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THE WESTERN CLOSE by AJO

This meadow, originally of 29 acres, lies to the north of Long Lane, between White House Farm and Leonard's Lane. It is bounded on the north by the Lammas Meadows ("The Pastures") and along the northern side of this dividing fence is the bed of the stream which rose in the street called "The Beck" and passed by this meadow on its way to the Little Ouse River.

Until 80 years ago a road ran beside this stream. The road, known as The Common Bank, started in Short Beck near Mr. Theodore Barker's cottage (No. 21) but by the time it had passed the Western Close, its name had changed to Black Drove - it became disused after 1890.

Some of the hedges which bordered Black Drove still survive and can be seen from a small bridge near the north-west corner of the meadow. Near this same corner is a rectangular pit 243' long, 30' wide and about 7' deep, whilst in the north-east corner are five others, also rectangular.

Various theories have been put forward as to their age and use; ranging from corrals for cattle to Neolithic dew-ponds. The fact that no embankment of soil exists round any of these pits leads to but one conclusion - that whatever material was excavated was transported elsewhere. Beneath the surface of this meadow is a shallow layer of mixed sub-soil and below this is solid chalk. Bearing in mind that a large number of buildings in Feltwell have chalk walls we can safely assume that the pits were dug, either for marl or for no more romantic purpose than the extraction of building materials.

Two housing estates were erected in the 1940's on land carved out of the original meadow; one, the council estate, is called Western Close; the other consists of RAF Married Quarters, beneath which was another similar pit measuring approximately 120' x 80'.

Having cleared up the mystery of the rectangular pits we are left with another. Lying centrally in the northern half of the meadow are various pits and ponds of irregular shapes and sizes. One is roughly circular and quite shallow, another measures approximately 93' x 63' and there is a group of six pits about 4' deep and averaging about 20' long. Are these an earlier and less systematic attempt to extract building material or do they have a deeper meaning?

Close to the RAF Married Quarters and marked on the Ordnance Survey Maps is an ancient moat, known locally as "The Roundabout". I am told that about 70 years ago the young bloods of Feltwell used to skate round the moat in winter. Alas, because of fen drainage and, no doubt, pumping at the Waterworks (since 1937) we shall see no more water, either in the moat or in the Beck.

For many generations this moated area has been overgrown with bushes and trees and was usually a port of call on bird's egging expeditions. It has always been of great interest to me and to other amateur archaeologists. One former Lord of the Manor of South Hall, Mr. C. N. Hardinge, often expressed the wish to excavate it but never did anything about it.

In 1963, shortly after I discussed this site with Mr. Frank Curtis, the most widely known of our local amateur archaeologists, he obtained permission from Mr. M. J. Storey to dig a small exploratory trench within the area surrounded by the moat. It was fairly obviously the site of a medieval moated manor house and Mr. Curtis unearthed a number of 13th/14th Century potsherds and a perfect specimen of a coloured semi-glazed and decorated floor tile of the same period. These items are now in Norwich Castle Museum.

During the summer of 1967, under my direction, the Feltwell (Historical & Archaeological) Society carried out a more extensive, but still exploratory, excavation.

First, having established a base line, we marked out eleven ten-foot squares across the centre of the site and within these we removed the turf in eight-foot squares, thereby leaving baulks, two feet wide, between each square to use as "runways" for barrowing away the soil. The top-soil was 8"-10" deep and in it we found "modern" potsherds, a sheep's bell, marbles, a fish slice and an old kitchen knife. Below this level we had a mammoth task, having to cut our way through masses of twisted tree roots, often approaching 10"-12" in diameter. It was like music to hear the steady rhythm of the sharp axes of Mr. Eric Seeker and Mr. John Andrews as they so accurately and expertly cut through these roots.

Almost the first find was another piece of decorated floor tile and we were all hoping to find a complete floor of these. Alas, that was the last tile to be found. As we worked our way slowly downwards (eventually to an average depth of about 4 feet) we began to find pieces of 13th/14th century green-glazed potsherds of Grimston Ware.

