New Buckenham Archive
A brief history of the village
In about 1145 the powerful Norman baron William d’Albini moved the castle of Buckenham to a prominent position on the southern edge of his territory and before his death in 1176 he founded a town at its gates.  He needed to establish a market and trading centre to supply his garrison and he must also have hoped that the town would attract merchants and craftsmen and so flourish.  He provided the burgesses with a large common (which however they had to share with Carleton Rode) and to the south  a small town field called Bishop’s Haugh that originally belonged to the Bishop’s manor of Eccles.  His grandson, also William, granted the burgesses a charter of privileges at some time between 1193 and his death in 1221. The first William laid out the small town, which soon became to be known as New Buckenham, on a grid pattern of main streets and back lanes with a large market place.  The town was defended by a square  moat or town ditch and there may have been a stone gate on the Norwich side.  It was originally served by the Norman chapel  which stood in the castle precinct, but in the late 1240s Sir Robert de Tateshale founded St Martin’s Church on what was perhaps an undeveloped area within the borough itself.  Between about 1480 and 1530 the church was splendidly rebuilt by the townsfolk and the Knyvett family of Buckenham Castle. By the 1600s New Buckenham was small but moderately prosperous.  The main trades were cloth finishing, butchering, tanning and associated industries, and inn keeping and brewing.  In the 17th and 18th centuries there was also a number of grocers and apothecaries.  There was a very large butchery on the market place - thirty stalls in 1542 - and there were leather-workers’ stalls and a poultry market.  Cloth stretching frames, tenters, were on the edge of the common where there was also a game place, an area set aside for sports and plays.  Inns on or near the market place included the Bull, the Crown, the White Hart, the Three Feathers and the George.  The King’s Head, originally in the Broadgate, followed in the 18th century.  There was a tollhouse or market cross, rebuilt in its present form, probably in the 1690s.  The tanneries lay mainly on the eastern and southern sides of the town where they could make use of the water from the town ditch, and the number of inns reflected the importance of the Norwich road, which was turnpiked in 1779. The abandonment of the castle by the Knyvetts  during the Civil War in 1649 does not seem to have damaged the economy of the town.  Though woollen cloth manufacture declined in the 18th century it was replaced to some extent by linen weaving, and the tanneries continued in production into the 19th century.  It lost its market, but New Buckenham remained a retail centre for the neighbouring villages into the 20th century.  Fears of decline and an ageing population in the mid 20th century, underlined by the closure of the village school, have largely been allayed by new arrivals and by much renovation of ancient buildings, with some in-filling, in the 1970s to 1990s. Today the village is celebrated as a medieval planned town which has preserved its original layout with very little change.  The town ditch survives on the northern side where it links into the castle defences, and its line forms the effective edge of the settlements on the other sides.  New Buckenham still looks north onto ploughed fields, south over willow lined meadows, west to the castle’s eastern bailey preserved under permanent pasture, and east over unenclosed and managed common land.  Its designation as an Outstanding Conservation Area and the ceding of the soil of the common to the Norfolk Naturalists Trust  gives it a special status. Besides the church and the market cross the town has a high density of listed buildings ranging in date from the 15th century guild hall (the Old Vicarage) to the almshouses of 1861 and including a rare Wealden type house.  A number of houses incorporate substantial remains of 16th and 17th century timber framing.  Many of New Buckenham’s ancient buildings hide modestly behind Victorian brick fronts, but jettied (overhanging)  and thatched houses survive and the impression is still of compact cheek-by-jowl town houses in the main street with quiet back lanes behind. By Paul Rutledge, 1998 Editor’s notes:  The Norfolk Naturalists Trust later became Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  English Heritage designates forty buildings as listed, comprising some sixty individual dwellings.
© The New Buckenham Society 2015  (rev 2023)
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