Parish Summary: Bressingham

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

A large parish on the southern border of the county, Bressingham comes from the Old English meaning ‘homestead of the people of Briosa’. The parish incorporates several scattered hamlets around a number of commons, including Fen Street, Fersfield and Wilney Green.

There is some evidence of early occupation in the parish, several Neolithic flints axes (NHER 10868, 10887) have been found, as well as a Bronze Age palstave (NHER 17169) and a flanged axehead (NHER 41827). A ring ditch and rectangular enclosure, probably dating to the Bronze Age, are visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs. Several Iron Age coins (NHER 10892 and 24323) have been found in the parish, as well as a brooch (NHER 33366) that may date to the Iron Age or the Roman period. A Roman figurine (NHER 10891), Roman pottery (NHER 12757) and Roman coins (NHER 34846, 41867, 11256), including a coin hoard (NHER 12295), which was found in the 19th century, suggest that the parish was settled during the Roman period, although the exact location of any Roman settlements is uncertain.

Bressingham is mentioned in the Domesday Book, where it is recorded as a small settlement, as is Fersfield, and the two settlements have a long history of being closely linked. Although the holdings recorded in the Domesday Book were fairly small, they were comparatively valuable for their size. Fersfield comes from the Old English meaning ‘open land covered with furze’, and the importance of grazing land during the Late Saxon period meant that the large areas of common land that survived into the medieval and post medieval periods were important, and valuable resources. Given that the Saxon settlement in the parish appears to have been quite small, it is perhaps unsurprising that little Saxon archaeology has been found; an Early Saxon brooch (NHER 15470), and some fragments of Saxon pottery (NHER 14705, 1192710904) are the only indications of Saxon settlement.

St Andrew’s Church (NHER 10910) in Fersfield dates mainly to the 14th and 15th centuries, and has a remarkable wooden effigy of Sir Robert du Bois, who died in the mid 14th century. St John the Baptist’s Church in Bressingham also dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. Close to the church is the medieval guildhall (NHER 14705) of St John the Baptist, built in the early 16th century. The settlement in the parish is not centred around the churches, and is instead strung out along the edges of former commons. The outline of Bressingham Common in particular is clearly visible in the long curving roads with rows of small house plots along them. Medieval tofts (NHER 33949) are visible on aerial photographs of the common, suggesting that medieval occupation encroached further onto the common than the limits of the modern settlement.

View of Fersfield Hall after the removal of 19th century brick skin in 2006. Shows a timber framed wall with widely spaced studs and a long straight brace, suggesting late 17th/18th century date. Late brick infill on site of blocked windows, otherwise wattle and daub. At centre, what seems to be the end of a  beam supported on a reused timber below a large patch of brickwork.

The 17th century timber frame and wattle and daub of Fersfield Hall was revealed during restoration work in 2006.

 (©NCC)

Several early houses have survived in the parish, including Boyland Hall (NHER 10894), a timber framed moated house dating to about 1500, and High House (NHER 31578), Old Common Farm (NHER 32824) and Wilney Place (NHER 41047) are all early timber framed houses. Wilney Place is a hall house, and the original full height window survives. A large number of 16th and 17th century buildings (NHER 10911, 22888, 23106, 36051, 39431, 40059, 41261, 41760) have survived in the parish, which shows the declining prosperity of the parish in the 18th and 19th centuries, a period when many old houses were rebuilt in other parishes. Bressingham Hall (NHER 14706) was built in the 18th century, and is now part of Bressingham Steam Museum.

The most famous resident of the parish was Francis Blomefield, who was rector of Fersfield, and who lived in Fersfield Old Rectory (NHER 23563). Blomefield wrote a comprehensive history of Norfolk, which was first published in 1739. During the course of his research, Blomefield discovered the Paston Letters, one of the most well known sources for daily and family life during the 15th century.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 14 September 2005.

 

Further Reading

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

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

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

Norfolk County Council logo Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Powered by HBSMR-web and the HBSMR Gateway from exeGesIS SDM Ltd, and mojoPortal CMS
© 2007 - 2018 Norfolk Historic Environment Service