Parish Summary: Great Melton

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 Great Melton is directly northeast of Wymondham and west of Norwich city centre. It is a long irregularly shaped parish and sections of its northern and eastern boundaries follow the River Yare. Settlement is scattered throughout, with the hamlets of Great Melton, Pockthorpe and High Green forming the largest concentrations of buildings. There are several isolated farms, including Algarsthorpe, Chapel Farm, Church Farm and Wong Farm.

The archaeology of Great Melton has been thoroughly investigated and is well recorded. A large amount of fieldwalking and metal detecting has taken place, with nearly all parts of the parish investigated. There is also a considerable quantity of reported stray finds, many sites visits have been conducted, a number of excavations have taken place and a few historic buildings survive. Sites have also been identified using aerial photographs. 

Drawing of a possible Lower Palaeolithic axe roughout from Great Melton. The object is in Birmingham Museum.

A possible Lower Palaeolithic axe roughout from Great Melton. (© NCC.)

Prehistoric flint artefacts have been discovered throughout. Unfortunately many of these cannot be closely dated, including some flakes, scrapers and cores. Fortunately though many can. These include five Palaeolithic handaxes, at least three Palaeolithic flakes, Mesolithic flakes, blades, cores and microliths, a Mesolithic flaked axehead, a Mesolithic or Neolithic axehead, fragments of over twenty Neolithic axeheads, Neolithic arrowheads and Neolithic and Bronze Age flakes, cores, blades, scrapers and hammerstones.

Fieldwalking and excavation close to Pockthorpe have revealed one of the most important Mesolithic sites in Norfolk. It was probably an open camp site and a flint working site (NHER 16753). Over 32000 Mesolithic flint artefacts have been collected, including over 18000 flakes, over 12000 blades and over 280 microliths. A location in the north close to the River Yare (NHER 9257) has also yielded a large number and broad range of Mesolithic and Neolithic flint artefacts. The quantity and type of objects suggests that flint was mined and that artefacts were made on the site during the two periods. Numerous Neolithic flint artefacts (NHER 16258) found at a site close to Melton Hall suggest that it may also have been used during the production of artefacts. Neolithic burnt flints (NHER 13977) found in the north beside a tributary of the River Yare may indicate the location of a burnt mound.

In the early 1980s a metal detectorist found a hoard of Late Bronze Age copper alloy objects (NHER 17472) in the northeast. It included at least fifteen axeheads, sword fragments, a razor, a spearhead and metal working debris. Other Bronze Age objects from the parish include at least two copper alloy axeheads, a spearhead and a flint dagger. Fragments of what may be Bronze Age and/or Iron Age pottery have also been collected. A ring ditch (NHER 16258) visible on aerial photographs close to Melton Hall may be the remains of a Bronze Age barrow. A second ring ditch (NHER 17346) near Pockthorpe may have a similar origin, although it is perhaps more likely that it marks the site of a large undated pit.

In the east of the parish fieldwalking, metal detecting, excavation and stray finds have led to the discovery of a Roman settlement (NHER 9270). Roman walls, roof and flue tiles suggest the presence of Roman buildings and a considerable amount of Roman pottery has been collected. Over 150 Roman coins have been recovered and in 1985 a small Roman lead coffin containing the remains of an infant were excavated. Roman artefacts found elsewhere include pottery sherds, metalwork, building material, coins and two coin hoards. One hoard (NHER 9266) was found in the west in 1887. It consisted of 25 to 30 silver coins in a pot and was buried around 180 AD. The second hoard (NHER 19988) contained over 200 coins, was buried in the late 2nd century AD and was found in the northeast by a metal detectorist.

Middle Saxon pottery (NHER 9257, 13846 and 17751) has been discovered close to Algarsthorpe, to the west of Great Melton hamlet and near Church Farm. This suggests that settlements may have been established at all three sites by or during the period. Late Saxon pottery has also been found near Church Farm. A 9th century strap fitting has been collected close to the tributary of the River Yare.

