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Of Romans, bridges and a cricketing legend - sign reveals village’s rich heritage

PUBLISHED: 09:48 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:57 13 February 2020

Former Norfolk, Middlesex and England cricketer, Peter Parfitt, who was born in Billingford. Photo: Denise Bradley

Former Norfolk, Middlesex and England cricketer, Peter Parfitt, who was born in Billingford. Photo: Denise Bradley

©Archant Photographic 2009

The village sign at Billingford hints a heritage dating back to the Romans. DR ANDREW TULLETT delves into the meaning behind the symbols

The Billingford village sign in the Breckland district of Norfolk. Picture: Dr Andrew TullettThe Billingford village sign in the Breckland district of Norfolk. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett

There are two Billingford's in Norfolk, one on the B1145 midway between North Elmham and Bawdeswell and the other on the A143 near Scole on the Norfolk-Suffolk border.

Only the former currently has a village sign. It was made by Mr Paul Downs in 2002.

As the latter part of its name suggests, the village was founded near the crossing point of a waterway, the River Wensum, which is depicted on the sign.

The full name translates from Old English as 'the ford of Billa's people'.

Cricketing legend Peter Howard Parfitt (seated) with Fakenham Grammar School first X1, 1950. Mr Parfitt was born in Billingford in Norfolk. Picture: ArchantCricketing legend Peter Howard Parfitt (seated) with Fakenham Grammar School first X1, 1950. Mr Parfitt was born in Billingford in Norfolk. Picture: Archant

A bridge over the River Wensum at Billingford, built in 1949, was one of the first pre-stressed concrete bridges in the country.

The first such bridge opened in Lincolnshire in February 1948. Billingford Bridge, which carried the B1145, was replaced in 1991 after developing cracks, but before the new bridge could be built the old one had to be deconstructed.

At 91-years-old, Mr Bert Pestell, the original site foreman, assisted engineers with details of its construction, and was invited on site when the 32 concrete beams, and the 18 miles of quarter-inch thick wire associated with them, began to be taken apart.

The road was closed for 16 weeks while the work was done.

The Billingford village sign in the Breckland district of Norfolk. Picture: Dr Andrew TullettThe Billingford village sign in the Breckland district of Norfolk. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett

Much less subtle was the demolition of the original brick-built humped-back bridge which was replaced by the pre-stressed concrete version.

It was blown up, although two attempts at annihilation were required.

The helmet on the village sign represents the Roman settlement that is known to have existed here on the banks of the River Wensum.

The Fen Causeway, an important Roman road, passes through the Parish. Many artefacts have been discovered in and around the site of the Roman town, from pottery and metalwork to a cemetery, field systems and a number of buildings.

Andrew Tullett has photographed every village sign in Norfolk as part of the Signs of a Norfolk Summer project.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017Andrew Tullett has photographed every village sign in Norfolk as part of the Signs of a Norfolk Summer project. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

The Latin phrase 'Prudens qui patiens', which appears a scroll entwined through elaborate foliage, is the motto of Sir Edward Coke (1552 - 1634).

It translates as 'the prudent man is patient'. Sir Edward purchased Beck Hall in Billingford in 1606. The Hall dates from the 1700s.

It was built on the site of a medieval hospice, conceived by William de Beck, with overnight accommodation for 13 travellers.

The Hall was inherited by Sir Edward's descendants, the Earls of Leicester, who were Lords of the Manor here. Beck Hall has been a Grade II listed building since 1951.

This is part of a series about the stories behind Norfolk's town and village signs called 'Norfolk on a Stick'. Image: ANDREW TULLETTThis is part of a series about the stories behind Norfolk's town and village signs called 'Norfolk on a Stick'. Image: ANDREW TULLETT

The cricket bat and stumps celebrate the sporting career of Peter Howard Parfitt, who was born in Billingford on 8 December 1936.

For a period of time Parfitt played for Norwich City reserves, hence the football that also appears on the sign, but he was most successful as a cricketer.

Between 1956 and 1972 he played for Middlesex, acting as captain between 1968 and 1970, having taken over the captaincy from Fred Titmus.

Between 1962 and 1972 he represented England in 37 tests scoring seven centuries.

In 1963 he was profiled as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

When Parfitt retired, aged 35, he had scored 26,924 runs in 498 first-class matches, an average of 54 runs per match.

The fact that the tower at St. Peter's Church in Billingford has an octagonal tower is not readily apparent from the representation of it on the village sign.

Even less perceptible is the east window.

A local story describes how the medieval glass from this window found its way to a builder's merchant in Dereham where it was discovered by Robert Barry in the 1880s.

If you want to see the splendour of the glass from St. Peter's east window, the story goes, you must now visit the place where Barry had it installed, St Mary's Church, North Tuddenham, where he was rector.

-Dr Tullett, from Lakenham, researched just about all of Norfolk's 500-plus town and village signs as part of his Signs of a Norfolk Summer project. He now gives presentations on the topic, and anyone looking for a speaker can contact him at signsofanorfolksummer@hotmail.com. For more details of that and Norfolk's other signs, visit the Signs of a Norfolk Summer page on Facebook, or search for "Norfolk on a stick" on www.edp24.co.uk.

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