9 Norfolk villages you may never have heard of
- Credit: Bill Smith - Archant
Norfolk is rich in hamlets so tiny and tucked away they are hardly known, even within their own county - although some of their sons and daughters had an impact on world history.
Did you know that Didlington, between Thetford and Swaffham, played a vital role in the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb? It was at Didlington Hall that a boy called Howard Carter developed the love of Egyptology which eventually led him to the Valley of the Kings and becoming the first person to see Tut’s treasures in more than 3,000 years.
The exceptionally grand hall was home to the Tyssen-Amherst family and their fabulous collection of Egyptian artefacts. Many of the objects are now in the British Museum but in the late 19th century they had pride of place at grand Didlington Hall. The Swaffham man employed to redecorate the mansion brought his son along and young Howard became entranced by the Egyptian artefacts.
By the turn of the 20th century the mansion is said to have had 80 bedrooms and was surrounded by acres of parkland, lawns sweeping down to the lake, walled gardens, a farm, a heronry and even a racecourse. However its treasures barely survived into the 20th century. By 1908 the family had to sell most of the books in its magnificent library to cover losses gambled away by a trusted member of staff and in 1910 the entire estate was sold.
During the Second World War Didlington Hall was requisitioned by the army and never returned to being a family home. All but the stables and a clocktower were demolished in 1952.
This tiny cluster of cottages in the Wensum valley between Lyng and Elsing is blessed with a name straight out of a fairytale.
Howe has a church and a hall and around 50 inhabitants living between Poringland, Brooke and Shotesham, south of Norwich. The name comes from an old English word for small hill or mound. The hall might once have been moated and St Mary’s church is one of Norfolk’s world-beating collection of round-towered churches and predates the Norman conquest.
Barmer, east of Snettisham, has another of Norfolk’s 124 round-towered churches (two thirds of all round-towered churches in the country) It was a ruin by 1602 but almost 300 years later was rescued to be turned into a mausoleum for the Kerslake family of the nearby manor.
Bale, south of Blakeney, was once famous for its enormous oak tree - which was believed to pre-date the neighbouring church and was said to have been a site of pagan worship. As it decayed, its hollowed-out trunk was big enough for several people to crowd into and in the 18th century it became a cobbler’s shoe-repair premises. Deemed dangerous, it was felled in 1860 and the site is protected by the National Trust and covered by a grove of Holm oaks.
Edgar Rowe was born in Bale 22 years after it lost its famous oak. In 1912 he was working as a steward in the first class saloon of the brand new Titanic – and was one of the more 1,500 who perished when it sank.
Tatterford, near Walsingham, sent boys out from its school to become priests around world. The school was set up by parish priest Father William Hand for boys considering priesthood and they went from Tatterford to theological college and then to churches far and wide.
Father Hand’s son, David, became the first Archbishop of Papua New Guinea in 1977. When he retired as Archbishop he returned to Norfolk to work as a parish priest in Tatterford (plus East with West Rudham, Houghton next Harpley, Syderstone and Tattersett) for two years, but missed Papua New Guinea so much he returned to live there. The connections he established continue to this day, with the diocese of Norwich regularly supporting projects in Papua New Guinea.
The name Wormegay means the island of Wyrm’s people. And Wyrm means dragon. So there could once have been dragons here, near King’s Lynn. There was certainly a Norman castle and the earthworks still exist. It would have controlled a route through the marshy Fens and was at the centre of a major estate – important enough to provide guards to Norwich Castle.
Many people know Beeston Bump near Sheringham, fewer know Beeston-next-Mileham, near, well Mileham, which is nearish to Dereham and was the birthplace of boxing hero Jem Mace. He won the English welterweight, middleweight and heavyweight championships and became Britain’s first world heavyweight boxing champion in 1870.
Bixley, just south of Norwich,
once had the tallest windmill in Norfolk (and possibly in Britain) and still has the only church in the country dedicated to St Wandregesilius. In medieval times, pilgrims travelled here to pray at a shrine. The 11-storey high Bixley Tower Mill was cut down to its current seven storeys almost 150 years ago and the ruins of the ancient church (gutted by fire in 2004) stand in fields close to a deserted medieval village. The 60 households of the modern parish were merged with Caistor St Edmund two years ago.
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