Today, Colkirk is a parish of 1496 acres and 250 households. It lies on a boulder clay ridge, 250 feet above sea level and 140 feet above the River Wensum. Stand and look across to Fakenham 2 ½ miles to the north east and your eyeline is on a level with the top of the church tower in the town.
In the beginning
There is no evidence that Colkirk existed before the Norman Conquest in 1066. The first building was almost certainly a church from which the village takes its name. Colkirk is a Scandinavian word meaning the church of Cola. Kirk means "church". Cola was probably the name of the builder or owner. The original church was built about 900 years ago. The present day St Mary’s church is thought to stand on the same site. The font dates back about 800 years.
Opposite the church was a rectangular green of about 12 acres. By the1200’s, a few cottages had been built around 2 sides of the green. By the end of the 13th century, people were also living near the assarts (woodland cleared for arable land) at the eastern end of the parish.
The manor of Colkirk originally belonged to the Bishop of Elmham and is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. The remains of the Bishop’s cathedral can still be seen at North Elmham today. His moated manor house in Colkirk lay off Longland’s Lane (now the bridleway just past the entrance to Manor Farm and on the opposite side of the road). The manor buildings included a private chapel, great barn and dovecote. There was also a fish pond. The house backed on to Colkirk Wood, a managed oak woodland of around 120 acres. The wood had originally been part of the royal manor of Fakenham but was annexed by the Bishop into his own manor.
In the early 1100’s, the Bishop gave the manor to one of the knights in his private army. The knight took the title "Richard of Colkirk. He and his successors lived at the manor house until about 600 years ago after which it fell into decay.
Growth of the village
By about 1600, there was a blacksmith and 6 cottages on the green. The green was also the home of the Campyngland.
Campyng was a traditional Norfolk game played between two villages. A token – often a gauntlet – was hurled by one team or "camp" at the other. They had to return it as quickly as possible as, whilst they still had possession, the opposition could rush across and drag them back as "prisoners". The game continued until one team had captured all the opposing players. Campyng was a rough game, played by up to 300 men at a time, with deaths not being uncommon. The Campyngland moved across the road to its triangular site east of the church in the late 1600’s.
Near the northwest corner of the green was a watering place, (now the village pond). Much of the original wasteland, small areas of woodland and pasture surrounding the village centre had now been converted into arable land. The only large fields were those owned by the main farms. Small scale farmers and nearly every family in the village either owned or rented one or more narrow, long strips of land known as furlongs, each being about 200 yards long by 40 yards wide with no visible boundary between them.
By 1600, a few dwellings had also been built along Town Lane (now Dereham Road), and towards the bottom of what is now Hall Lane; this small cluster of cottages with its own green and watering place was known as Nethergate.
Colkirk in 1600
Places of interest
1 – The rectory 2 – The church 3 – The blacksmith after which Smethygrene was named.
4 – John Goram’s house after whom Gorman’s Lane was named.
5 - The original Manor House whose fields extended south from the farmhouse and west beyond Salters Gate.
6 – Hall Farm 7 – Home Farm 8 – Moor Farm 9 – Hazelwood Farm 10 – Site of the moated manor house.
Tracks and roads
The modern day roads through Colkirk were, in 1600, just dead-end, rough tracks leading out to the surrounding fields.
|Market Gate – a footpath linking Colkirk to Fakenham||Market Hill and Colkirk Hill.|
|Tofts Road||The bridleway beyond the church.|
|Hollane and Norton Lane||Hall Lane|
|Town Lane||Dereham Road|
|Longlands||The bridleway just past the entrance to Manor Farm and on the opposite side of the road.|
|Whissonsett Lane – a footpath leading from Colkirk to Whissonsett||Whissonsett Road|
|Salters Gate||Raynham Road|
|Rayners Gate||The green lane downhill from Fakenham View and on the opposite side of the road.|
There were also over 50 pits in the area. Some were used for digging marl – a clay-silt mix rich in calcium carbonate that was used to improve the fertility of soil that was low in lime. Other pits were ponds used for watering livestock, sheep dipping and fishing.
To the east of the village lay Colkirk (Moor) Common. The common was used by villagers to graze their livestock. There were often boundary disputes with the people of Oxwick, whose common adjoined that of Colkirk, to the point that in 1646, four villagers from Colkirk and four from Oxwick were ordered by the courts to meet and negotiate an agreed boundary line.
There was a postmill recorded in 1331, at the original Manor Farm, in the centre of the village.
The following extract was taken from the Norfolk Mills website on www.norfolkmills.co.uk with permission from Jonathan Neville
inquisition taken April 16 in the 4th Edward III
Robert Baynard was found
seized of it for life ...
There has been mention of another mill, to the west of the village, but no written evidence can be found.
By 1840, there were 48 dwellings in the village together with a Methodist Chapel,the Crown pub (which had been rebuilt and taken over by the Parish in 1827),a blacksmith, a brewhouse and a bakehouse.
A school for 90 pupils was built by the Rev. Ralph Tatham in 1851. In 1858,the church was restored.
By 1861, Colkirk had expanded to some 470 people living in 96 houses and cottages. The quality of homes varied enormously. Some were built of brick with tiled roofs. Others were still very basic dwellings being constructed of just wattle and daub with thatched roofs and commonly housing from 6 -10 people.
