The 1960’s –1970’s
Michael Brander following in the footsteps of Francois de La Rochefaucauld in 1784 visited Kings Lynn and Reffley Spring in 1963. The following extracts are taken from his book, Soho for East Anglia. ( Soho comes from the word 'sohowe' the cry used to urge hounds on the chase.)
Lynn in 1963.
King’s Lynn is still an extremely attractive old town with the familiar East Anglian Dutch influence particularly noticeable. Some of the old perpendicular facades are just like those of canal-side houses in Amsterdam. On the other hand there is a noticeable neglect which is not visible in Holland. Many lovely old buildings are being allowed to rot unchecked.
In the opposite corner of the square to “The Globe” there is a “Walls” sign immediately beside a fine but dilapidated Tudor house. The contrast between the modern sign and the crumbling oversailing façade is glaring and this was only one of many similar signs of neglect and near vandalism. The Town Council may boast of its Music Festival and its architecture but clearly lacks policy or interest in preserving its fine old buildings. I understand that King’s Lynn with a population of 25,000, has agreed to accept a further 10,000 overspill from London. The town has sprawled unattractively and how it is proposed to increase its size so much without completely ruining its character I cannot see. From Soho for East Anglia Michael Brander 1964. P.158-9.
Riffley Springs 1963.
On the other side of the main road to Lynn, at the end of a sandy track between two villas there is a small copse of trees with a spring of water known as Riffley Springs. A Friendly Society was founded here in 1651 which still exists. It was formed by a group of Royalists in Cromwell’s time, when meetings of more than thirty were forbidden. In the wood by the spring they could meet privately, smoke and drink punch, also, presumably, discuss ways of restoring the monarchy. After the Restoration no doubt they felt it was worthwhile carrying on their pleasant custom. The President today is Bernard Folkes, a direct descendant of the first president and the numbers are still restricted to thirty members from the neighbourhood of King’s Lynn.
Round the spring itself a small circular wooden bench has been built and in 1789 a “temple” was added, which bears a strong resemblance to the Athol Hermitage in Scotland built about the same period. The “temple” nestling amid a small glade of trees in the middle of a field provides a perfect sylvan setting for a pleasant evening in summer with a glass and a pipe. We were fortunate in seeing it on one of the few days in the year when the “temple” was open for a “Fete Champetre” (a popular entertainment in the 18th century, taking the form of a garden party.). Nowadays meetings are apparently more in the nature of a cocktail party with guests and wives invited and marquees erected for them, but one can imagine it in Georgian days when the “temple” was first built. Wives were probably the exception then.
Among the old customs of the society, ”churchwardens” are still provided for members if they want them. “It is quite difficult to get them nowadays, you know,” the secretary of the society told us, “ It’s a cottage industry and there’s only a limited output.” I was surprised to learn this as I had in the past smoked them from time to time and never had any difficulty in obtaining them. They are an extremely cool smoke as may be imagined, but not the most practical of pipes.
When taking some refreshment at the nearby “Swan Inn” we met the farmer on whose land the “temple” stands. We learned that he was automatically a member, qualifying as: “A man of repute”.
An older worthy present told us that he remembered fairs being held regularly at Riffley Springs before the First World War. He added nostalgically that whenever a fair was held there the children used to skip all the way from Lynn to see the fun….. from Soho for East Anglia Michael Brander 1964 pp 156-7.
Raymond Wilson in one of his ‘LYNN LETTER’ articles for the ‘NORFOLK FAIR’ Magazine July 1972 edition, wrote about the Reffley Society:
CHURCHWARDEN PIPES lit from a special lantern; a brandy punch prepared from a secret recipe; meetings held by flickering candlelight; all form part of the ancient ritual still conducted each July in a secluded temple on the outskirts of Lynn.
