Parish Summary: Oulton

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

Oulton is a parish situated in the district of Broadland to the north of the county. It lies south of Itteringham and to the north of the large parish of Cawston. The name Oulton may derive from the Old English phrase meaning ‘Outhulf’s enclosure’. 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.

The earliest archaeological evidence for activity in the parish dates to the Mesolithic period. Two flint axeheads from this period, one chipped (NHER 7319) and the other flaked (NHER 7354) were retrieved. Similarly, two polished flint axeheads (NHER 7320 and 7386) from the later, Neolithic, period of prehistory have also been uncovered along with a flint implement (NHER 7321). Finally, fieldwalking across the parish has recorded a number of worked flints of an unspecified prehistoric date (NHER 25634, 25636 and 25640).

A large Bronze Age round barrow has been found to the north of Leaselands wood (NHER 22261). Unfortunately it has suffered some damage in recent years, but it still remains the most prominent find or monument dating to this era. The only other Bronze Age features that have been recorded are three Late Bronze Age pits (NHER 37629) uncovered during the construction of the Bacton to King’s Lynn Transco pipeline. The most significant evidence for Iron Age occupation in Oulton is to be found to the east of Manor Farm. Here, aerial photography has identified a sub-circular enclosure with a hut circle inside and further associated ring ditches (NHER 36410). However, more investigation is needed at this site to gauge the function and date more fully. As with the Bronze Age, the Transco pipeline (NHER 37629) uncovered a number of Iron Age pits and a gully – but these along with the hut circle (NHER 36410) comprise the only record of the period.

There is slightly more evidence for Roman activity but compared to many areas of Norfolk even this can be considered scanty. A series of enclosures identified by cropmarks (NHER 36407) have been recorded as Roman in date. A rectilinear enclosure (NHER 36419) at Oulton Airfield may also be Roman, but is perhaps more likely to be associated with the World War Two Airfield. A small selection of finds from this era has been recovered. The most interesting are two copper alloy stew pans (NHER 7322) which were found a short distance northwest of Bluestone Station. All the other finds are random sherds of pottery recovered from a variety of locations (NHER 25632, 25646 and 23774). Finds from the subsequent Saxon period are almost nonexistent, with only a single pottery sherd found (NHER 25633 or NHER 25631). 

Photograph of SS Peter and Paul's Church, Oulton, Photograph from www.norfolkchurches.co.uk

SS Peter and Paul's Church, Oulton. Photograph from www.norfolkchurches.co.uk (© S. Knott.)

A number of secular buildings dating to the medieval period have been recorded in the parish. First and foremost of these is the small, picturesque church of St Peter and Paul (NHER 7323). The majority of the fabric of this building dates to the 1350s in a mix of Decorated and Perpendicular style. The plain interior does not preclude fine craftsmanship and visitors should take a look at the particularly nice terracotta cusped doorway surrounding the priest's door and the painted fish on the north wall, which is all that survives of a painting of St Christopher carrying Christ. Another church, St Andrew’s in Irmingland (NHER 7350), was active in the medieval period but a declining population in the village led to diminishing usage and the church finally closed in 1557. It was mostly ruinous by 1602 and few visible remains survive to attest to its presence. Similarly a medieval chapel (NHER 14907) was recorded somewhere in Oulton on early 20th century documents, this presumably suffered a fate similar to St Andrew’s. The only other building from the medieval period that survives into modernity is Meeting House Farm (NHER 29506), a timber-framed hall house dating to around 1500 lying to the northeast of Oulton village centre. During recent renovations at the property a number of artefacts including an iceskate and dog collars were found behind the oven, this ritual deposit may have been felt to safeguard or bring luck to the inhabitants!  

A number of medieval field systems have been identified in the parish (NHER 21828 and 36417), including one near to the Blickling Woodland (NHER 36418). This evidence for agricultural activity is unsurprising as it is likely that during this period the majority of the occupants of this rural parish would have worked on the land. Systematic fieldwalking has recovered a large number of medieval pottery sherds (NHER 25635, 25637, 25638, 25639, 25641, 25642, 25643, 25644 and 25645) that were perhaps spread through manuring by farmers. The only other noteworthy find comprised a well-preserved copper alloy key (NHER 31650) from Dove Cottage on Shepherds Lane.

It is clear that during the post medieval period a number of esteemed individuals were in residence in Oulton. Two magnificent halls survive, one in Oulton (NHER 7357) and one in Irmingland (NHER 7368). Oulton Hall (NHER 7357) was built sometime before 1577 although the present building is Georgian in style and incorporates a yellow brick stable. It is said to have had associations with Chalybeate spa (NHER 28644) – possibly a place to cater for the more affluent members of the community. Irmingland Hall (NHER 7368) has an even more impressive pedigree, having been built by Sir Nathaniel Bacon for his wife in 1609 and rumoured to have been owned later by the daughter of Oliver Cromwell. This fine residence once had its own chapel and chaplain as well as beautifully landscaped grounds. Despite most of the house being pulled down in 1788 and restorations in the 1920s it has retained its grandeur. Another lavish period building is that of Oulton Lodge (NHER 39760) built in 1860-5 for the 8th Marquis of Lothian in an Elizabethan Revival style, and currently the residence of Mr A. H. Trethewy, agent to the Marquis. This abode is particularly fascinating, as many of the architectural styles it incorporates were considered radical for the time, especially the ornate central staircase. However, the red brick workhouse (NHER 7417) located to the east of Oulton on the Aylsham road serves as a reminder of a bleaker past. This farm building was purchased to serve as the workhouse for Oulton and Blickling in 1804, it operated until 1846 when it closed with the inmates then becoming wards of the Aylsham workhouse. It is also worth noting that many of the fine farmhouses (NHER 12734, 13483, 29506 and 30776) and the Old Meeting Independent Congregational Church on the Hall Road (NHER 7356) also date to the post-medieval era.

Industrial activity during the post medieval period took the form of milling and lime burning according to available archaeological records. Three lime kilns (NHER 16691) survive just to the south of Irmingland Hall and the site of Oulton postmill (NHER 15237) lies on common land close to the parish boundary with Itteringham. It is believed that this mill operated in conjunction with Blickling watermill by a James Savory, but we only have documentary evidence for its existence as nothing now remains. The fact that the Midland and Great Northern Railway line from Great Yarmouth to Sutton Bridge (NHER 13581) ran through Oulton probably helped these industries sell their goods as well as enhancing general trade and transport routes to and from the parish. Railway enthusiasts will be pleased by the preservation of a number of stations, signal boxes, goods sheds and concrete mileposts on this now defunct line.

The most recent sites of archaeological interest date to World War Two. Oulton Airfield (NHER 7364) was an important outpost for the USAAF bomber squadron as well as being used by the RAF to fly Blenheim aircraft. It was closed after the war and some of the buildings remain, including the control tower. Additionally, a very rare heavy machine gun emplacement (NHER 32491) survives in the vicinity of the airfield, its intention being to protect the runways. The hexagonal foundations of a Type 22 pillbox (NHER 32497) used to stand at the crossroads to the east of the airfield on Church Lane, however they are no longer there.

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 2 January 2007

 

Further Reading

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

Neville, J., 2006. ‘Oulton postmill’. Available:

http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/Windmills/oulton-postmill.html. Accessed: 2 January 2007

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

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