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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The parish of Hedenham is situated deep in the southeast of Norfolk, just to the north of Earsham and Ditchingham. Its name comes from the Old English for ‘Hedena’s enclosure’. The parish has a long history, and there was a small settlement here as far back as Roman times, when it was on the route between the strongholds of Bungay and Caister. It was clearly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest, and its population and productive resources are listed in the Domesday Book of 1086, which also notes that it was given by William the Conqueror to his nephew.
The earliest dateable evidence of human activity comes in the form of a few flint tools, the oldest of which is a Palaeolithic flake (NHER 30944). A Mesolithic flint axe (NHER 10594) and a blade that could be Mesolithic or Neolithic (NHER 30944) have also been found. There are currently no objects from the Bronze Age or Iron Age, but aerial photography has tentatively identified several Bronze Age ring ditches (NHER 21077, 21755, 23744, 31514 and 36359). These are the remains of circular burial mounds that have been flattened by agriculture over the centuries. Nothing can be seen from the ground, but their surrounding ditches can be made out from the air.
Finds of Roman objects are relatively scarce to date, which is perhaps surprising given that the settlement at the time was on the road between places important to the Romans. Finds include a strap slide (NHER 28866) and brooches (NHER 30943 and 31729), including a rare type (NHER 35273). However, the Romans did leave evidence of the earliest structure in the parish. In 1858, a pottery kiln, later used as a lime kiln, was found and recorded before the elements destroyed it (NHER 10595). Almost a century later, five Roman cremation urns containing burnt human bone were found nearby, probably part of a cemetery. Also, a Roman road (NHER 10636) is believed to have roughly followed the course of the modern Norwich to Bungay and Wainford road between Hedenham and Wainford, although no physical evidence of this has as yet been found.
Part of a Late Saxon strap end from Hedenham. (© NCC. and S. White.)
The few Saxon finds to date include pottery fragments (NHER 31730
), part of a bridle, a finger ring and strap end (NHER 40305
) and a box mount (NHER 30944
The medieval period has left the parish with its oldest surviving building, St Peter’s Church (NHER 10647). Set north of the village on a hill above the road, this attractive church with its slender unbuttressed west tower is mainly 14th and 15th century, but was comprehensively restored in the 19th century. Older features do remain, though, including stone shields, animal heads and gargoyles on the tower, the original timber roof frame on the south porch, a small sundial over its entrance and a fine though much worn 18th century tablet on the south chancel wall. The interior of the church was redecorated in 1862 in exuberant Victorian Gothic style, and is a fine example. The 14th century font survives, as does part of the restored piscina, and there are some good brasses and wall monuments.
A couple of houses in the parish, although much altered, have their origins in the medieval period. Both Valley Farmhouse (NHER 12079) and Hill Farmhouse (NHER 18361) started out as 16th century timber framed dwellings, later remodelled and later still clad in brick before being restored in the 20th century.
Other medieval buildings do not survive, but have left a footprint in the form of their surrounding moat. An example of this is NHER 10630, visible from the air as a cropmark, and as a slight depression on the ground. More substantial are the remains of Hedenham medieval Hall (NHER 10638), set in Hedenham Wood (NHER 40186).
Post medieval buildings on the record include Hedenham Hall (NHER 13444), a 16th century country house set in grounds that have a 17th century coach house and stable, dog kennels of 1678 and a 17th century walled garden. Garden House (NHER 18360) is the remaining fragment of a much larger 16th century timber framed house, much altered, although it retains some original beams and fireplaces. Willow Farm (NHER 19470) and 56 to 57 Church Road (NHER 31225) are both late 16th century. Wood Farmhouse (NHER 43100) is 17th century and later, Hedenham Lodge (NHER 30763), Hill House (NHER 30764) and The Old Rectory (NHER 43099) all being 18th century. An 18th century brickworks (NHER 13642) has now mostly gone, but its show house remains, probably intended to illustrate the kind of bricks made on site. The last building to note from this period is a hexagonal red brick dovecote with a date plaque of 1769 (NHER 30762).
The most historically recent entries on the record relate to World War Two. Seething Airfield (NHER 10466) was used by USAAF bombers and later by the RAF. Now in private ownership, a runway and some buildings survive, including the restored control tower, which now houses a memorial museum. Sexton’s Wood (NHER 41372) and Park Wood (NHER 41373) were both part of huge bomb storage areas concealed in woodland. Their concrete roadways and storage slabs remain.
This summary is intended very much as an overview, and those wishing to dig a little deeper should consult the detailed records.
Piet Aldridge (NLA), 22 May 2006.
Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)
Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place Names (Dereham, The Larks Press)