Parish Summary: Shropham

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 Shropham is situated in the Brecklands district of Norfolk. It lies north of Roudham, east of Wretham and south of Rockland. The origins of the name Shropham are unclear. It seems likely that that the ‘Shrop’ part is an Old English reference to a personal name, with the ‘ham’ part referring to a homestead. Therefore Shropham was a homestead associated with a particular individual. Whatever the case, 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 showed that the lands here were held by an Aelfric before the Conquest, but were subsequently held by Richard of Vernon and a certain Roland. The presence of a number of mills is also noted by this source.

The prehistoric period seems to have been a busy one in Shropham. A number of pot boiler scatters (NHER 28014, 39868 and 39869) show widespread human activity in the landscape. However, the main site dating to this period is located at Honeypots Plantation (NHER 36218 but see also NHER 38228). Geophysical survey at Honeypots in 2001 revealed a number of ditches and pits and a subsequent archaeological evaluation later that year revealed Neolithic and Bronze Age occupation with evidence for sequential Iron Age settlement on the site. This occupation took the form of roundhouses, four-post structures, pits, enclosure ditches, field systems, and three possible barrows. This site was likely to be used on a temporary basis and associated directly with the use of the hilltop as a site of ceremonial and mortuary significance. A number of other Bronze Age monuments have been reported for Shropham such as hearths (NHER 9030, 9049 and 28110) and barrows (NHER 9028 and 9029). Both possible barrows lie to the west of The Old Apple Store, but neither survives in great condition so it is hard to be certain of their identification. Most of the hearth sites have been identified from 20th century maps so their physical status is unclear, although a visit to the one atop Linger Hill (NHER 9030) shows it had been destroyed by 1976.

In addition to the sites mentioned above, a significant number of artefacts from the prehistoric period have been found. The earliest of these is a Palaeolithic handaxe retrieved from Shropham Gravel Pit (NHER 30195). A Mesolithic blade (NHER 12073) has also been found but most of the finds are Neolithic in date and take the form of pottery sherds (NHER 9027) and polished flint axeheads (NHER 9025 and 9026). However, some of the more exciting finds come from the later prehistoric period. A Bronze Age spearhead (NHER 11495) was found on land belonging to Church Farm and a stone axe hammer (NHER 17042) and stone macehead (NHER 9023) represent more uncommon lithic tools. All these finds merely reinforce that Shropham was a suitable occupation area for early people. 

Drawing of Saxon brooches found at Shropham.

Saxon brooches found at Shropham. (© NCC)

Fewer archaeological records exist to attest to Shropham’s Roman past. The ritual site at Honeypots Plantation (NHER 36218) was seeing its last flickers of activity. The only other site of this date (NHER 9031) is located north-northwest of Manor Farm, but the dense scatter of Roman pottery here gives no indication of the scene that played out here. A similar reduction in the number of artefacts is also evident with the only finds from this era comprising two dolphin brooches (NHER 17722), a coin of Postumus (NHER 15835) and various pottery sherds (NHER 9032 and 9033). Metal detecting has found a few nice Saxon artefacts but no actual sites have been identified. A lead plaque inscribed with runes (NHER 17722) dating to the latter part of the Saxon period is the finest of these objects but a pair of tweezers (NHER 17722) and small-long brooch (NHER 22994) has also been found. Saxon pottery has been unearthed in the churchyard of St Peter’s (NHER 9065) and at the site of the ruined St Andrew’s in Bradcar (NHER 9037).

The medieval period was an interesting one for the parish. During the early part of this period there was a village at Little Breckles (NHER 12152). The village seems to have existed to the north of Shropham Hall with some elements extending into the grounds. According to an early 19th century document the village was very small and was deserted and ruinous before the time of Edward III's reign (from 1327-1377). The church associated with this village has not been located but a series of earthwork banks and ridges were recorded in 1977. The luckless former inhabitants of this village were then forced to worship at St Andrew’s Chapel in Bradcar (NHER 9037) before this also fell into ruin and disrepair! Deep ploughing in 1950 revealed building foundations of the chapel along with skeletons, a stone coffin lid and fragments of medieval and post medieval pottery. However, a visit to the site in 1978 showed that very few of the chapel's remains are now visible. Thankfully, the fine church dedicated to St Peter (NHER 9065) that was built in Shropham does survive into modernity. It dates mainly to the early 13th century with Decorated and Perpendicular additions. The most striking feature is the massive 16th century tower, which dominates the building. Inside, visitors should take note of the splendid piscina and Jacobean font. No medieval hall survives in the parish, although aerial photographs taken in 1976 helped to identify a moat 500m west of Bradcar Farm, which could be the remnants of such a hall (NHER 9063).

As is often the case, large quantities of medieval pottery sherds (NHER 18407, 20899 and 32916) have been found in Shropham. Few other artefacts have been found from this period although a seal of Thomas de Dereham dating to around 1350 (NHER 13193) was found in the 19th century and a collection of twelve silver coins (NHER 16565) were discovered in 1724. Unfortunately, as these discoveries were made so long ago the exact locations from which these objects were retrieved are not known.

Records from post-medieval Shropham suggest that there were a number of windmills (NHER 15961 and 15962 and 31777) in the parish at this time. One of these was the smockmill owned by the Sayer family but we do not know which site this was at or indeed when the mill ceased to operate. In 1970 a post medieval brick kiln (NHER 9039) was also reported on land belonging to Grange Farm but a more recent visit failed to find it. Rather more visible are a number of high-quality listed buildings such as The Old Vicarage (NHER 46406) on Church Road and Waylands House (NHER 13911) on Low Road. The most impressive building is, as one would expect, Shropham Hall (NHER 22251). This house dates to 1685-1739 and is constructed from brick with slate roofing. The building stands two and a half storeys high and is set out in five bays with the side bays recessed and the central one with giant pilasters at the corners. Outside is a walled garden, with two sides only, made from brick with a plinth and stone pineapples on piers.

The most recent records from Shropham relate to World War Two. A farmer identified the site of a searchlight battery (NHER 32925) 800m southwest of Rocklands Farm. 1946 RAF aerial photographs show a concrete pad and service road, which suggests that a mobile battery was probably situated here. The site of another searchlight battery on Linger Hill (NHER 29464) has been identified from cropmarks visible on a 1989 aerial photograph. Further information shows that the concrete platform for the searchlight here was demolished in the 1950s.

This concludes the overview of the archaeological sites and finds from Shropham. Interested readers should access the individual records to get a fuller flavour of the parish’s history.

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 2 March 2007.

 

Further Reading

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

Mortlock, D. P. and Roberts, C. V., 1985. The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches: No.3 West and South-West Norfolk (Cambridge, Acorn Editions)

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

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

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