Parish Summary: West Beckham

This Parish Summary is very much an overview of the 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 tiny parish of West Beckham is situated in northeast Norfolk some three miles south of Sheringham and west of the equally small East Beckham. Beckham comes from the Old English for ‘Beocca’s homestead’. 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 detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The earliest evidence of human activity comes in the form of prehistoric worked flints, possibly Palaeolithic and Mesolithic flint blades, Neolithic to Bronze Age scrapers and knives and two probably Neolithic spearheads (NHER 42832), which were found by chance south of West Beckham village in 2005. The only other prehistoric flint find is a polished axehead (NHER 6552) found in 1950 which may be Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The Bronze Age may have left traces of the earliest structures. Analysis of aerial photographs has tentatively identified several ring ditches (NHER 32242, 32244, 36441 and 36442). These could be the ploughed-out remains of Bronze Age round barrows; nothing can be seen from the ground but their surrounding ditches show as circular cropmarks from the air. The only Iron Age find to date is a coin (NHER 50184).

Aerial photography has also identified what may be the remains of the only Roman structure, a possible barrow (NHER 36428) to the east of the parish, though this could equally well be Iron Age in date. Metal detecting in recent years has recovered twenty Roman coins (NHER 50184). There is currently no evidence of Saxon activity.

To the southeast are the remains of the oldest medieval building, All Saints’ Church (NHER 6570), which was in ruins by 1602. The west tower fell in 1783 and the whole building was demolished in 1890, when much of its masonry was incorporated into the new church of St Helen's and All Saints' (NHER 6571, see below). Only the outline of the nave, chancel and south porch can be made out. The surrounding churchyard remains in use and has a number of fine 18th century headstones. Possibly medieval field boundaries (NHER 27979) east of Lower Farm have been identified from aerial photographs. Finds from the period include pottery fragments (NHER 42832), coins (NHER 50184) and two harness pendants (NHER 50183 and 50184).

Of the surviving post medieval buildings, probably the oldest is Chestnut Farmhouse (NHER 19348) on The Street. This is a long two storey flint and brick house dating to the late 16th or early 17th century, with later alterations, as shown by blocked windows. The roof has been replaced and the interior changed.

Also on The Street is Manor Farm, now The Wheatsheaf Public House (NHER 19011), a two storey brick and flint former farmhouse, now a pub, L-shaped in plan with shaped gables. It has the appearance of being mid to late 17th century, much altered, although it could equally be a recent copy of the style, perhaps on an earlier core. A 17th century child's shoe, possibly to ward off evil spirits, was found in a fireplace during conversion works in 1982.

Again on The Street is Malthouse Farmhouse (NHER 47361), A probably early 18th century two storey flint and brick farmhouse with a pantile roof and later alterations. The flint façade has a central 20th century flint porch flanked by 19th century windows.

St Helen’s and All Saints’ Church (NHER 6571) on Church Road was built in 1890 with stone from the ruins of both East and West Beckham  churches (NHER 6631 and 6570). It consists of a nave, chancel and bellcote. Below the bellcote in the west wall is a big wheel window. The church was built on the site of a Tithe barn, marked on a map of 1836.

Another post medieval building survives only in fragmentary form. In an isolated position to the southeast is the site of a hospital and former workhouse (NHER 6572) built in 1851 and restored after a fire in 1888 to hold 539 inmates. A chapel was added in 1868 but by 1890 there were only seventy eight inmates. The buildings were demolished at some time after 1980, and the separate north wing alone remains. The chapel’s pews are now in Bodham Church (NHER 6573).

On Bodham Hill is the site of a World War Two radar station (NHER 25012). The control bunker and a number of pillboxes and defensive positions remain today. A Cold War Royal Observer Corps underground post for monitoring fallout in the event of a nuclear attack was in use from 1960 until it closed in 1991. It remains in good condition but is locked. An aircraft observation post stands nearby.

P. Aldridge (NLA), 31 August 2007.

 

Further reading

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

Brown. P., 1984. Domesday Book; Norrfolk (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

Pevsner, N & Wilson, B., 1997. The buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and the North-East  (London, Penguin Books)

 

 

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