Great Melton was called ‘Middilton’ in a document of about 1060 and ‘Meltuna’ in the Domesday Book of 1086. Both are probably mixed Old English and Old Scandinavian names meaning ‘middle farmstead or settlement’. In 1086 Godric the Steward and Ranulf Peverel held land in the parish. Freemen, villagers, smallholders, slaves, ploughs, meadows, woodland, pigs, cattle, pigs, sheep, beehives, two mills and a church were recorded.

As parts of its nave and chancel may be Late Saxon, All Saints’ Church (NHER 9269) could be the church recorded in the Domesday Book. Interestingly All Saints’ stands in the same churchyard as St Mary's (NHER 9268). The two churches were independent until they were consolidated in the early 18th century. After the consolidation St Mary's was used as the principal church and the already dilapidated All Saints' was allowed to decay. In the late 19th century St Mary's was felt to be too small for the parish's needs and All Saints' was restored and largely rebuilt.

During the medieval period settlements were dispersed, with the pattern similar to today. However, aerial photography, fieldwalking and metal detecting suggest that the individual settlements were bigger than they are now. Today the two churches are reasonably isolated with only Church Farm close to their shared churchyard. Earthworks and cropmarks identified on aerial photographs, including a moated site, hollow ways and possible tofts (NHER 16258 and 21294), suggest that during the medieval period they were situated on the eastern edge of a larger hamlet. It is probable that most of this hamlet was abandoned by or during the 18th century when the landscape park around Melton Hall (NHER 30505) was established.

Great Melton hamlet may also have been larger. Medieval settlement earthworks (NHER 15287) survive to the south of the present hamlet and medieval pottery has been collected from amongst them. As settlement earthworks (NHER 15288) also survive to the north of Pockthorpe, it is possible that it and Great Melton hamlet may once have been part of the same linear village. As High Green has two medieval buildings, it may have medieval origins. These are 1-2 Circle Cottages (NHER 36215), an altered timber framed hall house, and Whiterails Farm (NHER 19259) which was first built in the 16th century. Faden’s map of 1797 shows both Great Melton hamlet and High Green on the northeastern edge of Great Melton Common.

Algarsthorpe in the northeast is now little more than a collection of farm buildings, but it was probably a hamlet or village during the medieval period. Although the location of the settlement is uncertain, it is known that Algarsthorpe was a parish in its own right and that there was a parochial chapel dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. The parish was united with All Saints' in 1476, although the chapel retained a chaplain until the Dissolution of the monasteries. Burials (NHER 9272) found in a garden near Chapel Farm could be from the chapel’s cemetery.

Two areas with no settlement today may have been occupied during the medieval period. In the east, to the southeast of the two churches, building material, pottery, millstones and metal objects have been recovered (NHER 13844 and 13845). These suggest the presence of buildings. In the west close to the River Yare a possible moat (NHER 23878) has been identified, although it could be a fishpond or a decoy.

Surviving post medieval buildings include those at Wong Farm, Whipple Green and Green Man Farm. Melton Hall (NHER 9277) was built in the early 17th century and was extended during the 18th or 19th centuries. In the late 19th century it was abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair. All that remains now are overgrown ruins and an 18th century brick dovecote. During the 17th and 18th centuries there were large gardens adjacent to the Hall. They were replaced by formal gardens in 19th century, before being informalised at a later date. A landscape park (NHER 30505 and 21294) surrounded the gardens and it was probably first established during the 18th century.

There was a post medieval brickworks (NHER 9279) at Pockthorpe. A kiln survives, as may a second. There are reports that a lime kiln (NHER 9257) was used in the north during the 19th and 20th centuries. A World War Two pillbox (NHER 32483) stands in a field to the south of Algarsthorpe.

David Robertson (NLA), 11 May 2006.

 

Further Reading

Ashwin, T. & Davison, A., 2005. An Historical Atlas of Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

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

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

Knott, S., 2005. 'All Saints, Great Melton'. Available:

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/greatmelton/greatmelton.htm. Accessed: 11 May 2006.

Knott, S., 2005. 'St Mary, Great Melton'. Available:

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/greatmeltonruin/greatmeltonruin.htm. Accessed: 11 May 2006.

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

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

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