During the early Bronze Age, ‘Hillside’ was a sacred burial ground of the Beaker people. Thousands of years later, near the end of this time-worn lane, the Saxons and Normans built our church on a knoll above the river. The track led past the church to what was then a ford across the Chet at Pye’s Mill, on the route from Langley Abbey to Hales Hall.
Chedgrave prospered. Travel to Norwich, now England’s second largest city, increased. The village expanded to the Norwich road. Brickwork in the Old Rectory shows it is contemporary with Hales Barn. Hillside was less used and became ‘little back lane’.
Where the shops now stand, there was the substantial Crossways Farm of which only the house remains. This proudly carries the date 1669, probably of its rebuilding. At the same time the village began to develop around the junction of the roads to Langley and Norwich. The bay windowed house here is Jacobean. Next to it, the White Horse (1780) is the site of a much earlier ale house. Drovers drank here until the 1930’s, their cattle at the pond opposite. Here an oak was planted in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Since then at different times a butcher’s shop, a cobbler’s, a cycle shop, a smithy and a general stores have looked out upon pub, pond, tree and now – a car park.
The estate workers’ tied cottages opposite the White Horse show the influence of the Beauchamp-Proctors of Langley Hall. Lords of the Manor and patrons of the church they became a major employer for two hundred years. Life had feudal overtones. A Victorian policeman remembered making arrests for “robbery of wood stakes from Langley Park”, “non-payment of a bastardy order”, and for “ refusing to maintain an ancient mother”. Harold Sergeant remembered the estate office attached to ‘Burlingham House’ and long weeks of long hot days raking moss from the tennis courts. The estate broke up in 1953.
The first record of a miller at Chedgrave Mill, as it was then known, was in the late 1700’s. Norfolk wherries increasingly sailed as far as the mill. Granaries for wheat, barley, oats, seeds and later a coal depot, were built on the north bank. In 1930 a great fire destroyed most of this. Charlie Frosdick Senior recalled being pot boy at the White Horse and so well supplying the firemen with liquor that one let go of the pump handle and fell back into the river. Charlie had difficulty attracting attention to the man’s plight.
Cannell’s Seeds opened in 1904 and occupied the extensive buildings between Langley and Norwich Roads. It closed in 1969 and the site became the village’s industrial estate. The first council houses were built in Hardley and Langley Roads in the 1920’s with the celebrated Taylor and Greene houses being built in the 1950’s. There followed the housing boom of the 1960’s with swathes of new bungalows and houses changing the nature of the village entirely, trebling the population in ten years.
Recent development by the river has again put a new complexion on the village with the boat basin bringing the aura of a holiday resort to the village: a far remove from black wherries unloading coal into tarred sheds, medieval pilgrims fording the Chet, and Beaker people building great mounds on ‘Hillside’ to cover their revered, dead chieftains.