The “Subscribers to Reffley Spring”
acquire a Patron.
At Reffley, about two miles distant, in a sequestered spot,
stands an obelisk, from which, by means of an aqueduct,
a chalybeate spring issues; near it is an octagonal temple,
whither subscribers repair for the benefit of the water.
From A Topographical Dictionary of England in Four Volumes. Vol III 1831.
From the circumstances occasioning its writing, a letter written in 1774 to Sir Martin B Folkes,-who is now assumed to be the first member of the Ffolkes family to have a connection with Reffley Spring and the Society who met there-, (copy below), by M. Richardson, has served to explain some of the Society’s obscure history.
n.b. M. Richardson’s letter,- the original which is in the Ffolkes Family Archive held by the NRO,Ref. MC50/21/21- has been transcribed as closely as possible to the original , including substituting f’s for s’s as was the fashion at that time.
Lynn25th May 1774
C to I, in conjunction with a gentleman who is now absent, was principally instrumental in erecting the little ornaments and conveniences at Reffley Spring.
I have been applied to fome time since, on account of the interest you have in the lordship, where it is situated, and the consequent propriety of an application to you, for the favour of your patronage. (4) This, Sir, I hope will apologise for the trouble I now give you, and acquitance of the imputation of impertinence, in thus attempting to fet the matter in a clear light, which, I am sorry to find, has been misconceived or misrepresented.
The place in question, (1) being the only rural fpot in the vicinity of this town, that has any claim to the agreeable, has long been frequented in the fummer feason; not so much, perhaps, on acct. of the salubrious quality of the water, (tho’that has been urged) as the recreation of an agreeable walk and the enjoyment of a purer air than towns generally afford. These prevailing motives have induced even ladies to pay an afternoon’s visit to Reffley, under all the disadvantages of a too great distance from any town, and a want of every accommodation which the peculiar delicacy of the fair sex requires, even to a feat to rest themselves on.
To remove, as far as practicable, these local inconveniences, a few gentlemen confined the water to a fmall bason, and did intend erecting a trifling seat or two; (2) but the destruction of the former by fome inebriated wits, prevented the persuit of their first small plan, and ftarted the idea of one more extensive, and on a firmer basis. To accomplish this, an application was made to Cyril Wyche Esq., lord of the foil, (3)whose approbation being obtained, a fubscription was fet a foot, wch, was honored with the names of fome of the most respectable people in Lynn, and which produced the present erections there.
Cf misunderstanding, Sir, with respect to your interest in anything concerning it, was the cause of your not being applied to, otherwise fo material a circumstance would not have been omitted.
In the name of the Subscribers, therefore, I beg your pardon for the omifsion, I should be happy in your future approbation. It was their firm purpose to obtain the firm authority of all concerned, and I hope this error will not be construed into intentional neglect.
The concurrent function of you, Sir, and Mr Wyche, (5) would, I am certain, tend to the future fecurity of a place devoted purely to innocent recreation and the pleasures of fociety, and wch. has hitherto but too much suffered from the hand of ignorance or malevolence. As it is now fituated, everyone thinks himself intitled to a participation of the conveniences, none to the care of its prefervation. Were it under the immediate protection of any gentleman interested in preserving it, these disagreeable circumstances would be removed, the idea of it being public would of course cease, and those who contributed to the making of it commodious might be fecured in the exclusive enjoyment of what may be termed their particular right.(6)
To know your pleasure, Sir, on this subject, would give much fatisfaction to the fubscribers in general, and particularly oblige,
Sir, Your most humble Servt.
The author of the letter, M. Richardson, starts out by describing the situation, presumably in 1756, and how the “little ornaments and conveniences” came to be there, which Sir Martin might have questioned.(1) The Spring at that time, was already a popular resort for citizens of Lynn and the surrounding area, despite its lack of amenities for visitors. The letter confirms, that it was the ‘Subscribers to Reffley Spring’, themselves, who decided upon and paid for, the improvements to the spring, to replace the damaged column, and to make the place more congenial for those visiting.(2) The Reffley Wood and Spring although within the Gaywood Estate, owned at that time, by Mr. Cyril Wyche, was actually in the possession of the Folkes family (originally by the Hovell family since the 16th century), who were presumabably unaware of the Subscribers activities on their land. The Subscribers, equally so, as they had originally applied to Cyril Wyche for permission to carry out their earlier works.(3)
Occasioned by the act of vandalism (presumably in 1774), to the seating,- though from the way M Richardson writes, vandalism was an ongoing problem even in those days,- the Subscribers had approached Cyril Wyche, (son of Jermyn Wyche of Hockwold,) for permission to carry out their earlier works at Reffley spring. Whether they had re-applied to Cyril Wyche (who died in 1780-see below) is not made clear.
As reported in the Norfolk Chronicle:
On Saturday last died suddenly, in the 78th year of his age, Cyril Wyche, Efq. Of Hockwold cum Wilton, in Norfolk, for which county he ferved the office of High sheriff in the year 1729. The poor in his neighbourhood will much regret his lofs, to whom he was a great benefactor.from Norfolk Chronicle Saturday June 17th 1780.
