Freebridge Hundred: Wigenhale in Marshland

Pages 166-168

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 9. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1808.

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Sir William Dugdale, in his History of Imbanking, (fn. 1) is of opinion that the Romans were the persons who originally gained from the sea this part of Norfolk, called Marshland, where the Saxons were also invited to settle, from the extraordinary fertility of the soil; and that they did so is evident (says he) from the authentick survey taken by the Norman Conqueror, which showeth that the towns now in being there were also extant in the days of King Edward the Confessor.

That this is a just observation is not to be denied, to which we may add, that those towns have also Saxon names, and the lords of many of those towns are accounted for with their fees and tenures, in the said survey, as they were held both in the reign of King Edward the Confessor, and in that of the Conqueror; but the account of the Wigenhales, which make four distinct townships and parishes, is not so particular as several of the other townships.

The whole that the survey mentions of them is this; that Hermeru (fn. 1) de Ferrarijs had invaded or ejected a freeman out of half a carucate of land that he held in Wigrehale in King Edward's time valued at 3s. per ann. and of him he had not the protection, was not lord of the fee; (fn. 2) and which of the Wigenhales this was does not appear.

The reason of this must be that the Wigenhales being parts or members of several adjoining lordships and villages, are accounted for and valued under them, (as is frequently found in the survey) or that the greatest part of the Wigenhales were at that time again overflowed, a standing pool or lake, and rendered quite unprofitable and neglected by their old lords or owners.

Wigrehale is undoubtedly a Saxon name, and seems to set forth and signify, that at this place was a great force or press of water, both from the sea and river Ouse, expressed by the word Wigre, Hygre, or Eager, (as it is generally called at this day,) which denotes a raging swell or roul of water, encreased by the opposition of any bank or fence against it, and Hale, which does not signify a hall or mansion-house, (as many antiquaries interpret it) Hale, is the same as Ale, that is allwater; thus Alesham, Alesford, Halesworth, (fn. 3) &c. or it may be derived from Wick, or Wicken, and Halewick, &c. being a turn of water or a river.

And it appears from an ancient pleading, that before the year 1181 (27th of Henry, II. that there was neither any habitation, or ground that yielded profit within that part of Wigenhale (St. Mary Magdalen) from a place called Bustard's Dole, to the south side of the said town, except the monastery of Crabhouse, of which I shall treat,) with certain lands belonging thereto, all being then waste, and in the nature of a desolate fen. (fn. 4)

But afterwards divers inhabitants in the neighbourhood came, and by draining and banking, gained as much by their industry as they could, and that they might the more securely enjoy the same, were content to be tenants for it unto such great men (or lords) of whom they held their other lands; and upon this agreement and occasion, by a common consent was made the old podike, first raised about 1222.—

The neighbouring lords, whose tenants set about this work, and the time of their so doing, will in some measure appear from a fine levied in the 8th of Richard I. 1187, between Peter, son of Richard de Wigenhale, querent, and William, son of Alan of Clenchwarton, tenent, of 4 carucates of land in Wigenhale, Clenchwarton, Islington, Tylney, &c. granted to Peter, being part of the fees or lordships of Simon, son of Richard, &c. who held under the Earls of Clare, who had the lands of William de Scohies, lord at the conquest.

At the same time, Peter de Bexwell held lands of the Lord Bardolf, which Hermerus de Ferrarijs was lord of, at the grand survey; as the abbots of Bury, the priors of Ely and Lewis did in capite; the prior of Westacre of the Lord Tony; Godfrey de Lisewis under Hugh de Montfort; Robert de Capravile or Kervile, under the Earl Warren, lords at the survey.

The register of Castleacre observes that his podike made as above, by common agreement and aid, was in the time of Walter de Sculham, William Fitz-Alan, Richard, son of Brunswan, Philip Ulketel, Osbert at the Bridge, Thomas de Caprevil, Roger, son of Hildebrand.—(Reg. Cast. p. 144.) No doubt principal undertakers.

In the 2d of Henry III. 1217, it appears that this good work of draining had been successful; for Hugh de Burgo Earl of Kent, and lord chief justice of England, and Eustachius Bishop of Ely, had then a grant or writ of seisen, of all the marsh between Wiggehale and Well, Hakebeche, Tylney, and Tyrington; (fn. 5) no doubt on some assurances of their better embanking and securing it, and that what they had performed, might very probably induce the neighbouring lord's tenants and others to proceed further.


  • 1. P. 244.
  • 2. Invasio Hermerij de Ferrarijs— Hund. e dim. de Fredebruge—In Wigrehale dim. car. t're. tenuit lib. ho. T. R. E. et val. iii sol. et in b. n. c'md.
  • 3. All these towns lie near some river, &c.
  • 4. Chartular, de Castleacre.
  • 5. Claus. M. 1.