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Fornham St Martin occupies the gentle sloping valley of the river Lark to the north of the town of Bury St Edmunds. The height above sea level varies from 23 metres at the river’s edge, to 64 metres near the eastern boundary. Fornham St Genevieve, a continuation along the river to the north/north west where the tower of the ruined St Genevieve church stands in Fornham Park. Fornham St Martin with a population of about 1262 souls is just over 2 miles at its widest point and 1 mile south to north. Fornham St Genevieve with a population of about 99 souls is roughly ¾ mile wide and 1¼ miles southeast to northwest. Together the two parishes cover about 2¾ square miles. The river Lark which runs in a north-westerly direction from Bury St Edmunds forms the western boundary of both parishes. The B1106 running from east to west forms the southern boundary of Fornham St Genevieve and the northern boundary of Fornham St Martin. Forest plantation marks the north western boundary of Fornham St Genevieve with roads and farmland the eastern boundary. The eastern boundary of Fornham St Martin is mainly farmland. Due to its proximity to Bury St Edmunds the village is of a semi-rural nature. It has a church, a pub, a village hall which was once the village school. There is also a playing field. The main residential areas are at opposite ends of the village. Barton Hill at one end and Lark Valley at the other.
THE OLD HALL
This is situated at the lower end of Old Hall Lane on the right hand side and contrasts clearly with new housing alongside. Although additions have been make over the years it original form as a small guildhall is easily discerned. It dates from about the 13th century and is believed to have been the meeting hall or ‘moot’ hall of the Guild of Candle makers. It is now divided into private dwellings.
THE TWO RECTORIES
The village has two old rectories both of which are now private dwellings. The older of the two at the north end of The Street was sold to the retiring incumbent in the mid 19th century. In 1886 it was known as Fornham Villa to distinguish it from the newer rectory almost opposite the church. There is also what is known as the ‘Old Priest's House’ at the south end of The Woolpack public house. This was also the Village Post office but is now fully incorporated as part of The Woolpack.
The building was erected in 1886 on land opposite Fornham House given by the Ord family. It was designated as a Village Institute by the Sultan of Johore in memory of his friend Sir Harry Ord for use by the working men of the village and was well stocked with newspapers and books. However, as with many Victorian philanthropic institutes, and the changing social conditions, it gradually fell into obscurity and was sold for use as a private dwelling. Following a number of extensions to improve its suitability as a dwelling it was extensively altered in 2009 by the addition of a second storey.
The parish of Fornham St Genevieve covers virtually the area of the earlier Fornham Hall estate. In the 17th century the land was part of the Hengrave Hall estate, and a small community existed more or less astride a road to West Stow and Culford. In 1778 the estate was bought by Lord Howard who later became the 12th Duke of Norfolk. He virtually dispossessed the villagers, moved the road east to where it now is and built Fornham Hall more or less over the old road. In 1842 the estate was sold to Lord Manners who in 1892 sold it to Sir William Gilstrap. With declining fortunes and the passing of inheritances the estates were acquired by others and in 1950 the remainder was sold off in several separate parcels. The Hall was completely demolished and the remaining outbuildings were for many years allowed to fall into disrepair. However with skilful restoration and development in 2008/9 they have formed the basis of a small community of exclusive private dwellings. An interesting legacy is the very small burial ground at St John’s Hill Plantation – the site of the Suffolk Hotel and Golf Club – where some of the employees of the Hall were buried.
THE RIVER LARK
The river forms to a large extent the western boundary of the parishes as it flows from the Tollgate Bridge to Hengrave Lock. It has been a means of transport between Bury St Edmunds and Kings Lynn for over a thousand years and was used to bring the Barnack stone for building the Abbey in the 12th century. It was canalised in the 19th century by the Eastern Counties Navigation and Transport Company which resulted in much straightening and the building of locks and bridges as can be seen at Sheepwash Bridge on the approximate boundary with Fornham All Saints. There are many sections of the old river bends, now little more than ponds or ditches, lying alongside the course of the main river. The wharf and warehouse by Somerfield supermarket was the effective terminal for the canal trade which consisted mainly of coal and grain. Within living memory, by closing the lock gates at Sheepwash Bridge it was possible to flood part of the meadows, now the golf course, to provide skating in the winter. There were two windmills and a water mill at the bottom of Mill Lane, now the lower end of Lark Valley Drive and a further watermill near Ducksluice Farm at the north western corner of the parish. At the bottom of School Lane, on the left hand side are the remains of the old village blacksmiths and photographs exist of the last one at work there. The field going down to the river was known as the‘Blacksmith’s Field’.
This house dates from the late 17th century and came into the Ord family by marriage in 1755. It was not a large estate being about fifty acres. It continued as the family residence until the end of the 19th century, when declining family fortunes forced its sale. It is now a residential home for the elderly. Of some interest are the estate cottages around the old coach house which show contrasting building styles. The wall along The Street also shows how limestone blocks, taken from the Abbey ruins were used to introduce a simple pattern into an otherwise uninteresting structure. There are other similar examples within the Fornhams.
THE WOOLPACK PUBLIC HOUSE
There has been an inn on this site for more than three centuries, the present building dating from the late 19th century. It is owned by Greene King Ltd, the Bury St Edmunds based brewery. They bought it at the Fornham Hall sale in1950.