Few of the local residents are probably aware of the existence of the Reffley Society which meets usually only once a year in a wooded retreat beyond the new housing estate. The Society was formed about 1650 by Lynn Royalists, as a protest against Cromwell’s Law forbidding public meetings of thirty or more men. After the Restoration it continued with its object of “conviviality and good fellowship,” membership being restricted to 30 men of good repute from the county of Norfolk.
The annual gathering takes place in a red brick octagonal temple built in 1789. Close by is the spring of chalybeate water which forms the main ingredient of the celebrated brew. The spring bubbles out from the side of an inscribed obelisk, erected in 1756 and dedicated to “Bacchus and Venus, the Gods of this place.” The members or “Sons of Reffley,” pay an annual subscription towards the cost of keeping the temple and grounds in good order, and for the traditional fare, this is usually Yorkshire pudding, saddle of mutton and boiled beef.
Members are not allowed to enter the temple until they have drunk from the spring and imbibed two glasses of the punch-prepared by the society’s brewer and ladled from a large willow patterned punchbowl into old china drinking pots. Each member has his own churchwarden pipe with his name engraved upon the stem which is smoked only on this occasion.
Festivities commence at 3p.m. and traditionally until 10p.m. Seated at old oak tables within the temple, the members conduct their meeting by flickering candlelight; after feasting toasting and much punch drinking they devote their time to singing traditional songs and to playing old English games such as quoits, bowls and “bumble puppy”- this last being whist played in an unscientific way.
An outstanding feature of the annual gathering is the speechmaking, to which each member must contribute. A rule requires no member ever to be offended at anything said about him at the annual meeting. Betting was prevalent in days past and the bets book dates back to 1789, and still in the Society’s possession includes entries such as, “I bet 2/6 that I can drink 12 glasses of punch in a minute.” The bet was won – fortunately before the advent of the breathalyser.
During its long existence the Temple has been visited by many distinguished visitors including Royalty, and much tribute has been paid to the charm and the potency of the celebrated punch. At the close of this unique annual gathering, the members having wined and dined in convivial company surrounded by rustic splendour, proceedings are drawn to a close by the President’s solemn announcement, “Gentlemen, the tide has gone out.” From LYNN LETTER by Raymond Wilson published in the July 1972 edition of the Norfolk Fair magazine.
In the 1960’s: The Bretheren were concerned about the growing encroachment of urbanisation upon their ‘sacred grove’. It took another twenty years before they were finally forced to give up their Temple although they had not been able to use it for some years, when it was finally demolished. The ornaments and obelisk were removed to safer locations. Although Reffley Spring is no more a resort for the enjoyment of the inhabitants of Lynn, the Reffley Society is said to be very much still in existence, having since found an alternative source for its chalybeate water and a new venue for its meetings.
In 1962 it was agreed that Kings Lynn should become an overflow town for London, and the following item appeared in The Electrical Review (1962).~;
1962 – The following item appeared in The Electrical Review
Accepted Tenders and Prospective Electrical Work
Kings Lynn – Development of Fairstead, Marsh Lane and Reffley estates with over
2000 dwellings and garages and other buildings for TC: borough architects. The
Electrical Review - Volume 171, Issues 1-9 - Page 48
Planners cast their shadow
across Reffley temple
Photo Lynn News
A newspaper article from April 1964, spelled out the bad news:
The planners among us who have decreed that there shall be a new housing estate at Reffley are under an awful threat…for it is they who have cast a shadow across the Reffley Society and its 175-year-old temple…….A dire threat, indeed,……Work has just started on the Reffley housing estate and eventually the development will go to within 200 yards of the temple.
THE BRETHEREN – this temple tucked away in a coppice in a corner of a field at the end of Reffley Lane, is the home of the Reffley Bretheren, formed over 300 years ago by Lynn royalists as a protest against Cromwell’s law forbidding public meetings of 30 or more men.
