Secrets of Brethren uncovered in Reffley Wood in King’s Lynn

West Nofolk and King's Lynn Archaeology Society have excavated around the Reffley Temple site.
West Nofolk and King's Lynn Archaeology Society have excavated around the Reffley Temple site.
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If you go down to Reffley woods today, you’re sure to find some fine porcelain tableware and an American coin left by members of a historic secret society.

The West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Archaeology Society have uncovered evidence of the Reffley Brethren at an excavation in the remains of the old temple.

During the summer, the society has been running a number of digs across the Gaywood Valley to learn more about the area’s heritage.

The final digs were undertaken in Reffley, which has yielded proof of the secret society, which apparently still meets today.

Society chairman Dr Clive Bond said: “The tableware, is porcelain, fine ware, including Willow-patten ware. This, and the pipes must relate to brethern meetings at the spring and in the building. They still smoke long clay pipes, part of the ritual at meetings and, of course drinking the distilled Reffley wine has always been important to meetings

“In themselves, actually post-medieval pottery, clay pipes are not so unusual. But, importantly, this is at the temple site and we know meetings occurred over a few hundred years with ceremonies for a small group, a secret society. The place, the Reffley Brew and finding artefacts that must relate to these activities, is a unique insight into a distinct Lynn history.”

The brethren was formed after the execution of King Charles I in 1649 to oppose Oliver Cromwell.

Members would use natural iron-bearing springs in Reffley to make their secret punch and toast the Roman god of wine, Bacchus, within their octagonal temple.

The temple was built in 1711 by the land owners, the Ffolkes family, and was guarded by sphinxes and contained an obelisk, which were both removed in the 1990s for safety reasons.

At their meetings the brethren would traditionally eat a large joint of beef, saddle of mutton and a lobster salad.

After, the society would smoke a secret blend of tobacco through huge clay pipes.

Some of these pipes along with the coin were uncovered within the 30cm test pit dug by archaeologists at the temple on October 20 and 21.

Dr Bond said: “The brethen may have been people of influence, power and somebody may have travelled. We don’t know how the coin got there, but, it could well relate to the meetings, or just be somebody visiting from an American air base. The date on the coin is not clear yet.”

The society also uncovered some prehistoric flint flakes in two test pits on a footpath near Reffley Lane. Fifteen people took part in the dig, which was attended by Dr Mary Chester-Kadwell from Cambridge Community Heritage.

Also found was a Roman Samian pottery, a Saxon-Norman kiln site and air raid shelters.

He said: “Families, friends, children, even borough councillors have enjoyed their chance to learn how to use a trowel and be Lynn’s Indiana Jones.”