Parish Summary: Wereham

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 Wereham is situated in the west of Norfolk. It lies north of Methwold, south of Fincham, east of West Dereham and west of Boughton. The name Wereham may derive from the Old English meaning ‘homestead by the River Vigora’, with Vigora possibly being the old name of the River Wissey. 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 was held by a freeman called Toli before 1066 but was part of the holdings of Reynold son of Ivo after the Norman Conquest. In 1086 Wereham also possessed woodland, a share of a mill and a large number of sheep.

One of the earliest finds recorded for Wereham is a Mesolithic microlith (NHER 18340), a find characteristic of that period. However, the majority of the prehistoric artefacts from the parish date to the subsequent Neolithic period. These take the form of flint and stone tools and include axeheads (e.g. NHER 2514 and 4397), a leaf arrowhead (NHER 17029) and a macehead (NHER 4398).

However, the first archaeological sites to be identified are of Bronze Age date. Aerial photographs show a number of possible ring ditches (NHER 16160, 35478 and 35485) which could relate to the presence of round barrows or roundhouses. The diverse collection of Bronze Age artefacts also suggests that this was one of the busier periods of prehistory in the parish. Metal objects consisting of a socketed axehead (NHER 2516), spearhead (NHER 4402) and two palstaves (NHER 18940 and 30128) have been recovered. Other finds include a ceramic vessel (NHER 4420) and a complete bowl (NHER 32191), both of which date to the earlier part of the Bronze Age.

Fewer Iron Age features have been located in Wereham. A collection of pits filled with contemporary pottery (NHER 30568) comprises the only recorded site. Most of the artefacts from this period are fairly standard finds like loomweights (NHER 4403), coins (NHER 33906), a brooch (NHER 31799) and pottery sherds (NHER 4405). However, metal detecting in the parish has uncovered a rather more exciting find. This consisted of a large number of Icenian silver coins inside a pot along with three gold and silver objects – perhaps horse equipment or brooches (NHER 20534).

A Roman settlement has been discovered in Wereham (NHER 13457). Ploughing to the southwest of the village disturbed a large quantity of Roman pottery sherds and a small, domed structure was also recorded on site. The domed structure has been interpreted as a Roman corn dryer. Additionally, cropmarks of a rectangular enclosure with internal features can be seen on an aerial photograph of the area. Metal detecting and fieldwalking on site have recovered numerous Roman finds and their concentration suggests this was an area of Roman settlement. Possible Roman burials (NHER 18618) were also reported in the 19th century, when removal of ballast near to the old railway line uncovered a number of skulls and pottery sherds.

The rest of the evidence for the Roman era comes from small finds, most of which were retrieved through metal detection. A large number of brooches have been found and these include those of the Dolphin type (NHER 28133, 30129 and 32799), disc type and an unusual dragonesque one (NHER 35357). Other finds include steelyards (NHER 4406 and 29910), coins (e.g. NHER 12568), a mortar (NHER 35354), part of a ceramic flagon (NHER 11469) and ubiquitous pottery sherds (NHER 4407, 36102 and 44446).

It is harder to determine the level of Saxon activity in Wereham. At sometime prior to 1901 a possible Early Saxon cremation cemetery was discovered (NHER 4412). Several urns were recovered, and later in about 1920 a human burial was recorded at the same site. Subsequent metal detecting during 1999-2000 found a possible Roman key handle, Early Saxon florid cruciform brooch, Early Saxon gusset plate and a Middle Saxon/Late Saxon strap end. These finds would fit with the interpretation that a cemetery was located at this spot in Wereham.

However, the majority of the other Saxon evidence comprises personal adornments. These include an Early Saxon small-long brooch (NHER 28133) and girdle hanger (NHER 39701) along with a Late Saxon disc brooch (NHER 24542) and buckle (NHER 33585). Other mundane finds include an iron spearhead (NHER 4411) and assorted pottery sherds belonging to Late Saxon wares (NHER 33251 and 33318). The most arresting find dating to the period (AD 410-1065) is not of local origin and takes the form of a 5th/6th century asymmetric Frankish brooch (NHER 30124). This object represents an unusual and high quality import to the parish.