Most of the village men and boys still worked as agricultural labourers for the local farmers but there were an increasing number of professionals and tradespeople:
Rector (James Bradley Sweet); clergyman (William Chapman);
3 schoolteachers, 2 shoemakers; publican (William Rutland of the Crown);
cattle dealer; grocer and draper; straw hat maker;6 dress makers; 4 shepherds;
2 tailors; 2 wheelwrights; 2 bricklayers; fishmonger; blacksmith;
master gardener; basketmaker ; baker, a hawker of second hand goods
– and a castrator!
In the 1870’s and 1880’s, the then Rector, W.M.Hoare built a terrace of model cottages adjoining the school together with a village shop, a sexton’s house and a parish room (today’s village hall). By now, most small farmers had sold their land to the larger landowners creating just the few large farms that surround the village today. The chief crops were wheat, turnips and barley. The Marquis of Townshend owned the manor.
Colkirk Common was enclosed in 1870 and Colkirk Wood felled in the mid 1800’s.
Church, Campyngland and Colkirk House 1862 - 1864
Buildings of interest
Hall Farm can be traced back to 1443.
In 1489, it was bought by John Barsham and by 1577 was still the biggest house in the parish. By 1592, it had passed into the hands of William Barsham. The farm traditionally became the home of the Catholic Timperley family, Nicholas Timperley having inherited the manor of Colkirk in1624 although he actually lived at the adjoining Home Farm. Hall Farm became known as Colkirk Hall for some time. The Barshams continued to live at the farm until 1637 when it passed into the hands of Samuel Smyth who had married into their family.
Samuel Smyth (his memorial is in the church) was a lawyer but a bit of a rogue. He had ditches dug across several areas of land hoping to acquire these for himself. He quarrelled with his wife’s family and to prevent her or them benefiting on his death, instead left all his property to his son and daughter.
The Timperley family, after whom today’s Timperley Estate is named, forfeited most of their land in the mid 1600’s as a penalty for helping to defend Kings Lynn against the Parliamentary troops during the Civil War. Nicholas Timperley was then forced to sell the remainder of his land but escaped further punishment by becoming a monk.
Colkirk Hall has been associated with the famous Baroque violinist Nicola Matteis, who is thought to have purchased or leased this property in 1714. However, recent research has suggested that this may not have been the old master himself, but rather his son or grandson (both named Nicola), also musicians and composers of some repute.
Home Farm dates to the same period as Hall Farm. It originally belonged to another member of the Barsham family, Thomas, before becoming the home of Nicholas Timperley.
In 1740, both farms were purchased by Lord Townshend and the following year merged into one. The buildings of Home Farm now lie under those of the present day Hall Farm.
Hazelwood Farm lay to the east of Moor Common. The farm dates back to 1484 when Richard Holland leased land for 10 years from the lord of the manor. Originally a sheep farm, it was converted to oats and barley in the early 1600’s.
Moor Farm (later Manor Farm)
The original Manor Farm had been located in the centre of the village. Today’s Manor Farm, in Dereham Road, was originally called Moor Farm. It too dates back to the mid 1400’s. It was bought by the Holland family in 1553 who then sold it to the Barshams in 1562. Like Hall Farm, Moor Farm also passed into the hands of Samuel Smyth in 1637.
Moor Farm and Hazelwood Farm were then both acquired by Lord Townshend when he became lord of the manor in 1740 after which the whole holding was re-named Manor Farm.
Colkirk House, in Hall Lane, was built in 1837 for the fashionable young man, William Rowland Sandiford whose coat of arms can be seen over the front door. The house enjoyed long views over the Wensum valley and featured a miniature park, ice well and large stable block. A sales document of 1841 attributes the house to "an architect of eminence" although it does not name him.
The following has been reproduced from a picture that hangs on a wall at Gable End
Tradition says that this property was Colkirk Old Hall, built about 1550 by John Walpole, a lawyer of some eminence, to take the place of the old moated hall. It was a small manor house with champered beams and big arched fireplaces, which was superseded as a manor house when the present hall was built about 1595.
From about 1697 to 1719 it was in the possession of the Godfrey family. From 1719 to 1767, Samuel Collison, a small farmer and woodman, married to a Miss Godfrey, owned the property, adding other nearby cottages in 1752-6. When he died, Collison left £100 to the parish ( which was spent in buying the Crown Inn ) and his property to his nephew Samuel Leggett.
On Leggett's death in 1770, it went to another Samuel Collison and in 1779 Collison's widow sold it to Robert Elgar, farmer,
On the death of Elgar's widow, it was sold in 1803 to their kinsman, James Harpley.
On the death of Harpley's widow in 1820, ( she being buried along with members of the Collison, Leggett, Elgar and Harpley families in Colkirk churchyard ), the property was split up.
The Lord of the Manor, Lord Townshend, then became the owner, and by 1839 the house had been converted into three cottages by kitchens being added, thatch replaced by tile, window frames renewed, the great open fireplaces blocked up and wooden mantels inserted. Being in need of money, Lord Townshend sold the property in 1850 to A.A.Heitland, the owner of Colkirk House, and it continued in the hands of the owners of " the big house " until the estate was broken up.