Norfolk Hundreds


White's History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk 1845


THIS HUNDRED forms a remarkably level district of rich alluvial marshes and fens, at the western extremity of the county, of an irregular triangular figure, about 14 miles in its greatest length from north to south, and 7 in breadth from east to west, comprising upwards of 54,500 acres, completely insulated, -- being bounded on the north by the Wash; on the east by the Great Ouse river; on the west by the river Nene, which divides it from Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire; and on the south by Podike, which separates it from the fens of Clackclose Hundred.

The soil consists of alternate layers of moor and silt, in some places found to reach a great depth, with a subsoil of blue clay. This campaign territory was formerly annexed to Freebridge-Lynn, under the title of "Freebridge Hundred and Half," and it still constitutes, with that district, the Deanery of Lynn, in the Archdeaconry of Norwich.

The whole of Marshland has at some period been under water, and is now secured from the incursions of the ocean by ranges of artificial BANKS. These, standing at considerable distances from each other, show the progressive steps taken by the hand of skill and industry, to secure the boon which nature had bestowed. The first, or inner rampart, is attributed to the Romans. Some writers are of opinion that this tract, and the adjacent fens of Lincolnshire and the Isle of Ely, were originally firm and dry land, afterwards ingulphed in the ocean by some early convulsion of nature, which they consider to be evident from great numbers of timber trees having been found below the surface, which it is certain will not grow in watery, moorish places; besides, it is observable, that where they have been discovered, in digging channels and drains, their roots have been always observed to stand in the firm earth, below the alluvial soil. Dugdale says, he saw "great nambers[sic] of oak and fir trees taken up in the fens, near Thorney." Many others were also dug up at the cutting of that large channel, called the Downham Eau; and near Magdalen Bridge, there were found, at the setting down of a large sluice, seventeen feet below the surface, several furze bushes, also nut trees pressed flat down, with nuts sound and firm lying near them.

The great work of recovering from the tides this extensive level, was evidently continued with much success by the Saxons, after the departure of the Romans; for, according to the Domesday survey, all the parishes now existing in Marshland were extant in the days of Edward the Confessor; but some of them have since been considerably increased by subsequent embankments in the estuaries of the Ouse and the Nene, which open out into the large bay called the Wash -- (vide p.515.[History of King's Lynn section]) The estuary of the Nene is called the CROSS KEYS WASH, and divides Norfolk from Lincolnshire. The only passage between the two counties was by a precarious road or track, two miles in length, across the sands which were left nearly dry at low water, from the Cross Keys House in Marshland, to the Wash House near Long Sutton, in Lincolnshire. This passage was extremely dangerous without a guide, and lives were sometimes lost in attempting to ford it; but in 1825, an act of Parliament was obtained, for throwing a BRIDGE across the narrow channel of the Nene, on the Lincolnshire side, and extending from it a high EMBANKED ROAD across the broad Wash to the Cross Keys House, in Norfolk; and this great work was completed in July, 1831, at an immense expense, which is remunerated by the tolls taken on the bridge, and the recovery of about 15,000 acres of land from the influx of the tides.

It was commenced by cutting a new out-fall for the river Nene, which is of sufficient depth to allow a man-of-war to float in it close to the bridge, which is commonly called Sutton Bridge, and is a massive structure of British oak, with a moveable cast iron centre, 52 feet in span. The Embankment leading from it to the Cross Keys, in Marshland, is nearly two miles long; and its construction occupied 900 men, and 260 horses, about three years and a half.

