Parish Summary: Woodton

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 Woodton is situated in the south of Norfolk. It lies north of Bedingham and Topcroft, east of Hempnall, west of Hedenham and south of Brooke and Kirstead. The name Woodton may derive from the Old English meaning ‘settlement in the woods’. The parish has a long history and was established by the time of the Norman Conquest. Its population, land ownership and productive resources were detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086. This document revealed that the parish possessed woodland, a church and various livestock – the most numerous of which were sheep.

The earliest finds from Woodton take the form of flint tools. Several flint flakes have been recovered (NHER 15035) as well as a Neolithic flint axehead (NHER 10191). A single flint scraper (NHER 19854) has also been found although it is not clear whether this dates to the Neolithic period or the Bronze Age. The first sites to be defined are Bronze Age ring ditches (NHER 31515, 36356 and 36357) which were identified from cropmarks that appear on aerial photographs of the parish.

No Iron Age sites or finds have been recorded for the parish and this paucity of evidence continues into the Roman period. Roman finds largely consist of pottery sherds (NHER 36822) and coins (NHER 33204 and 50172), both of which are the most typical of Roman objects.

The finest Saxon object to have been recovered comprises a Late Saxon openwork brooch (NHER 36822). A Middle Saxon pin (NHER 36968) and several sherds of Late Saxon pottery (NHER 36822 and 33204) complete the corpus of finds from this era.

Rather more medieval archaeology has been reported in Woodton. The most obvious monument is All Saints’ Church (NHER 10211), which stands in a walled churchyard and is notable for its 12th century round tower. The nave and chancel are combined as one and are of medieval date, although the present exterior owes much to the restorations of 1878-79. Inside, there is a Jacobean pulpit and a simple 13th century carved stone font.

 

All Saints Church, Woodton. Photograph from www.norfolkchurches.co.uk

All Saints Church, Woodton. Photograph from www.norfolkchurches.co.uk. (© S. Knott.)

The site of the medieval hall in Woodton is disputed. Three potential moated sites exist (NHER 10156, 10157 and 10207) as the possible location of the Hall built before the 1694 Hall (at NHER 10200). The earthworks, moats and enclosures at these sites are all visible on aerial photographs as well as at ground level. Other features apparent on such images include medieval or post medieval field systems, with one such area (NHER 36356) to the south of All Saints’ Church.

A diverse collection of medieval small finds has been reported in Woodton. The most intriguing of these comprises a bronze plaque in the shape of a chicken (NHER 33204) and a harness stud with saltire decoration (NHER 28445). Other objects include seal matrices (NHER 50161, 50162 and 33206), a horse harness fitting (NHER 50171), a lead pendant (NHER 36822), a buckle (NHER 50170) and assorted pottery sherds (e.g. NHER 20487)

The post medieval period saw a spate of building in the parish. A new Woodton Hall (NHER 10200) was built in 1694, from brick and in a ‘Dutch style’. Sadly this large building was demolished in 1841 and all that remains is the coach house, now known as Woodton Park House (NHER 45623), and part of a low garden wall.

Most of the still standing post medieval buildings can be found along Norwich Road. These include the Tumbledown Dick (NHER 48833), built in the 18th/19th century with an irregular façade, and the Old Rectory (NHER 45718) which comprises a 19th century three-cell range with a 17th century two-cell range to the rear. Other buildings worth a look include Beulah Barn (NHER 22625), a timber-framed threshing barn of around 1600, and Oaks Farm (NHER 14050) which is a very ornate 17th century L-shaped house.

A 17th century landscape garden known as the Hermitage was also present in Woodton. As with the medieval Hall the exact location of this garden is uncertain – although several possible sites have been mooted (NHER 10155 and 10156). Indeed, it has proven difficult to determine which of the moated sites in the parish relate to the medieval Hall and which relate to this splendid garden.

A post mill (NHER 15556) was also in operation during the post medieval period. This stood in the Mill Gardens area and was last used in 1922. The roundhouse of the mill remained on site as a residential property until its demolition in 1971. Readers will also be interested to learn Nobbs Corner was named after one Richard Nobbs. Nobbs was buried near these cross roads in 1785 after committing suicide after it was discovered he had murdered his son (NHER 21989).

A number of post medieval finds have been recovered from Woodton through metal detecting and fieldwalking. The finest objects consist of a black-enamelled buckle (NHER 50171) and an elaborate buckle frame (NHER 36822). Other more mundane finds include a coin weight (NHER 50163), furniture mount (NHER 50163) and several coins (e.g. NHER 50172).

The most recent archaeological record for Woodton concerns a World War Two airfield (NHER 10466) within Seething which extends across the parish boundary. The site is visible as earthworks, structures and buildings on aerial photographs taken from 1944 onwards. It was used by the USAAF 448th Bomb Group, flying B24 Liberators, from 1943 to 1945. It had a classic ‘A’-shaped layout of three interconnected runways, surrounded and linked by a perimeter track, along which numerous dispersal bays were sited. Hangars and a control tower, as well as numerous smaller buildings, huts and shelters, are evident within the airfield itself, while more dispersed clusters of huts and other buildings would have served as domestic and technical buildings; they include a bomb store to the west and clusters of accommodation huts and an associated sewage works to the southeast. The site is still in use as an airfield today, although of the original runways and perimeter track only a small section remains. The World War Two control tower also survives and is used as a museum.

Thomas Sunley (NLA) 12 September 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.2 Norwich, Central and South Norfolk (Cambridge: Acorn Editions)

Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes, 1990. The Norfolk Village Book (Newbury, Countryside Books) 

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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