Medieval settlement of Babingley


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020766

Date first listed: 03-Nov-1965

Date of most recent amendment: 12-Mar-2003


Ordnance survey map of Medieval settlement of Babingley
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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: Sandringham

National Grid Reference: TF 67030 26125, TF 67413 26243


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.

Medieval villages were organised agricultural communities at the centre of a parish or township, sharing resources such as arable land, meadow and woodland. Village plans varied enormously, but where they survive as earthworks their most distinguishing features include roads and minor tracks, platforms on which stood houses and other buildings such as barns, and enclosed crofts and small paddocks. They frequently included the parish church within their boundaries and, as part of the manorial system, most villages include one or more manorial centres which may also survive as visible remains as well as buried deposits. In this region of Norfolk villages are a characteristic feature of the pattern of rural settlement, and their archaeological remains are an important source of understanding about rural life in the five or more centuries following the Norman Conquest.

The majority of moated sites in England served as aristocratic and seigneurial residences, with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was between about 1250 and 1350. The two moated sites which are among the surviving remains of the medieval settlement of Babingley represent one of the manorial centres which were at the heart of this medieval community, and it is likely that some or all of the adjacent enclosures formed part of the same manorial complex, with its associated barns, outbuildings, yards and paddocks. As such they will preserve valuable archaeological evidence concerning the buildings and the economic and domestic life of the manor. The earthworks survive well, and the southern part of the moated site of the manor house and the smaller moated site to the east remain largely undisturbed by modern activity. Buried deposits on the moated islands and in the moats and other earthworks will retain archaeological information relating to their original construction and subsequent occupation and use. Organic materials, including evidence for the local environment in the past, is also likely to be preserved in waterlogged deposits in the moats and other features.

The type of earthwork known as ridge and furrow is evidence for a communal system of agriculture based on unenclosed, open fields. Such open fields were divided into parallel strips allocated to individual tenants and laid out in groups known as furlongs. The characteristic broad ridges were produced by the cultivation of the strips with heavy ploughs pulled by teams of oxen. Examples of ridge and furrow are very rare in Norfolk, and the survival of such an example at Babingley, associated with a manorial complex and other remains of medieval settlement is therefore of particular interest.


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


The monument, which is in two separate areas of protection, includes two moated sites with associated earthworks which mark the remains of trackways, enclosures and adjoining parts of an arable field system within the medieval settlement of Babingley. The remains of the parish church and churchyard, which are located approximately 175m to the west of the monument, are the subject of a separate scheduling.

The site of the medieval settlement lies immediately to the north of an area of reclaimed marshland which was at one time a navigable estuary, about 3.5km inland from the Wash and 7km north east of Lynn. After the Conquest Babingley was held by two individuals under the tenants in chief, Eudo son of Spirwic and Peter de Valognes. The Domesday survey of 1086 records a total of 8 villeins, 40 smallholders, 6 slaves and 14 freemen, indicating a relatively sizeable population, and the tax returns of 1332 list 91 taxpayers. By the end of the 16th century, however, the population was much reduced. A survey of 1611 records that the inhabitants were `verie few', and the land mostly in the occupation of the lord of the manor, William Cobb.

The first area of protection contains a part of the moated site of a medieval manor house, now Hall Farm, and extensive earthworks to the south of this, including a series of enclosures which probably formed part of the manorial complex. The moat, which is water-filled, defines the northern, southern and south western sides of a central platform with maximum dimensions of approximately 107m north east-south west by 117m. The south western arm ranges in width from around 7m to 14m and is aligned north west-south east, curving around the southern corner of the platform at the south eastern end and returning eastwards to form an acute angle at the other. The northern arm, as shown on the tithe map of 1838, was originally around 7m in width and described a fairly regular, convex curve, although the eastern end has subsequently been extended south eastwards and the western end infilled. On the north western and south eastern sides of the central platform the ends of the moat is interrupted by gaps of about 37m and 60m respectively. The gap on the north western side is known to have been widened and it is likely that at one time the moat also extended further along the south eastern side, with perhaps only a narrow causeway or bridge giving access to the interior. If so, the infilled sections will survive here as buried features. The south western part of the moat, together with the southern half of the central platform which it largely encloses, is included in the scheduling. The northern part of the platform is occupied by post-medieval and modern farm buildings and yards, and this area, together with the altered northern arm of the moat is not included. The farmhouse, which is dated in part to the 17th century, with 19th century alterations and additions, stands immediately to the south of the farm buildings, at approximately the centre of the platform.

