Hard times in Victorian Stanhoe: the Williman family

Herbert Fenton WillimanHerbert Fenton Williman (photo, left) was born in Stanhoe in 1855. In this transcript of a 1983 BBC Radio 4 programme, published by Williman family historian , Herbert remembers the Docking Riots and the almost unbelievable hardships of 19th-century rural life, from which he escaped by becoming a Methodist preacher.

Stanhoe historian Gillian Beckett writes:

The Willimans were not an old Stanhoe family; the first we seem to have was a John Williment of Sedgeford, who appears in Stanhoe in the 1851 census and had seven children.

The eldest, Henry Farindon Williman, was born in 1848 in Titchwell, married a Stanhoe girl and stayed here. The family lived in Baker’s Yard and had nine surviving children in eleven years, all bar one christened at the Methodist Chapel in Docking. The eldest girl, born in 1881, was called Alberta.

Henry Farindon Williman and three of the children were still in Stanhoe in 1901, but none of them seem to have been buried here. The war memorial shows that an “H. Williman” served in the First World War and survived. We have no other reference to the family after that date.

After Henry Farindon Williman came the first Herbert Fenton Williman, who was born here in 1854 and died a month later. Herbert Fenton Williman the second, the most adventurous of the children, was born in 1855 and moved to Watford for work by 1891. He worked for a while as an insurance clerk and then emigrated to Canada.

Nigel Seamarks adds that John Williment’s forebears used the surname Willamon, and that the family seems to have come originally from Germany.

Front cover of Herbert Williman bookHerbert Williman’s grandson, the late Rev. David Lawrence of Sprowston, Norwich, edited and published Herbert’s memoirs as a 54-page book in A5 format.

It’s an amazing story of rural poverty in Stanhoe, exciting adventures in Canada and elsewhere, and unshakeable religious faith.

Click on the image to download a PDF version (3.5 MB).