An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.
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Watton, or Wadeton, as it is anciently spelled, may signify the town by the ford: [wadan] in the Saxon language signifies to wade over a river, and [wade] the ford or place that people go over at; and accordingly there are divers fords over the river, that runs between this town and Saham.
At the time of the Confessor it was in two manors, Aldred, a freewoman, held the head manor at five carucates, which Ralf FitzWalter held of the Conqueror's gift, there being four carucates in demean, wood sufficient for its mast to maintain 400 swine, and a church with 20 acres of land belonging to it, worth 1d. an acre: the manors were each worth 4l. per annum, the town was a league long and half a league broad, and paid 13d. ob. out of every twenty shillings that the hundred raised to the gelt or tax, but at the survey the whole was joined, and reduced to 7l. per annum. (fn. 1)
The whole continued in the Fitz-Walters till Ralf Fitz-Walter, with the consent of Maud his wife, gave the advowson of the church, and near a third part of the town, to the Prior of the monks of Thetford, in which house it continued to its dissolution, when it was conveyed with the impropriate rectory and the advowson of the vicarage, to the Duke of Norfolk, by the name of Monks-Wick Manor in Watton, and was after purchased by John Wright, and Thomas Holmes, who sold it to William de Grey, Knt. who sold it to the lord of Watton Hall manor, to which it hath been joined ever since.
Or the head manor, came from the Fitz-Walters very early to the D'engaines, and went with Ada Dengaine to Robert de Vallibus, or Vaux, her husband, who had livery of it in 1139, as of his wife's inheritance, (fn. 2) but did not descend to his son with the rest of his estate, being granted (as we must suppose) by him to Robert de Vaux, (fn. 3) his uncle, upon his seating himself in Norfolk; at his death, William, his eldest son, succeeded, and left it to John de Vaux, his third son, who obtained a charter for a weekly market to be held in this manor every Friday; but in 1204, there was a writ brought to enquire whether it was not prejudicial to the market of Saham, and it being found so, the charter was recalled; but before the expiration of this year, Oliver de Vaux having the manor conveyed to him by his brother, by his great interest with the King, obtained a new charter, in which the market was granted to be held every Wednesday, as it is at this day; afterwards finding the liberties of the people much injured, he became one of those barons that met together at Stanford in an hostile manner, and sent the King word to Oxford, that if he did not restore the people their ancient liberties, they designed to possess themselves of all his castles and lands, for which this and his other lordships in Norfolk were seized on; but after, upon his submission, they were restored; in 1237, he granted to Richard de Rupella, or Rokele, the half of his manor, to be held of him by knight's service, which is at this day called Rokele's manor; in 1249, William, his son, had the court here; he died issueless, and John his brother succeeded him, who granted a messuage to Richard de Wadeton, or Watton, this was the rise of Watton's free tenement, which was afterwards joined to the manor of Curson's; he was one of those barons that stood against King Henry III. in defence of their liberties, but he soon left them, and ever afterwards adhered firmly to the King, who having proved his fidelity, immediately after his victory at Evesham, made him Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, and in 1266, Governour of Norwich castle: (fn. 4) in 1276, Edward I. granted him a Saturday market at his manor of Repham, and a fair there, on the eve, day, and morrow, of the Feast of St. Peter and Paul; in 1280, he had a pillory, trebuchet, assize of bread and beer, and a weekly market in this town, with liberty of free-warren allowed him in Eire; and in 1282, upon the marriage of his daughter Maud with William de Ros, he settled the manor on them and their heirs; and in 1286, the said William and Maud were found to be seized of the manor and the aforesaid privileges; and at the death of this John de Vaux, A°. 