent was five shillings
(25p) per week plus rates. For an extra 3d (1p) you could rent a shed as well. Although
the houses were modern they were still supplied with water from a well like the rest of
Belton. They were the first council houses in the village.
In 1933 a family of 2 adults and 3 children were found living in a laundry shed in Sandy
Lane. The adults were unemployed and unable to get a house to rent that they could
afford. They probably could not have afforded a new council house.
A 1936 survey of the 187 dwellings in Belton and the 31 dwellings in Browston found only
one case of overcrowding. That was in Sandy Lane. It is possible the standard for
overcrowding was lower then, as 8 persons were allowed in each of the new Sandy Lane
council houses. That seems high today.
Belton and Bradwell were combined for purposes of representation on the Lothingland
Council in 1934. The two parishes could only send 3 representatives between them instead
of two each as before.
In October of that year there was a discussion on whether Belton and the neighbouring
parishes should be connected to mains water supply. At that time houses in Belton were
still supplied by water from wells and pumps. The Parish Council thought there was
already an abundant supply of good water in Belton. They claimed that cases of
contamination were 'almost unknown in the memory of the village'. It was decided mains
water was unnecessary.
Since 1931 mains electricity had been available to houses in Belton but it would be a
while before it was taken up by everyone. People were used to oil lamps for lighting
their homes and did not immediately want electrical appliances. In 1935 Great Yarmouth
Electricity Department gave terms on which they would supply street lighting to Belton.
This offer was not accepted.
1935 was the Silver Jubilee year of King George IV who came to the throne in 1910.
Celebrations were discussed and it was decided to hold a Jubilee tea for the children in
the Institute, with games on the Common and a souvenir mug presented to each child
afterwards. The cost was covered by subscriptions.
After the war the community wished to show its appreciation of those who joined the
forces. A Welcome Home Fund was set up and fundraising concerts, whist drives and phat
drives were held. (Phat is a card game, rarely played now it seems).
It was decided that the money would be best spent on buying and laying out a playing
field for the parish. Previously the only playing field was on the Common where the
ground was very rough.
In 1946 five acres of land off Bell Lane, near the Church, was bought from Mr E Guyton
for £460. A Trust Deed was drawn up and the Parish Council agreed to act as trustees. The
Deed stated that the playing field was to be used for the benefit of the inhabitants of
Belton and Browston.
There was a big demand for houses after the war due to war damage and the need to house
those returning from the services. In 1948 it was noted that a house in Henry Terrace,
Station Rd South, which would normally have cost £500, was at that time worth £950.
In the same year more council houses were begun in Belton. This new road was called
Dashwood Close after Col. H. R. Dashwood of Caldecott Hall, former Chairman of the
Lothingland Housing Committee. Water was supplied from a well by an electric pump, but
the houses were of the latest design. Dashwood Close was not connected to a mains water
supply until 1958. Rent was 17 shillings (85p) per week plus rates. In 1965 ten more
houses were added to the Close.
In 1952 Lothingland Council wanted a name for the council houses on Sandy Lane. The
Parish Council recommended Goffin Terrace. Sandy Lane had been called Goffin's Lane in
the 19th century after Thomas Goffin a carpenter and builder who lived there.
A new development was the licensing of 40 caravans and 20 tents for the Sunfield Caravan
Site on Belton Common, for S H D Sinfield. This new development was not popular with
everyone and later there were complaints that the lack of mains water on the site had
created unsanitary conditions.
Belton at War ................
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Belton Common had been used for military manoeuvres at the end of the 19th century by the
Suffolk Regiment. This continued during the First World War when trenches were dug on the
Local people were made aware of the War in a number of ways. Food production was of the
highest importance as imports were disrupted by German U-boats. Late in 1916 the East
Suffolk War Agricultural Committee contacted the Belton Parish Council about the
distribution of Scotch seed potatoes. The parishioners were invited to form a society to
run the scheme. The idea was that the Government supplied Scotch seed potatoes at low
cost so that everyone could grow them, whether on an allotment or in their gardens.
Another local scheme was the creation of 'War Gardens'. The older school children
cultivated land belonging to Mrs Smith at the Post Office in Station Rd South. They had
instructions from a gardener who taught them to grow vegetables for the war effort. They
were supervised by a gardener from Lake Cottage the home of one of the school managers,
The school children were also affected by a 'no lights' rule or black out, so Belton
would not be visible to enemy airships at night. Because of this the school had to close
earlier in winter. Most of all many young men from Belton went away to the war and didn't
In 1919 a Parish Meeting was called to welcome home the servicemen, arrange peace
celebrations and raise a memorial. Less than 20 years later preparations were being made
for another war. In July 1937 the Parish Council first looked into Air Raid Precautions
(ARP) and the following January Lothingland District Council invited them to send a
representative to their ARP Committee.
