Parish Summary: Wighton

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 Wighton is situated in the north of Norfolk. It lies north of Walsingham, east of Holkham, west of Binham and south of Warham and Wells-next-the-sea. The name Wighton may derive from the Old English meaning ‘farm near a village’. 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 Wighton was held by the Crown, possessed a mill and had a large number of sheep.

The earliest archaeological artefacts from the parish comprise a selection of prehistoric flint tools. These include scrapers (NHER 36023), flakes (NHER 36017), blades (NHER 35997) and cores (NHER 2055). In addition, part of a prehistoric quern stone (NHER 28799) has been discovered. A number of finds characteristic of the Neolithic have also been retrieved, including both polished (NHER 1839 and 2008) and flaked (NHER 35639) axeheads and an adze (NHER 35368).

The first possible sites in Wighton are of Bronze Age origin. Aerial photographs show the cropmarks of two ring ditches (NHER 17822 and 11277), and at least one of these may relate to a round barrow (NHER 11277). However, few definite Bronze Age finds have been located, with a flint arrowhead (NHER 28115) one of the only such objects.

The subsequent Iron Age is of far more interest, as Wighton is home to two hillforts (NHER 2072 and 1113). Copys Green Fort (NHER 2072) was excavated in 1957-58 and found to be a Late Iron Age hillfort, with v-cut ditches, a causeway entrance to the east and the remains of ramparts. Roman coins and pottery sherds were also found inside the fort, suggesting it was re-occupied by the Romans during about AD 75-200. Wighton Camp (NHER 1113) takes the form of a circular embanked enclosure, and was first recorded in the 18th-19th century. It was believed destroyed until it was rediscovered in 1974 and partly excavated. These excavations showed it had seen occupation during the Iron Age and Roman period, and several associated burials were also noted. Subsequent work in 1976 found evidence of a Roman pottery kiln and several pits.

 

Roman copper alloy figurine from Wighton Camp.

Roman copper alloy figurine from Wighton Camp. (© NCC)

It is worth noting that the earthworks known as Crabbs Castle (NHER 2009) (see below) do not relate to a further Iron Age hillfort. Iron Age small finds are fairly limited in number and include a mount (NHER 37414), a rosette brooch (although this could be Roman) (NHER 31259) coins (NHER 35039) and pottery sherds (NHER 11953).

The Roman period in Wighton was an important one. In addition to the reuse of the hillforts a number of other sites were established. A Roman settlement (NHER 42850) straddled the modern parishes of Walsingham and Wighton, as indicated by an enormous scatter of material. Objects predominantly date to the 2nd to 4th centuries indicating when the town was in use. Several different areas can be identified within the town including a temple site (NHER 2024) and a late Roman enclosure (NHER 1113). The town included substantial buildings and was located immediately south of where a Roman road (NHER 2050 and NHER 2087) crossed the river.

The remains of a Roman bathhouse (NHER 3980) and other buildings (NHER 25399) have been reported elsewhere within Wighton. The presence of large quantities of metalwork at the bathhouse site suggests that this was also a metalworking area in the Roman era. Other Roman objects have been discovered through metal detecting and fieldwalking including coins (e.g. NHER 34521 and 41978), brooches (NHER 34521), pottery sherds (e.g. NHER 2013), a glass bead (NHER 2011) and part of a mortarium (NHER 1840). 

Following the wealth of Iron Age and Roman evidence, very little Saxon archaeology has been reported in Wighton. Archaeological evaluations along Buddell Lane in 2000-01 revealed Late Saxon/early medieval pits, postholes and gullies (NHER 35803). This evidence may indicate that a building was situated here in the Late Saxon to medieval period. Otherwise Saxon finds comprise a Middle Saxon pin (NHER 34521), a Late Saxon strap end (NHER 28257), the rim of a Late Saxon bowl (NHER 28557) and sherds of Middle/Late Saxon pottery (NHER 28257).