16th Edward I. his whole estate was divided between his two coheirs, Petronill, married to William de Nerford, who had Thurston, Shotesham, Apleton, Holt, &c. in Norfolk, Wisete in Suffolk, Abyton in Cambridgeshire, and others, to the number of 25 fees, and Maud, married to William de Ros as aforesaid, had Refham, Hackford, Watton, half Holt, Cleye, &c. in all about 19 fees. (fn. 5) William de Ros, son of William and Maud, inherited this manor, and gave it to John, his youngest brother, for life, who died seized of it about 1337, and having no issue, William, his brother, now called William de Ros of Hamlake, was repossessed of it, and at his death in 1342, left it to Margery his wife for life, who was found to hold it of the Earl Marshal at one fee; (fn. 6) in 1358, she was married to Thomas Arundell, who was lord here in her right: she went a pilgrimage to Rome, returned safe to England, and died in 1372, so that it never came to William, her son and heir, who was an active warriour in France, 20th Edward III. and was in that great expedition for raising the siege of Aguyllon, which the Duke of Normandy had laid with 100,000 men, after that, in the battle of Cressy, and after that, the same year, in the battle of Newcastle-uponTyne, where the King of Scots and his nobles were taken prisoners; next year he went into France with the Black Prince, and was at the winning of Calais; but in 1351, going a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he died without issue, leaving Thomas, his brother, 14 years old, his heir, who at his mother's death inherited this manor; he was also a brave man, being in the Black Prince's service at the battle of Poicters, where John King of France was taken prisoner; in 1383, he and Beatrix his wife, widow of Maurice Fitz-Morris Earl of Desmond, and daughter of Ralf Earl of Stafford, were seized of this manor, and John was their son and heir, but did not inherit till after his mother's death, for his father, who died this year, left it to her for life, and afterwards she married Sir Richard Burley, Knt. who was lord here, whom she also survived, and at her death in 1414, it went to this John, then Lord Roos of Hamlak, her son and heir, who was also a great warriour, and as Mr. Dugdale tells us, no less eminent for his piety, as is manifest from his pilgrimage that he made to Jerusalem, in which he died, at Paphos, in the isle of Cyprus, by the bad air of the country, Aug. 6th, 17th Richard II. without issue, leaving Sir William de Ros, Knt. his brother, his heir, who was some time Lord Treasurer of England, and died in 1414, leaving it to John Lord Roos, his son and heir, who in 1419, was seized of this manor and a fishery belonging to it; but being unhappily slain about this time in the French wars, with William his brother, Thomas Lord Ros, his brother, inherited: he following the example of his gallant ancestors, had the fate of a short life, dying in 1430, leaving Thomas his son, then an infant, his heir, who had livery of his inheritance in 1445, though he was not of age; he always faithfully adhered to the Lancastrian interest, for which, 1st Edward IV. he was attainted in Parliament, and his lands seized into the King's hands, and soon after he died at Newcastle, leaving Edmund, his eldest son, his heir, who was forced to flee beyond sea in his youth, but was restored by Act of Parliament 1st Henry VII. but this manor, after the attainder in 1462, was given to Richard Rosse and Robert Wessingham, who restored it when it was reversed. This Edmund died in 1508, and the manor went to Sir Thomas Lovell, Knight of the Garter, (fn. 7) who married Isabell, one of the sisters and coheirs of the said Edmund deceased, and Sir Robert Manors, who married Eleanor, the eldest sister; and in 1534, Thomas Lord Roos, son of Sir Robert, was lord of this, Holt, Cley, Sniterly, Hackford-cum-Whitwell, Houghton, &c. or a moiety of them; after this, it was sold seemingly to the Gynneys, for in 1570, Thomas Gynney was lord, and then it came to the Palmers, and Thomas Palmer was impropriator, lord of Monk's-Wic and patron: in 1609, Edward Palmer, Gent. of Testerton presented: it seems they were joined in Sir Edward Barkham, Knt. for in 1608, he had purchased Curson's manor, in 1632, was lord of Watton-Hall, Monk's-Wick, patron, and impropriator, and so continued till after 1660, when it was sold to Mr. William Samwell, of Deans-Yard, Westminster, who died 1676, leaving it to Anne his wife, daughter of Sir Denner Strut of LittleWarley in Essex, Bart. who after his decease, remarried to John, (fn. 8) third son of Sir Philip Woodhouse of Kimberley, who died in 1718, and she in 1720, and it went to Anne, daughter and heir of William Samwell, Esq. who married William Henry Fleming, Esq. the present  impropriator, lord, and patron, the said Anne dying in 1728.
