Reffley Spring’s gradual decline

 in popularity during the second half

of the 19th century.

It was "The system of parliamentary government that followed the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9  (that had) provided the background for stable investment and for a basis of taxation favourable to economic expansion." Until the early 18th Century, most people lived off the land as they had done for countless generations - an agricultural existence, defined by the harvests and the seasons, and ruled by a small political and social elite. But in the 150 years that followed, there was an unprecedented explosion of new ideas and new technological inventions which created an increasingly industrial and urbanised country. This was the Industrial Revolution. Hundreds of thousands of miles of roads, railways and canals were built. Great cities appeared and scores of factories and mills sprang up. Wood had been the main source of energy in Britain, used for fuel in homes and small industries. But as the population grew, so did the demand for timber. As forests were cut down, wood had to be carried further to reach the towns. It was bulky and difficult to transport and therefore expensive.” From the BBC History website: Why the Industrial Revolution happened in Britain


REFFLEY SPRING,- The Reffley Club celebrated their anniversary on Thursday in last week,by a dinner in the temple at Reffley, under the presidency of Mr Edmund Green,  Sir Wm. Ffolkes, the Rev. H, Ffolkes, and Mr. G. Ffolkes were amongst those present, who numbered about twenty gentlemen. From the Norfolk Mercury Saturday 27th July 1878.

This photograph, which gives a unique insight into the Society in the 19th century,  is described in the Lynn Museum catalogue as being dated from 1890-1910, but could in fact, be from even earlier. The image has been cropped to close in on the subjects, but even so, it is still possible to see that only the central part of the image where the subjects have been placed,- some way from the camera,- is in focus, all of which suggests that a very early type of camera was used. The majority of the members in the picture are smoking churchwarden pipes, and on the rough central table, one of the punchbowls and glasses can be seen, just as can be seen in the photos from the 1930s to 1950s.


By the end of the 19th century, the popularity  with the public of Reffley Spring, had declined. William Alfred Dutt in his book, The Kings Homeland wrote:

Reffley Gathering late 19th century                photo used with kind permission of Lynn Museum

(Travelling towards Lynn)…..between South Wootton and Gaywood, near a farm seen to the left of the road just beyond the bounds of South Wootton, there is a spot called Reffley Spring, to which a certain amount of interest attaches; for during the latter part of the eighteenth century and the first quarter of the nineteenth Reffley Spring was a famous and popular resort of the townsfolk of Lynn and visitors to this neighbourhood on account of the medicinal qualities of its waters and its pleasant surroundings. Here in the reign of George III. it was the custom of the fashionable people of the neighbouring town to come and sit beneath the trees, and, while the music of a band set the young folks dancing on the green, discuss the victories of Nelson and Wellington, the statesmanship of Fox and Pitt, the poetry of Byron, ’Wordsworth, and Shelley, and the splendid romances which were then being given to the world by the ‘ Wizard of the North.’ [Sir Walter Scott.]


Reffley spring about 1910                                                                                             photo from Kings Lynn Library

Some idea of the scenes then to be witnessed around this now forsaken spring can be gained from the following grandiloquent remarks of a writer who saw Reffley at the height of its popularity:


‘The fine majestic wood and mineral spring of Reffley, distant from Lynn about two miles, have long afforded the inhabitants of that town and its neighbourhood a delightful retreat, where, in summer’s sultry days, amidst its shady recesses, surrounded by sylvan scenery and greeted by the melody of birds, they can forget awhile their serious cares, and unbend the mind by friendly and jocund converse over the social bowl (the contents of which yield an additional relish by the peculiarly grateful flavour which Reffley’s limpid fountain bestows), whilst the cheerful song, the enlivening minstrelsy, and the sprightly dance, occasionally impart their attractive influence.

