Parish Summary: Hillington

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 Hillington is located in West Norfolk, roughly 7km northeast of King’s Lynn. It is narrow and elongated and most of the northern parish boundary follows the Babingley River. The village is L-shaped and is located alongside the A148 and B1153 in the centre. Isolated houses and farms are scattered throughout.

Hillington has seen quite a lot of archaeological work. There have been several evaluation excavations and a good number of site visits. Stray finds have been collected and a considerable amount of metal detecting has taken place. Sites have been identified in most parts of the parish, with a dense concentration in the centre. The wide distribution of sites means that reasonable conclusions can be drawn about past settlement and activity.

Only a few prehistoric flint artefacts have been discovered. These include Neolithic polished axeheads, a Neolithic flaked and polished axehead (NHER 37716) and a late prehistoric flake. The low number is probably the result of limited collection by fieldworkers. It is likely that many more flint objects were used and survive awaiting discovery.

Two Bronze Age socketed axeheads, a palstave and a chisel are recorded. All are made of copper alloy. Four ring ditches (NHER 1323017364 and 17365) have been identified and they could be the remains of Bronze Age barrows. All are located in the centre and are spread over an area 2km wide. A mound (NHER 21256) in Hillington Park may also be a Bronze Age barrow, although it is more likely that it is a post medieval garden feature. The Icknield Way (NHER 1398), a prehistoric trackway that is thought to have linked Norfolk to southern England, may have passed through the parish.

A reasonable amount of Iron Age material has been collected. Pottery has been found south of the village. A possible linch pin (NHER 32143), a fitting from a chariot, has been discovered to the east and three Iron Age Iceni coins have been found in the north. An Iron Age or Roman brooch has also been gathered.

A Roman road (NHER 3496) may have passed northwest to southeast through the west of the parish. In 1986 a collection of wooden stakes, Roman coins and a possible infilled watercourse (NHER 22900) were found close to where this road may have crossed the Babingley River. The stakes could be the remains of a Roman bridge and the possible watercourse a former route of the Babingley or one of its tributaries. In the west of the parish, to the south of the possible road, is a large and complex Roman enclosure (NHER 32198). It is visible on aerial photographs and has been plotted during a geophysical survey. Excavations have examined enclosure ditches, possible post holes and a pit. Finds include a coin and pottery. Although the function of the enclosure is uncertain, it is broadly comparable to a religious site at Fison Way, Thetford (NHER 5853).

Roman objects have been found at over forty sites and include pottery, coins, brooches and building material. The quantity and type of objects recovered from two sites suggest the presence of possible Roman settlements (NHER 23492 and 25915). Both are situated in the northeast. In 2003 twelve coins from a dispersed hoard (NHER 29913) were found in the centre. 

Drawing of an unusal Early Saxon small long brooch from Hillington.

An unusal Early Saxon small long brooch from Hillington. (© NCC.)

Early Saxon objects, including brooches, brooch fragments and wrist clasps, have been collected close to the village. The assemblage suggests the presence of settlement and possibly a cemetery, although the exact site or sites are not known. A few pieces of residual Early to Middle Saxon pottery found during an evaluation in the village also point towards settlement. Middle and Late Saxon objects have a similar distribution to the Early Saxon objects. They include pottery, three coins (NHER 17439 and 28395), brooches, a bridle cheekpiece and strap fittings and indicate that the site of the village was probably occupied during both periods.

Hillington is recorded as ‘Idlinghetuna’ in the Domesday Book of 1086. This Old English placename means ‘the farm or enclosure of Hythla’s people’. In 1086 William of Warenne, Eudo son of Spirwic and Berner the Crossbowman held land in the parish. A freeman, villagers, smallholders, slaves, ploughs, meadow, pigs, sheep, mills and salthouses were recorded. The presence of salthouses suggests that tidal conditions extended at least 7km inland along the Babingley River.

St Mary’s Church (NHER 3515) is located in the east of the village. The tower and elements of the chancel date to the 15th century. The nave was rebuilt and much of the rest of the building was restored during the 19th century. To the north of the church a possible medieval midden (NHER 37305) and the site of a medieval cross (NHER 3510) are recorded. The cross may be one of the four now situated close to the south gate to Hillington Park (NHER 3503). The site of a chapel dedicated to St James (NHER 3509) is located in the west.

To the north of the village is a medieval moated site (NHER 3511). The moat is 3m to 4m wide and encloses a rectangular shaped area, with an additional arm attached to the northeast corner. This arm may be fed by a spring and could have been a fishpond. To the south are possible enclosures, a pond and a possible trackway (NHER 17441). They have been interpreted as part of a medieval shrunken village, although it is more probable that most are undated drainage features. Medieval and post medieval objects have been found through the parish. These include pottery, coins, tokens, jettons and hoard of medieval silver coins.

Hillington Hall (NHER 3508) was built to the north of the village in 1624. It was altered and extended in the 1760s and then incorporated into a new hall designed by W.J. Donthorne during the 1820s. It was demolished in the 1940s and a new house was built. Walls from 17th, 18th and 19th century houses are now visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs. Adjacent to the site of the hall are a 17th to 19th century walled garden, a 19th century dovecote, the 17th century and later Dairy Farmhouse (NHER 43186) and a landscape park (NHER 30512). The park was laid out during the 1760s. The medieval moated site (NHER 3511) was incorporated into it and the mound within it was probably constructed as a garden feature. This mound and a second mound (NHER 21256) to the east had summerhouses built on them.

During the 1820s gatehouses were added at the south and east entrances to the park (NHER 21254 and 21255). As part of the same work, four medieval stone cross shafts (NHER 3503) were reset outside the southern gateway. Three of these may originally have come from either King's Lynn or a route to Walsingham; the fourth was probably moved from the village (see NHER 3510). During the 19th century an icehouse was built in the park and three pairs of estate cottages were built along Lynn Road. A pumping station supplied water to the Hall and was probably also built in the 19th century.

Other post medieval buildings include Warren Farmhouse, Field Farm, the Ffolkes Arms Hotel, Up Hall and the Old School House. Belmont House (NHER 3505) was built in the east during the late 18th century. It was demolished by 1826 and all that survives above ground is a large mound with fragments of walls protruding from it. In the south a watermill (NHER 14997) is marked on Faden's map of 1797. Congham Lodge was built on its site around 1800. In the late 1800s a railway (NHER 13581) linking King’s Lynn to Fakenham was built. It passed from east to west through the parish and the village was provided with a station. The route is now disused and sections of its course survive as tracks.

David Robertson (NLA), 10 March 2006.

 

Further Reading

Barringer, C., 1989. Faden’s Map of Norfolk (Dereham, Larks Press)

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book: Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

Knott, S., 2005. 'St Mary, Hillington'. Available:

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/hillington/hillington.htm. Accessed: 10 March 2006.

Mills, A.D., 1998. Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

Neville, J., 2003. 'Hillington Mill'. Available:

http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/Watermills/hillington.html. Accessed: 9 March 2006.

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

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