Parish Summary: Merton

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

Merton is located in the Norfolk Breckland, directly southwest of Watton. It is an irregularly shaped parish, with the village located in the centre and various houses and farms scattered elsewhere. Merton Park occupies much of the southwest. Most of the western parish boundary follows the route of the Peddar’s Way, a Roman road, with the others following roads, woodland edges and field boundaries.

The archaeology of Merton is fairly well known and sites are recorded throughout the parish. There have been plenty of stray finds and metal detecting and fieldwalking have taken been carried out in many fields. Plenty of site visits have been undertaken and some historic buildings survive.

Prehistoric flint artefacts have been discovered at a number of sites. They include a Palaeolithic handaxe (NHER 30926), a Mesolithic microlith, Neolithic arrowheads, a Neolithic laurel leaf and Neolithic polished axeheads. Bronze Age metal objects have been found at several sites and include at least one rapier, two bracelets and a Late Bronze Age socketed axehead. A strip of 24 carat gold with a small perforation at one end could be Bronze Age, although it may be Roman or medieval.

Prehistoric burnt flints discovered in the southeast close to a stream may indicate the site of a burnt mound. At Sparrow Hill in the southwest is a group of four Bronze Age barrows (NHER 4055). Although artefacts and sites have been found throughout, it seems probable that prehistoric activity may have focused on one part of the parish in particular. The Great Pond at Merton Hall originated as a natural mere and it is likely that during the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age it would have been a very important water source.

A reasonable amount of Iron Age artefacts have been collected. They include four coins, pottery and brooches. A terret and brooch found close to Merton Hall may be Iron Age or Roman. Roman objects have been found throughout and include pieces of pottery, coins, brooches, a finger ring, a hair pin, a cockerel figurine that was probably a ceremonial object and fragments of a kiln. A probable Roman villa (NHER 5061) has been identified on aerial photographs and in 1856 a tessellated pavement amongst the cropmarks was excavated. Metal detectorists have found numerous Roman objects on the site, including pottery, tiles, over 150 coins, brooches and a stylus. The Peddar’s Way (NHER 1289) is located west of the villa and is probably early Roman in date. It connected Suffolk with northwest Norfolk and may have been built with a military purpose. A section in the parish, as with sections elsewhere along its route, is now part of a long distance footpath. 

A large number of Saxon objects have been found. The Early Saxon pieces include brooches, wrist clasps, pottery, a pendant and a late 6th or early 7th century gold coin. A concentration of artefacts at one site suggests the location of an inhumation cemetery (NHER 37113). Activity may have continued here into the Middle Saxon period, with a coin and two pins collected. Middle Saxon artefacts from elsewhere include pottery, coins, brooches, a mount, strap ends and a possible stylus, with brooches, strap ends, a sword with a single edge blade and strap ends amongst the Late Saxon objects. Middle Saxon styli were writing implements and as most literate people in Saxon England were monks or priests they are often associated with religious institutions such as minsters or monasteries. As a result, the possible stylus could suggest the presence of religious figures or a religious institution in the parish.

St Peter’s Church (NHER 8945) is located close to Merton Hall, to the southeast of the village. Its west tower was built in two stages during the late 11th or early 12th century and some of it may date to before the Norman Conquest of 1066. The rest of the church was constructed in the first half of the 14th century, with alterations made during the 15th and 19th centuries. Inside are a complete rood stair, a 14th century painted rood screen, a 15th century font and a late 17th century communion rail.

The Domesday Book of 1086 calls Merton ‘Meretuna’. This Old English name means ‘farmstead by the pool’ and may be a reference to the mere that became the Great Pond. Ralph Baynard held the manor of Merton in 1086, when freemen, villagers, smallholders, slaves, woodland, pigs, meadow, ploughs, cattle, pigs and sheep were recorded.  

The modern village is focused on a small green. To the south of the green a medieval moat (NHER 8955) survives as earthworks. The northern arm is wide and may have been used as a fishpond. There is a wide sunken feature with a bank along its northern side in the south. The sunken feature is probably a medieval or post medieval hollow way (although it could be a feature designed to mark the edge of Merton Park). Until the 20th century the Merton/Thompson parish boundary followed the line of the bank, suggesting the bank may have been constructed as a parish boundary bank. 

Drawing of a medieval shield-shaped weight with a cast relief of a wyvern from Merton.

A medieval shield-shaped weight with a cast relief of a wyvern from Merton. (© NCC)

Medieval and post medieval objects have been collected throughout. They include pottery, coins (including two Scottish coins), a German jetton, a finger ring and a medieval brass scroll. The scroll (NHER 40117) comes from a monument to William de Grey in St Peter's Church; it fits perfectly into a gap in the stonework and matches adjacent scrolls.

The site of a post mill (NHER 18085) in the west appears on an estate map dating to 1723 and it has been suggested that it was built before 1647. Surviving post medieval buildings include Old Farm, Hassocks, Grove Farm barn, Broomhill Farmhouse, Grove Farmhouse, Thatched Cottage, Paddocks Cottages, Hassocks Cottage, Home Farm, Garden House and the Old Buttery. Merton Hall (NHER 8956) was built of red brick in 1613, with a wing and extra rooms added during the 1830s and 1840s. All but the 1840s wing was destroyed by fire in 1956. The surviving red brick Jacobean style gatehouse to the east of the Hall was built in the early 17th century, just after the Hall. To the west of the gatehouse are the remains of a 17th century walled garden and a late 19th century stables.

Merton Hall is surrounded by Merton Park (NHER 30516). This landscape park was established by the early 18th century and was expanded during the late 18th century when woodland and an ornamental nursery were established. The park was altered in the late 18th and 19th centuries, with new features added including the Great Pond, a kitchen garden, plantations, lodges, an iron bridge (NHER 13112) and an ornamental dairy (NHER 45354). The Shell House (NHER 20134) was also added during the 19th century. It is a folly and is so named because its internal walls are completely covered with sea shells.

A World War Two home guard shelter (NHER 18254) stands close to the Watton Road in the northeast. A telephone box constructed to a design of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's is located in the village beside the green.

David Robertson (NLA), 30 June 2006.


Further Reading

Ashwin, T. & Davison, A., 2005. An Historical Atlas of Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

Barringer, C., 1989. Faden’s Map of Norfolk (Dereham, Larks Press)

Barringer, C., 1998. Bryant’s Map of Norfolk in 1826 (Dereham, Larks Press)

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

Knott, S., 2004. 'St Peter, Merton'. Available: Accessed: 30 June 2006

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)

Wayland Partnership, no date. 'Merton History'. Available: Accessed: 30 June 2006

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