Travellers from all parts of the kingdom have long borne ample testimony to the fascinations of this romantic place, and the classic muse has celebrated, in appropriate strains, its pic-turesque varieties, where Arcadian scenes present themselves in all the luxuriant and wild sublimity of nature. In a sequestered spot, completely over canopied by the thick, shadowy foliage of trees and bushes, a rural fountain presents itself, in the midst of which arises a handsome obelisk, from whence, by means of an aqueduct, the chalybeate stream is projected; around this fountain seats are placed, and at a little distance is a public canopy. On the opposite side an octagon temple (built and supported by subscription, and appropriated to the accommodation of the subscribers and their friends) stands at the extremity of a small lawn, encompassed by the lofty trees and embowering shrubs, whose wide-spreading and irregular branches are adapted to the purposes of” shelter and shade,” affording at once an interesting picture and an agreeable influence. In August, 1818, the members and friends of Reffley met and dined together in a pavilion erected upon the lawn fronting the temple, to celebrate the return to Parliament of Sir Martin Browne Folkes, Bart., one of the members for the town, the proprietor of the soil and wood of Reffley, and the patron of the spring; and also in compliment to him for erecting a new canopy there, and for other improvements bestowed upon the place, and indulgences granted to its visitants.’ Reffley was, no doubt, a pleasant spot in those days, and even now, though its glory has departed, an hour can be enjoyably spent in the undulating meadow which is bordered by the’ fine majestic’ wood. From the base of the ‘handsome obelisk ‘-which resembles a Cleopatra’s Needle in miniature-the spring still pours its waters into a basin of stone; while close by is a building, unsightly in the extreme, fronted by two Sphinxes. This building is called Reffley Temple, and, according to an inscription on it, was erected by a Friendly Society in 1789 and enlarged in 1831. But of the ‘public canopy’ (Can it have been of the nature of a flower-show marquee?) there is no trace. The obelisk, the temple, and a so-called stone table, ’presented to the members of Reffley by a friend’ in 1778, are all that now remain of Reffley’s once famous spa.

The traveller towards Lynn has scarcely left Reffley before the main road becomes suburban in aspect, and after the first house in Gaywood is reached there is little else but houses for the rest of the way to Lynn. from The Kings Homeland  Dutt 1906.

(Travelling from Lynn) "About a mile from Gaywood main street, just before the village of South Wootton is entered, a lane branching off from the Rising road on the right leads to Spring Farm, which takes its name from a rather notable spot called Reffley Spring. The spring in question is situated in a pleasant wood-bordered meadow just beyond the farm-house, and, as there is a right-of-way to it, strangers occasionally pay it a visit, though there is not much to see. The spring, which has medicinal qualities, issues from the base of a small obelisk and falls into a stone basin. It seems to be deserted now; but during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and until about seventy years ago, it was a favourite resort of the Lynn folk, and, if we may believe an old topographer, "travellers from all parts of the kingdom. They came," we are told, "to unbend the mind by friendly and jocund converse over the social bowl," the contents of which yielded "an additional relish by the peculiarly grateful flavour which Reffley's limpid fountain" bestowed. There is a building known as the Temple close beside the spring, and in Lynn an association exists, which meets every year to keep up the old customs of the place." from "The Ancient Order of Foresters' Guide to Kings Lynn, 1906"

By the 1870’s Reffley Wood had been considerably reduced in size, thereby becoming a pale shadow of its former self in the process. In the middle of the 19th century, peoples’ horizons were changed by the coming of the railways and the improvements to roads, which made it easier to travel further afield and visit other attractions. The Lynn to Swaffham Railway, for instance, opened 1846. The rail link that branched off from the Lynn to Hunstanton line, (where Marsh Lane is now) went north of the Gaywood river near Reffley wood: this branch line connected Kings Lynn to the line from South Lynn going to Melton Constable at Gayton Road. The line, however, closed in 1860 when South Lynn station was opened.


The Norfolk Chronicle in August 1847 published a lengthy article on the new railway lines entitled: East Anglian Railway – Opening from Lynn to Swaffham.The following extract refers to the now closed section of that line which passed through Gaywood and by Reffley Wood.