The two major medieval monuments in Wighton are the church (NHER 2061) and the ringwork castle known as ‘Crabbs Castle’ (NHER 2009). All Saints’ Church partly dates to 1300 but the tower of that date collapsed in 1965 and was replaced in 1975. The remainder of the church fabric is 15th century in date and some of the architecture owes its existence to bequests from this period. Inside, visitors should note the 15th century stained glass windows in the north and south aisles and a chest tomb to Elizabeth Bacon dating to 1686. Crabbs Castle is a rare example of a ringwork castle, but it is situated in a typical location for a fortification as it overlooks the surrounding area and the road to the south.

No medieval manor house survives but a possible manorial site (NHER 2051) has been identified to the southwest of Whey Curd Farmhouse (NHER 47344). A moated enclosure with some flint masonry and incomplete building outlines can be seen here. The possibility of a medieval chapel standing somewhere in this area has also been mooted.

Remnants of medieval field systems have been noted on aerial photographs of the parish. These tofts and crofts (NHER 1850 and 18560) appear as earthworks and cropmarks, although it is hard to be certain of their date. Another remnant is that of a possible medieval wayside cross (NHER 23978) which was recorded near to the War Memorial in the High Street during 1987.

The majority of the medieval artefacts from Wighton are mundane and relate to normal everyday activities. Included amongst these finds are a strap end terminal (NHER 31363), cauldron fragment (NHER 28257) and buckles (NHER 34521 and 28257).

Post medieval Wighton appears to have been a bustling place. A number of mills were in operation, including two powered by water (NHER 11320 and 15208) and one by wind (NHER 18025). The larger watermill site (NHER 15208) comprises a complex set of earthworks complete with a pond and building platform. In addition to milling, the parishioners were also engaged in lime burning. Three lime kilns are noted in the archaeological records (NHER 18025, 21701 and 21702), and one of these structures (NHER 21701) still survives, after being discovered by a mechanical digger in 1985. This particular kiln takes the form of a circular bell, surrounded by a circular barrel vaulted tunnel, and when it was unearthed it was filled with post medieval detritus.

Wighton was also host to an area of water meadows, which would have proved a valuable resource (NHER 31607). Earthworks of these water meadows can be seen on aerial photographs. The brick culverts and sluices were created in around 1802 and modified soon after, but they sadly no longer exist.

Transport of commodities could have occurred along various roadways, including the one marked on Faden’s map of 1797 and Bryant’s map of 1836 (NHER 1884). Of course, later in the period, the Wymondham to Wells Branch line (NHER 13588) ran through the parish and would have helped trade and communication until 1957, when it no longer served Wighton.

At this point in time a number of fine buildings were erected, many of which have been listed as properties of architectural interest. Crabbs Castle Farm (NHER 12176) has 18th century cottages that were among the first buildings in modern times to be built in concrete. Waterhall Barn or Bridge Cottage Barn (NHER 39775) is a grand three-stead barn dating to 1790 that was built for the Earl of Leicester. Also of note is Hall Farm (NHER 40362), which was built in 1803-06 to designs by Samuel Wyatt. The single pile farmhouse has two storeys and a central Doric porch. The associated barn is of red brick and has two cart doors and honeycomb ventilation.

Finally, the Old Vicarage (NHER 40363) is of interest as a property in the Neo-Classical design. It was built in 1836 by John Bunn but in recent years has been converted into a number of residential flats. Many of the other listed buildings in Wighton line the High Street, including the Carpenters Arms (NHER 47810), Branthill Cottages (NHER 47724) and the Bridge Yard Cottages (NHER 47263).

A brief discussion of the post medieval artefacts is appropriate. As with the medieval period the majority of them are fairly typical items. A representative collection would comprise glass fragments (NHER 1841), a thimble (NHER 34521), a spoon (NHER 41354) and various pottery sherds (NHER 28257).

The most recent archaeological record for Wighton details a World War Two airfield (NHER 1966). This airfield was used in 1941 as a decoy airfield for Docking and by 1942 it had become a satellite airfield for Foulsham. It was used by the RAF Signals and was then operational until 1945, and continued to be used for storage purposes until 1947. A mural from one of the buildings on the site is now at the RAF Museum at Hendon.

Thomas Sunley (NLA) 17 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.1 North-East Norfolk (Cambridge: Acorn Editions)

Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B. 1999. The Buildings of England, Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East (London, Penguin)

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

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