Was made up of divers parcels of the manors of Watton Hall and Rokele's, sold off at different times; William Curson of Watton held a tenement and about 20 acres of land, which became the site of this manor in Henry the Third's time; William Curson purchased half a fee of Richard de la Rokele in Watton, which was ever after held of Rokele's manor; Richard de Watton had a free tenement here, of the grant of John de Vaux, which, in 1272, he sold to Alexander de Boterwick, and after it was joined to this manor; in 1345, Alexander Cursoun held it at a quarter of a fee, of Peter and Mary de Stremby, as of their manor of Rokele's; it after went to Peter Cursoun, and in 1401, Rob. Curson had it, and held it of John Copledick's manor of Rokele's; in 1453, Henry, son of Henry Pakenham, Esq. had it, and after divers purchases, it was sold by Thomas Sharp to Sir Edward Barkham, as is already observed, who joined it to his other manors.
Now called Rockell's, received its name and rise from Richard de Rupella, (that is, of the Little Rock,) or Rokele, who obtained the first grant of it from Oliver de Vaux, lord of the town in 1237, and in 1287 it was in one of that name, but whether the first purchaser or his son, I cannot say, most likely it was his son, for he was lord in 1315; in 1345, Peter de Stremby and Mary his wife held it at half a fee, of the capital manor; in 1385, Leonard Kerdeston had it, and the same year John Copledike, Knt. who was in possession of it in 1401; in 1432, Will. Heton owned it; in 1504, Sir Hen. Colet and Christian his wife had it settled on them by fine, having purchased it of Hugh Denys, Tho. Hobbys, Roger Lupton, and Jeffry Topps; in 1563, Dionise Topps forfeited it to the Crown, and the Queen granted it in exchange to Roger Carew; and in 1613, Anthony Carew sold it to William Heighoe; and the same year William Heighoe conveyed it to James Jurden in trust for Robert Heighoe; in 1672, Thomas Scott the elder of Watton, by will left it to Tho. Scott, his grandson, he having purchased it of Tho. Heighoe. It now belongs to Peter Barker, Gent. who resides in the manor-house, which stands about half a mile north-east of the town, against the common called Watton-Green.
This is a small market town situate just into the wood land, but near the filand or open part of the country; it is a good thoroughfare, and its market is no despicable one, great quantity of butter being sent through this place to Downham-Bridge, from whence the factors return it to London by water. There are several annual fairs here, one on Michaelmas day, another on St. Simon and Jude's day, &c. but I do not meet with any account of them, in any evidences that I have seen.
The town's name is oddly expressed by a rebus or device carved on the market-cross, viz. a W a Hare and a Tun, now a hare being often called by the country people Wat, that joined with the Tun, cannot fail of making Wattun, though for further direction the W is prefixed.
The Church was placed by the old manor-house, (which is now quite demolished,) and stands between the present town and WattonGreen, no doubt but fixed so at first for the joint convenience of the tenants of the several lordships, which induced the capital lord to fix his house near it; it was built in all appearance about Henry the First's time by Fitz-Walter, and dedicated to St. Giles, though it seems about Henry the Sixth's time to have been re-dedicated to St. Mary; there were three gilds held in it, one of St. Giles, one of St. Mary, and one of St. John Baptist. It was given, as before observed, by Ralf Fitz-Walter, to the Prior of Thetford, (fn. 9) who got it appropriated to his house, the impropriation being valued at 20 marks and the vicarage at five marks; (fn. 10) the said Ralf gave the farm, lands, and house that Ernal the priest, who was then rector, held of him, with all the tithes, and also 60 acres of his demeans, called EilewardesHage-Wood, and divers rents, &c. which constituted that manor called Monks-wick, they being taxed for their temporal rents belonging to it at 15s.
