Parish Summary: Old Buckenham

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

Old Buckenham is a large parish in the Breckland district of Norfolk. It lies west of New Buckenham and Carleton Rode and east of Attleborough and Quidenham. The village is recorded as Buckenham in the Domesday Book. It was originally one manor containing two parishes – St Andrew’s and All Saints’. The village name derives from Old English and means ‘homestead of a man called Bucca’. The village, together with its eastern neighbour New Buckenham has a fascinating medieval history that is amply recorded in documents. The records for these two parishes are so closely linked that some finds and sites officially located in New Buckenham civil parish have been included here to present a coherent summary. The earlier history of the landscape is less well known.

The earliest recorded archaeological find is a Palaeolithic handaxe (NHER 9192) found in a gravel pit. A Mesolithic axehead (NHER 19763) has also been recovered. This unusual find is similar to axeheads from Denmark. Several Beaker period barbed and tanged flint arrowheads (NHER 9193) come from near Old Buckenham County Primary School. A possible Bronze Age socketed copper alloy spearhead (NHER 16173) has been found. A possible ‘Bronze Age hearth’ (NHER 9175) has also been identified although it seems more likely that this is a prehistoric burnt mound. Several other prehistoric burnt mounds (NHER 28017, 28018, 29645 and 30829) have been recorded. The site of two possible Bronze Age barrows (NHER 9196) was recorded in the 19th century but the mounds can no longer be seen. Double Banks (NHER 9201) is a single bank with a ditch on either side (although there is some evidence that there was once a second bank in at least one section). This might have been an Iron Age defensive earthwork. An Iron Age coin (NHER 19937) made by the local Iceni tribe has also been recorded. A set of ‘druid’s beads’ (NHER 9199) was found in an oak tree before 1842. These may be Iron Age.

A fieldwalking survey has recovered evidence of a possible Roman settlement (NHER 30655). The Roman pot found at this site included high status Nene Valley ware and samian. Metal detecting and fieldwalking have recovered a large number of Roman finds from another site (NHER 19937). These include coins, brooches, a gold finger ring and pieces of pottery. This scatter of finds suggests this was possibly the location of a second Roman settlement. The presence of ironworking slag elsewhere indicates this may have been a Roman ironworking site (NHER 9232). A possible Roman road (NHER 9219) has also been identified.

A collection of 1st to 2nd century AD copper alloy Roman brooches and brooch moulds has been recovered by a metal detectorist (NHER 30864). One of the brooch moulds still contained an unfinished brooch. Only two other Roman metal moulds have been found in the country and other parts of the Western Roman Empire. Amazingly these also come from Norfolk. The discovery of the second Roman metal brooch mould (NHER 34732) was made by a metal detectorist in Felmingham and the third is from Brancaster.  The association of the Old Buckenham moulds with other part-finished artefacts, however, further enhances its importance. Other metalworking debris was also recovered. A small hoard of twenty one Roman coins (NHER 30864) was found nearby. These isolated Roman finds may have been dropped by a Roman craftsman or been moved here in topsoil when the nearby airfield (NHER 9235) was constructed. Other Roman finds include brooches (NHER 19936, 29897 and 30747), a 3rd century finger ring (NHER 33186) and a coin (NHER 40681).

Bunn’s Bank (NHER 9206) is a bank and ditch that runs along the parish boundary. It may have been constructed in the Saxon period. It has also been suggested that Double Banks (NHER 9201) is a Saxon defensive earthwork. There are several early records of Saxon finds. The ‘druid’s beads’ (NHER 9199) reported in 1842 but found before this in an oak tree may be Early Saxon. ‘Bosses’ found along with pieces of Early Saxon pot in 1831 (NHER 9198) are probably Early Saxon shield bosses. More recently metal detecting has recovered an Early Saxon gilded silver mount (NHER 29897) and parts of several Early Saxon brooches (NHER 31051 and 41697).

Middle Saxon finds include two very interesting coins. One is a copy of a penny of Chalons-sur-Saone (NHER 41697), a town in France. It seems to have been re-used as a button. The other is a gold plated imitation of a Merovingian solidus coin from the mint of Marseilles (NHER 41923), probably from very late 6th or 7th century, which has been pierced for suspension, and subsequently broken. Pieces of Middle Saxon pot (NHER 30653) have also been recovered. Late Saxon finds include a silver Viking 'slug-like' ingot (NHER 42647). Ingots like this one would have been used as bullion in payments or trade transactions. A piece of the rim of a very large Late Saxon storage pot (NHER 11429) has also been found.

Old Buckenham Castle (NHER 9202) was founded by William D'Albini in the late 11th century. This Norman castle was probably wooden. Only earthworks of its moat now survive. It was surrounded by Buckenham deer park (NHER 44620) that was laid out around 1100. The new boundaries of this park reused Bunn’s Bank (NHER 9206), Double Banks (NHER 9201) and the possible course of a Roman road (NHER 9219). D’Albini’s son, William the Strong, expanded the park in the 12th century probably as part of his development of New Buckenham Castle (NHER 40577) and the planned town of New Buckenham (NHER 9200).  When New Buckenham Castle (NHER 40577) was completed in 1146 Old Buckenham Castle (NHER 9202) was granted to the Augustinian Canons. They built a priory on the site but left the moats intact. The priory was dissolved in 1536. Abbey Farm, incorporates one wing of the prior’s house (early 16th century) to which was added a substantial new wing after 1538. One wall of the ‘new’ building contains a section built from blocks of limestone doubtless recovered from the priory. 

