Parish Summary: Stow Bedon

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 Stow Bedon is situated in the Breckland district of Norfolk. It lies north of Hockham, west of Rocklands and south of Caston and Thompson. The word Stow has a variety of meanings in Old English including ‘inhabited place, holy place, hermitage and monastery’. Meanwhile Bedon may originate from the fact that the parish was held by John de Bidun in 1212. Originally Stow Bedon was a separate parish to Great Breckles, but the two are now combined into one. Stow Bedon has a long history and was well established by the time of the Norman Conquest. Its population, land ownership and productive resources were detailed separately in the Domesday Book of 1086. This document mentions that Stow Bedon was held by for the king by Godric and possessed a mill.

The earliest find from the parish comprises a Palaeolithic flint handaxe (NHER 2911). The next oldest finds date to the Mesolithic period, with a stone macehead (NHER 14335) and flint core with blades (NHER 17320) discovered in fields across the parish. However, as one would expect, the majority of the prehistoric flint tools recovered from Stow Bedon date to the Neolithic period. Several axeheads (NHER 9021 and 16032) and scrapers (NHER 8978 and 8990), both archetypal finds for this era, have been recovered from various locations across the parish.

There are far fewer finds of Bronze Age and Iron Age date. The only significant Bronze Age artefact to have been found is a copper alloy sword haft/blade (NHER 28512). Meanwhile, the Iron Age period in Stow Bedon is largely represented by scatters of gritty pottery sherds (NHER 8989, 28460 and 28913) with the only other object comprising a ceramic bead (NHER 28913).

Metal detecting has provided the bulk of the Roman artefacts on record for Stow Bedon. No truly outstanding pieces have been found, with the finest items comprising a bow brooch (NHER 28512) and a plate brooch (NHER 37442). The other objects are rather more mundane finds typical for the period and include a hairpin (NHER 40518), various coins (NHER 8979 and 39929) and pottery sherds (e.g. NHER 8980).

The only still-standing Saxon structure in the parish is the round tower of St Margaret’s Church in Great Breckles (NHER 9064). However, the dating of the tower is far from certain and it could be of Early Norman date rather than Late Saxon. Rather more Saxon small finds have been recorded in Stow Bedon. Several brooches have been recovered including cruciform (NHER 28512) and button (NHER 40520) style examples. Perhaps the most intriguing find from this era is a Scandinavian style strap end (NHER 28913), but other objects worth a mention include Early Saxon tweezers (NHER 18590 and 43111), an Early Saxon wrist clasp (NHER 18590) and an iron key fragment (NHER 2910).

During the medieval period two churches were in operation within the parish. St Botolph’s in Stow Bedon (NHER 8989) features both Early English and Perpendicular architecture. However, it is of particular interest because the church comprises a nave and chancel only, as the west tower collapsed in the 18th century. Visitors to the church should also take note of the Early English piscina and large stone font carved in the Perpendicular style. 

The other church stands in Great Breckles, once a separate parish but now incorporated into Stow Bedon. As mentioned previously, St Margaret’s (NHER 9064) has a Saxon/Norman tower but the majority of the external fabric would have originated in the medieval period. The extensive restorations in 1862 mask much of this stonework but the interior still has many medieval features including a Norman font and a pretty screen of 14th century date. There was also a medieval settlement of Little Breckles, which was mentioned as a separate town in Domesday. This village had become abandoned by 1547, having had its church demolished during the reign of Edward III (1327-77). Aerial photographs of the area show the cropmarks and earthworks of a hollow way, enclosures, linear features and tofts (see also NHER 18834).

No medieval manor sites have been located within Stow Bedon, but two moated enclosures have been identified from aerial photographs (NHER 9058 and 14456). One of these (NHER 9058) is located near to St Margaret’s Church and as such may have been a manorial site associated with the nearby deserted village of Little/Great Breckles (NHER 14456). Ordnance Survey records also suggest that a ‘Pilgrim’s Well’ (NHER 6118), of medieval date, once stood northwest of the church in Breckles. However, tree planting in the area may have destroyed the remains of this.

Along with the selection of pottery sherds (e.g. NHER 39549), vessels (NHER 8981) and coins (NHER 40519 and 28512) a number of martial items have been recovered from Stow Bedon. A dagger quillion (NHER 29015) and a sword/dagger chape (NHER 28913) have been found by metal detecting surveys across the parish. Two other finds that merit a mention are a copper alloy buckle plate with incised decoration (NHER 18834) and an annular brooch (NHER 33170). 

Photograph of Breckles Hall, Stow Bedon.

Breckles Hall, Stow Bedon. (© NCC)

The post medieval period is characterised by the two grand halls: Breckles Hall (NHER 9059) and Stow Bedon Hall (NHER 13452). Breckles Hall is of national importance due to the almost complete survival of woodwork and metalwork fittings. It was built in 1583 in Elizabethan style, before being carefully repaired in around 1900 by Detmar Blow and extended by Lutyens in about 1908. The house has a genuine priest's hole and fine grounds, with the gardens listed as separate entity (see NHER 30434).

The core of Stow Bedon Hall (NHER 13452) dates to around 1600, and it would have originally had thatched roofs. The smaller west portion is a former farmhouse, made from flint and clay with brick trimmings, and probably dates to the 17th century. The main portion is Georgian and brick-built, although the upper parts were destroyed by fire in 1908. Although less impressive than Breckles Hall, this building is a fine construction in its own right.

A smock mill (NHER 15959) was also operating in the parish during this period. This stood to the north of The Close, on the Watton Road, before its demolition in 1875. The only structure to attest to its former presence is a clay shed.

Various post medieval metal objects and coins have been recovered from Stow Bedon. A selection of more interesting artefacts from this period comprise a dagger guard (NHER 18834), knife handle (NHER 40517) and a fine cloth seal decorated with fleur-de-lis and rosettes (NHER 28913).

The most recent archaeological records for Stow Bedon are concerned with World War Two sites. A decoy airfield (NHER 17484) was constructed to confuse incoming German bombers. This field was merely known as ‘Breckles’ and had Watton as its parent airfield. It is now located behind Cherry Tree Farm. An underground bunker, also dating to World War Two, has been recorded on the east side of the road to the north of St Margaret’s Church. It takes the form of a rounded-roofed chamber cast over corrugated iron with an entrance at the west side. Inside, there are two stone footings at the southeast end for a stove or equipment.

Thomas Sunley (NLA) 20 June 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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