The most obvious medieval monument in Wereham is the parish church dedicated to St Margaret (NHER 4427) that sits in the centre of the village. The church as a whole appears to be early 13th century in date but of two phases, with the south aisle being added afterwards. The tower was altered in about 1300 and the belfry was rebuilt in the 16th century. Of course the church was not the only medieval ecclesiastical foundation in Wereham. St Winwaloe’s Priory (NHER 4414), an alien Benedictine cell, was founded at sometime prior to 1199. It remained independent until 1321 but became a cell belonging to neighbouring West Dereham in the period 1336-1400. The priory was dissolved in 1539, but Winnold House was built into the remains of this Norman priory.

No medieval manorial site has been positively identified in Wereham. Blomefield’s History of Norfolk (published 1805-10) states that Wiron Hall, the original village Hall, stood in Stoneoaks or Stokes Close. The 1840 Tithe Map marks Stone Oaks, but shows a moat in the field to the south, which is the more probable site of the manor. Aerial photographs of this area show a square moated enclosure and excavations in 1995-96 revealed early medieval settlement remains including ditches, pits and a post-built structure adjacent to this moated site. Another possible medieval moat (NHER 13563) was marked on the 1840 tithe map. Whether this moat related to a former manor house is unclear but it would surround the modern house called Homestead.

Evidence of medieval agricultural activity has also been recorded in Wereham. Earthworks relating to a ridge and furrow field system (NHER 33376) have been reported, and an aerial photograph of the parish shows a similar area of ridge and furrow elsewhere in the form of cropmarks (NHER 25388). The town was also possibly host to a thriving market during the medieval period, as ninety-four medieval coins have been recovered from a site (NHER 33628). Documentary research also shows that a medieval well (NHER 4400) may have been situated on Wereham Green. 

A large number of medieval artefacts have been recovered from Wereham. These range from domestic items such as a strap end (NHER 40007), horse harness stud (NHER 35355) to those relating to trade like silver coins (NHER 15503 and 29911). Several objects of a personal nature have also been found, and these consist of a bracelet (NHER 33907), gilded strap/box mount (NHER 32799) and seal matrices (NHER 4413 and 23155).

During the post medieval period a number of fine buildings were erected in Wereham. These include residential properties like Manor House (NHER 12527), built in 1722/29, and notable for its giant angle pilasters and Church Farm House (NHER 12530), which is constructed from a flint and brick mixture and of 17th century date.

Notable local amenities also have post medieval origins. The Post Office is in a house built in around 1760. It is paired with Vine House, and together they have a symmetrical façade with a sash window between the two entrance doors. The George and Dragon (NHER 46828) Public House, is a slightly later construction, having been built in the early 18th century. The exterior of this building is of colourwashed brick and rubble, but several 20th century additions are visible.

Drainage of the land was also occurring in this period, as evidenced by records relating to a drainage mill (NHER 16059) and a pumping station (NHER 41059) that survived until 1936. Ordinary mills were also present in the parish (NHER 14520) and these, along with a brick kiln (NHER 13564), would have produced tradable goods. However, the main commodity traded at Wereham was livestock, with great cattle fairs being held here in the 18th century before they were removed to Wimbotsham and then subsequently to Downham Market in 1798 (see NHER 33628).

As with the other eras, the post medieval period is well represented by small finds. No truly exceptional objects have been found but some of the more interesting ones include an escutcheon plate (NHER 35357) and a silver cockspur (NHER 32799). Other more typical finds comprise a belt mount (NHER 17029), jettons (NHER 30809), a cloth seal (NHER 32799), a coin weight and various pottery sherds (e.g. NHER 33585 and 42696).

Sadly, no sites or finds from World War One, World War Two or the modern period have been recorded for Wereham.

Thomas Sunley (NLA) 31 August 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: North-West and South (London, Penguin)

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

 

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