In March 1938 a Parish Meeting was called to ask for volunteers. The British Legion were
also asked to help. The Belton schoolmaster went on a course to train as a local Anti-Gas
Instructor. The fear that gas warfare would be used was strong at the time. Doctors Deane
and Perry of Gorleston were invited to be first-aid instructors.
In 1940 the ARP Committee recommended making 12 air raid shelters available to Belton.
The cost of transportation and erection was not to exceed £1 each. The Parish Council
wanted 15, 10 near the school and 5 near the chapel.
In 1941 the dykes were cleared to supply water for fire fighting, a Utility Squad was
formed and sandbags were ordered for distribution in the village. The following year an
Invasion Committee was formed with representatives from the Home Guard, First Aid, ARP,
Police, Fire Service, Special Constables, Women's Voluntary Service.
In the winter of 1941 solders from the Royal Norfolk Regiment were camped on Yarmouth
Racecourse but the weather proved too cold. To provide them with warmer accommodation
they were billeted in Belton and many local people had to share their houses with them.
Later the troops were sent to Singapore and were captured by the Japanese. The Institute
was used as a mess hall. It was also the HQ for the Home Guard, under the command of Col.
Dashwood of Caldecott Hall.
A search light was set up on the Common which once again was used for manoeuvres. Just
before D-Day American troops were camped there and to lighten their kit before embarking,
disposed of many personal items. These were reclaimed by nearby British troops and local
people, grateful for items like soap, toiletries, ballpoint pens (a novelty) and
One particular incident is commemorated on a plaque at the Railway Tavern. On 25 August
1944 an American Liberator bomber, 'Belle of the East', crash landed in a market garden
near Sandy Lane. It was returning to its base at Rackheath from a mission over Europe.
Some of the crew baled out, three stayed on board but survived the crash. The local
first-aid workers, whose base was the Methodist Chapel, commandeered a baker's delivery
van and rushed stretchers to the scene. Fortunately there were no fatalities or serious
injuries. The pilot had baled out at low height but landed in a dyke. He had seen
children playing as the plane came in and was relieved to find that none was hurt.
Belton did get at least one air raid during the war. Two thousand incendiary bombs were
dropped one night, mostly on the Common. Many of the bombs did not ignite and there was
only one fire, the oil room at the railway station. Early in the war evacuees arrived
from Romford, Essex. As the war progressed some drifted back home but others stayed and
settled. Unofficial evacuees also came out from Great Yarmouth and Gorleston to escape
the bombing. Lothingland Council allowed their council tenants to give them temporary
Once again in the Second World War food production was of great importance and Belton
market gardens were a valuable asset. The emphasis was on food so flower growing had to
give way to this.
From Village to Suburb ................
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The 1964 Belton Plan
In 1964 East Suffolk County Council published an outline development plan for Belton.
Development was necessary due to the demand for housing in the area. Also it would
benefit Belton as its market gardens were in decline and an increasing number of its
inhabitants were now travelling to work in Great Yarmouth.
The plan proposed new estates of houses, open spaces, shops and social amenities. Belton
would be developed in relation to Great Yarmouth which was seen as the main centre for
employment and shopping. There would be new roads and road improvements.
A new primary school was envisaged and Lothingland Council wanted to include an ambulance
station and health centre. Most of the development would take place on the 120 acres of
land in the centre of Belton, bounded by its main roads.
A new 'spine road', an extension of New Road, would give primary access into the
development with roads feeding off it. Existing village roads would be adapted and a
footpath system created. From 1900 to 1950 the population had hovered just above 800. The
population was now planned to increase from 800 to 3400. Belton would no longer be a
At the same time Holmes started work on a major sewage scheme for Belton which was
necessary for the plan to go ahead. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government helped
fund this project with grants of £3000 a year for 30 years. The scheme came into
operation in April 1965. Even with the new development it was not until 1969 that East
Suffolk County Council started to introduce 30 mph speed limits. For years Belton had
campaigned for this.
In the early 1970's new roads appeared. Breydon Close and Paddock Close were named in
1971 and in 1972, St David's Close, Yare Road and Deben Road. Also in 1972 one of
Belton's two Marsh Lanes was renamed Rivers Way. Because of the new developments a Parish
Map was sited at Ranworth Close.
