New Research Uncovers The Fascinating Past Of The Cedars, North Walsham
New Historic England research gives a fascinating insight into The Cedars, a well-known building in the centre of North Walsham, and the people who called it home.
It is possible that The Cedars, first shown on a map of the area in 1797, was built as a family home as part of wider works to the estate of The Oaks, a large house with substantial grounds formerly located opposite, but demolished in 1934.
It’s been fascinating peeling back the layers of history at The Cedars and discovering more about the architecture and the people who lived and worked there. Throughout the house there are clues to its changes in style and status through the centuries, and we’ve learnt so much about the history of North Walsham as a result of this property and its location in the town.
Captain Withers: an important naval figure
By 1824, The Cedars was occupied by Captain Withers, an important naval figure and an associate of Horatio, Lord Nelson.
Withers served under Nelson on ships HMS Agamemnon and the Captain.
He was promoted to Lieutenant and appointed to the Terrible, serving during the expedition against the French in Egypt. In 1803, he was appointed to the command of the Expedition and was given the rank of Post Captain in 1809, showing he had been posted on active duty.
Following his 21 years of active service, Captain Withers settled in North Walsham. He married Melissa Kemp, in May 1822; two years later the couple had a daughter, born in 1824.
William Shipley: veterinary surgeon
From the late 1830s, The Cedars was the residence and workplace of William Shipley, a veterinary surgeon.
Shipley lived at The Cedars with his wife Eliza and their sons William and Joshua.
By 1851, Shipley was describing himself as a ‘veterinary surgeon and smith’, employing two men, a general servant and his son William as his apprentice.
The Cedars contained a dedicated veterinary surgery, probably located in the room between the kitchen and the entrance hall.
The Cedars remained the home of the Shipleys until 1869.
The Smith family: grocers, drapers and bankers
The Cedars was sold to George Smith (1812-86) but he initially chose to rent the property out and refurbish it rather than move into it himself.
Smith was a grocer and draper, living in Churchgate Street (now Church Street) from at least 1841 with his sisters Mary and Harriet and then in a property comprising ‘House Shop Buildings Yard and Garden’ on the corner of New Road and Church Street. This large, three-storey property, dating from the early 19th century, survives at 2-4 Church Street and is now listed at Grade II.
The Smith family remained connected with 2-4 Church Street up to the first half of the 20th century. By 1851, Smith was living at the property with his wife Martha (1816-91), their young children plus apprentices and servants.
By 1861, George Smith was termed a ‘Draper & Grocer & Bank Agent’, having taken on the local savings bank in 1853, and the property at Church Street became known as ‘Smith’s Corner’.
In 1876, he retired from his general drapery and grocery establishment but retained his interest in banking and insurance, being joined in the business by his son, George William Smith (1849-1933).
The Cedars was renovated – with extensions to the rear and east of the house – and given its current name prior to George Smith’s move to the property around 1879, with his wife, Martha, his daughter Kathleen, a general servant and a housemaid. He lived at The Cedars until his death in 1886, aged 74.
Martha continued to live at the property until her death, in 1891, at the age of 76.
Following his mother’s death in 1891, George W. Smith (junior) moved into The Cedars with his wife Madeline (1860-1946) and growing family. In a directory of 1896, Smith was listed at The Cedars but with an office at ‘Bank House, New Road’ – a low structure to the rear of 2-4 Church Street which could be accessed by a door from within the forecourt of The Cedars.
In 1901, Smith was sharing the house with his wife, their children – which by now also included Edward Pelham (1894-1918), Harold Guy (1896-1915) and Ethel Victoria (1901-42) – along with two servants. The Smiths’ younger two sons died tragically in the First World War – Guy died at Gallipoli in 1915 and Pelham in France in 1918.
George Smith junior retired from his role as ‘bank accountant’ in 1930 and died three years later. His widow, Madeline, was listed at The Cedars throughout the 1930s. It was during this decade that The Oaks, opposite The Cedars, was demolished.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1939, Madeline was living at The Cedars with her daughter Gladys, who by this time had succeeded her father as ‘branch manager of [the] Savings Bank’. Gladys remained in that position until her retirement in the early 1960s.
Madeline Smith was still residing at The Cedars at the time of her death on 13 October 1946, at the age of 86. Throughout her life, she had apparently been a force in the town, and her loss must have been widely mourned. Madeline was Captain of the Girls’ Friendly Society, Girl Guides, leader of the girls’ Bible class and President of the town’s Habitation of St Barnardo’s Young Helpers’ League, amongst other voluntary roles.
Madeline’s dedication to the community life of North Walsham passed on to her second daughter, Gladys, who became Superintendent of the Sunday School, Cubmaster and President of the Women’s Institute.
From family home to council offices
The year 1946 marked the end of the use of The Cedars as a family home.
The property was first leased and then purchased by North Walsham Urban District Council, who converted the house as offices, the former walled garden to the rear of The Cedars into a car park and demolished some structures on the site. The principal façade of the main building was tidied up and a single-storey block projecting forward from the house was removed.
At around this time, the council was developing the site opposite – formerly occupied by The Oaks – to form a public services complex, including a public park, post office and savings bank, telephone exchange, fire station, public library and more. The post office was completed in 1965, the library was opened in 1968 and the fire station followed in 1981, replacing an earlier fire station on a nearby site. Land to the north-east of The Cedars was developed for housing.
The Cedars was listed at Grade II in 1972 and was further altered as offices for council staff in the 1980s and 1990s.
The council – which became North Norfolk District Council in the 1970s – left the building in 2016.
Thanks to a sensitive programme of work as part of the North Walsham High Street Heritage Action Zone, run in partnership by North Norfolk District Council and Historic England, the former appearance of The Cedars has become more evident.
The building’s domestic character has been restored during the years 2021-2, while preserving the most interesting features of its use as offices.
At North Norfolk District Council we are grateful to Historic England for the energy and scholarship which they have brought to the study of North Walsham. The story of The Cedars is not simply the story of an appealing old house. It's also the story of a market town at the heart of English history. Our Heritage Action Zone project is casting a bright light upon the history of North Norfolk's largest town and, as time goes by, there will be more stories to tell. We're looking forward to that.