Parish Summary: Ickburgh

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

Ickburgh is in the Breckland district of Norfolk. It is located south of Hilborough and north of Mundford and Lynford. Large parts of the parish were taken over by the Ministry of Defence in 1942 and became part of the Stanford Training Area (STANTA). This includes the formerly separate parish of Langford that has been incorporated with Ickburgh. Much of this area is dangerous because live ammunition is used during training and is not accessible to the public. Other parts of the parish have now been planted by the Forestry Commission and are managed as part of Thetford Forest. The River Wissey passes through the parish and has been a focus of settlement from the prehistoric period in this otherwise quite barren sandy Breckland landscape.

The earliest known document recording the two villages is the Domesday Book that mentions land held in both villages. Langford seems to be flourishing at this period. Two mills, a fishery and two beehives are listed as being held by Bondi for Hugh of Montfort in Langford. The village names both derive from Old English. Langford means ‘long ford’ (presumably relating to a ford over the River Wissey) and Ickburgh means ‘Ica’s fortified place’. The Old English derivation of these names suggests that there has been settlement at these sites since the Saxon period. A fieldwalking survey of all STANTA land included the site of the deserted medieval village of Langford (NHER 37250). Here Late Saxon pottery was recovered strengthening the interpretation that the village was established during this period. The survey also allowed archaeologists to better understand the pattern of settlement and activity in the landscape in much earlier periods.

The earliest finds date to the Palaeolithic period.  A Palaeolithic handaxe (NHER 11482) was found and two Upper Palaeolithic long flint blades (NHER 24828) were discovered when a pond was dug in a garden. Neolithic worked flints have also been recovered. These include arrowheads (NHER 5029 and 5030) and axeheads (NHER 14789, 14790 and 17123). Many other Neolithic worked flints were recorded during the STANTA fieldwalking survey. These are most numerous close to the margins of a terrace overlooking the flood plain of the Wissey, especially just west of Langford church (NHER 7617). A possible flint working site close to this terrace where Neolithic long blades may have been made (NHER 35610) was also fieldwalked. A Neolithic hearth was excavated in the 1970s from the side of a pipeline trench. Several Bronze Age barrows have been recorded (NHER 5037, 21998, 35569 and 44216) and a Bronze Age axe hammer (NHER 5036) was found.

The STANTA survey identified the presence of a Roman settlement (NHER 35605). This was established early in the Roman period on the terrace overlooking the Wissey and appears to have been settled for some considerable time. It is possible that this settlement may be related to a ‘Roman fortification’ described in the 18th century as being on ‘Hall Close looking onto a rivulet from high ground’ (NHER 5076). Unfortunately, however, we have no idea where Hall Close was! Several coins have been recovered (NHER 5079, 17776 and 35794). One of these was found with a human skeleton (NHER 5074). Pottery has been found around the settlement in the surrounding fields. It has also been discovered further away (NHER 5077 and 5078) from the site. A metal detectorist found an unusual 2nd century AD trumpet-shaped brooch (NHER 35793).

Saxon evidence is mainly limited to the training area because this is where most intensive fieldwork has been carried out. Middle Saxon pottery suggests there was activity on or close to the site of Langford village. The concentration of Late Saxon pottery at the site suggests it was established by this date (NHER 37250). Middle and Late Saxon pottery was also found at other fieldwalking locations (NHER 7617 and 35871) in smaller amounts. Metal detecting recovered an Early Saxon pendant depicting animal heads (NHER 14331). One piece of Late Saxon pottery (NHER 5080) was found somewhere in the parish.

The evidence for medieval Langford includes a number of documents. There are several sites recorded in the database. Langford Lodge (NHER 5039), a medieval warrener’s lodge, would have provided accommodation for a person employed to look after rabbits. The site is now a ruin and the clunch building is almost destroyed as it has been attacked by deer that chew the stone to sharpen their teeth! The medieval pottery picked up from the site of Langford (NHER 37250) itself illustrates that there was occupation here into the medieval period. The sites of three houses can be identified, slightly separate from the rest of the village (NHER 35871). The parish church of St Andrew (NHER 5046) has fared rather better than the lodge, although it is boarded up and cannot be visited as it is within STANTA. This Norman church was altered in the 14th and 15th centuries and restored in the 19th century. The village is also said to be the location of a medieval chapel (NHER 36659) although the exact position of this is unclear. The site of the manor house (NHER 37608) is more easily identifiable, however.

There are also plenty of records for medieval Ickburgh. St Peter’s Church (NHER 5048) was formerly dedicated to St Bartholomew. Most of the 14th and 15th century building was rebuilt during the restoration of 1866 to 1867. Parts of the medieval leper chapel of St Mary and St Lawrence (NHER 5083) have now been built into a pair of 19th century cottages. Two 13th century doorways still survive in the 19th century building. Manor Farm (NHER 16512) was probably built on or near the site of the medieval manor. The Chapel of Newbridge (NHER 39469) is recorded in a document written in 1535 but its location is now unknown. Metal detecting recovered a penny of Edward I or II (NHER 29672).

By the mid 18th century the village of Langford had all but vanished. The manor still remained although it was being used as a farm. Ickburgh’s manor had also been replaced by a 17th century timber framed farmhouse (NHER 16512). West Park Farmhouse (NHER 29977) was built around 1600 although it was much altered in the 18th century. Parts of the Wissey floodplain were extensively drained (NHER 37595 and 37594). Two extensive post medieval landscape parks, Buckenham Tofts Park (NHER 30497) and Didlington Park (NHER 40234), were laid out in parts of the parish. The site of a brickworks (NHER 5047) and a possible post medieval gunflint working site (NHER 35610) are also recorded. 

A war memorial with a World War Two Cromwell tank on the site of High Ash training camp.

The Desert Rats war memorial on the site of the High Ash training camp. (© NCC.)

The area is also home to several interesting modern archaeological sites. The site of High Ash Training Camp (NHER 34704), the only British camp used by the 7th Armoured Division (the ‘desert rats’) during World War Two, has now been converted into a heritage trail and there is a World War Two Cromwell tank mounted on a plinth close to the road as a memorial for the Division. There is also a World War Two pillbox (NHER 32703) and a unique Royal Observers Corps post (NHER 35421). The Royal Observers Corps post is exceptional because the men posted there to observe aircraft and to monitor nuclear fallout in case of attack during the Cold War built a second underground bunker to house their wives and children without permission. This is the only ROC post in Britain with two underground bunkers.

Megan Dennis (NLA), 31 March 2006.

 

Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I and Part II (Chichester, Philimore)

Davison, A. and Cushion, B., 2005. ‘An Archaeological Survey of the Stanford Training Area, 2000-2’, Norfolk Archaeology XLIV, Part IV, 602-617

Davison, A., 2002. ‘Some Light on Langford’, The Annual No. 11, 22-29

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

Rye, J., 2000. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

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