Soon it will be among some of Lynn’s latest housing development, and the present Reffley Bretheren are naturally a little worried about their position. For they are unique. Since the Restoration they have continued meeting as a convivial body, smoking their churchwarden pipes, drinking their special, and secret, brandy punch and speechmaking….
DOUBT – The present president is Maj. The Hon. George Dawnay, of Hillington Hall, He commented that “naturally, the fact that building is to take place in the area throws some doubt on our future, but we hope we shall be able to continue. Everything depends on the reaction to us of people who are to live in the new houses. If we are to get lots of people staring at us when we have our meetings it would make things awkward for us, but I doubt if that is going to happen. We shall certainly have to discuss these matters when we next meet.”
THE SPRING – They hope that the development does not interfere with the chalybeate (iron) spring, for this is one of the ingredients in the secret punch; and an ingredient, it is thought, that enables one to drink to excess without too much difficulty…….
Play area hopes for Reffley – about seven acres of land around Reffley Temple, Kings Lynn, could become a a play area for children living on the nearby Reffley Estate. West Norfolk District Council housing services committee approved the idea in principle on Monday night……
Mr Cork said vandalism was a problem on the estate. “There’s little or no recreation ground for children, and the estate is still growing. An attempt has been made to set fire to the school, lead has been taken from the school roof and fences torn down” said Mr Cork. The land around the Temple was rough and unkempt, and provided poor grazing. The lessee was prepared for it to be used as a play area, he said……..there was nowhere on the estate “where children can kick a ball without it going into someone’s garden”. The land, north east of Reffley school, could be licenced ….for a nominal sum, and made available for public use as a play area until it was needed for housing,….from EDP 21st April 1964.
Work has just started on the Reffley housing estate and eventually the development will go within 200 yards of the temple. This temple, tucked away in a coppice in a corner of a field at the end of Reffley Lane, is the home of the Reffley Bretheren….soon it will be among some of Lynn’s latest housing development, and the present Reffley Bretheren are naturally a little worried about their position.
The present president is Maj. The Hon. George Dawnay, of Hillington Hall. He commented that “naturally, the fact that building is to take place in the area throws some doubt on our future, but we hope we shall be able to continue. Everything depends on the reaction to us of people who are to live in the new houses. If we were to get lots of people staring at us when we had our meetings it would make things awkward for us, but I doubt if that is likely to happen. We shall certainly have to discuss these matters when we next meet.”
They hope that the development does not interfere with the chalybeate (iron) spring, for this is one of the ingredients in the secret punch, and an ingredient it is thought, that enables one to drink to excess without too much difficulty. It is traditional that the president of the Reffley Society ends each meeting with the words: “Gentlemen the tide has run out.” Not, we hope for the Bretheren…….
Play area hopes for Reffley
About seven acres of land around Reffley Temple, King’s Lynn, could become a play area for children living on the nearby Reffley Estate….
The proposal was put forward by Mr. F.R. Cook a manager of Reffley school, who is to ask the parent-teacher association to make a formal approach on the matter. Mr Cork said vandalism was a problem in the estate. “there’s little or no recreation ground for children, and the estate is still growing.”
An attempt had been made to set fire to the school, lead had been taken from the school roof and fences torn down, said Mr Cork. The land around the temple was rough and unkempt, and provided poor grazing. The lessee was prepared for it to be used as a play area……..
Mr R. Sharp said there was nowhere on the estate “where children can kick a ball without it going in someone’s garden. This idea would appear to solve all the problems……
In 1974 the Norfolk Museums Committee discussed the Reffley bretheren’s offer of their temple: Tentative negotiations are under way concerning the transfer of Lynn’s Reffley Temple to the Norfolk Museums Committee.
The 18th century temple stands on the edge of Reffley Wood, Lynn, near the growing Reffley housing estate, and belongs to the Reffley Bretheren, an obscure sect dedicated to Bacchus and Venus.
Director of Museum Services for Norfolk, Mr Francis Cheetham, stressed yesterday that any proposals were at ‘a very tentative stage.’
