Parish Summary: Ashwellthorpe

This parish summary provides an overview of the large amount of information which we hold about the parish, and only a representative sample of sites and artefacts from each period are mentioned. If you have any feedback on this article please contact us using the link on the left-hand menu or by emailing heritage@norfolk.gov.uk

Ashwellthorpe was once two small settlements, ‘Ashwell’, from the Old English meaning ‘ash tree spring’, and ‘Thorpe’, meaning a hamlet. They joined into one settlement at some point during the medieval period. The parish of Ashwellthorpe also includes the small village of Fundenhall to the south of the modern village of Ashwellthorpe.

A number of Neolithic axeheads (NHER 20569 and 20571), flint flakes (NHER 18007 and 23456) and other flint tools (NHER 9929 and 9968), as well as several Bronze Age axeheads (NHER 17907 and 9969) have been found in the parish, but there is little evidence of other early occupation. Roman coins (NHER 30275), pottery (NHER 18122) and brooches (NHER 18123) have been found away from the modern areas of settlement.

An Early Saxon inhumation cemetery (NHER 30205) is situated at the edge of the parish. Many other Saxon artefacts have been found close to the site of the cemetery including a brooch decorated with an enamelled portrait of a saint (NHER 30585). 

The moated medieval manor house (NHER 9950) at Fundenhall has now disappeared and only survives as a complex of earthworks around the moat. St Nicholas’ church (NHER 10001) dates mainly to the 14th and 15th centuries. The church once contained a wonderful medieval triptych, which is now in the Castle Museum in Norwich. Another abandoned medieval moated site (NHER 9946) is in the south of the parish near the small hamlet of Fundenhall Street.

In contrast Ashwellthorpe was a valuable settlement in early medieval period; the Domesday Book records its value as £6. Ashwellthorpe Hall (NHER 9955) was a grand and imposing great house and garden throughout the late medieval and post medieval periods. It belonged to the Knyvett family who were well known for their hospitality and patronage of the arts. The Hall itself was rebuilt in the 19th century but the walled gardens from the 17th century remain. The moats and fishponds (NHER 9949, NHER 9948) close to the Hall are probably part of a wider ornamental landscape associated with the Hall. A triptych commissioned by the Knyvett family for All Saints' Church (NHER 9954) is now in Norwich Castle Museum. 

St Nicholas' Church in Ashwellthorpe

All Saints' Church in Ashwellthorpe (©NCC)

St Mary’s Chapel (NHER 9993) is some distance from the main areas of settlement in the parish and it has been suggested that it may be the parish church of ‘Ashwell’ before the two settlements combined into Ashwellthorpe. The chapel is now surrounded by fields and isolated farmsteads and there is no archaeological evidence of a medieval settlement in the area immediately around the chapel.

Many timber framed houses have survived in the parish. Aubrey Musket Cottages (NHER 19469) date to the late 16th century, and Manor Farm (NHER 24084) dates from the late 16th or 17th century. Church Farmhouse (NHER 23509), Wood Farm (NHER 29987), White Hall (NHER 41863) and Gibraltar Farm (NHER 40202) all date to the 17th century.

 

Sarah Spooner (NLA), August 2005.

 

Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed), 1984. Domesday Book; Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore) 

Mills, A. D., 1991. Dictionary of English Place Names (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place Names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

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