Seven Norfolk places green by name or nature
- Credit: Ian Burt
One of the contenders for the largest village green in England, Old Buckenham’s 40-plus acres has four ponds, the biggest officially called Ottomer Pond and unofficially known as The Pit. The Green itself is also known as Church Green, with the church in question a beautiful 14th century thatched building with octagonal tower.
This picture-postcard village between Aylsham and Reepham is a favourite film and television location as well as a real-life beauty spot.
Set around the village green it is one of only around a dozen privately-owned English villages, and is part of Heydon Hall estate. It became Norfolk's first conservation area exactly 50 years ago. Its newest building is said to be the Queen Victoria commemorative well, built back in 1887, although the Parish Room was a World War I accommodation hut, re-sited in Heydon in 1922.
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Fast forward to the 1960s and Anglia Television’s soap opera Weavers Green was based here, featuring stars including Wendy Richard (destined for soap immortality in the rather less rural EastEnders.) A sketch about village idiots in Monty Python's Flying Circus was filmed here too, and The Go Between, The Moonstone, Love on a Branch Line and A Cock and Bull Story are just a few of the films starring Heydon and its village green. Johnny Byrne, who wrote scripts for All Creatures Great and Small, Doctor Who and Heartbeat, lived in a cottage beside the Earle Arms, overlooking the green, and said he based many of his story ideas on Norfolk life.
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Pretty Shotesham, south of Norwich, is remarkably blessed with churches. There is All Saints, high on a mound in the main village, the dramatic twin churches of St Mary’s and ruined St Martin’s half a mile away, and the considerably more ruined St Botolph’s, said to have been established by King Canute, in a nearby woodland glade. The Black Death and other plague pandemics are believed to have wiped the communities around St Mary’s and St Martin’s from the map and St Botolph’s has been ruined for almost 500 years although its priest’s house still stands across the road. But of all those churches, just All Saints is in Shotesham proper. The other three are in Hawes Green - which is also the site of England’s first cottage hospital, founded by William Fellowes of Shotesham Park and surgeon Benjamin Gooch – who went on to found the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in 1771.
Hunstanton Green, together with the Victorian Esplanade Gardens and Cliff Parade stretching down to the ruins of St Edmunds Chapel, makes up the Hunstanton Heritage Gardens The medieval cross on the upper green was moved from Old Hunstanton when the seaside resort was founded by Henry Le Strange in the mid 19th century.
Still in Old Hunstanton is a gravestone to William Green which reveals a tragic story. It declares: “Here be the mangled remains of poor William Green an Honest Officer of Government who in the faithful discharge of his duty was inhumanely murdered by a gang of smugglers in this parish September 27, 1784, aged 37 years.”
Poor William was one of a group of customs officers and soldiers who had seized smuggled contraband and was lying in wait for the smugglers. In the subsequent fight the smugglers shot and killed revenue man William Green and soldier William Webb.
The captain of the smuggling boat and two of his men were tried for murder – but acquitted, and acquitted again at a retrial. Prosecutors are said to have come to the conclusion that no Norfolk jury would convict smugglers.
Today Copys Green Farm in Wighton, near Wells, is well known as the home of Mrs Temple’s Cheese. More than 2,000 years earlier Copys Green was a centre of Iron Age activity with its own hillfort. An excavation in the 1950s revealed a causeway to the entrance, ramparts and Roman coins and pottery, suggesting it was reoccupied by Roman invaders.
This Second World War prisoner of war camp near Fakenham had accommodation huts, an exercise ground and sports pitches. The site of Camp Number 82 is now made up of the Green Lane housing estate, farmland and a static caravan park.
Fifty years ago RAF Sculthorpe, near Fakenham, was on the front line of the Cold War. The first “friendly invasion” brought American troops to East Anglia to fight the Nazis. The second transformed Sculthorpe into one of the biggest nuclear bases in western Europe.
By the end of the 1950s, the area was home to around 10,000 American servicemen and their families. RAF Sculthorpe had American bowling alleys, schools and supermarkets – and a two mile long concrete runway and a concrete chamber housing nuclear weapons.
Atomic bomb loading pits were filled in during the mid 1950s but Sculthorpe remained an atomic base until 1962. Top secret spy missions were launched from here with RAF experts flying in US planes behind the Iron Curtain to bring back details of the Soviet nuclear programme.
With such high stakes there were potential disasters too. In 1958 an armed US airman locked himself in the atom bomb bunker for eight hours. Officials played down the danger but questions were asked in the House of Commons.
However, one of the greatest stories of American heroism to come out of Sculthorpe was that of 22-year-old Reis Leming who waded neck-deep through bitterly cold floodwater to save the lives of 27 people on the night of North Sea surge in Hunstanton in January 1953.
Today part of the former RAF site is still owned and used by the Ministry of Defence but a new civilian community, Wicken Green Village, has been created around the married quarters housing.
Find out more about the Cold War and Wicken Green at RAF Sculthorpe Heritage Centre in the Green Park Rural Centre, Wicken Green. In normal times it opens on the first Sunday of each month.