Parish Summary: Tharston

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 Tharston is situated in the south of Norfolk. It lies south of Flordon, east of Forncett, west of Long Stratton and north of Wacton. The name Tharston may derive from Old English and Old Norse and mean ‘Therir’s enclosure’. The parish has a long history and was well established by the time of the Norman Conquest. Its population, land ownership and productive resources were detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086. This document revealed that the parish was part of the lands of Roger Bigot, but that Robert of Vaux held the land. It also mentions the presence of a mill and lists various agricultural resources.

Some of the earliest finds from Tharston take the form of a collection of worked flint and antler pieces (NHER 9985) found in 1970. Other early prehistoric finds include a collection of Neolithic flint tools found in 1922 (NHER 9975) and a Neolithic flint sickle blade (NHER 10050) found to the southwest of Picton Farm (NHER 10050). Bronze Age objects are limited to a single copper alloy spearhead (NHER 42596) and the butt of a palstave (NHER 30395).

The first site to be recorded is that of a possible Iron Age hillfort (NHER 9989), to the northeast of Tharston and to the west of Lower Tasburgh. A bank and ditch surround the oddly shaped field here. The land slopes down to marshland and the bank is fairly low, but it is possible that these features are the remains of an Iron Age hillfort similar to another possible hillfort known as Tasburgh Fort. The area is now used for animal grazing and is protected by a management agreement. A couple of pottery sherds (NHER 34245) and a red and blue enamelled strap mount (NHER 31364) comprise the only artefacts from this era.

A scatter of Roman objects have been found in the parish. A couple of complete amphorae were discovered on Chapel Meadow Hill (NHER 9976) and a fine Hod Hill brooch (NHER 35030) and bracelet with punched decoration (NHER 34245) are also amongst the Roman finds. However, the small number of artefacts from this era may suggest low-level occupation and activity. Alternatively many finds from this era may merely await discovery. 

Continuing on from Roman times there is a similar paucity of evidence from the Saxon period. However, the finds that have been recovered are of a very high quality and these comprise a Late Saxon box mount in the form of a quadruped (NHER 31364) and a beautiful early cruciform brooch (NHER 35030).

The most obvious piece of medieval heritage in Tharston is the parish church of St Mary (NHER 10074). This church is the Perpendicular style and dates to the 13th to 15th century. The tower, east and west sides feature flint flushwork. Inside, there are a number of fine 17th century monuments, a 15th century font carved with lions and flowers. The churchyard is worth a look as it houses a mausoleum erected for General Sir Robert Harvey and his family in 1855. In addition, St Margaret’s Church in Hapton (NHER 10000) is also a medieval foundation, although it underwent a major overhaul in 1848. The nave and chancel arch are in the Decorated style but the church features a number of Perpendicular windows. Inside, there is a plain octagonal 15th century font and a Norman holy water stoup in the south porch.

Several of the fine timber-framed residential properties in the village may have origins in the medieval period. For example, the form of Willow Farm (NHER 32178) may suggest it was once part of a larger medieval building. Model Farmhouse (NHER 40923) is also shown on Ordnance Survey maps as being surrounded by a medieval moat. Aerial photographs taken in 1946 also show the presence of five medieval strip fields (NHER 9984) to the northwest of Hapton village. Intriguingly, at the time of these photographs the owners were still using the land in these anciently defined strips!

Metal detecting and fieldwalking have also recovered a variety of medieval small finds and artefacts. Items of particular interest include a purse farme with inlaid niello (NHER 30395), a horse harness pendant with traces of gilding (NHER 34191), an unusual ring brooch (NHER 31364) and a spur buckle (NHER 39281).

The majority of the archaeological records for Tharston relate to post medieval buildings. One of the earliest extant post medieval structures is Tharston Hall (NHER 10068), which dates to the 1590s and later. It is in the Jacobean style and built from brick with blue brick diapering. In contrast, Hapton Hall (NHER 12477) was built in the early 19th century and features a fine central Doric porch.

In addition to these fine residences a number of timber-framed buildings were constructed in this era. Noteworthy examples include The Meadows (NHER 14132), White Horse Cottage (NHER 32861), The Laurels (NHER 41379), Casa Mia (NHER 48724) and The Poplars (NHER 40348). The large number of post medieval farmhouses and barns also suggest that agriculture was still an important source of income during this era. Model Farmhouse on Plump Road (NHER 40923) is of particular interest because it was laid out according to the ideal plan of what an effective farm should comprise. Other farmhouses worth a visit include Hawthorn Farm with its ornate first floor hall (NHER 35758) and Spreadingoak Farmhouse (NHER 45910) notable for its large brick chimneystack.  

18th century watermill on River Tas, now converted into a house.

18th century watermill on the River Tas at Tharston. (© NCC) 

Tharston had a couple of operational mills at this point in time. The site of Tharston Mill (NHER 9999) once housed both a watermill and windmill, and a tower mill replaced one of these mills in 1827 (NHER 18023). A lime kiln also survives on land north of Furze Hill (NHER 12555), with this fine structure now in use as a bat roost after an abortive attempt to restore it. No doubt industries such as these would have benefited when the Wymondham to Forncett Railway Line (NHER 13580) opened in 1881. Sadly, it had a short operating life, closing in 1939 to passengers and in 1951 to goods.

Many of the post medieval artefacts from Tharston date to the earlier parts of the period. The best finds comprise part of a religious figurine made from lead (NHER 33195), a German jetton (NHER 30395), a mount in the shape of a fleur-de-lys and a double-looped buckle frame (NHER 35030). 

The most recent record relates to a World War Two type 22 pillbox (NHER 32720). This structure survives to the northeast of Hapton Hall in a very overgrown state.

Thomas Sunley (NLA) 19 July 2007.

 

Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. The Domesday Book (Chichester, Phillimore & Co.)

Mortlock, D. P. and Roberts, C. V., 1985. The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches: No.2 Norwich, Central and South

Norfolk (Cambridge: Acorn Editions)

Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B. 1999. The Buildings of England, Norfolk 2: North-west and South (London, Penguin)

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

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