Parish Summary: Norton Subcourse

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

Norton Subcourse is a rural parish in the southeast of Norfolk. It is south of Reedham and north of Raveningham and lies on the edge of the marshes. The first part of its name comes from the Old English meaning ‘the northern enclosure’. The origins of the ‘Subcourse’ part are less clear but it may be derived from a family name, with a Hermannus Sorlecors being mentioned in 1177. The parish has a long history and was certainly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest, its population, land ownership and productive resources being extensively detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Very few early finds have been made in this parish. Fieldwalking and chance discoveries have uncovered Neolithic flint flakes (NHER 22673) and implements (NHER 10694 and 15015) as well as ubiquitous prehistoric sherds (NHER 15015). This may show a lack of activity but may be due to poor survival of organic artefacts or a lack of investigation.

A barbed and tanged flint arrowhead (NHER 5284) is one of the few Bronze Age finds from the parish. However, metal detecting has recovered a couple of nice examples of Iron Age coinage made from gold (NHER 25574) and silver (NHER 21546), possibly minted by the Iceni tribe. A simple copper alloy terret ring (NHER 40785) mimicking the Snettisham type completes the selection of Iron Age objects recorded here.

A very large number of Roman finds have been recorded. In addition to the pottery sherds (NHER 9740 and 10695), brooch fragments (NHER 25026) and isolated coins (NHER 22673 and 24125) two coin hoards (NHER 15015 and 10528) have been recovered. One huge hoard (NHER 15015) comprised mostly of silver denarii and was possibly buried for safe keeping by the people of the Iceni tribe shortly before or after the Boudiccan revolt in AD 61. Some sort of Roman site has been speculated to lie to the southwest of the origin of the hoard at the Atlas pit in Nogdam End. Further evidence for Roman occupation in the parish comes in the form of copper alloy eagle statuettes (NHER 20725) and toilet implements including a nail cleaner (NHER 24125) and a cosmetic pestle and mortar (NHER 15015). Maybe some of the linear enclosures and ditches identified by cropmarks (NHER 17671) are related to Roman occupation.   

Drawing of a Late Saxon equal armed brooch from Norton Subcourse.

A Late Saxon equal armed brooch from Norton Subcourse. (© NCC)

Metal detecting across the parish has retrieved a number of Saxon artefacts and coins (NHER 5284 and 20725) although no sites have been identified. Amongst these finds were ansate style brooches (NHER 40471 and 41009) and delicate brooches of a fleury cross design (NHER 36227). Interestingly a Middle Saxon stylus found here had been reworked into a pin (NHER 40785). The tower on church is also of Late Saxon to Early Norman date showing that the area was of some sort of significance in this period. In fact local legend has it that the priests who had settled in the marshland area climbed into this tower for refuge during periods of danger, making its incorporation into the church a logical step. 

During the medieval period there are indicators of power and prosperity here. The main elements of St Margaret’s Church (NHER 5282) were built in the 14th century and much of the early architecture like the stained windows and the exquisitely carved purbeck marble font remain to this day. The fact that a church of this size serves a relatively small parish may be due to an affiliation with college priests from nearby Raveningham. Indeed, there are documentary records to show these priests moved to Norton in 1387 and a site for their college here (NHER 17128) has been suggested. The earthworks of a medieval hall (NHER 10529) have also been recorded, although the brick walls are now mostly obscured by vegetation. Perhaps the late medieval hunting spear (NHER 10696) found was used by someone from the hall to procure wild game for the lord’s table. Other sites include a moated enclosure (NHER 41942) of unspecified function and a well (NHER 5284). A collection of small finds such as pennies of Henry II (NHER 24125) and strap ends (NHER 22673 and 40960) have also been dated to this period.

A few finds from the early post medieval period have been recorded. These primarily consist of book clasps (NHER 39923 and 39924) and pottery sherds (NHER 5284 and 9740). While those interested in architecture from this period should visit Thatched House Farmhouse (NHER 48480) and Walnut Farmhouse (NHER 48816) on Low Road for examples of traditional 17th to 18th century thatched village housing.

In the later post medieval period the marsh edge location was exploited for industrial purposes. The New Cut Canal (NHER 13535) was opened in 1833 to link Lowestoft to Norwich as a precursor to the railway. Even before this date a number of drainage mills (NHER 15575 and 15576) were noted on a 1797 map, although these are no longer visible. However, two drainage wind pumps that were used to draw water from the marshes to use for agricultural purposes still survive. While the one dating to 1863 (NHER 10429) has found reuse as a house the other is less well preserved and is only suitable for sheltering livestock (NHER 10430). As technology progressed a steam engine house (NHER 35904) was built over another windpump site sometime prior to 1840. After it fell out of use the majority had been demolished by 1967 with the remnants being converted into a house. This is the last period of activity attested to by the archaeological records of the parish.

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 1 December 2006.

 

Further Reading

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

Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes, 1990. The Norfolk Village Book (Newbury, Countryside Books) 

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

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