9 Norfolk place names inspired by animals

Wolferton village sign (picture: Ian Burt)

Wolferton village sign (picture: Ian Burt) - Credit: Archant

We tame myths, chase birds and find fascinating facts and fiction about some of the county’s most interesting place names.

Antingham. Fee fi fo fum…I'll grind his bones to make my bread. Antingham, beside Norfolk's only sailing canal with locks, has not one, but two bone mills. Mills more often ground grain into flour for bread, but at Antingham, until the mid 1930s, both mills crushed bones from local butchers and abattoirs (for farmers to use on their fields as fertiliser rather than giants to bake with.) The bones were ground with stones brought as ballast from all over the world in ships docking in Yarmouth, and carried by wherry to Antingham, near North Walsham.

Beeston Regis, or the King's Beeston, if you don't speak Latin, was once plain Beeston-next-the-Sea. It was part of land inherited by Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Lancaster, and when he became King Henry IV, humble next-the-sea became fancy Regis. It is more likely to have been named for a projecting 'beak' of land than for bees. The village, near Sheringham has the famous, and dizzyingly high, for Norfolk, Beeston Bump, made from the earth and stones brought south by vast ice sheets, and left behind the as the glaciers melted.

Buckenham. It's not just named after a male deer (possibly.) It's also a wonderful place to spot wildlife. Take the train to Buckenham Station request stop at weekends (check before you travel) and step into Buckenham Marshes RSPB reserve. It is one of the best places in Britain to see the taiga bean goose with one flock overwintering in the Yare valley and one near Falkirk, Scotland. Tens of thousands of wigeon, teal, lapwings and golden plovers flock here too and there are famous rook roosts at dusk, plus birds of prey, including barn owls, marsh harriers, kestrels and peregrine falcons.

Catfield, near Stalham. Sixteen saintly kings and queens are painted on a very unusual 15th century screeen in Catfield church, although only the locals (St Edmund, with the arrow which killed him, and St Olaf with a battleaxe) can definitely be identified.


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Horsey. The name of this east coast village, famous for its seals today, means an island grazed by horses. The 18th century owner, Sir Berney Brograve, battled coastal flooding and petitioned Parliament for sea defences three centuries ago. But he is remembered in folklore for his foul temper and even more foul deals with the devil. His five times great granddaughter researched the man behind the myth and discovered a man crazed by grief, fear and ill-fortune. She found tales of throats cut in the attic at Waxham Hall, fist-fights with tradesmen over money, and her ancestor cowering all night in Brograve Mill, believing the devil was pounding on the door with his hooves. He was widowed twice with just four of his 17 children surviving him. 'When I first started researching, nearly everything I found about Sir Berney was bad,' said Cheryl Nicol who turned her research into the book Sir Berney Brograve: A Very Anxious Man. 'He was a black-hearted man whose soul belonged to the devil. A reputation like that doesn't come free; you have to earn it. So I waded through all the tall stories in search of the real man.' She found a man whose land was being eaten away by the North Sea and who lived in fear of a French invasion as smugglers fired cannonballs at his house at night.

Oxborough is dominated by magnificent Oxburgh Hall, Oxborough, now owned by the National Trust. It is still home to the Bedingfeld family, who have lived here since 1482. Its treasures include wall hangings made by Mary Queen of Scots while she was imprisoned and a 'priest hole' room, accessed by a trapdoor in a tiled floor, where Roman Catholic priests could hide from Protestant search parties in Tudor times. Even further back in Oxborough history is the Oxborough Dirk - a huge sword, too heavy to wield in war, which was probably created for ceremonies around 3,500 years ago. It is one of just six large dirks found in north-west Europe and was found, when a walker literally tripped over it in boggy ground in 1988. It is now on show in the British Museum.

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Swanton Morley, right in the centre of Norfolk, is actually named after cows rather than swans, with Swanton derived from the Old English for a herdsman's enclosure. Abraham Lincoln might never have become one of the greatest American presidents if his Swanton Morley ancestor had not disinherited his son, in favour of his fourth wife. The family, thrown into poverty, eventually emigrated to America.

The American connection was rekindled in June 1942 when the first combined British and American bombing raid was launched from RAF Swanton Morley. Astonishingly both Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Dwight Eisenhower travelled to Swanton Morley for the occasion.

Author Ian Sansom has written a series of comic thrillers starring Professor Swanton Morley, named for the village.

Wolferton is famous for its elaborate railway station, beautified especially for the royal family. In June 1886 a circus, complete with performing animals, arrived at Wolferton en route for the 21st birthday part of Prince George at Sandringham. One of the elephants refused to return to the train, uprooting a lamp post and demolishing the station gates before it was persuaded back on board. The line, and station, closed in 1966.

Wreningham is said to be named for an ancient story of a witch disguising herself as a wren to escape witch hunters. The villagers beat the hedges and bushes with sticks to try and flush her out, but she flew away - only to return each Boxing Day, when villagers would re-enact the wren hunt. Versions of the story also exist on the Isle of Man, in Ireland and in France. It could be rooted in pre-Christian mythology as the wren was considered sacred by Celts and Druids, and it was unlucky to harm the bird - apart from as a midwinter sacrifice. Later the feathers were thought to protect against witchcraft and protect fishermen from shipwreck. Today Wreningham, near Wymondham, has a community bar called The Witch and Wren and a pub called The Bird in Hand.

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