Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Buck Inn (Hempton, Norfolk) by Alfred Seaman

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

John Bradley recently sent me this intriguing image of a mounted albumen print (202 x 134 mm) of two carts in front of a large stone and brick building with a tiled roof which had previously been framed. The reason for his - and my - particular interest is that on the back is the nice clear stamp of Chesterfield photographer Alfred Seaman.

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

Portrait, View & Landscape
Opposite the Railway Station

In view of the fact that the name states only Alfred Seaman, not his sons, and the Brewery Street studio address only is listed, this suggests that it was taken early in his career, perhaps between 1879 and 1882. A carte de visite with identical studio address from my profile portfolio of Seaman photographs is shown below.

Image © & courtesy of Jeanne Fox
Elizabeth Fox née Green (b. 12 April 1846)
by A. Seaman of Brewery Street, Chesterfield
Undated, but probably taken c.1880
Image © & courtesy of Jeanne Fox

Although John Bradley's mounted albumen print does not have a caption, he was able to deduce the approximate location as being near to Fakenham in Norfolk from a detailed examination of the signs in the photograph.

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

An enlargement of the signpost visible on the right hand side reveals the destinations, Sculthorpe, Shereford and Raynham.

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The most suitable location for a signpost with this particular configuration would be at the junction of current A1065 (Raynham Road) and the Shereford Road, in the small village of Hempton, as shown in the GoogleMaps satellite image below.

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It appears that the building shown in the old print may even still exist - the long building, or series of connected buildings, oriented roughly east-west and situated directly to the east of the crossroads in the image above - although there may have been some modifications, particularly in the roof line.

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

The sign which hangs from a post situated prominently at the corner of the building clearly states, "The Buck Inn," unfortunately with little in the way of decoration or further embellishment.

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

However, another sign above the doorway reveals considerably more:
This was the classic sign seen above licensed premises, probably required by law. A similar sign from Goole, possibly in the 1880s or 1890s, reads, "William Ross Cattanach, licensed to sell British and foreign spirituous liquors, ale, porter and tobacco." (Source: Boothferry Road, Goole - A History by Susan Butler)

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

In the doorway stands a middle-aged or elderly woman wearing a white apron, apparently with her left hand on the door latch, and a large bonnet in her right hand. Directly in front of her stands a boy, perhaps in his early teens, dressed in a suit and bowler hat, holding in his left hand the bridle of a pony which is harnessed to an empty two-wheeled cart.

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley

To the left of the building is another two-wheeled cart, piled high with barrels. Initially, I thought that it was parked at the side of the building, but a closer look shows the legs of a horse, and perhaps a boy leading the horse, and I now believe that the cart is heading north along the main road. A wall is visible in the background, and there are some more buildings in the distance.

Examination of census records, trade directories and data provided by the Norfolk Public Houses database shows that George Gates was proprietor of the Buck Inn in the village of Hempton from 1865 until 1881. He was born in Hempton in 1818 and was a bootmaker before taking over the Buck Inn from Robert Brundle in the early to mid-1860s. He died at the age of 64 in 1882, and his widow Mary Ann Gates continued to run the inn until she, too, died in 1897. It seems likely that it is she who stands in the doorway in John's photo. Their son Robert Gates (1859-) took it over before 1900 and was the landlord for a few years, but appears to have sold the business to a William Howe by November 1908. It is interesting to note that there were no less than three inns in Hempton for a population of just 566 inhabitants in 1881 - the other two were The King's Head and The Bell - but I suppose they were coaching inns and relied mostly on passing trade.

Image © & courtesy of Jonathan Neville
Hempton village, with the tower mill (center) and the Buck Inn right), taken in 1910
Image © & courtesy of Jonathan Neville & Norfolk Mills

Jonathan Neville's web page devoted to the Hempton towermill has a number photographs of the mill, several of which include the building of the Buck Inn, over a period from 1905 to c.1930. The photograph reproduced above is dated 1910, and shows the Buck Inn building at the right, largely unchanged from the days of John Bradley's albumen print thirty odd years earlier.

John Bradley posed the question as to why Alfred Seaman, a studio photographer based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, should be taking photographs, even if they were commissions, over a hundred miles away in rural Norfolk. Both of us are well aware of Seaman's Norfolk connections. He was born in the village of East Lexham, married a young woman from Walsingham, and first settled in the town of Fakenham, before moving several times and ending up in Derbyshire by the mid-1870s. Family members have provided photographic evidence that Seaman did return to Norfolk in the 1890s to visit family members and take their portraits, so it is quite conceivable that he was making such visits in the early 1880s too. Whether he was related to George Gates or his wife Mary Ann (maiden surname Loads) in some way is not known.


Trade Directories from the University of Leicester's Historical Directories
- Pigot's Directory of Norfolk, 1839
- Craven & Co.'s Commercial Directory of Norfolk, 1856
- Post Office Directory of Cambs, Norfolk & Suffolk, 1869
- Harrod & Co.'s Directory of Norfolk & Lowestoft, 1877
- History, Gazetteer & Directory of Norfolk, 1883
Francis White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk 1854, pp. 698-699, by Paddy Apling
Buck, Hempton on Norfolk Public Houses, A listing by Richard Bristow
Hempton Towermill, by Jonathan Neville
Indexed 1841-1901 UK Census images from Ancestry
GRO Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes from FreeBMD


  1. Was the Alfred Seaman Studio in Brewery St Chesterfield a "Lock Up "

  2. Anon: mmhhh ... interesting question, and I'm afraid I don't have an answer for you. I'm just not familiar enough with either the geolography or the history of the area. I am intrigued, though. Why do you ask?

    Regards, Brett

  3. Hello .I am researching my family tree and George and Mary Gates were the publicans of Buck Inn..1891 they are my cousins Great Great Grandparents.. I was wondering if you had any more info or photos of this Inn.

    1. Sorry Janine, I have nothing further, and the original image came from a fellow photo researcher.


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