Photograph of an engraving of New Buckenham Castle.

An engraving of New Buckenham Castle.

Confusingly New Buckenham Castle (NHER 40577) is in Old Buckenham civil parish. The D’Albini’s established this substantial castle around 1146. The circular ringwork contains the oldest, and perhaps the largest, circular Norman keep in the country. The castle has two baileys. The east bailey (recorded as Knightriders Ward in an old document) is the earliest. It was reached via an east gateway that was destroyed in the 13th century when the bank of the ringwork was enlarged almost burying the gatehouse. A second bailey, gatehouse and barbican-like defensive enclosure were then constructed to the southwest. Massive earthworks of these features still remain and the keep and its dividing wall with a pointed doorway still stand around 6m in height. The castle was besieged twice in the 13th and 15th centuries. It was defortified in the 1640s. Adjacent to New Buckenham Castle (NHER 40577) is the chapel of St Mary (NHER 39594). William D’Albini founded this in the 12th century to serve the parishioners of his planned town of New Buckenham (NHER 9200) and the inhabitants of his castle (NHER 40577). At some stage in its history it was served by the canons of St James’ Priory. When the parish church of St Martin (NHER 40579) was built in New Buckenham in the 15th century the chapel became the private chapel of the castle. The chapel appears to have survived the Reformation, perhaps continuing in use until the defortification of the castle in 1649. Parts of the 12th century rectangular town ditch (NHER 41233) around New Buckenham also fall into Old Buckenham parish. This formed the original boundary of the planned town of New Buckenham.

In the medieval period Old Buckenham had two churches. The site of St Andrew’s Church (NHER 9205) is now under some stables. This church belonged to Old Buckenham Priory (NHER 9202) and was dissolved along with the abbey in 1536.  The main parts of All Saints’ Church (NHER 9236) date to around 1340 including the polygonal tower, although it has been suggested that this was built around an earlier Saxon round tower. There is a fine Norman north door. The north arcade dates to the late 14th century and there are some 15th century windows. Unusually the church retains its thatched roof.

View of All Saints' from the green.

The tower of All Saints' Church in Old Buckenham. (© NCC)

There are several medieval buildings in the village (NHER 11815, 19787, 21480 and 34492). The locations of other buildings are marked by cropmarks of possible medieval tofts on either side of the old course of Cuffer’s Lane (NHER 20029). A possible medieval moat (NHER 9230) is marked on old Ordnance Survey maps. The field name 'Hempland' is marked on several times on the 1841 tithe map of Old Buckenham (NHER 9221 to 9228). These may locate medieval to post medieval linen or flax manufacturing sites. These sites would be located close to settlement as hemp requires frequent attention during the growing season. It has been suggested that these sites were used in the 16th century to produce hemp for making ropes for the Navy.

Medieval finds include many coins (NHER 13703, 17363, 28770, 29898, 30747, 30749 and 33186), a possible medieval socketed spearhead (NHER 16173) and an interesting 13th century lead seal matrix (NHER 30748) inscribed S JOHIS F’RIC.

Cropmarks of a post medieval farm and field system (NHER 9235) can be seen on aerial photographs. The sites of a saw pit (NHER 12941), Dambrigg Mill (NHER 15304) and a post mill (NHER 15966) have been recorded. Old Buckenham tower mill (NHER 11812) is still standing and is owned by the Norfolk Windmills Trust. This broad brick tower mill is the widest tower windmill in Britain. It was built in 1818 and had the largest boat-shaped cap of any mill. It ceased wind working in 1926. Other post medieval buildings also survive. Thatched Cottage (NHER 11814) is probably 16th century. Buckle’s Cottage (NHER 12132), Carr Farm (NHER 32173) and Green Farm (NHER 35993) are all 17th century. Old Buckenham Hall (NHER 11810) was an 18th century house but it was demolished in 1900 and replaced by a neo-Elizabethan mansion, which in turn was burnt down in 1950. There is also a ruined post medieval five-storey folly tower in the grounds of this hall. Duleep Singh laid out the cricket ground and tree avenue in the hall’s park. The Manor House (NHER 11813) is an early 19th century grand yellow brick building.

Old Buckenham airfield (NHER 9235) was built between 1942 and 1943 for the United States Army Air Force 453 Bombardment Group. In 1945 it was transferred to the RAF and used for storage. It closed in 1960. Part of the runway has now been extended to form a private airstrip. The most modern recorded site is an area of modern earthworks (NHER 41673) that were originally thought to be the remains of medieval ridge and furrow. Even archaeologists make mistakes sometimes!

Megan Dennis (NLA), 16 May 2006.

 

Further Reading

Bayley, J., Mackreth, D. F. and Wallis, H., 2001. ‘Evidence for Romano-British Brooch production at Old Buckenham, Norfolk’, Britannia XXXII, 93-119

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

Davison, A. with Cushion, B., 1999. ‘The Archaeology of the Hargham Estate’, Norfolk Archaeology XLIII, II, 257-274

Knott, S., 2006. ‘All Saints, Old Buckenham’. Available:

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/oldbuckenham/oldbuckenham.htm. Accessed: 15 May 2006.

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

Neville, J., 2005. ‘Old Buckenham tower windmill’. Available:

http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/Windmills/old-buckenham-towermill.html. Accessed: 15 May 2006.

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

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