Parish Summary: Kirby 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 Kirby Bedon is situated to the east of Norwich. Kirby comes from the Old Norse for ‘village with a church’. Bedon comes from the de Bidun family, who held the land in the 12th century. The parish has a long history, and was certainly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest, its population, land ownership and productive resources being extensively detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086.

With the exception of the Mesolithic period, there is evidence of human activity from the Palaeolithic onwards.  

Palaeolithic finds in the parish include a flint handaxe (NHER 39476), a blade (NHER 13418) and a flake (NHER 16144). In 1926 a rare Lower Palaeolithic flint - working site (NHER 9663) was excavated and over five hundred flint tools recovered.  The next evidence of activity comes in the form of Neolithic objects. Unspecified flint tools, including polished axeheads, were found in the early 20th century (NHER 9664, 9665 and 9667), and antler picks used in flint mining were found even further back in the 18th century (NHER 9668). More recently found Neolithic material includes a polished axehead (NHER 15032), a blade (NHER 18297) and a flake (NHER 15280).

The only current find from the Bronze Age is a flint barbed and tanged arrowhead (NHER 17768). The base of a pottery jar (NHER 16144) may be Bronze Age, but could be Iron Age. Roman finds to date include pottery fragments (NHER 9670, 9671 and 31388) and coins (NHER 13417, 24883 and 31388). A Roman mosaic floor (NHER 9676) was reported to have been found in the early 20th century, but investigations during the construction of the Norwich Southern Bypass failed to find any trace of it. The Roman road (NHER 9904) running east from the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund (NHER 9786) passed through the parish, but there is no physical evidence of it today.

Saxon finds so far are pottery fragments (NHER 31388) and a Late Saxon copper alloy strap end decorated with an animal’s head and two panels with silver wire inlay (NHER 24263). 

Photograph of the ruins of the tower of St Mary's Church, Kirby Bedon.

The ruins of the tower of St Mary's Church, Kirby Bedon. (© NCC)

The medieval period has left the parish with its oldest surviving buildings, its churches. Two of these are in ruins. St Mary’s (NHER 4551), standing only fifty metres from the other parish church dedicated to St Andrew, consists of a round west tower, the north walls of the nave and chancel and fragments of the east and south chancel. The earliest part is the 12th century nave, the chancel and tower being 13th century and the tower's belfry stage 15th century. A south porch referred to in old texts has disappeared. The church was abandoned in about 1700, the village finding just the one church adequate for their needs. Until being tidied up in 1997, both the church and its graveyard were very overgrown.

Set on a ridge above the river, St Andrew’s ruined church (NHER 9692) in Whitlingham once consisted of a round west tower, probably of Norman date, and a 14th and 15th century nave, chancel and south porch. After being abandoned in the mid 17th century the building fell into disrepair, only the tower surviving to any great height. This fell down in 1940 and the east wall of the chancel was demolished in 1997 after being deemed unsafe. Today only fragments of the church survive.

The third church in the parish, St Andrew’s in Kirby Bedon itself (NHER 9699), was virtually entirely rebuilt in the late Victorian period, the tower in 1883, porch in 1885, and earlier, in the mid 1870s, a total restoration of the chancel and nave. However, the south doorway is original 12th century and the south door itself a rare 13th century survival, as is the north door. Inside, the scissor-braced nave and chancel date to 1876, but the font is 15th century, the altar rails 17th century and the panelled pulpit early 18th century. There are some interesting memorials. In the churchyard is the Harvey Mausoleum for Sir Robert John Harvey of Crown Point Hall, who shot himself in 1870 after the collapse of the Crown Bank.

Probably the oldest post medieval building in the parish was Kirby Old Hall (NHER 9682), built in 1604 in a half H shape. It was mostly demolished in 1841, although the kitchen wing survived as a cottage until 1890. Today, the walled garden can still be seen, and the infilled cellars have been observed. One of the barns at Hill Farm (NHER 34195) is also 17th century (the other is 18th century). Stud farmhouse (NHER 44296), though mainly 19th century, has a 17th century core.

The Old Rectory (NHER 4552) is a very fine mansion of about 1741, with a central columned porch. The building is two and a half storeys high with a five window bay façade, and has a possibly earlier two storey rear service wing. The garden wall is from about 1841, and is said to contain materials from the demolished Old Hall. Kirby House Cottage (NHER 44298) and Pond Farmhouse (NHER 11825) are both 18th century, though Kirby House itself (NHER 34196) dates to about 1830.

The Manor House (NHER 11824) is a 19th century building in much the same style as its nearby red brick barn, which has a date of 1878 on its iron clamps. A further black and red brick barn with a tiled roof is earlier, with a date of 1693.

An important post medieval survival in the parish is the only surviving example of a Norfolk Keel (NHER 20492), a clinker built boat used as a general purpose cargo and passenger carrier, and the backbone of the county's waterborne transport for about a thousand years before being superseded by the wherry. This was one of the last of the type to be built, and dates to the late 18th century. It was used as timber transporter before being used in dredging operations, eventually being sunk in 1890 as support for a river bank. The wreck was briefly raised and examined in 1912, before being sunk again. Finally raised properly in 1985, there were plans to conserve and exhibit the boat, but the project was beset with difficulties, not least the inability to find it a permanent home. The up to date position is not known but in 2001 the boat was being stored on land back at Whitlingham, still unconserved.

The most historically recent entries on the record are a World War One military airstrip (NHER 13618), the exact location of which is unknown, the site of a World War Two anti-aircraft battery (NHER 34190) west of Boer plantation that was visible on 1946 aerial photographs but has now gone and Whitlingham rubbish tip (NHER 13753), to which refuse from Norwich was brought by wherry from 1914 to 1946. A ruined wooden gantry and a sunken barge can still be seen there.

Piet Aldridge, 6 June 2006.

 

Further Reading

Morris, J. (Gen. Ed.), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

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

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