The ‘Subscribers to Reffley Spring,’ therefore, were evidently unaware that they were 'trespassing' on Ffolkes land, until Sir Martin Folkes, contacted them to determine their intentions, and judging by M Richardson’s initial words, this caused the Subscribers' some consternation. Presumably, if other members of the ffolkes family had had a connection with the ‘Subscribers’ then the writer of the letter would surely have made reference to it. That there is no mention, indicates that Sir Martin would be the first. Their solution to the problem, therefore, was to invite Sir Martin, to be their Patron.(4)
M. Richardson, who assumes (in his letter) that both Sir Martin, and Cyril Wyche, currently have ‘an interest in the land’, (5) concludes his letter, by suggesting to Sir Martin, that he might make the land private, thereby forbidding access to the general public, and reserving it for the exclusive use of the Subscribers.(6) He realised that this would preserve the land, for those who appreciate it. What he probably did not realise is, that it would be a crucial decision, for Reffly Spring, whichever way it went. Sir Martin declined the suggestion, preferring that it should continue to be an amenity for the enjoyment of the citizens of Lynn and the surrounding area. Patently, closing off Reffley Spring to the public, would have been a great loss to the townsfolk of Lynn, at that time. However it did serve to seal the fate of the Spring, and its future Temple. The price, for the public access to Reffley Spring for the next two hundred years, ….has been its eventual destruction.
The next event for which there is a record was some six years later in 1778, when the ‘Subscribers’ were presented with the gift of a Stone ‘Table’ by ‘a friend’. This is only known about, because of the inscription recorded on the stone which reads:
This Stone Table was
Presented to the Members
of Reffley by a Friend
June 22nd 1778.
Nothing further is known about this occasion, most likely their annual meeting for that year.
Eleven years later in 1789, some 33 years after the construction of the basin and Obelisk, to contain the Spring, an Octagonal 'Temple' was built, and the Subscribers themselves paid for it, together with a kitchen to the rear. The Sphinxes guarding the temple’s front door, were said to have been originally collected by Martin ffolkes FRS (1690-1754) and were most likely, donated by Sir Martin ffolkes. n.b. It is not clear if cooking facilities had already been provided at an earlier date, because the previous report makes reference to ‘an elegant dinner being cooked in the wood, but not who cooked or provided it’. One can assume that it was the landlord of a nearby tavern who provided their repast, as later reports of the Subscribers' activities make clear.
Another letter found in the Ffolkes Archives in the NRO, is both amusing in that it proved to be nothing more than a misunderstanding, but also throws light on the 'Subscribers' at that time.
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Amongst the ffolkes family papers held by Norfolk Records Office, is included a short letter written in 1796, by Henry Stort, (who was the tenant farming the land which included the spring and also a ‘Subscriber’ living in Carnish Field House) on behalf of a number of his ‘acquaintances’ to Sir Martin B Folkes Bart. to request permission from the Baronet, to erect a shelter, from the rain, at Reffley Spring, and a Grant to erect it:
Letter held by Norfolk Records Office in the ffolkes Family Archives ref. MC50/51/5
The letter reads:
Sir Martin Browne Folkes Bart.
A number of my acquaintance, admirers of a Walk to Rifley Spring are Desirous to Erect a Shelter in case Rains should fall when there, something similar to that Called the Temple, wishes me to ask your Permifsion so to do – for myself of the whole, I solicit you for Grant. I am with Profound Respect
Your obedt. & humble Servt.
Lynn16th April 1796 Henry Stort
In 1796 the Subscribers to Reffley Spring presented Sir Martin Folkes with a petition asking him to reconsider his decision in locating a proposed new farm building for his tenant Mr Stort, close to the sacred grounds of their Temple. Although they had no objection in principle to the erection of a building, they considered a "distance of 100 yards from ours there is a spot which we think far preferable and which we hope Mr S will have no objections to comply with. We can assure you, that this application, is not thro any wish, to deprive him or any other person of that pleasant retreat, which we through your generosity do fully enjoy, but as we raised the Temple, at considerable expense, merely that we should select, we would if possible prevent any encroachments upon what we style our consecrated ground".'m a
Letter in the Folks Archive held by Norfolk Records Office ref.NRS1119.
Transcription of the “subscribers” letter (above) which is headed:
June 15 1796
Application from the
Subscribers to the Temple
at Reffley Spring
Lynn June 15th 1796
We the undersigned Subscribers to
Riffley Temple, hearing, that you have been Apply-d to
by Mr Stort, requesting permifsion to another building
near to ours (which will tend to very much incommode us;)
should think ourselves particularly obliged, if you would
discountenance such a proceeding. We have not the least
objection to its being built at the distance of 100 yards
from ours and there is a Spot which we think far
preferable and which we hope Mr S. will have no
objection to comply with.
We can assure you, that this Application, is not thro’
any Wish, to deprive him or any other Person of that
pleasant Retreat, which we thru your Generousity do
fully enjoy. but as we raised the Temple, at
considerable Expense, merely that we should be select, we
would (if possible) prevent any Encroachments upon what
we style our consecrated Ground.
(signatures of fifteen Subscribers appended)
There are other Subscribers, who were not at Home
when called upon for their Signatures but who
universally approved of this application.
The “Subscribers” signing their names to the letter were:
Mr R? Marshall, Chas. Cruso, W.Warner, Will Cooper, Thomas Hunter,
John Clark, Matt Cooper, Wm Cox, Geo Bailey, H. Holdich, Thos. Braml, Anthy Brown, Thos Cooper, Thos. King and Geo Hawkins.
It is most likely that the “Subscribers” letter (above) was nothing more than a “storm in a teacup” because in Mr Stort’s letter to Sir Martin, dated April 1796, his request for a shelter that he envisaged as, “something similar to that called the Temple” must have created the confusion. The outcome, as can be seen in a section from Oldmeadow’s painting Reffley Spring, was the large semi-circular awning situated behind the Spring.