Excitement mounted when we found traces of the foundations of our medieval moated manor. Having established the general line of the foundations we excavated four or five other eight-foot squares outside our original line of trenches in an attempt to find other sections of the foundations but the summer did not last long enough for us to be successful.

Since 1967, we have not returned to this excavation but I hope that one day, Mr. Storey being willing, we shall be able to continue. One morning, at a depth of 3' 6", half a sixpence of Queen Anne, dated 1705, was found and despite sifting through upwards of a ton of soil we were unable to find the other half.

We were not unduly surprised at the lack of building material on the site for, over the centuries, anyone building a house or barn usually robbed such sites of any flints or stones suitable for inclusion in his new building. At least, we thought, we were able to place a date, say 1715/25, for the robbery of building materials from this site as the sixpence was probably dropped by one of the robbers - unless it was part of the treasure!

There were seven manors in Feltwell; the position of three of their manor houses is known. We also know that the Manor House for the combined manors of Wendling's, Spinvilles, Dunton's and Tydd's was Feltwell Place, now known as The Grange. What we do not know is the location of the individual manor houses of these four manors before the merger. All we can say is that our moated manor was one of the four.

The sunken driveway to the moat still survives - almost intact. It started from the "kink" in Long Lane, about l00 yards west of White House Farm and ran almost straight for the south-east corner of the moat. Skirting this corner it rejoined Long Lane almost opposite the main gates of the RAF Station.

The driveway is marked on Ordnance Maps as a footpath (some footpath!). There was indeed a footpath, starting from a stile at the same kink in Long Lane and it ran diagonally to the north-west corner of the meadow. Another started near the south-west corner of the meadow, ran northwards, almost to the north-west corner, then turned due west, across Leonard's Close, into Leonard's Lane.

In medieval times it was usual for the dwellings of the manorial tenants to be clustered close by the Manor House for protection. A close inspection of the central portion of this meadow, particularly just north of the driveway, will show that it is very uneven. I have a strong feeling that at some time in the future an excavation of this area will reveal a Medieval Deserted Village site. Although they may have no connection with this meadow I am reminded of two unusual fires in Feltwell. These were mentioned by one learned gentleman almost 300 years ago. He said, "At Feltwell in Norfolk (which lies east and west) a fire happened to break out at the west end, which the west wind blew and burned all the street: on that day twenty years (later), another fire happened there, which began at the east end and burned it to the ground again. This I had from a reverend divine. Quare de hoc".

No dates were quoted but the first of these fires may have been in 1664 when the registers belonging to St. Nicholas' Church were destroyed by fire. At that time Henry Fish, B A. was the curate in charge of St. Mary's (probably of both parishes) as well as being a master at Feltwell Grammar School. It may well be that the registers were kept at his house and that his house perished in the flames.

Before leaving this meadow I should also mention that there are several ditches running south to north across it (one of these from the north west corner of the moat) and, of course, the legends. A number of events in our history, whether national or local, have gone by unrecorded but have been passed down to us by word of mouth. On the way there are distortions but, as often proved by archaeological evidence, some of these legends have retained some element of the truth. One legend connected with this meadow is that a battle took place there. Often one hears that the battle (or perhaps skirmish would be more accurate) was between Boudicca (Queen Boadicea) and the Romans - alternatively between Cromwell and the Royalists. There is no evidence that any of Boudicca's skirmishes against the Romans took place within the County of Norfolk. Rumour has it that Cromwell once slept at the Cock Inn, Feltwell and although we know that King Charles I was in the area as a fugitive in April/May, 1646, there is no evidence of any battle or notable skirmish in this area during the Civil War. If indeed there was a skirmish on the Western Close it is more likely to have been an attack by Hereward the Wake against a party of Normans.

The other legend concerns the one large tree within the moat; beneath this "buried treasure" is supposed to lie. This legend has been handed down to at least five generations and was on everyone's tongue during the 1967 excavations. The old tree is getting towards the end of its life and we may not have to wait too long before the legend is proved true . . . . or false

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