The vicar at the impropriation had all the small tithes settled on him, and an annual portion out of the great tithes, of 26s. and 8d. which is now paid by the impropriator, out of the Wic farm every Lamnas day; he is also to repair the chancel, but the vicar was to pay the Peter-pence, which was 13d. a year, 1s. 8d. synodals, and was to have the tithe wood of the parish, and all mortuaries, which are still paid according to the statute; he hath also a vicarage-house and 10 acres of glebe. It is valued in the King's Books at 7l. 5d. and being sworn of the clear yearly value of 49l. 6s. 9d. it is discharged of first fruits and tenths, and is in the deanery of Breccles, and archdeaconry of Norwich. The town paid 6l. 3s. 4d. to the tenths, and is valued at 677l. 6s. 8d. to the land tax. The Prior of Pentney had temporals in this town valued at 4s. per annum, given by Robert de Vaus, the founder, viz. 15 acres called Crundale, (fn. 11) and 13 acres held by Richard the Weaver. The church is very small, which shews that the town is increased since its foundation; it is only 20 yards long, and including the two isles, 11 yards broad; the steeple is round at bottom and octangular at top, having three large bells in it, on the first is this inscription,
O. VIR[G]O. VIR[G]INU[M] ORA. PRO. NOBIS. AD. DO[M]INU[M].
The north porch, two isles and nave are leaded, the chancel being tiled; the remains of a curious crucifix carved in stone on the front of the north porch may still be seen.
In a window in the south isle are the arms of Thetford priory, as at p. 115. There are three or four stones disrobed of brasses, under which probably some persons of distinction were formerly buried; one had four shields of arms on it; near this stone John Berry the late vicar is interred.
In the south isle lies a stone for Mary wife of Richard Hamond, who died March 26 1710. Aged 28 years 5 months.
In the middle isle is a stone for Deborah wife of Thomas Scott, Gent. who died 22d Aug. 1713, and Tho. Scott, Gent. who died June 7th. 1729, aged 76.
On a mural monument against the north chancel wall,
Samwell, arg. two squirrels sejant endorsed gul. impaling Woodhouse, and his crest of the hand and club. On a coat of pretence.
Strutt, sab. a chevron arg. between three croslets fitchee or.
Sacred to the Memory of Ann Wodehouse Daughter of Sir Denner Strut of the County of Essex Baronet, Widow of William Samwell, Esq. Lord of this Mannour and Patron of this Living, and also of John Woodhouse Esqr. of this county. Obijt 19 Aug. 1720. Æta. 72, and lyeth interred underneath.
Against the same wall, on another monument, are the arms of Fleming, gul. a frette arg. impaling Samwell, crest, a snake wreathed, holding a chaplet gul.
Hic sitæ sunt Reliquiæ Annæ Fleming, Filiæ Gulielmi Samwell Armigeri, de Comitatu Northampt: et Willmi: Henrici Fleming, de hac Parochia Armigeri, Uxoris, Exemplar Virtutis et Religionis pientissimum relinquentis, Animam Deo reddidit, Aprilis vicesimo octavo 1728, Anno Ætatis Quinquagessimo quarto; Hic quoque jacet Blanch Allen, supra-memorati Willi: Henrici Fleming Mater, obijt xvii° Augusti Mdccxxix, Anno Ætatis Lxii°.
A stone in the north isle is laid over, Henry Jarvis of Watton, Gent. who died the 10th of March 1660 Aged 59 Years.
There is a hatchment of the arms of Tooly, arg. on a chevron ingrailed sab. three escalops of the field, for Henry Tooly, late vicar, who was buried here.
There are three half acres of land belonging to this parish, two of which lie in the field, and the third in the Lammas meadows.
There are also alemes-houses with half an acre of land, founded by Edward Goffe of Threxton, who died in 1612, and is buried at Saham; the following clause concerning these alms-houses is taken from his will: "I will that four of the poorest aged couples dwelling in Watton, shall have their dwelling in the alms-houses during the term of their natural life, and also an annuity of 5l. per annum [for ever] granted out of my houses and lands lying and being in Griston, to be equally divided amongst them yearly, during the time of nine years, at four several payments, [viz.] at the feasts of the Annunciation, St. John the Baptist, St. Michael the Archangel, and the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour, and in the tenth year, only the sum of 50s. and the other 50s. to be laid out in repairing the alms-houses, if need require at the discretion of the feoffees."
