Medieval settlement remains 500m west of Well Hall


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019331

Date first listed: 09-Nov-2000


Ordnance survey map of Medieval settlement remains 500m west of Well Hall
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Norfolk

District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)

Parish: Gayton

National Grid Reference: TF 72030 20216


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Medieval rural settlements in England were marked by great regional diversity in form, size and type, and the protection of their archaeological remains needs to take these differences into account. To do this, England has been divided into three broad Provinces on the basis of each area's distinctive mixture of nucleated and dispersed settlements. These can be further divided into sub-Provinces and local regions, possessing characteristics which have gradually evolved during the last 1500 years or more. This monument lies in the Wash sub-Province of the South-eastern Province, an area which can be divided into two parts. The western part is the fenlands with associated marshlands, siltlands and islands, with villages, hamlets and bands of farmsteads and cottages clinging to the slight islands and dykes above land once seasonally flooded. The eastern part embraces the sands and loams of west Norfolk, studded with ancient villages and hamlets, some of them depopulated. To the south lie the Brecklands, an elevated, thinly-settled region. The East Norfolk local region was characterised by numerous medieval villages and hamlets, rather than the isolated halls and scattered farmsteads that dominated other regions of Norfolk. Archaeological evidence indicates that this has been a prosperous farming area since Roman times, and its woodland may have been largely cleared long before the Norman Conquest.

In some areas of medieval England settlement was dispersed across the landscape rather than nuculeated into villages. Such dispersed settlement in an area, usually a township or parish, is defined by the lack of a single (or principal) nucleated settlement focus such as a village and the presence instead of small settlement units (small hamlets or farmsteads) spread across the area. These small settlements normally have a degree of interconnection with their close neighbours, for example in relation to shared common land or road systems. Dispersed settlements varied enormously from region to region, but where they survive as earthworks their distinguishing features include roads and other minor tracks, platforms on which stood houses and other buildings such as barns, enclosed crofts and small enclosed paddocks. In areas where stone was used for building, the outline of building foundations may still be clearly visible. Communal areas of the settlements frequently include features such as bakehouses, pinfolds and ponds. Areas of dispersed medieval settlement are found in both the South Eastern and the Northern and Western provinces of England. They are found in upland and also some lowland areas. Where found, their archaeological remains are one of the most important sources of understanding about rural life in the five or more centuries following the Norman Conquest.

The medieval settlement remains 500m west of Well Hall, possibly representing a single farmstead outlying the village of Gayton, are a good example of dispersed settlement, and are of particular interest in that they are associated with a manor administered by an alien priory and lie close to the site of the priory itself. The earthworks and buried remains will contain archaeological information concerning the occupation and use of the site and will, in addition, contribute to an understanding of the way in which estates belonging to monastic houses overseas were managed during the medieval period. The monument has additional interest as one of three relating to medieval settlement in Gayton parish. The other two, a moated site and the remains of a high status house and garden, are the subject of separate schedulings.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes earthworks and buried remains located within a field to the north of the minor road from Well Hall and south west of Gaywood River and representing part of an abandoned settlement dated to the medieval period, now represented only by Well Hall. The remains lie within the Domesday vill (settlement unit) of Well, which in the 11th century was separate from Gayton and in around 1081 was given by William of Ecouis to the Norman abbey of St Stephen, Caen.

The earthworks include the remains of interconnecting ditches which define a series of rectilinear enclosures of varying size, together with platforms and irregularities believed to mark the sites of buildings. In the south eastern part of the site the most prominent feature is a north facing, east-west scarp up to 0.6m in height which forms the rear edge of a platform fronting the road to the south. The surface of the platform shows evidence of disturbance such as could have resulted from the demolition of buildings standing on it. To the west of this area is a group of up to six small enclosures, ranging in length north-south from approximately 20m to 60m and in width from about 12m to 43m. These are defined wholly or in part by intersecting north-south and east-west ditches between 2m and 6m wide and are bound on the north side by a wider linear depression approximately 7.5m wide and up to 0.5m deep which has the appearance of a hollow way or sunken track, extending westwards for a distance of about 65m then continuing northward as a shallower feature. From near its eastern end a short extension of the hollow way runs southwards towards the smallest of the enclosures, which adjoins the road and contains a low platform about 12m across which probably supported a building.

A second possible building platform of similar size can be seen to the north of the eastern end of the hollow way, against the western boundary of a large rectangular ditched enclosure which extends northwards from this point. This enclosure is subdivided by an east-west ditch, the smaller subdivision, to the south, measuring approximately 36m by 37m, with an entrance at the south eastern corner. The approach to the entrance is flanked by ditches, and to the north of the approach is a further small enclosure measuring approximately 15m north-south, although the eastern end of this is not defined. The larger subdivision measures approximately 98m north-south by 37m east-west, and adjoining it on the north side are the truncated remains of another enclosure, the interior of which is uneven and at a lower level than the ground surface to the south and east of it. Fragments of pottery found in ploughsoil in the adjoining field to the north provide evidence of occupation during the medieval period. To the west of these enclosures is a low but well defined bank which runs NNW from the eastern end of the hollow way and may be of different date.

It is possible that the settlement remains have a direct association with a small priory which was founded here as a cell of St Stephen's Abbey, Caen, and is thought to have stood on the site now occupied by Well Hall. There is documentary evidence, also, for a water mill on the river between Well Hall and the settlement, and it is probable that this mill is one recorded in a valuation of the priory manor dating from 1325, and again in 1650, when it is listed as part of the property of Jeremy Beke, sequestered after the Civil War. The field which lies between the monument and Well Hall is named on an early 18th century map of Well Hall Farm as Mill Dam Close. A 19th century incumbent of the parish, writing in 1889, noted that part of a broken mill stone could still be seen in the river near Well Hall, and that another had been built into a wall on the farm. The site of the mill cannot be located with certainty, however, and is therefore not included in the scheduling.

Like many `alien' establishments dependent on monasteries overseas, Well priory probably consisted of little more than a manor house with a farmstead and other appurtenances attached, occupied by a few monks who supervised the administration of the manor. Towards the end of the 13th century it was united with Panfield priory in Essex, also a cell of St Stephen's Abbey and, as an alien house, it was appropriated by the Crown in the 14th century, during Edward III's wars with France. In 1373 the king granted custody of Well and Panfield manors to a layman, Sir Hugh Fastolf, in return for a payment of 40 pounds per annum and ten pounds to a resident monk. They were subsequently granted to Sir John Devereaux and his wife in 1381, and to John Wodehouse in 1415, and in 1469 they were given by Edward IV to the college or chapel of St Stephen in Westminster, which retained it until the Dissolution.

A water trough and supply pipe in the south western part of the site are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 30583

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Blomefield, F, An Essay towards a Topographical History of Norfolk , (1808), 427-429
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 465
Cutting, W A, Gleanings about Gayton in the Olden Time, (1898)
NRO Re. MS 4528, Part of Well Hall Farm.... in the use of Mr Page, (1720)

End of official listing