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A History of Hethersett

The Parish of Hethersett is, by Norfolk standards, a large one, covering 2,695 acres; it was the main settlement in the ancient Hundred of Humbleyard; it lies in the Deanery of Humbleyard and in the South Norfolk District.

Hethersett stretched three miles from east to west along the line of the B1172 (the old Norwich to London road) and two miles from northwest to southeast. The road cuts it into slightly larger northern and smaller southern divisions; the Norwich to Cambridge railway follows its southern boundary but otherwise the parish has no obvious physical limits and presumably represents the land needed to feed the Saxon settlements that grew up in the area.

From the west, moving in a clockwise direction, the parishes contiguous with this are those of Wymondham, Great Melton, Little Melton, Colney, Cringleford, Intwood (now part of Keswick) and Ketteringham.

The meaning of the name of Hethersett is not clear; the guide to the church suggests the enclosure for the deer: Heedra is an old English word for heather or heath, and set is Old English for a dwelling place, camp, stable or fold. This would give the meaning as being that of a camp or enclosure on the heath.

Although the name is a Saxon one, we have evidence of earlier settlers; a New Stone Age long barrow (burial mound) lies in Cantley and two areas of Roman pottery have been found in the northern part of the parish; in view of the existence of a great Roman centre at Caister St Edmund, the latter finds are nor surprising.

The earliest description of Hethersett comes to us in the Doomsday Book account of 1086; it would seem that there were perhaps 400 people in the parish by that time. The Lord of the Manor had 87 sheep and seven hives of bees, perhaps gathering nectar from the heather, among his possessions.

The Doomsday Book also mentions the church with its 60 acres of land, a handsome endowment: no Saxon or Norman work remains to be seen because of later rebuilding. There is also mention of a second church and this presumably applies to the church of Cantley, then a separate parish, of which nothing now remains except some mounds in a pasture to the north of Cantley Farm. This small parish was amalgamated with its larger neighbour in 1397 although the church was used as a chapel until the 16th Century.

During medieval times, the parish seems to have had an uneventful history. The present parish church was begun in 1320 and the tower and nave arcades and windows are in the decorated style (1290-1330). It is dedicated to St Remigius (438-533), the great Bishop of Rheims. Remigius de Hethersete, a priest who also participated in the building of Hingham Church, may have suggested the dedication in honour of his name-saint. The clerestory of the nave and the lovely north porch were added in the 15th Century.

The Doomsday Village had become three manors or at least was part of three manors by the 13th Century. These became known as Hethersett Cromwells, Hethersett Hacons and Hethersett Woodhall. Cromwells was the chief manor and its manor house was probably in the meadows immediately to the south of Church Farm. Hacons and Woodhall sites are less certain and the lands of these manors lay in the neighbouring parishes as well as Hethersett. Thickthorn seems to have had a separate hamlet with its own moated house near to the present Hall.

As the community grew during the 16th Century, the commons became especially important to those who had little other land. Hethersett with its open green, Lynch Green, would have had cottages and farm buildings around the edge. Lynch Green opened out westwards to the great common where Wymondham, Great Melton and Hethersett parishes met. The most famous event in Hethersett's history took place in 1549 when Robert Kett and his men tore down John Flowerdew's hedges on Hethersett common. Kett's Oak is said to commemorate the spot where rebels gathered before marching to Mousehold Heath in Norwich.

In the 17th and 18th Centuries, several fine houses were built or added to in the village. Access was improved by the turnpiking of the main road in the middle of the 17th century. Farmhouses of some style were built at Hill Farm, Whitehouse Farm, Cedar Grange and Beech Grove, as yeomen bought up land and some of the common fields disappeared.

Woodhall, the Priory and the Old Hall were modernised and extended by Norwich merchants such as John Buckle, Mayor of Norwich in 1793, who lived in the Priory.

In the early 19th Century, Hethersett Hall was built and its attractive park and ornamental lake laid out by the Back family. The Hill House estate was laid out in the 1780s by a Mr Brown. Perhaps the greatest change of all came as a result of the enclosure award of 1799 when Lynch Green was divided up and disappeared as an open space, although the tithe map shows that there were still only a few houses along Mill Road and Great Melton Road in 1844.

