Parish Summary: Narford

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  

Narford is a medium-sized parish in Breckland, close to the town of Swaffham. The northern parish boundary follows the course of the River Nar, and to the south the boundary follows the Roman road known as the Fen Causeway (NHER 2796). There is no longer a village in Narford, the landscape is instead dominated by Narford Hall (NHER 4013) and a few farms. The name Narford is derived from the Old English, meaning ‘a ford’, either over the River Nar, or from ‘nearu’, which means ‘narrow place’.

The earliest evidence of human activity in the parish is a Palaeolithic flint handaxe (NHER 21261), and other prehistoric flints (NHER 15413, 15414, 15415, 15712) have been found, including a Mesolithic axehead (NHER 13333), Neolithic flints, including flakes, cores and scrapers (NHER 3959, 29852) and Neolithic polished axeheads (NHER 17639). Bronze Age flint implements (NHER 32309) and a Late Bronze Age spearhead (NHER 32309) have also been recorded. A copper alloy armlet or bracelet was found in the parish before 1846, and it has been dated to either the Bronze Age or the Roman period (NHER 3961). A number of urns containing human cremations (NHER 3969) were found near the Hall in the mid 18th century, and may date to the Bronze Age, Roman or Early Saxon periods. The cropmark of a ring ditch (NHER 11889), probably the remains of a Bronze Age barrow, is visible on aerial photographs, and two circular soilmarks (NHER 17011) may also date to the Bronze Age. 

Drawing of an Iron Age bucket or cauldron mount from a Roman settlement in Narford.

Iron Age bucket or cauldron mount from a Roman settlement in Narford. (© NCC and S. White.)

Iron Age coins (NHER 29852, 32309, 40016), brooches (NHER 32309), part  of a terret (NHER 40968) and fragments of pottery (NHER 32309) have been found during metal detecting. An Iron Age or Roman ring, possibly made of silver, and decorated with a ring of punched dots (NHER 40968) has also been found. Although no Iron Age settlement sites can be identified with any certainty, the Iron Age finds from the parish can probably be related to Narborough Camp, an Iron Age hillfort (NHER 3975) that lies just over the parish boundary. 

Drawing of a Roman military horse harness mount from a Roman settlement in Narford.

A Roman military horse harness mount from a Roman settlement in Narford. (© NCC)

The site of a Roman settlement (NHER 3974) has been discovered in the north of the parish, on the banks of the River Nar. Metal detecting and fieldwalking on the site has recovered hundreds of Roman coins, fragments of pottery and other metal finds including a cauldron or bucket mount in the shape of an ox's head and a lovely example of a Dragonesque brooch with enamel decoration. Part of the site was excavated in 1952, and a flint-lined well and the remains of a square building with flint walls were discovered. A small hoard of Roman coins was found in the gardens of Narford Hall in 1949 (NHER 3960) and a Roman copper alloy vessel was found in the late 18th century (NHER 3969). Metal detecting and fieldwalking have recovered a number of Roman finds from the parish, including a large number of Roman coins (NHER 3962, 3963, 3964, 3968, 14325, 16203, 17629, 17798, 39965, 40017), fragments of pottery (NHER 3965, 3966, 3970, 15413, 15415, 15711, 28745), a bracelet (NHER 17794), a square buckle in the shape of an animal’s head (NHER 29797), a knife handle in the shape of a dolphin (NHER 39621), brooches and other metal finds (NHER 32309, 34141, 40016). 

Pieces of Roman Samian pottery found on a Roman settlement in Narford

Pieces of Roman Samian pottery found on a Roman settlement in Narford. (© NCC)

There is some evidence of Early Saxon occupation in the parish, and in 1939 the skeleton of an Early Saxon man (NHER 3970) was discovered. He had been buried with a shield and spear, and although the wood had rotted away, the iron spearhead and shield boss were recovered from the grave.  Fragments of Early Saxon pottery (NHER 4015) have been found in the churchyard, and Early Saxon brooches (NHER 32309, 34141) and a pyramidal mount from a sword (NHER 32309) have been found elsewhere in the parish. A second Saxon inhumation (NHER 13941) has been found in Narford, but the female skeleton cannot be more closely dated. A number of Middle Saxon coins, or sceatta (NHER 17794, 29798, 29852) have been found, as well as Middle Saxon pins (NHER 17794, 34141) and fragments of pottery (NHER 15414). A Late Saxon coin (NHER 3971), fragments of pottery (NHER 15413) and various metal finds (NHER 34141) have been recovered during metal detecting or fieldwalking.

The site of the medieval village of Narford (NHER 3974) may be to the north of the hall, close to the River Nar. Narford is recorded in the Domesday Book as part of the lands of Count Alan, and it had a mill, a fishery and five beehives. There were nearly a hundred houses in the mid 15th century, but by 1805 only two houses remained. Medieval and post medieval coins, pottery and metal finds have been recovered from the site during fieldwalking and metal detecting. St Mary’s Church (NHER 4015) now stands alone within Narford Park. Parts of the nave may date back to the 12th century, although the majority of the building dates from later in the medieval period, and includes some early 20th century alterations. The church contains some interesting monuments including one to Sir Andrew Fountaine, who died in 1753. During the medieval period a chapel dedicated to St Mary stood in the churchyard, the remains of which were still visible in the 19th century. Medieval and post medieval coins, pottery and metal finds including a 15th century ewer spout in the shape of a dragon’s or griffin’s head (NHER 29371) have been found scattered throughout the parish.

Narford Hall (NHER 4013) was built by Sir Andrew Fontaine in the late 17th and early 18th century. The house was enlarged in about 1830, and has a number of paintings by Antonio Pellegrini and several early 18th century fireplaces and plasterwork. The nearby clock tower and orangery date to about 1860. The hall is surrounded by a landscape park (NHER 30473). The early 18th century layout of the park is shown in Campbell’s 'Vitruvius Britannica', which was published in 1725. The plan shows the hall surrounded by large formal gardens, with a ha-ha, ornamental canals and classical garden buildings including the Temple (NHER 4014) which was moved from its original location in the mid 19th century. An impressive avenue was focused on the south façade of the Hall, running for over a kilometre into the surrounding countryside, and focused on an arch (NHER 15001) in Eyetrap Plantation. An obelisk is shown in the avenue on Bryant’s map of 1826, but this has now disappeared. By the late 18th century these formal gardens had been removed and the planting ‘deformalised’. In the mid 19th century a large lake was created to the west of the Hall. Another obelisk (NHER 4012) and an icehouse (NHER 4011) still stand within the park.

The most recent archaeology recorded in the parish is a rare example of a metal tank trap from World War Two (NHER 13430) which stands on the west end of the bridge across the River Nar.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 20 July 2006.

 

Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book: Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

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

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

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