Parish Summary: Freethorpe

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

Freethorpe is a parish in the east of the county in the Broadland district. The parish is very narrow and runs west to east. It contains the modern villages of Freethorpe and Wickhampton. These were originally separate parishes. The east part of the parish is now a nature reserve. The populations of these villages may be smaller than they were in the past. The manor of Wickhampton (NHER 14773) has been lost and aerial photographs of the area shows cropmarks of several possible sites of medieval occupation where there is no modern settlement. The villages have been in existence at least since the Late Saxon period as both are mentioned in the Domesday Survey. The name Wickhampton derives from Old English and means 'home farm settlement' or 'settlement near or with a dairy farm'. Freethorpe has a different derivation and comes from Old Norse meaning 'Fraeithi's settlement' or 'outlying farmstead'. This Scandinavian name is part of a cluster of Norse names found in the east of the county. This cluster may represent Danish settlement here in the 9th century AD. Although the known documentary sources only stretch as far back as the Domesday Book and the derivation of the village names suggest a Saxon origin for the settlements, the archaeological records for the parish provide evidence for activity here from the prehistoric period.

The earliest evidence for activity is the identification of several possible Bronze Age burial mounds (NHER 21818 and 32060). These monuments are the only evidence for prehistoric activity in the parish. This is likely to be because of the waterlogged nature of the area. Before the drainage of the eastern part of Norfolk and the creation of the Broads in the medieval period much of the parish would have been part of the Great Estuary, a huge flooded area of mud flats and shifting channels. Such an area was not suitable for occupation or settlement although it would have provided many rich resources. Consequently the prehistoric monuments are concentrated in the west of the parish near Freethorpe on the edge of this more waterlogged zone.

In the Roman period this area continued to be waterlogged but there is slightly more evidence for activity. A scatter of Roman pottery (NHER 14774) and the presence of a possible building platform could be the remains of a Roman building. Roman building material has certainly been used in the two churches, St Andrew's (NHER 10396) and All Saints' (NHER 10397). Roman pottery fragments and oyster shells (NHER 17772), often found on Roman sites, have also been recovered. Metal detectorists have found a Roman copper alloy follis coin of Constantine I (NHER 24595) and the handle of a Roman key (NHER 39573). Work by the Norfolk National Mapping Programme (Broads Zone) in 2006/7 has indentified the cropmarks of a coaxial field system, of later Iron Age to early Roman/Roman date, covering large tracts of the landscape.

Metal detectorists have also recovered most of the evidence for human activity during the Saxon period. Two unusual coins were both found at the same site. A contemporary forgery of a coin of King Offa and an 8th century AD gold dinar of Abbasid (NHER 24595) were both recovered by a metal detectorist. A Middle Saxon ansate brooch (NHER 39942) and a Late Saxon stirrup mount (NHER 34898) have also been recorded. There is little other evidence for Saxon Freethorpe or Wickhampton, although several salterns (NHER 41369, 42212 and 42213) have been identified on aerial photographs. These could date from the Saxon or medieval periods. These are clustered in the east of the parish. Despite the Scandinavian origin of the name Freethorpe, no Viking or Scandinavian objects have been found here.

There is much more evidence for settlement and activity in the medieval period. St Andrew's (NHER 10396), the parish church of Wickhampton, was built around 1200. All Saints' (NHER 10397) in Freethorpe is mostly later in date although the round tower may belong to the Norman period. Wickhampton seems to have been a larger settlement than it is in the modern period. The site of the medieval and post medieval manor (NHER 14773) has been identified from the scatter of building material found here. The site is called Hall Piece on the Freethorpe tithe map of 1848. Another possible medieval building (NHER 14774) has been identified and although the location of Mora deserted medieval village (NHER 19444) has not been identified it is known to be within the parish. A possible medieval moat (NHER 30299) may mark the location of other buildings and possible medieval tofts and an associated field systems (NHER 30300) have been identified on aerial photographs. Several interesting medieval finds have also been made including that of a 15th or 16th century Dutch coin weight (NHER 33283) and several seal matrices (NHER 24404 and 34898). These were used for sealing letters and other important documents. The silver short cross penny of King John (NHER 24595) and the other medieval coin (NHER 13616) found by metal detectorists in the parish are probably casual losses.

Many of the post medieval sites recorded in the record are still standing. The 18th century Manor House (NHER 11573) at Freethorpe and its important stockhouse built in 1828 still survive although the manor at Wickhampton (NHER 14773) is only known through archaeological records of medieval and post medieval pottery and building material. Similarly the site of a post medieval brickworks (NHER 10434) has been identified by the presence of earthworks and considerable numbers of bricks and brick kiln material recovered from the field. The Primitive Methodist chapel (NHER 11574) built in a Classical style and the more simple low single storey blacksmith's workshop (NHER 17374) were both recorded in the 1970s. Lower Green Farmhouse (NHER 22028), a complex 18th century brick building with several phases of construction, and Church Farm Cottages (NHER 24439), a late 17th century building with an unusual three cell plan, are listed by English Heritage.

Photograph of Walpole's Almhouses, Freethorpe. They were built in 1871 by Richard Henry and Harriet Vade Walpole. The four terraced red brick houses with stone dressings and slate roofs have a symmetrical six bay façade. The garden walls have Gothic gates

Walpole's Almhouses, Freethorpe. They were built in 1871 by Richard Henry and Harriet Vade Walpole.

The almshouses (NHER 39770) in Freethorpe were built by Richard and Harriet Walpole in 1871 to provide homes for six widowed women of the parish. Their symmetrical facade is easy to identify. More difficult to find are the sites of two post medieval wind pumps (NHER 10390 and 14901) in the parish. These are only known because their positions were marked on old maps. An interesting post medieval find was recovered in the 1960s. A hoard of twelve half crowns (NHER 10413) was discovered in trimming a bank in a field.

There are also several more modern archaeological sites recorded. In World War One a military airfield (NHER 13616) was built in the northeast part of the parish. Part of this airfield was later redeveloped and a Royal Observation Corps post was built here. It was first used in World War Two to observe enemy plane movements and was later used in the Cold War. It was decommissioned in the 1960s and has since been demolished. Another part of the more waterlogged eastern area of the parish was laid out as a starfish shaped World War Two bombing decoy (NHER 31920). These decoys were designed to trick enemy planes into dropping their bombs in an area where they would do little damage.

Megan Dennis (NLA), 13 December 2005.


Further Reading

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

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)

Williamson, T., 2005. 'Place-Name Patterns', in Ashwin, T. and Davison, A. (eds.), 2005. An Historical Atlas of Norfolk. Third Edition. (Chichester, Phillimore)


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