Historical footpaths in Martham: an exploration of 21 historic footpaths

Footpaths in and around Martham are often very ancient.  In this section, Ann Meakin has mapped and recorded the local footpaths as part of a University of East Anglia project, in 2013.  Photos: Chris Harrison.  The footpaths can become good walks.  Why not check them out and see what's changed in the last seven years?

A Study of the Footpaths of Martham and their Historical Origins

by Ann Meakin with photographs by Chris Harrison

as part of the UEA ‘Pathways to History’ project 2013

To understand the layout of the footpaths of Martham you need to appreciate how they reflect the history of the village going back over the last few thousand years. 

At Moregrove evidence has been found of a prehistoric settlement dating back about 4000 years.  A Bronze Age burial circle has been identified on the field on the south side of Somerton Road opposite the present High School at about TG460188.  From looking at Ordnance Survey maps, Celtic field systems have been identified.  Therefore we know that there was human activity in our parish for thousands of years before the Saxons discovered the delights of living on the Island of Flegg.

It is thought that the Saxon settlement of Martham was around an enormous village green.  The extent of this is shown in green on the digital map.  In later centuries people settled along the edge of the extensive area of marshy common land alongside the River Thurne which formed the northern boundary of the parish.   However, exactly when the Common was designated as such is not known.  The Common is shown in yellow on the digital map and the present day parish boundary in pink.  You may need these maps for other footpaths!

Before the Norman Conquest,

Martham had two manors,

each with a large acreage of

demesne land.  The Bishop’s

manor was centred where

Martham Hall now stands and

held land in the south of the

parish.  One vital route from

that manor was towards

Hemsby where there was

another Bishop’s manor and a

huge barn in which to store

the crops harvested.  The

other route was to the Green

and the Church.

Moregrove Manor was situated in the northern part of the parish on the upland sloping towards the River Thurne.

In addition to these manors there were the Common and the three vast open fields which were controlled by the Lords of the Manors - the east field, the largest part of which lay between the roads to Hemsby and Somerton, the west field which lay to the west of the access road to the crossing point of the River Thurne, and the south field which lay south of the roads to Repps and Hemsby and towards Rollesby.

 

The existing roads to Somerton, Hemsby, Rollesby and Repps probably follow the main routes that have existed for centuries.  In addition there are existing footpaths that may also have existed for centuries going to those places over lower ground which may have been usable only in drier weather.

Between the strips in the open fields there must have been tracks used for access.  Some of these tracks have presumably survived because the Enclosure Award of 1812 stipulated that they were to be there as ‘private roads’ to give access to the small fields by then in the ownership of about 90 different people.  There were 20 ‘private’ roads created at the time of the Enclosure.  Very few of these seem to have been completely new stretches of road - the rest being existing tracks which the Commissioners considered should remain and have therefore become green lanes.

Looking at a map you will realise that a great many tracks lead towards the Parish Church.  Even from pre-Christian times these were very important because people’s lives centred on the rites of pagan worship.  The church was most likely built on the site used for pagan worship.  Once Christianity had been established people would have gone to the Church regularly on Sundays and saint’s days, for baptisms and marriages, and also to bury their dead.

The starting points for many of the routes of this study are from grid reference TG453185.  From there the road to the Ferry goes northwards.  Although this is now a single track surfaced road it is a very ancient route connecting the village with the river and the ancient river-crossing place. 

Detailed recording of the footpaths has not been easy.  It seemed that photographs would give a clearer impression than many words, so they have therefore been provided.  Also a copy of Faden’s Map of 1797 has been included above for further information.

We could find only three living trees that we thought might measure four metres in girth, but none of these was accessible enough to be measured.

Reasons for the existence for all the footpaths except one could be found.  The exception is Footpath 13.  This is a very ancient lane that can be identified on Faden’s Map and is shown on the Enclosure Map but is not referred to in that document.  Is there a very interesting historical explanation?

The 21 footpaths are all available here:

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