In 1673, on Saturday the 25th of April, there happened a most dreadful fire in this town, which burnt down above 60 houses, besides barns, stables, and outhouses, the butchers' shambles, &c. to the value of 7450l. and goods to the value of 2660l. for which there was a brief granted to gather all England over till the 20th of Sep. 1675.
Between this town and Merton, on the left hand, lies Wayland Wood, commonly called Wailing Wood from a tradition of two infants murdered by their uncle in this place, of which the ballad or old song of The Two Children in the Wood is said to be made; the original of which tradition I do not find; the name is a plain corruption of Weyland, and is the very demean of and gives name to the hundred, as is plain from the Sheriff's turn which was always kept at a certain place in this wood, which is now  owned by Tho. de Grey, Esq.
1302, 13 kal. June, Ralf de Frezinfield. Prior of Thefford.
1306, 4 kal. May, William de Foderinghey,
1335, 3 id. Jan. John Dounyng of Westhorp. By the Pope's provision.
1349, 15 Oct. Rich. Seyne of Hockham. Mary Countess of Norfolk, by the King's grant, who had seized the advowson, as belonging to an alien priory.
1361, 12 March, John, son of Robert Stalworth of Methwold, deceased. Lapse.
1366, 22 March, Will. Warner, on Stalworth's resignation. The Prior of Thetford.
1372, 10 Oct. John Swyket, on Warner's resignation. The King, on account of the alien priories.
1373, 31 Jan. Rich. Markaunt, on Swyket's resignation. Ditto.
1378, 9 March, Richard Bully of Reydon. Prior of Thefford.
1387, 7 July, William Cranbum, on Bully's resignation. Ditto.
1394, 6 Oct. Nicholas Taverner of Wymundle. Ditto.
1395, 26 Nov. William Manton of Wortham, on Taverner's resignation. Ditto.
1400, 16 April, John Drury of Croxton. (fn. 12) Ditto.
1401, 29 Aug. William Stene on Drury's resignation. Ditto.
1415, 14 Sept. Sir Clement Rollesby.
1418, 3 March, Sir Nicholas Talpe, priest, of Tilneye.
1427, 6 March, Jeffry Isaac of Beccles, priest, on Talpe's resignation.
1448, 15 Nov. Thomas Becyr, resigned.
1454, 30 July, Sir Robert Thornton, priest, resigned.
1457, 24 April, Sir John Cappe, chaplain.
1462, 8 April, Sir John Godwyn, chaplain.
1481, 12 Feb. Sir William Smyth, priest, alias Perysson, resigned.
1490, 2 Jan. Sir John Daunby, priest, died in 1528.
1528, 2 June, Sir Thomas Palmer, chaplain. Prior of Thefford.
1557, 25 June, Maurice Hughes on Palmer's resignation. Thomas Duke of Norfolk.
1560, 30 Oct. John Rede, priest, on Hughes's death. Thomas Palmer.
1571, 10 Jan. Hugh Turner. Henry Turner. United to Threxton.
1609, 3 Aug. Robert Canham, A. M. on Turner's death. Edward Palmer, Gent. of Testerton.
1626, 7 July, Robert Taylor, A. B. on Canham's death. Ditto.
1632, 9 Aug. William Forster, on Taylor's death. Edward Barkham, Knt.
1660, 20 Oct. Henry Tooley, on Forster's cession. Sir Edward Barkham, Knt. and Bart.
1681, 17 May, Andrew Hatley, A. M. on Tooley's death. Anne, wife of John Woodhouse, Esq. of St. Margaret's Westminster, in Middlesex.
1691, 26 Aug. John Berry, A. M. on Hatley's death. John Woodhouse, Esq.
1730, 30 Sept. The Rev. Mr. Thomas Pigg, the present  vicar, on Berry's death, who holds it united to S. Pickenham rectory, to whom we are much obliged for his excellent sermon preached at the assizes at Thetford, March 19, 1735, when he was chaplain to William Henry Fleming, Esq. the present patron, who was then highsheriff of the county.