History and heritage

SITTING ROOM: Sofas from The Sofa Shop 01282 412888. Fireplace is original. Curtains and Throws from

SITTING ROOM: Sofas from The Sofa Shop 01282 412888. Fireplace is original. Curtains and Throws from Fabric Exchange in Holt, 01263 712724. Son Tom made the Coffee Table. Chandelier from B&Q, 01603 269000. - Credit: Archant

After years in the classroom, teachers Jan and Jim Pannell have learned a lot from their beautiful home at Aylsham

The delightful market town of Aylsham sits beside the River Bure. Thought to have been founded by an Anglo Saxon by the name of Aegel around 500AD, until the late 15th century Aylsham’s wealth came from the linen and worsted trades, the weaving of local cloths.

As the architecture shows, there is a great diversity of interesting properties spanning the centuries with several being from the Georgian period. With the substantial estate of Blickling close by, Aylsham was an influential and important market town. It is, therefore, very fitting that Jan and Jim Pannell, two retired teachers and their family, should have made it their home in this Grade Two listed period property.

Early on during my visit, they show me some interesting marks on a window frame, to the right of the fireplace in the dining room. Jim explains: “It was originally an external window. They are apotropics, ritual marks - a wheel and initials to ward off evil and scorch marks to protect the house from fire. My father had a deep interest in people and places from times past and that is where my love of history comes from. Wherever we went we seemed to find something engaging us. I have no academic background in history, but am very fortunate living in this market town, full of period properties and heritage. It was an important factor in our decision to live here.”

Jan’s mother and aunts were based at Roughton when they were Land Girls during the Second World War. Her mother’s first husband was based at Massingham airfield; he was killed in action some eight months after they married. Jan’s mother remarried and Jan was raised in Rossendale in Lancashire, but there was a lasting family affection for Norfolk. Jan met Jim, from Surrey, at university in Durham. They briefly taught on Tyneside before moving down to jobs in North Walsham, then later to Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. Their four children are Matthew, 40, who writes for the pharmaceutical industry; Ruth, 38, an advisory teacher living at Corpusty with three children Finn, Isla and Eva; Tom, 36, is a teacher in Cadiz, Spain, and has a partner Raquel teaching contemporary dance, and Rose, 34, who has travelled the world and now lives in Marylebone, London, with her husband Aymen and son Fareed.

Fifteen years ago Jan and Jim bought a small cottage across the road from their present property. Time there persuaded them that Aylsham was where they wished to live. The White House came on the market a few years later and had been empty for about two years. Part of the house, including the dining room, guest bedroom and attic bedroom, are thought to date from about 1650 and extended back in to what is now a separate dwelling. In the 1840s a major change took place with addition of the living room and bedroom above. The house sits in a good plot, with a courtyard patio, garden and outbuildings.

Jan says: “Having lived opposite, we knew the area and neighbours. We loved the character and location of the house, so we decided to buy. The improvements we had to make meant no exotic holidays! We can walk to the Market Place in a couple of minutes - everything is so convenient - we often meet friendly locals for a chat. There is beautiful countryside right on our doorstep and there is nowhere I would rather be.

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“My favourite room is the guest bedroom which has such charm and character. It has a nice, secure feel, but we both like the attic bedroom on this old side of the house. As regards a favourite item, the crochet hanging in the dining room - that someone has cared enough to spend hours making it, to make the window beautiful, is a joy. One of our biggest enjoyments is sitting in front of the open fire in winter and just putting another log on as they burn down.”

Jim adds: “I also love sitting in the antique bath, looking at the period brick wall, such history.

“Every morning, without fail, I enjoy taking our seven-year-old brown Labrador Jess up around Blickling woods, a beautiful spot and one we both enjoy. Further afield, we like the beach at Overstrand and on to Cromer.

“I have become involved with The Aylsham Local History Society, of which I am now secretary. Much of the land and property in Aylsham, including The White House, was on the estate of the Duchy of Lancaster. We take an interest in our heritage, and we try to share this in the community with talks and publications. The society has published several books of local interest which are available from the heritage centre in the churchyard, and we are currently researching the Aylsham Baptist Church.”

Sixteen years ago, Jim took up bell ringing. “It’s a really good group”, he says. “We always discuss Norwich City’s latest match before we raise the bells.”

Jan concludes: “Jim and I both feel privileged to live here as custodians of The White House, having spent our working lives in jobs we enjoyed. There are lots of good people in the teaching profession and we have been fortunate to work with some of them, pupils and the community. As you can tell, to retire to Aylsham is wonderful. We enjoy the walks and odd trips to Keys’ auction rooms for the occasional bargain. A little further afield, we like the Saracens Head at Wolterton - good food and a warm welcome - and The Crown at Banningham, which is more a local, very welcoming and lots of character.

“Although I miss my interaction with the children I taught, I now find myself happily a childminder to my grandchildren, which I really enjoy. We have been incredibly lucky both in our jobs and our retirement to Norfolk, a county we hold dearly in our hearts, living in such a nice town and wonderful property.”

Aylsham Local History Society; alhs.weebly.com

Aylsham Heritage Centre; www.aylshamheritage.com

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