An earlier improvement on the opposite side of Marshland, is the EAU-BRINK CUT, (vide p. 516,[History of King's Lynn section]) by which a broad and circuitous part of the Great Ouse river, betwixt Lynn and St. Germain's Bridge, has been diverted into a straight and deep channel, crossed by one of the largest and handsomest wooden bridges in England, which, with the embanked road and bridge over Cross Keys Wash, and great improvements in all the turnpikes, entirely frees the long obstructed line of communication from Lincolnshire through Lynn, to the eastern part of Norfolk, as has been seen at a preceding page. The Eau-Brink Cut, (finished in 1821,) besides improving the navigation of the Ouse, serves as a better out-fall than the old channel for the waters of the numerous DRAINS which intersect Marshland in every direction, and are crossed by upwards of 150 bridges. Great improvements were made here during the latter part of last century, especially on the sea-coast, in the parishes of Terrington, Clenchwarton, and North Lynn; where COUNT BENTINCK, in the years 1773--4, embanked in, at a vast expense, upwards of a thousand acres of salt marshes. His descendants possess the large estates here, which were granted by William III., to the Earl of Portland, who came over in the suite of that monarch from the Netherlands, at the glorious Revolution. -- Count Bentinck was captain of the Niger man-of-war in the English service. In prosecuting his improvement of the salt marshes, he caught the fen fever, of which he died about the close of 1774. For improving the drainage of the Middle Level of the Fens, and the navigation of the Great Ouse, a New Cut, 12 miles in length, is now constructing, as noticed at page 518 [History of King's Lynn section]. It is also in contemplation to construct a General Out-fall for the rivers Ouse, Nene, Welland, and Witham, and thereby recover from the GREAT WASH, about 90,000 acres of land, as already stated at page 517 [History of King's Lynn section].

The SMEETH AND FEN, comprising 7,263A. 1R. 34P., in the southern part of Marshland, have been drained and divided among the owners of 525 common-rights, under the powers of an Act of Parliament passed in 1796, and at the expense of upwards of £50,000; of which £10,000 was expended in 1833, in cutting a wide and deep drain, 4½ miles long, from Tilney Fen-End to the Eau-Brink Cut, near St. Germain's, for the purpose of superseding the four wind-mills, which formerly pumped the water from the lower into the higher levels. A drainage rate is charged by the commissioners on the land-owners, amounting to about 2s. 7d. per acre per annum. -- This extensive and now fertile tract, was, from time immemorial, the common of the parishes called the Seven Towns of Marshland, among which the 525 common-rights were divided as follows:-- Emneth, 73; Walsoken, 88; West Walton, 62; Walpole St. Peter, 81; Walpole St. Andrew, 25; Terrington St. Clement, 67; Terrington St. John, 41; Tilney All Saints, 33; Tilney St. Lawrence, 22; Tilney-cum-Islington, 19 ; and Clenchwarton, 14.

The land awarded to each common-right varied from 9 to 15 acres, according to the quality of the soil; and the parochial allotments extend in narrow slips to the southern termination of the fen, distant more than seven miles from some of the parish churches.

The SMEETH, comprising only 1,572A. 22P., is on the north side of the fen, and was celebrated as a summer pasture in the time of James I., when a courtier told that monarch, at his coming to the crown of England, "that if over night a wand or rod was laid on the ground, by the morning it would be covered with grass of that night's growth;" to which the King jocosely replied, "that he knew some grounds in Scotland, where, if a horse was put in over night, they could not see or discern him in the morning."

The FEN, (including the Broad, Short, and Wellmoor Fens,) comprises 5,691 acres, now forming rich arable and meadow land, which, before the enclosure, was a wild morass, abounding in reeds and large pools of water, frequented by numerous flocks of wild fowl, of which great quantities were shot or decoyed by the poor inhabitants of the "Seven Towns," who evinced much dissatisfaction at the enclosure, which destroyed their aquatic sports and profits, and all their other interest in the Smeeth and Fen. Tradition says that, in ancient times, the people had a dispute with the lords of the manors, respecting their common-rights; when one HICKIFRIC, of gigantic stature, taking a cart-wheel for a shield, and the axletree for a sword, repelled the invaders. A large grave-stone, in Tilney churchyard, having upon it a cross, so decorated with ornaments as to appear something like a wheel, is still shewn by the credulous as the grave of this fabulous giant.

Marshland, being nearly encompassed by the ocean and navigable rivers, affording an easy transit for building materials, has much better CHURCHES than any other part of Norfolk, being all noble structures, chiefly of large free-stone. Many of these churches have lately been much improved by an excellent system of ventilation and draining round their foundations.

The Hundred of Freebridge Marshland contains seventeen parishes, of which the following is an enumeration, shewing their population in 1841, the annual value of their lands and buildings, as assessed to the County Rate in 1843, and their territorial extent.