There was a national tree planting campaign in 1973, ('Plant a tree in '73'), and as part
of that, trees were planted in Ranworth Close and Deben Drive. Also in 1973 the former
barn of Elm Grove Farm at the corner of Church Lane and New Road, was converted into a
restaurant. This was an almost symbolic development for Belton as it left its rural past
In 1976 the name Bramble Gardens was approved, Station Roads North and South were
numbered as it was getting difficult to deliver the mail, and the Parish Council
requested the demolition of the old railway station. The rapid population growth, with a
relatively young age structure, put pressure on local facilities and services. In 1971
most Beltonians were under 35.
With an increasing population Belton needed a new school. The old Victorian school had
been enlarged several times but was not adequate nor did it have the facilities expected
in a modern school. In 1967 East Suffolk County Council turned down a request for water
closets to be installed as a new school was 'in the offing'. The toilets were still
'privvies' and a 'cess pit'. The smell of the latter being emptied caused the PTA to
In 1968 after the necessary permissions had been received, including the agreement of two
successive annual Parish Meetings, 1.93 acres of the Belton playing field was sold. The
land was bought by East Suffolk Education Committee and the new primary school built on
it. In September 1969 Waveney School opened. The remainder of the playing field remained
with the Parish Council. The proceeds from the site and the Playing Field Committee's
funds were passed to the Parish Council and deposited in the same account. In 1984 a
children's playground was created in the remainder of the field which is still used as a
park. Over the last 20 years or so a site for a new playing field has been sought. At
present a site on the north side of New Rd on the Belton/Bradwell border is being
considered but no final decision has been agreed.
The 1977 South-West Area Plan
In 1974 boundary changes brought Belton into the Borough of Great Yarmouth and the County
of Norfolk. In 1977/78 Norfolk County Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council adopted
a 'South West Area Local Plan' to replace the 1964 Belton Plan. This covered the
development of Belton and the surrounding areas to the end of the century.
The earlier road plan was modified. The extension of New Rd (the 'spine road') from
Bracon Rd to the site of the old station would not now be completed. Station Roads North
and South would remain joined and not be split into two cul-de-sacs as the earlier plan
had intended. A new community centre was included with the middle school then being
built. The existing primary school would become a first school. The new school, Breydon
Middle School, was opened on 23 April 1979 by James Prior, Lowestoft's MP.
By 1981 most of the development of Belton was complete and the following decade only
another 125 houses were built. Further developments would be mainly infilling and must
not harm existing buildings or the environment. The landscaped areas of open space
intended in the 1960's were not created but the 1977 plan tried to protect what open land
with recreational or amenity value did exist.
Belton's two caravan, chalet and tent sites, with accommodation for 500 were seen to make
an important contribution to the Borough's tourist industry. The new plan discouraged
their change of use. Local industry was sited away from Belton at the Gapton Hall and
Harfreys Estates. These were largely built up in the 1980's.
On 6th June 1977 a village sign for Belton was unveiled by Lord Somerleyton. It was
designed by Henry Carter of Swaffham and depicts John Ives the antiquarian, wearing his
Suffolk Herald's tabard. Beneath him are the Ives coat of arms, on either side of which
are emblems representing market gardening. Behind the figure of Ives is Belton Church and
some cottages. The sign was paid for by Parish Councillor John T. Berry who sadly died
before its completion.
1977 was also the Silver Jubilee year of the Queen. However, it was decided not to have a
'Jubilee' road in Belton. The following year Moorland Way, Grove Close and Broome Gardens
were all approved. Sunley and Fern Gardens were approved in 1981.
Between 1960 and 1975 Belton's population grew more rapidly than at any time in its
history, from 800 in 1960 to 1,870 in 1971and to 3,000 in 1975. In that time 404 new
houses were built, 1972 being the peak year with 116 completed. By 1977 of the 48.6
hectares approved for development in the Belton plan, 37 had been developed. In 1998 its
estimated population was 4,275.
While Belton village has developed greatly, neighbouring Browston seems to have changed
less. A sand pit was opened there, the noise from which brought some complaints, but
there have been no large scale developments. But Browston is no longer a hamlet of farms,
market gardens and cottages. Very few of the inhabitants work on the land and many of its
houses are now 'desirable residences'. In 1978 Browston Hall became part of a sports and
leisure centre. After being run as a restaurant for a time the Hall is a private
In the second half of the twentieth century Belton went from a small village with a rural
character to become a suburb of Great Yarmouth. It is no longer self-contained but relies
on the adjacent areas for work, leisure, education and amenities to a greater or lesser
extent. There is still a large minority of people in the Belton parish who remember it as
it was. There are also reminders in the pattern of the old roads, the road names, the
sprinkling of old buildings. It is also still possible, I believe, when walking along
Church Lane or St Johns Rd, when the hedges and trees are in leaf, to catch a glimpse of
what Belton was once like.