Parish Summary: Wormegay

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

Wormegay parish contains the village of Wormegay and the hamlet of West Briggs. Wormegay is situated in the West Norfolk local government district, 8.5km southeast of Kings Lynn. The River Narr passes through the parish, and the landscape is largely agricultural, cut frequently by drains. The name ‘Wormegay’ is derived from the Old English for island of Wyrm’s people

Wormegay has been part of the Fenland Survey, which has used extensive fieldwalking and surface collection from the late 1980s through to the present day to note and analyse the presence of archaeological objects. As a result of this, there have been a large number of worked flints recovered, with prehistoric sites representing almost half of those recorded in this parish. 

These include many scatters of worked flints (NHER 19604, NHER 22982, NHER 35615), as well as pot boilers (NHER 19874, NHER 23179, NHER 35614), adzes (NHER 2264, NHER 3442, NHER 17283), axeheads (NHER 2265, NHER 14960, NHER 29490), and a scraper (NHER 3443).  A number of burnt mounds have also been noted (NHER 23183), usually in conjunction with worked flints (NHER 19877, NHER 19878, NHER 23617), though in one case a mound was also noted in association with a fragment of human skull (NHER 33568). 

Photograph of a Gallo-Belgic E Iron Age gold coin from Wormegay.

A Gallo-Belgic E Iron Age gold coin from Wormegay. (© NCC)

There have also a been a small number of objects from the Bronze Age retrieved, which include awl and spear fragments (NHER 17286), a pottery vessel (NHER 3438), flint adze (NHER 3459) and palstave (NHER 44102). A number of objects from the Iron Age have also been found, largely dominated by pottery sherds (NHER 23630, NHER 23633, NHER 24278, although a small hoard of seven gold Iron Age coins (NHER 3459) has been recovered. 

Of particular interest is a cauldron, dating to the Iron Age or Roman period, which was ploughed up in 1954. A number of other objects from the Roman period have been retrieved. A large number of these are pottery sherds (NHER 3444, NHER 23242, NHER 34178), however there have been some Roman coins found (NHER 48974), as well as a brooch (NHER 43958), harness fitting and finger ring (NHER 28853), and possibly most interesting the fragmentary remains of a pewter plate (NHER 25755). It should also be noted that metal working debris and slag have been recovered from a number of areas in association with Roman pottery sherds (NHER 3460, NHER 23634, NHER 24088), as well as some 125 coins from nearby (NHER 25343). 

However, during the Saxon period there appears to have been denser occupation, with a Middle Saxon cemetery has been noted. Pottery sherds and metal objects have been found within a defined area, along with pieces of human bone, which has indicated the presence of a cemetery, though objects have been found from the Early to Late Saxon periods.  The only other concentration of objects (NHER 3453) is located near to St Michael’s Church (NHER 3474), a medieval building known to have been built on an earlier site, which suggests occupation was based on that area.

Objects from other areas of the parish are largely limited to pottery sherds (NHER 3451, NHER 19167, NHER 23630), though a brooch (NHER 19168) and a possible Saxon or Viking blue glass bead with white spiral stripes (NHER 19538) are also recorded. 

Wormegay is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and although it does not appear to have been particularly large or prosperous, it is listed as having a church. It seems likely that this refers to St Michael’s Church (NHER 3474), although the earliest part of the current building dates to the 13th century. The hamlet of West Brigg is also mentioned, and appears to have been of similar size at this time, also with its own church. The current church of St Botolph (NHER 3467) is still in use, despite the hamlet itself having mostly vanished, and the earliest part of this is the Norman nave and chancel.

Also dating to the Norman period are the earthworks of a fine medieval motte and bailey castle (NHER 3455), around which the present village of Wormegay is thought to have developed. During this period the area was an island in the peat fenlands south of the River Nar, and the castle was constructed to control the causeway between this and the higher ground to the west.  

1km to the northwest are the surviving earthworks of Wormegay Priory (NHER 3456), a medieval monastery site with a moated enclosure and the remains of a fishpond. It is thought that the priory belonged to the Augustinian canons, and was founded in the 12th century, and dissolved in 1537, having remained small.

Other medieval remains include a Wayside Cross (NHER 3454) on Wormegay village green, enclosures (NHER 19181), the ditches and gullies of medieval hedge lines (NHER 20684), and the markings left by ridge and furrow ploughing (NHER 25343). 

Work by the Fenland Survey has resulted in the recovery of a large number of pottery sherds from the medieval period (NHER 19167, NHER 23006, NHER 24278). However, a small number of other objects have also been found, including two seal matrices (NHER 23632, NHER 41982), a sword blade (NHER 14427), and a number of weights (NHER 34630, NHER 43958). A few coins (NHER 25343, NHER 48974), and some harness fittings (NHER 23633, NHER 28853) have also been retrieved. 

Post medieval finds are more limited, again largely dominated by pottery sherds (NHER 3444, NHER 13815), but also including coins (NHER 13352), musket balls (NHER 48974), and a 16th century iron stirrup (NHER 2263). 

The post medieval period has also left us a small number of buildings, including Castle Meadow, which is a large house dated to 1754, although it contains reused stonework from an earlier building. Also of interest is The Grange on Lynn Road (NHER 24937), which is a handsome late 18th or early 19th century brick country house set in five acres of landscaped gardens which front onto the River Nar. Of the same period is the Castle Road Bridge (NHER 37372), a small pale brick bridge that spans the Little River drain (now filled in) in a single arch. 

From more recent history are a small number of World War Two defences. An anti-tank barrier on High Bridge (NHER 25457) is a rare survival, although the site of a decoy airfield is also recorded (NHER 32381), which used mock flare paths and runway lights to confuse bombers and distract them from nearby RAF Marham. Attached to this was a reinforced concrete decoy airfield shelter (NHER 34319), which survives in a good state of preservation.

Ruth Fillery-Travis (NLA), 10 April 2007.

 

Further Reading

Morris, J. (General Editor), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I and Part II (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

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

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