Watton Earth? Documents discovered at auction reveal 350 years of town’s history

Members of the Museum4Watton group have picked up 3,000 pages of documents containing 350 years of t

Members of the Museum4Watton group have picked up 3,000 pages of documents containing 350 years of the towns history. Pictured are (L) Chris Hutchinson and chairman John Greenbrook. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

After being gifted a model skeleton earlier this year, a museum group has inherited another fascinating slice of local history for its archives.

Members of the Museum4Watton group have picked up 3,000 pages of documents containing 350 years of t

Members of the Museum4Watton group have picked up 3,000 pages of documents containing 350 years of the towns history. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The 3,000 pages of yellowed paper may look innocuous to some, but for the Museum4Watton group they hold the key to discovering even more about the town's history.

Group chairman Chris Hutchinson recently bought the large collection of court baron minute books and documents, dating from the 17th century, from Keys Fine Art Auctioneers in Aylsham.

He has given them on permanent loan to the group for display and research purposes, giving museum campaigners a wealth of information about Watton through the centuries.

Trustee John Greenbrook said: 'It is of the utmost importance that this sort of record is kept in its home town, and is accessible to the public for both general interest and research.

Members of the Museum4Watton group have picked up 3,000 pages of documents containing 350 years of t

Members of the Museum4Watton group have picked up 3,000 pages of documents containing 350 years of the towns history. Pictured is an unidentified document. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt


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'We are extremely grateful to Chris for his generosity in obtaining them for Watton.'

Previously in the possession of the owners of Morningthorpe Hall, the volumes contain the records of the court baron of the Manor of Watton Hall from 1670 to 1924 – when court barons were abolished – together with many other legal documents spanning the four centuries.

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As well as magistrates court records and property transaction details for the manorial area, the volumes also contains a history of Watton's 17th-century clock tower and its builder Christopher Hey, and a record of a great fire which destroyed much of Watton's high street in 1674.

Because of their age and historic value Mr Hutchinson had to notify the government that the documents had come into his possession – a measure designed to ensure they do not leave the UK.

Members of the Museum4Watton group have picked up 3,000 pages of documents containing 350 years of t

Members of the Museum4Watton group have picked up 3,000 pages of documents containing 350 years of the towns history. Pictured are (L) Chris Hutchinson and chairman John Greenbrook. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Some similar documents were bought by the Norfolk County Records Office at the same auction.

Many of the earlier documents are written at least partly in Latin and an old form of English, and the group is enlisting the help of experts to help decipher the pages of handwritten script.

The court baron records will be put on display at the Museum4Watton when the group acquires premises, and there are plans to make them available to the public by appointment through the country records office.

PANEL: Documents discovered:

An application to build new aisles in St Mary's Church, signed and sealed by the Bishop of Norwich, dated 1837

Documents signed by Christopher Hey and his son Thomas in 1680

A King James Bible from 1795, with a note from the vicar in 1871 claiming it to be 'very inaccurately printed'

Papers related to the auctioning of The George public house in Watton high street in 1799

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