In "Victorian Miniature", Owen Chadwick gives us a detailed account of life in the area in the middle of the 19th Century. The Rev William Waite Andrew, the Vicar of Ketteringham and one of the two central characters in the book, lived at Woodhall which he bought for 3,600 in 1841, and to which he added a new western extension.

In the 19th Century, village crafts and small industries employed a number of men locally; two windmills existed, one giving the name to Mill Road. Three smithies existed in the village in the 1880s and carriages were built at Harveys. There was a brickyard in Queen's Road. The railway lasted 120 years; it arrived as the Norwich and Brandon Railway in 1846, but was closed to passengers in 1966.

Hethersett lies so close to Norwich that many think of it as just another of its suburbs. It is, however, a separate community with its own vitality and quite a marked community spirit. This shows itself not only in the wide range of activities in the village but also in more permanent ways in items provided for the village through the efforts of villagers. These include a learner swimming pool in the Middle School, a bench in the memory of Zita James sited at the church, a cassette library, the conversion of School House in the Middle School to provide a Music Room, the erection of a village sign, village street plans, the Jubilee Youth Club and the Scout and Guide Hut. Tress have been planted in various parts of the village and a memorial plaque has been erected on the site of the old School (No 3 Queen's Road). The Parish Council have provided litter bins, salt and grit bins for use in icy weather and "Fido" bins.

In September 1994 the new Village Hall was opened in Back Lane, funded mostly by Wilcon Homes under a Section 106 Planning Gain agreement. The hall has a purpose built stage with seating for 250 and also provides a committee room for 50 people.

In 1801 Hethersett had a population of 696 (in 90 houses), by 1851 this number had nearly doubled, but it never reached this total again until 1931; since then and especially in the last 20 years or so, Hethersett's population has risen to over 5,000. It is now as large as some of Norfolk's market towns. During the past seven years the Steepletower site near the parish church has expanded rapidly; by 1995 abut 360 dwellings had been completed out of a projected figure of 520.

Water supply, mains drains, a new surface water drainage system, street lights, branch library, new First School and High School, reflect the demands of a rapidly growing population for improved services. The village has its own post office, bank, surgery, pharmacy and dentist and the recent development of the square in Great Melton Road (known to locals as Oak Square) has brought new shopping facilities to the centre of the village.

The construction of the A11 dual carriageway from Cringleford to Wymondham has reduced the traffic using the old A11 (now B1172). Concern continues to be expressed about the dangerous staggered crossing at the A11/Station Lane junction. Following the death of a local schoolboy, lighting has been installed, but many residents prefer to travel to Ketteringham and beyond via the Ketteringham Lane bridge over the A11 to avoid this blackspot.

The effects of the opening of the Norwich Southern Bypass are less direct, but already land nearby has come under pressure for development. Hethersett's situation so close to Norwich with its excellent facilities and transportation links means pressures for growth and development (both desirable and undesirable) will continue in the foreseeable future.

Despite the substantial growth of housing over the last 40 years, the Parish of Hethersett still has much wildlife interest. The built up area covers less than 25% of this large parish, leaving a considerable acreage of arable land and open spaces.

Two areas of much interest are the Kissing and Suckling Lanes, both public footpaths. From the former the walker has excellent views of the Park with its remaining large trees and lake. Members of the thrush family regularly feed here; sometimes in early spring these include large gatherings of Fieldfares and Redwings before they depart for their eastern breeding grounds. Both Canada and Barnacle Geese breed in the vicinity of the lake where Mallards, Moorhens and Coots are regularly seen. Commorants also visit these waters with a variety of other ducks dropping in from time to time. The careful observer can often see a patient Heron or even a Kingfisher waiting for a catch.

there are many interesting walks in the parish including footpaths to the Village Pit and from New Road to Great Melton church. They contain old hedges and mature trees providing suitable homes for various birds. Hethersett continues to grow but it remains a village with much natural beauty for those with the eyes and ears willing to seek it.

Other Articles on Hethersett History

Education and Schooling

Hethersett Middle School

Hethersett Athletic Football Club

Methodism in Hethersett

A Sure Foundation - Special booklet on Methodism in the village

Hethersett Cricket Club

Hethersett Singers

List of Rectors of Hethersett