Parish Summary: Fransham

This Parish Summary is an overview of the large amount of information held for the parish, and only selected examples of sites and finds in each period are given. It has been beyond the scope of the project to carry out detailed research into the historical background, documents, maps or other sources, but we hope that the Parish Summaries will encourage users to refer to the detailed records, and to consult the bibliographical sources referred to below. Feedback and any corrections are welcomed by email to

Fransham is a relatively large parish on the edge of the boulder clay plateau that dominates central and south Norfolk. The modern parish is an amalgamation of Great Fransham and Little Fransham, which were united in 1935. Fransham has been the subject of an intensive fieldwalking and documentary survey carried out by Andrew Rogerson, which has allowed the archaeological development of the parish to be traced from prehistory into the post medieval period.

Some Palaeolithic objects have been found in the parish, including a Lower Palaeolithic flake (NHER 20792) and a scraper (NHER 23080), Upper Palaeolithic flints (NHER 20608) and a small Palaeolithic flint handaxe (NHER 20651), and a large flint flake (NHER 21631). Similarly only two Mesolithic flint implements have been recovered; a blade (NHER 23076) and a small blade core (NHER 23906). Early Neolithic evidence includes three laurel leaves (NHER 20653, 24765 and 23081), which are characteristic flint tools of the Early Neolithic period. The bulk of the worked flints recovered during the field walking survey probably date from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, and are evidence of a Late Neolithic expansion onto the clay soils which dominate the geology of the parish. Barbed and tanged arrowheads (NHER 2065324777 and 21629), and the fragments of several flint axes (NHER 2050820604255542062320651 and 24777) dating to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age have been found. Several fragments of Beaker pottery (NHER 41922052420653216272389725564 and 20824), dating to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, may represent settlement sites, or possibly burials. Although a large amount of worked flint was recovered from the parish, it is very difficult to infer the existence or nature of any other Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age sites from flint tools alone. However, most of the worked flint was recovered from areas of lighter soils, and it seems likely that many flint tools would have been lost in the area where people were living. A large number of 'pot boiler' sites were revealed during the fieldwalking survey, and are probably the remains of prehistoric burnt mounds. The function of these sites is unclear, but their distribution shows that areas of land which had sparse scatter of worked flint were also being exploited during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Only a single fragment pottery that can be definitely dated to the Late Bronze Age (NHER 20448) has been found, although some fragments may have been identified as Iron Age. This lack of Late Bronze Age artefacts in the archaeological records reflects the lack of survival of Late Bronze Age pottery, rather than its absence.

The Iron Age is the first period when discrete settlement sites can be discerned from pottery scatters, and six sites have been identified (NHER 2044720524205082065320766 and 21622). The size of these settlements is unknown; some could be a small group of houses, whilst others (NHER 20447 and 20766) may represent larger settlement, perhaps hamlets. The six settlements were not all occupied at the same time, although their relative chronology is difficult to establish. Although arable farming may have been of some importance in this area, pastoral farming is likely to have been more important in the local economy. Iron Age occupation was probably more widespread than the six settlement sites revealed during fieldwalking, but the pottery that would reveal such sites has not always survived.

During the Roman period the parish was quite densely settled, although the density of settlement is not unusual for lowland England. It is unclear how many of the Roman settlements identified had their origins in the Iron Age. Roman 'foundations' (NHER 12424) were said to be visible close to the Old Hall in Little Fransham, but no Roman remains are now visible, and the site was occupied by a tenement in the medieval and post medieval periods. Field walking has revealed eleven Roman settlement sites (NHER 2079220763207542074915875205902064720519, 2389724763, 230822555624765 to 2476720824 and 20639). One of the largest Roman settlements (NHER 20590 and 20647) was located near the centre of the parish, and a Roman coin and brooch have been found on the site. One site was surrounded by a probable ditched enclosure (NHER 20792), but the site did not develop after the late Roman period. Roman coins (NHER 20749 and 20824) and a bracelet (NHER 20639) have been found on some of the settlement sites. The parish was almost exclusively agricultural during the Roman period, and light scatters of Roman pottery around the settlements represent manure scatters in arable fields (NHER 20763, 20749 and 20519). The heavy soils in the north of the parish were probably wooded, and there is little evidence of Roman pottery scatters in this area. Others areas which have a low density of Roman sherds may have been used for animal husbandry. Most of the Roman settlements in Fransham probably consisted of only a few houses, although three sites (NHER 207631587520590206472384724763 and 23082) may have been small hamlets. Very few fragments of ceramic building material were found, and no Roman mortar, which suggests that there were no masonry buildings. Iron working was carried out on several different settlement sites (NHER 20590206472051920824 and 24765 to 24767), probably on a small scale by individuals.

Fransham probably comes from the Old English personal name 'Fram', or from 'fraemde', meaning 'strange', and the suffix 'ham' suggests a place of early settlement, and a place of some significance within the landscape. Fransham and the neighbouring parish of Wendling may once have formed a larger land unit, perhaps the centre of a much larger estate. The main centre of settlement (NHER 20587) in the Early Saxon period was in the centre of the parish, close to the former parish boundary between Great and Little Fransham. The location of this settlement close to the medieval parish church of All Saints suggests that the church may stand on a site of pre-Christian significance. Four other possible Early Saxon settlement sites have been identified (NHER 205082307620448 and 20639), although they are much smaller than the main settlement. From this evidence it is clear that there was a significant reduction in population in the transition from the Roman to the Early Saxon period, and that Early Saxon settlement does not correspond with known Roman settlement sites. 

