Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum is a 50 acre site that includes many types of attractions for all ages.
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The farm at Gressenhall was the site, in 1776, of a ‘house of industry’ for the poor; this was changed into a workhouse in 1834, not a pleasant place to be. The farm grew produce for the inmates. The workhouse closed in 1948, then became a home for the elderly. It wasn’t until 1976 that the site opened as a museum.
Today’s visitors can take cart rides around the working farm and enjoy the traditional East Anglian farm animals. These include Suffolk punch horses, Norfolk Horn sheep. Suffolk sheep, South Down sheep, British White cows, Red Poll cattle, goats, Norfolk Black turkeys, Marsh Dairy chickens, and Large Black pigs. The dairy on the farm not only tells the history of milk, butter, and cheese production but gives visitors an opportunity to milk a cow.
The main museum’s collections in the workhouse are all about the ordinary people of Norfolk, especially the farmers. The First Farmers Gallery displays artefacts used by Norfolk’s farmers around 6000 years ago. It contains objects of bone, antler, flint, stone and bronze from the collections at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.
The Toil and Plenty section of the museum shows the development of farming from the mid 1700s to the use of the first combine harvesters. Tractors, ploughs, threshing machines and hand tools are on display. A traditional farmhouse has rooms reflecting the farming families’ lives of the past. The old-style range is used for cooking on special event days.
The Transport Gallery has a collection of carts and carriages, a circus showman’s caravan, fire engines, and other vehicles used in rural areas. A 1950s room lets you relive that decade. The Collections Gallery (once a dormitory for men) has hundreds of objects of rural Norfolk life. In this area is a temporary exhibition space that changes each year. The Land Girls and Lumber Jills Gallery pays tribute to the Women’s Land Army during WWII, telling their real life stories.
In the Engine Rooms is a collection of stationary steam engines used to power everything from pumping water to washing clothes. On Tuesdays they are powered up for visitors.
An authentic 1853 cottage, Cherry Tree, has a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and scullery. It was built to house six married couples of the workhouse. It is now all set up to reflect the 1930s. Outside the cottage is a traditional organic cottage garden with vegetables, herbs, and a lavender walkway. By the garden is a 1930s seed shop based on the Taylors Seed Merchants shop in Kings Lynn.
Shops and homes of the past are recreated in Village Row. One building was used for schoolrooms, a nursery, and a ward for unmarried mothers. Displays in the buildings today show how a grocer, a postmaster, a blacksmith, and a seedsman used the space for the rural community.
The Workhouse Corridor tells the history of life in the workhouse and has a few objects surviving from the times. The Workhouse was a humane place until 1834 when it had to comply with all the others in the country. Families were separated; food was scarce; work was hard. It virtualy became a prison. A large laundry room building that used steam to do the washing still survives complete with machinery.
The countryside to enjoy includes woodlands, water meadows, a wildlife garden, an orchard, and riverside walks. Centenary Wood, planted by local people in 1989 contains a mixture of Norfolk’s native trees including oak, ash, wild cherry, hawthorn and holly. Nature watch cameras are located in St Nicholas barn. In the barn are farm implements of the past 200 years once used for cultivating, harvesting, transporting and processing crops. The farm orchard produces historic apple varieties. Gressenhall holds an apple day each autumn. Visitors on apple day can purchase local produce and crafts.
The organic Wildlife Garden presents ideas for plants to grow to attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife. The Farmhouse Garden is traditional in style with roses, lavender and herbs. The Dyer’s Garden features plants that were traditionally used to create dyes for colouring cloth. The Smallholder’s Garden grows a variety of fruit and vegetables for the farmhouse kitchen. Next to the Learning Centre is a courtyard garden. In it is a curiosity corner for children.
Norfolk’s oldest working car, the Panhard et Levassor dating from 1899, is kept at Gressenhall. It once belonged to Charles Rolls of Rolls Royce fame.
Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse also hosts an annual temporary exhibition. In 2013 the exhibition was Norfolk Nurserymen, which highlights the stories of four successful businesses - the Taylors, Starks, Daniels, and Cannells.
Also on the grounds are a shop, a café, a children’s woodland playground with treehouses and walkways, and picnic areas.
We suggest planning a whole day out to fully enjoy everything available on the site.
Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum
Gressenhall, 3 miles north-west of Dereham, Norfolk, on the B1146
Tel. 0 1362 860 563
Open: mid March-end Oct, 10am-5pm; Feb term time and week after Christmas, 10am-4pm
Parking on site; shop; cafe
Web: Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum
All photos © and by Barbara Ballard