…..Leaving Lynn, we pass through a highly cultivated country; and entering Gaywood, we catch a glimpse of Gaywood Hall, the residence of R.Bagge Esq.  The parish, which is populous, chiefly belongs to that gentleman.  The Hall is beautifully situated, with a park round it.  About a mile to the north is the wood and Chalybeate spring of Reffly, belonging to Sir J.H.B.Folkes,Bart.  This spring is a fine rural fountain, canopied with foliage, and having a handsome obelisk rising from its centre…taken from an article in the Norfolk Chronicle Saturday 14th August 1847.

Another author, writing at this time, echoed the same sentiment…. that Reffley’s best days were already a distant memory:

As early as 1847, the benefits and changes following on from the coming of the railways, together with the Penny Post and the electric telegraph, were beginning to be noticed. A Norfolk News article in November that year, listing some of them, was headed:

Advantages of Railway Communication.- We cannot omit to notice the fact, that since the opening of the Lynn and Ely Railway, we have been able to peruse a copy of the Times as early as 12o’clock in the day, that being the time at which the first London train arrives.  Already are the trade experiencing the advantages of the opening of this line; goods are now delivered within a few hours from the receipt of the order in London, instead of being many days, and in some cases weeks.  We are gratified in being able to state, that the most satisfactory results have attended the completion of the line, and there seems every reason to believe that when these lines are in full play, they will be paying lines. From Norfolk News Saturday 6th November 1847.

The Lynn to Hunstanton Railway opened in 1860 leading to the development of Hunstanton as a seaside resort for both holidays and day trips.

The most talked about spot in rural Britain.-  When Queen Victoria bought Sandringham for Bertie the Prince of Wales, she created a tourism boom for this part of Norfolk. The St Pancras railway line to Lynn opened in 1846 and the link to Hunstanton in 1860, which included the Queen’s station at Wolferton, at which foreign Royalty and the Aristocracy would alight. 

Road transport although also improving during this period, was very much in the shadow of the railways, while horses continued to be the main motive power until the end of the 19th century, and well into the 20th. Vera Perrott in her book on ‘Victorian Lynn’ wrote:

Whatever dramatic changes had taken place in technical and scientific areas, the Victorian world was to remain largely dependent for transport and haulage on the patient, exploited and noble creature, the horse. The horse had a social as well as an economic function, integrating town and country…..By the mid-nineteenth century, it was providing a new, if limited, mobility, through the local public transport system. The well-to-do, of course, had always been mobile, keeping their own carriages….The less well-off could hire occasional vehicles from liverymen….The rest of Lynn’s residents had the choice of Shanks’s pony or the omnibus. Omnibuses met every train….After the railway came in 1847, Lynn’s ‘jolly coachmen’ must have made a painful transition from the ‘pleasure and poetry of the old English stage coach to the modern utility omnibus. Omnibuses and ‘sociables’ linked King’s Lynn with outlying villages and neighbouring towns. A network of carriers conveyed goods, and sometimes passengers, from Lynn to sixty or more villages, and towns as far away as Boston, Lincoln and Norwich. It was an amazingly comprehensive system, which served rural communities until the internal combustion engine took over from the horse in the next century. Quotes taken from Chapter 2 of Life and Leisure in Victorian Lynn by Vera Perrott Vista Books 1995.

It was against this back-drop that the popularity of the Reffley Wood and Spring declined, as people found that attractions further afield became more easy to visit. The members of the Reffley Society, however, continued to hold their annual meetings there regularly, in fact, with the exception of the years during WW1, right up to the outbreak of WW11 in 1939.

 The section of the OS map from 1871 below, shows how the Reffley wood had shrunk and Reffley spring was now situated in an small isolated patch of woodland attached to the end of what would eventually become known as Spring wood. The track of the disused railway is also shown.

Section from O.S. Map 1871

By 1871, Reffley Wood had already been considerably reduced in size. Reffley Spring, had been separated from Reffley Wood and is situated in the square of woodland to the right of Spring Farm House. (Today, this square of woodland has been cleared, save for the area immediately surrounding the spring, as shown on the map below.)                                                                        

Even so, according to Kelly’s Directory 1883 pp. 324-325:


“A chalybeate spring, called Reffley Spring, is very much frequented.”

Reffley today. Spring Wood is situated in the centre of the map above, and the spring is situated in the five sided area below it.