PARISHES. Pop. Annl.
* Clenchwarton 597 5,510 2,880
* Emneth 1,065 7,100 3,500
Lynn (West) 477 3,708 1,500
Lynn (North) 38 1,094 914
* Terrington St. Clement 1,675 15,366 7,760
* Terrington St. John 682 5,339 2,402
* Tilney All Saints 441 5,094 2,640
* Tilney-cum-Islington 251 2,852 1,510
* Tilney St. Lawrence 762 5,948 3,076
* Walpole St. Andrew 565 4,516 4,000
* Walpole St. Peter 1,335 14,132 7,200
* Walsoken @ 2,562 11,362 3,000
* Walton (West) 954 9,810 5,516
Wiggenhall St. Germ. 625 2,796 1,219
Wiggenhall St. Mary [Vir.] 292 5,218 2,500
Wiggenhall St. Mary }
Magdalen }
775 4,652 4,000
Wiggenhall St. Peter 112 1,764 898

TOTAL + 13,237 106,252 54,515

[There is more information about individual parishes]

The Annual Value of the Hundred, as assessed to the Income and Property Tax, was £102,054 in 1815; and £117,342 in 1842.

PETTY SESSIONS for the Hundred of Marshland are held on the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month, at the Police Station, in Terrington St. Clement's. The whole of Marshland is in Wiggenhall Police Division.

* The eleven parishes marked *, form the "Seven Towns," participating in the Smeeth and Fen; and are in Wisbech Union. The four Wiggenhall parishes are in Downham Union; and West and North Lynn are in King's Lynn Union. (see page 508 [History of King's Lynn section].) The fens of Wiggenhall, at the south end of Marshland, are under a separate Drainage Act. In 1793, there was a destructive rot among the Marshland sheep; but the marshes and fens being well drained, and the roads greatly improved, this disease, and that human affliction the ague, are now of rare occurrence in this monotonous, but fertile region.

+ NEW SALT MARSH, an Extra Parochial tract lately reclaimed and embanked in from the Wash, is returned with the population of this Hundred, in 1841, as having 29 inhabitants, though it is locally situated in Elloe Wapentake, Lincolnshire. Its area is not stated, but it is part of the 15,000A. recovered from Cross Key's Wash, since the construction of the Embanked Road, noticed at page 563 [this is part of this text].

@ Walsoken is a suburb of Wisbech.

WISBECH UNION comprises, besides the eleven parishes marked * in the above table, seven parishes in Cambridgeshire, viz:-- Wisbech St. Mary and St. Peter, Newton, Leverington, Tydd St. Giles, Elm, and Parson Drove. It also comprises Outwell and Upwell, which are divided into four townships, each of these parishes being partly in the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, and partly in Clackclose Hundred, Norfolk.

The 22 parishes and townships of this Union had 31,484 inhabitants in 1841, of whom 17,341 were in Cambridgeshire, and 14,143 in Norfolk. They comprise an area of 184 square miles, and their expenditure, for the relief of their poor, for the year ending March 1841, was £13,171, and for the quarter ending June 1844, £4,050 16s. 2d.

Their average annual expenditure, during the three years preceding the formation of the Union, was £17,386.

The WORKHOUSE is at Wisbech, and was built in 1838, at the cost of about £7,000, and has room for more than 400 inmates. It is a commodious structure of white brick, and its grounds extend over three acres. The number of paupers relieved during the quarter ending June 1844, was 378 in-door, and 3,368 out-door.

Mr. Wm. Goddard Jackson is Union Clerk and Superintendent Registrar; and Mr. Sykes Hargrave is Master of the Workhouse. Mr. Wm. Adams is Registrar of Marriages for the whole Union, and the following are the Districts, and Registrars of Births and Deaths, viz:-- Wisbech, Mr. Wm. Adams; Leverington, Mr. John Bull; Terrington, Mr. John Egarr; Upwell and Outwell, Mr. John Adkins; Walpole, Mr. Wm. Dennis; and Walsoken, Mr. Wm. Hill.


Some placenames in the transcription (of pages 562 to 565) above are given below together with the spelling as found in the list of parishes pages :- Wiggenhall St. Germ/Wiggenhall St. German

For more information see :-

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Copyright © Mike Bristow.
July 2011