Parish Summary: Ovington

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 heritage@norfolk.gov.uk

Ovington is a parish within the district of Breckland near to the River Wissey. It lies to the north of Watton and is southeast of Saham Toney. The name Ovington originates from the Old English meaning ‘enclosure of Ufa’s people’. Unusually, the parish is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and the reason for this is not known. Perhaps Ovington had not been established at this time or was too small to merit a mention. Alternatively it may have been included (but not named) as a part of Saham Toney, Watton or Carbrooke, the parishes that surround it. The modern population of Ovington is under three hundred, making it a tranquil and rural location.  

Drawing of a Neolithic flint axehead found at Ovington.

A Neolithic flint axehead found at Ovington. (© NCC)

The earliest archaeological evidence from Ovington dates to the Neolithic period. A number of flint axeheads have been recovered, with examples where the flint had been polished (NHER 8757 and 8759) and chipped (NHER 8758) surviving. A couple of prehistoric pot boilers have also been retrieved from High Banks (NHER 8745) but the only other prehistoric find is an unusual perforated quartzite pebble (NHER 8760), which has been suggested to be a crude macehead.

The next time period that is represented here is the Iron Age. The well-known ‘ancient earthworks’ at High Banks (NHER 8745) may represent the presence of an Iron Age fort. The site lies to the north of Rose Farm and to the east of Saham Wood. The earthworks of this important site are visible from ground level but are also clearly visible on aerial photographs. The other Iron Age finds are largely the product of metal detecting in the parish. The most interesting finds comprise an unusual copper alloy horse-head figurine (NHER 31060) and seven horse harness fittings decorated with thick and brightly coloured enamels (NHER 15050). A silver coin of the Iceni tribe and fragments of a brooch (NHER 32969) have also been retrieved.

During Roman times it is clear that the Iron Age fort at High Banks (NHER 8745) saw continued use and occupation as a large number of finds have been recovered from the site, consisting of pottery sherds, tile fragments and pieces of metalwork. A number of coins have been found dotted around the parish including coins of Hadrian and Constantine (NHER 35313) as well those of Allectus and Valens (NHER 32968). A nice example of an oval plate brooch with enamel decoration (NHER 31060) has also been found somewhere to the north of Rose Farm. On the whole activity in this period seems concentrated to the north of the village towards the Roman camp near Saham Park.

The Saxon era is sparsely represented with only a single find spot noted. A silver coin of Aethelred II and a sherd of pimply Ipswich Ware were discovered to the north of Church Farm (NHER 30610). Perhaps this indicates limited activity in the Saxon period or that many artefacts await discovery, as the exploratory work undertaken in Ovington seems fairly light.

St John’s Church (NHER 8793), lying to the north of Ovington village, is the only medieval monument still standing in the parish. The main feature of this small flint-built church is its unusually long Norman period nave and south doorway. It was built in the 14th century but, like many churches, underwent Victorian restoration in 1837. The highly individual font contained inside was transferred to here from Watton in 1840 and the bell produced by John Draper in 1606 was re-hung in the year 2000. Limestone blocks constituting the remains of a medieval building (NHER 16422) have been recorded to the south of the Old Rectory but the function of this building is unknown. Additionally, a 19th century flint cottage (NHER 49115) on Stone House Farm incorporates pieces of medieval stonework although the origin of these elements is unknown.

Medieval finds seem largely to cluster around St John’s church which is hardly surprising as although the church is now set apart from the main occupation area it would probably have been at the centre of the medieval settlement. Metal detection has found silver coins of Edward III minted in Canterbury (NHER 23394) as well as a coin from Venice (NHER 31060) which was deposited a long way from home! A number of the medieval finds on record were retrieved from the property of Chanticleer (NHER 28138), where fragments of medieval green-glazed Grimston Ware, a belt stiffener and a strap end were retrieved. Other more mundane artefacts from this date include a horseshoe (NHER 40275) and knife blade (NHER 31060). 

During the post medieval period the majority of the inhabitants of the parish were engaged in agricultural activities with census data of 1831 showing that roughly sixty percent of the working population working as labourers. Two windmills have been recorded, attesting to this activity. One of these mills (NHER 37347) was marked on an 1837 map near to Stone House Farm but has no observable physical remains. The other, a post mill, was situated in the present day location of Mill Farm. Although no mill mound remains there are millstones in the garden of the property. It was pulled down in 1913 and may have been the one operated by Michael Hardy, a corn miller recorded in 1836 and 1844 surveys of the area. 18th century documents also show that a turnpike road (NHER 8791) was constructed in around 1740 running through Ovington on its way from Watton to Dereham. This was doubtlessly an important route for travel and commerce and allowed goods from Ovington to be sold at market in Dereham.

A number of fine 18th and 19th century buildings survive to the present day. These mostly take the form of brick built farmhouses (NHER 19199, 46133 and 46134) but other notable structures include Stonecote (NHER 46132), a house with fine Gothick style windows, and Crownleigh (NHER 46131) which was formerly the Crown Public house and whose stables have now been converted into garages. The other form of evidence for post medieval activity comes from metal detecting. A fragment of pewter plate (NHER 31060) and a couple of copper alloy belt buckles (NHER 24013 and 24014) have been retrieved, but sadly these are the most noteworthy objects.

The most recent site of archaeological importance is a Cold War underground monitoring post (NHER 19200). This is located to the north of Ovington in close proximity to the High Banks (NHER 8745) monument near Saham Wood. This underground structure survives in good condition inside a fenced enclosure and was part of a network of similar posts designed to monitor fall out in the event of a nuclear attack. A raised Type B Orlit post stands nearby.

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 19 December 2006.

 

Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. The Domesday Book (Chichester, Phillimore & Co.)   

Mortlock, C. P. and Roberts, C. V., 1985. The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches: No.2 Norwich, Central and South Norfolk (Cambridge, Acorn Editions)

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

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