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Whitegates - Old Norwich Road

Whitegates was built as a family home in the late eighteenth century facing south east to the turnpike near its junction with Cann's Lane. It was a double-depth property five bays wide and built in two storeys with bricks in Flemish bond under a hipped roof. Early this century the main facade was extended by adding flat-roofed bays to both the left and right, upsetting the elegant lines of the original Georgian build.

The front, now seven bays, has a central doorcase with Tuscan pilasters holding a flat canopy. Flush sashes, under brick arches, number six to the ground floor and seven above. Wood modillions decorate the eaves and there are black pantiles on the roof. Windows of the extensions generally match sashes at the front. Cross stacks stand either side of the hips. The one to the left, carries a weathervane depicting two firemen and hose. Outside recent building at the rear housing fire fighting equipment, replaced the coach house and stables of earlier times.

The owner of Whitegates about whom most is known was Mrs Mary Taylor, who died in 1899. She was a wealthy woman, with no sons or daughters to inherit her estate and she left many money bequests to individuals and to charities. Mary Ann Curson her servant received freehold cottages in Hethersett purchased by Mrs. Taylor's husband about 1874 from John Withers Dowson. Among the bequests were several paintings, including The Ferry Boat by Vincent and A Portrait of a Lady by Sir Peter Lely, to James Henry Brook

A sum of 1000 was to be invested in Consols to be used for the nursing care of the poor of Hethersett not in receipt of charitable relief. The Hethersett and Ketteringham Nursing Benefit Club held its first annual meeting in February 26th. 1900, and it was reported that there were 131 subscribers. A Miss Hammond of Fakenham Home had supplied the parish with a nurse, Annie Amson at 21.5s (21.25) for three quarters of a year. A year later there were 103 subscribers at 2s (10p) a year, and Miss Amson was leaving to get married. She was to be presented with a marble clock with pleasant chimes. However, the Fund was struggling a little to survive as there was only 2s.3d (12p) cash in hand at the end of the second year. The club exists today.

As to the residue of the estate, the Trustees were instructed to convert all real and leasehold estates into money to be divided equally among the National Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Royal Lifeboat Institution.

Whitegates with four acres, and an associated four bedroom house facing the turnpike and closer to Cann's Lane, were sold by auction on 31 March 1900 at the Royal Hotel, Norwich. Gertrude Saxby of Addison Gardens, Kensington, and niece of Mrs. Taylor, bought it for 890. Sarah and Julia Bale bought the other house for 420, Sarah Bale being the occupier at that time.

Later owners of Whitegates were Mrs. T. W. Lauriston Saxby in 1912 and Arthur Joshua John Boswell in 1916.

Mrs Boswell's nurse, Miss Dodd, recollected that:

The Boswells were Norwich Wine and Spirit Merchants and were wealthy, employing at Whitegates a large staff, including a full time nurse for Mrs. Boswell, a housekeeper, cook, housemaid, a char, a gardener and a chauffeur who drove a large Fiat car. He was not allowed to drive faster than 35 mph, otherwise he was told "Your foot's heavy today !". There was a greenhouse where figs, peaches and grapes were grown. They grew most of their own vegetables and kept poultry. They did not mix with or entertain any professionals or gentry as they considered themselves trade. Nurse Dodd, always believed they were of Romany descent as Boswell is apparently an old Romany name.

The pine trees behind Whitegates are reputed to have been planted by Mr. Henry Back as he believed that they were good for asthma sufferers like himself. These trees are visible on a 1946 RAF aerial photograph. Other interesting trees in the grounds of Whitegates are an oak tree to the rear, a cedar of Lebanon and a holm oak at the front. Botanical evidence suggests dates of 1882 for the oak and the cedar.

Other owners of Whitegates were Lt. Col. Horatio Berney-Fickling PM MC in 1929, and Thomas Furness from 1933 to 1937. Mrs Furness was on the committee of the Nursing Benefit Club.

During the Second World War, Whitegates was commandeered for use by the National Fire Service, and purchased by the County Council in 1950. At the time of writing, it serves as the Norfolk Fire Service Headquarters with a complement of 100 staff.