To the south of the moated site, the line of a road running south westwards towards the church can be traced in part as a causeway approximately 0.4m high flanked by ditches, and in part as a broad, linear hollow. At the eastern end of this earthwork, a well-defined linear depression, thought to be a hollow way, branches south eastwards along the northern boundary of a roughly triangular enclosure measuring up to 77m north-south at the western end and about 172m in length. The narrower eastern end of the enclosure is subdivided by two north-south ditches, visible as slight linear depressions, and fragments of medieval roof tiles have been found on the surface here, indicating that one or both of these subdivisions contained buildings. The western side of the enclosure is defined by a ditch, beyond which is a sub-rectangular platform running back from the road leading to the church and measuring approximately 85m north-south by up to 35m. This platform is defined on the south and west sides by a scarp about 0.5m high and is, in turn, around 0.4m lower than the level of the enclosure to the east. The changes in level suggest some degree of deliberate terracing. On the south side the triangular enclosure is bounded by a broad ditch or linear pond up to 16m wide and around 1.2m deep, on the south side of which are two rectilinear enclosures raised about 0.5m above the level of the ground to the west. A south facing scarp up to 1.5m high along their southern side is thought to mark the edge of the former estuary or a channel leading off it. The western of the two enclosures is rectangular, measuring about 94m north-south by 82m, with a low internal bank along the north, south and west sides. The slight remains of a bank and ditch divide this from the enclosure to the east, which is an inverted L-shape, with maximum dimensions of around 106m north-south by 96m. The drain which forms the modern field boundary on the east side is at least partly of recent origin, and the line of an earlier field boundary, shown on the tithe map, is marked by a ditch about 6m wide and 0.5m deep which runs some 38m westward from the modern drain and then south. Approximately 8m to the west of this feature is a narrow rectangular cutting, measuring about 8m in width, 50m in length and 1.2m in depth, which extends northward from the southern scarp of the enclosure and is interpreted as the remains of a small inlet or dock.

To the west of the enclosures and south of the road to the church a series of slight, parallel ridges and furrows marks an area of former cultivation. This is divided into what appear to be four separate furlongs (subdivisions of a larger medieval field), distinguished by the varying alignment of the ridge and furrow and separated by headlands. Two of the furlongs on the east side are truncated by a modern field boundary.

About 400m to the east of the moated site of Hall Farm, in the second area of protection, is a second and much smaller moated site. The moat, which is now dry, measures about 10m in width and remains open to a depth of up to 3m. It surrounds a rectangular central island, raised up to 0.5m above the level of the ground surface outside the moat and with dimensions of approximately 34m north west-south east by 31m. This moat was almost certainly associated directly with the manorial site, and in size and location it resembles a number of other moated sites in the region which are known or believed to have been constructed to contain dovecotes and are associated with similar high-status sites.

A number of features in the first area of protection are excluded from the scheduling; these are the farmhouse and all associated outbuildings, garden walls and garden furniture, inspection chambers, modern paving and the surfaces of driveways, rabbit fencing, fence posts and gates; the ground beneath these features is, however, 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: 30610

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hurst, J G, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in Seventeenth century cottages at Babingley, Norfolk, , Vol. 32, (1961), 332-342
Tymms, S (ed), 'The East Anglian' in Ruined and Decayed Churches, 1602, , Vol. 2, (1866), 225
Cross, R, (2001)
Derek Edwards, TF6726/M, (1981)
NF 3257, Norfolk Archaeology,
Title: Tithe Map, Babingley Source Date: 1838 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: NRO ref. DN/TA 31

End of official listing