Parish Summary: Roudham

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

The parish of Roudham is located in the Breckland District of Norfolk. It lies to the east of Wretham, to the west of Quidenham and Snetterton and north of Bridgham. The name Roudham may derive from the Old English meaning ‘homestead where rue plants are grown’. 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. This document mentions numerous agricultural resources possessed by the parish and reveals that after 1066 the lands were under the jurisdiction of a certain Ralph.

A great deal of the archaeology recorded for Roudham relates to the prehistoric period. A number of burnt flint scatters (NHER 5987 and 5988) have been recorded on Roudham Heath and these may indicate one area of early occupation in the parish. Numerous flint tools (NHER 36198) including scrapers (NHER 32345) and arrowheads (NHER 34987) support the notion that the natural resources of the area were being exploited during the Neolithic period. Archaeological evidence for traversal of the landscape may be provided by the discovery of a possible prehistoric trackway known as the East Harling Drove (NHER 5435), which runs east to west across Roudham.   

The discovery of two Bronze Age hearths (NHER 9056 and 9057) on land to the west of the poultry farm may demonstrate continuity in occupation and exploitation during this later period. Indeed, flint tools such as arrowheads were still being produced in the parish alongside metal objects like the spearhead (NHER 31402) found south of St Ethelbert’s Church (NHER 6002). However, one of the most exciting discoveries dates to the subsequent Iron Age period. In 1956 two burials accompanied by sherds of pottery, worked flints and animal bones (NHER 5997) were found during road widening works at the Harling Road Depot. The only Iron Age artefacts worthy of a mention are the silver coins (NHER 30192 and 18464) found at various locations across Roudham by individuals with metal detectors.

The most obvious Roman feature in Roudham is the Peddar’s Way (NHER 1289). This Roman road is visible as an earthwork and appears on numerous aerial photographs. The road enters Norfolk at Brettenham, and follows a very direct line with only a slight bend at Hockham to the north Norfolk coast at Holme next the Sea, where its original destination has probably been lost through erosion. It is likely to date to the earlier part of the Roman period and probably of military origin. The rest of the Roman archaeology of Roudham largely consists of brooches (e.g. NHER 13638 and 31044), coins (e.g. NHER 18005 and 22446) and pottery sherds (e.g. NHER 5998 and 32082). However, two more intriguing finds comprise a stone bust (NHER 5999) and a copper alloy figurine of a winged Mercury (NHER 28205). Both these artefacts are as pleasing as they are unusual.

No sites dating to the subsequent Saxon period have been identified in the parish but a large number of small artefacts coins and pottery sherds have been recovered. The more mundane of these finds included Early Saxon brooches and part of a wrist clasp (NHER 18464), a Middle Saxon dress fastener (NHER 39659) and a Late Saxon finger ring (NHER 22978) and whetstone (NHER 17718). The most attractive find from this period was recovered in close proximity to St Ethelbert's Church (NHER 6002) and took the form of a carved bone plaque (NHER 6000). This find was named the 'The Larling Plaque' and it was thought to have originally been a casket mount or from a book cover. Whatever the case the plaque is a rare and splendid object. It is also worth noting that a well-preserved fragment of a Late Saxon grave slab decorated with interlace (NHER 1057) was found at the ruined church of St Andrew’s in 1993. The object is now on public display close to the church.

The medieval village of Roudham was located to the northeast of the modern Roudham Farm. It was abandoned after a decline in population set in during the latter part of the medieval period and is now considered to be the best and most extensive example of a deserted medieval settlement in Norfolk (NHER 1057). The numerous mounds and ditches attest to the presence of the large settlement that once existed here. To the south of the village stands the roofless ruins of its church, St Andrew's, a 14th/15th century building with a splendid knapped flint south porch tower. Almost all the walls stand to their original height, though in a precarious and ivy-covered state. The church was abandoned after a terrible fire in 1736, caused by a workman blowing the ashes from his pipe onto the thatched roof! The east of the site is now occupied by Roudham Hall, a fine early Georgian house with an elaborate 19th century Gothic lodge. However, Roudham does possess a still-standing medieval church dedicated to St Ethelbert (NHER 6002). Set in fields a good way down a track and backed by woodland, this handsome church was constructed on or near a Saxon site, and its earliest parts are the splendid 12th century south door, the north wall of the nave and the north door, which dates to about 1200. The chancel and huge south aisle mark a period of reconstruction between about 1300 and 1340. An older tower was rebuilt in the late 15th century when the north nave windows were inserted. Much of the current visible exterior relates to extensive restoration work between 1867 and 1898. 

St Ethelbert's Church, Larling

St Ethelbert's Church, Larling. (© NCC)

It certainly seems that medieval Roudham was a thriving and busy place, at least for the early part. In addition to the churches and village a possible manorial site has been identified from aerial photographs. It lies around 50m northeast of St Ethelbert’s Church but the traces of its moat are hard to distinguish from later drainage ditches and pipes (NHER 14156). Roudham also once had a roadside stone cross (NHER 5991). This was situated near the modern Shadwell level crossing before it was moved to Harling in 1734.

Metal detecting in Roudham has recovered a large number of medieval artefacts. One particularly fine object comprised a copper alloy seal (NHER 15907), decorated with a lion and with a legend in French reading: 'the lion sleeps, do not wake him’. Several finds relating to trade, manufacturing and prestige have been retrieved. These consist of French and Italian silver pennies (NHER 18005 and 30192), a millstone (NHER 6001) and a dagger guard (NHER 30344) respectively.

During the post medieval period it seems that Roudham was heavily involved in agriculture judging by the number of barns and farmhouses that are number amongst the archaeological records for the parish. Fen Lane Farmhouse (NHER 46527) and Manor Farmhouse (NHER 46287) are two typical examples of these 17th/18th century farmhouses. A building with slightly more interesting architectural features is Breck Lodge (NHER 28637). This Gothic-style thatched and rendered brick cottage dates to the 1830s. It has bevelled walls at the entrance with an arched door behind a rustic tree-trunk veranda. Flint Farm (NHER 13897) is also worth a look as the flint cottages here incorporate medieval ashlar blocks with one having a terracotta fragment with Renaissance decoration.

In the 19th century the Norfolk Railway (NHER 13571) also ran through the parish, which would have had a significant impact on trade and travel networks. This line opened in 1844 as the Norwich and Yarmouth Railway; but from 1845 was the Norwich and Brandon Railway before the combined line became the Norfolk Railway, later the Eastern Counties, and then part of the Great Eastern. It is still in use today and runs from Yarmouth Vauxhall through Norwich Thorpe, Wymondham, Attleborough and Snetterton before ending in Brandon.

Several post medieval artefacts have been recovered from Roudham. These are archetypal items for the period such as pottery sherds (NHER 13638), coins (NHER 18464) and jettons (NHER 30192) and therefore will not be discussed in any great depth here.

The most recent archaeological sites in Roudham date to the First and Second World Wars. The Harling Road or Roudham airfield (NHER 12414) was used in World War One as a base for fighter aircraft attempting to intercept bombing raids by Zeppelin airships. In World War Two it was the base for the US army's 513th Ordnance Company, who maintained heavy armoured vehicles. Much of the area is now wasteland with later army buildings and a Cold War lookout post, but one original hangar remains. Additionally, a World War Two emergency runway, half a mile in length, exists on Larling Heath (NHER 20241). It was in use from 1943 to 1945, and is reported to be visible as a slight depression on the heath today.

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 10 April 2007.

 

Further Reading

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

Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B. 1999. The Buildings of England, Norfolk 2: North-west and South (London, Penguin)

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

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