The Bretheren face the possibility that they may not be able to maintain the Temple and would consider it to the Museum Committee in an attempt to save the building.
The committee are “provisionally interested and intend to view the temple when they hold a meeting in May which was already scheduled for Lynn……………….From the Lynn News March 18th 1974.
Norfolk’s chance to save ‘temple of conviviality’… EDP 16th March 1979.
The Reffley Bretheren, a society which was mentioned at the Norfolk Museums Committee at Thetford on Thursday, have traditions going back some 300 years. Their red brick “temple” built in 1789, and enlarged in 1851, stands on the edge of Reffley Woods, half a mile from Wootton Road, King’s Lynn.
Their temple is now not quite so isolated as it was even ten years ago. Housing development on a large scale has been taking place on what was a large part of Reffley Farm in the last decade. Even so, the nearest “modern” buildings remain the farm premises some 200 yards away.
Temple future in the balance..
…Lynn News 18th March 1974
The Museums Committee was told that the bretheren had offered the building, which they own, to the committee in the hope of saving it. Yesterday, the secretary of the Sons of Reffley, Mr Reginald Wing, confirmed that the talks with Mr Francis Cheetham, director of museum services had been of an exploratory nature……….
An 18th century obelisk and chalybeate spring adjoining Reffley Temple, at King’s Lynn, which are
dedicated to “Bacchus and Venus, the Gods of this place.” Photo Lynn
1976………….NEW FEARS FOR TARGET TEMPLE
A Question mark hangs over the future of the historic Reffley temple at Lynn, which has again become a target for vandals. In the latest attack, two complete windows, including the frames, have been pushed in. The vandalism has prompted members of the Reffley Society, who own the building, to call a special meeting on May 12 to decide the future of the temple.
Repairs. The society’s president. The Hon. George Dawnay, said this week that the latest damage could cost as much a £500 to repair. The society did not have the money for the repairs, he said. It was possible that they might have to decide to abandon the temple.
“ If we knew that we could repair the building with no fear of further damage, we would obviously do so.” Mr Dawnay said. As a result of vandalism about two years ago, the society spent £700 on repairs. And they recently paid £250 for a new door. Mr Dawnay said he understood the damage was caused by children. “It is a great pity,” he said. “But no one seems to be interested in taking the temple over from us and preserving it.” The Reffley Society met there until damage caused two years ago…from the Lynn News and Advertiser 4th May 1976.
Furniture lies in disorder after the latest attack by hooligans photo Lynn News
An outbuilding at the temple stripped and open to the elements Lynn News photo
Move to protect temple…….
Windows at Lynn’s historic Reffley Temple are to be bricked up in an attempt to stop the building’s total destruction by hooligans. A meeting of the Reffley Society on Wednesday decided not to abandon the temple – a course that had been suggested in the face of continuous vandalism. Yesterday the president the Hon. George Dawnay said that when bricking-up operations were complete, the society would wait a year or two to see what was happening in the locality. By then the area around the temple might be more occupied and offer some protection, he said. It was possible that someone would then take over responsibility for the temple. “At the moment it is no use repairing things. They will only get smashed.” Mr Dawnay said……
Two stone sphinxes which have guarded the doors of Lynn’s historic Reffley Temple for almost two hundred years have a new home – safe from the threat of vandalism.
They were removed from the derelict building, and now stand in the grounds of Hillington Hall, home of the Hon. George Dawnay. Over the past two or three years….the temple has been a target for vandalism. The roof, doors and windows have been smashed, and after unsuccessful attempts to repair the building, Mr Dawnay and fellow Reffley Society members have given up the battle.
“We had hoped that the local authority , which owns the adjacent land, might take it over. But they are not interested.” Mr Dawnay said. “Maybe one day it will be restored, in the meantime, the sphinxes are in safekeeping here.”
1977……...........Sphinxes in safe keeping