Drawing of an Early Saxon brooch found in Fransham.

An Early Saxon brooch found in Fransham. (© NCC.)

During the 7th century the main focus of settlement shifted to another site at some distance from the Early Saxon settlement. This new settlement (NHER 20651 and 20653) continued to be occupied throughout the Middle Saxon period, until the end of the Late Saxon period. The fieldwalking survey revealed that the Middle Saxon settlement was a small, nucleated village with a linear plan, and the settlement lies close to the centre of the possible multiple estate formed by Fransham, Wendling and the surrounding parishes. During the Late Saxon period there were two centres of settlement, probably corresponding to the lands of the two major landholders recorded in the Domesday Book. A small number of common edge settlements (NHER 2079320624206232061325553419320752216242074520639, 2062920822, 2921725568 and 24767) appeared during the 11th century, the beginnings of what became a fully dispersed pattern of settlement during the medieval period. The Middle Saxon settlement (NHER 20651 and 20653) continued to develop in the Late Saxon period, but it was not occupied after 1100. The other main Late Saxon settlement (NHER 23084 and 23085), was close to St Mary's Church in Little Fransham, and was a small nucleated settlement which began in the late 9th or 10th centuries, but which also ceased to be occupied by 1100. Evidence for pottery production sites (NHER 2162723080 and 23086) has also been recovered, which is extremely rare in a rural context. In the Domesday Book, Fransham was held by William of Warenne and Ralph de Tosny, with water mills, meadow and enough woodland to support over one hundred pigs.

The two main Late Saxon settlement sites were abandoned, and a pattern of small, isolated settlements became established along the edges of common pastures and greens. Over one hundred separate medieval settlement sites have been identified by fieldwalking, and the tenurial history of many can be traced in documentary sources. The medieval open fields of Fransham were laid out around this pattern of dispersed settlement, and the earthworks of ridge and furrow surround the site of one medieval settlement (NHER 33587). The manorial system in Fransham grew more complex throughout the medieval period, and the sites of several medieval manors have been identified in documentary sources, and during fieldwalking.

Drawing of a medieval annular brooch with animal head decoration from Fransham.

A medieval annular brooch with animal head decoration from Fransham. (© NCC.)

The manor of Great Fransham (NHER 24783) is recorded from the mid 14th century, and fragments of medieval pottery and building materials have been found on the site. The manor of Wilcoks (NHER 24771) is mentioned in documents dating from the 14th century, and a barn and dovecote are mentioned in 15th century accounts. Kirkhams Manor (NHER 7290) was a moated medieval manorial site, and some fragments of medieval walls are still visible within the moat. 14th and 15th century account rolls describe the manorial complex in detail, including the bridge over the moat, the walls, the guest accommodation, a dovecote and other agricultural buildings including a barn and pigsty. Curds Hall (NHER 4203) has now been demolished, but the Hall probably dated back to the medieval period. All Saints' Church (NHER 4206) in Great Fransham dates mainly from the 13th century, with later alterations. The church contains a 14th or 15th century font from St Etheldreda's Church in Norwich. Old Rectory Farm (NHER 4191), in Great Fransham, is a former rectory dating to the 18th century, which may be built around the core of an earlier house. The rectory is within a medieval moat, and medieval documents record a rectory on this site from at least 1400. St Mary's Church (NHER 7297) in Little Fransham dates from the early 14th century, but contains reused Norman masonry and a square font dating from about 1200. The fragments of medieval pottery recovered during the fieldwalking survey reveal that common edge settlement expanded in Fransham during the 13th century. During the 14th century the many individual settlements were abandoned, but by the 16th century some new settlements were being established, again on the edges of commons. The commons in the parish continued to play an important role in the landscape throughout the 17th century, until they were enclosed in 1807.

Little Fransham Old Hall (NHER 7293) is a late 16th century brick hall, with 17th and 18th century alterations. The facade is decorated with a brick moulded pediment bearing the arms of Elizabeth I, and the house contains a room with a barrel vaulted plaster ceiling. Cooke's Meadow's (NHER 13725) and The Thatched House (NHER 14166) are both 17th century timber framed buildings. Mill Farm (NHER 30840) is a 16th or 17th century timber framed house, now encased in brick. The house originally had a screens passage, with two service doors leading from the hall, which retains its original ceiling. Fransham Place (NHER 7294), in Little Fransham, is a former rectory dating to about 1800, with an original butler's pantry and game larder. Hyde Hall (NHER 22252), in Great Fransham, is a mid 18th century house which contains an important example of an 18th century staircase and a Rococo plaster ceiling.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 22 December 2005.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I (Chichester, Philimore)

Mills, A.D., 1998. Dictionary of English Place Names (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

Rogerson, A., 1995. Fransham: An Archaeological and Historical Study of a Parish on the Norfolk Boulder Clay (Unpublished thesis, University of East Anglia)

Rye, J., 2000. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

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