Tharston, The Village

by Paul Cattermole

Chapter 6: The Roads and Lanes

A glance at the modem map shows that Tharston does not now lie on any main artery of communication: but this was not always the case. Even if the Roman road connecting the older tribal capitals at Colchester and Caistor passed the village by, there is no doubt that large numbers of later travellers passed through Tharston. A number of very old lanes and tracks converge near Horsenford, whose name suggests a convenient and safe crossing of a shallower branch of the river, used by horse-drawn traffic when other routes were impassable. Horsenford traffic in mediaeval times joined the "Packway", the main route from Diss, and the important manor of Fomcett, leading through Hapton on its way to Bracon Ash and Norwich. Another important road, connecting Long Stratton with Forncett, entered the parish at "King's Bridge", before climbing "King's Lane" to cross the High Common. Even in Tharston, it was necessary to safeguard those using the king's highway; and a mediaeval traveller would have felt uneasy about making his way through Tharston Wood. To prevent muggings and highway robbery, a Statute of 1265 commanded that there should be a clearing on either side of any main road where it passed through woodland; and the 1805 Inclosure map shows two narrow strips on either side of the Forncett road, where it once passed through just such a clearing.

All roads were maintained by the parishes through which they passed; and the difficulties and hazards of long journeys are a constant theme of travel writers late into the 18th century. The main problem was that local people were not keen to spend money on roads for other people to ride about on; and there are numerous instances where Justices of the Peace forced parishes to improve bad conditions on important routes. The Tharston highway accounts give a graphic picture of the system of forced labour used to maintain the roads; but at least the labourers had the comfort of a drink and a pipe of tobacco, supplied by the Parish. The ford between Tasburgh and Stratton was certainly bridged before the end of the 17th century, thus diminishing the importance of the Horsenford river crossing, but there was no bridge at Tharston mill before 1770. The road from Norwich to Scole became a turnpike road during the last quarter of the 18th century, and the New Buckenham road was turnpiked at about the same time. Since it cost money to use the turnpike roads, enterprising travellers, particularly drovers, tended to avoid them where possible. A drove road, known at various points as "The Broadway" or "Norwich Broadway" can be traced from Diss through Shimpling and Tivetshall to Wacton, where it enters Tharston by Haynton's Lane, crossing Blythes Green and the High Common, before crossing the river at Horsenford and winding its way through Hapton and Braconash to Norwich. There was heavy traffic through Tharston in 1791, when the Surveyor of Highways spent a great deal of money on widening and improving the hollow way leading to Horsenford Watering.

Much older than the routes already described are the remnants of very ancient tracks along the valleys of the main river and its adjoining streams. The tracks generally run along the edges of the flood-plain, high enough for travellers to be dry-shod, but near enough to avoid the difficulties of making a way through the wildwood which clothed much of the higher ground. As arable land was cleared, these tracks often became the dividing line between cultivated ground and the marshes, which became common pasture. One such route follows the east bank of the river as a bridleway, upstream from Tharston Mill, to Horsenford; and where it runs, now as a footpath, below the old ploughlands of Nelland Field and Westling's Wong, the east bank is raised almost 10 feet, showing where soil has been cast up as the plough teams turned at the end of the strip fields. A fine fragment of early hedgerow survives at the bottom of Wood Lane, with tall spindle trees, alder, and large quantities of coppiced hazel. Another such track, on the other side of the parish, ran parallel to the stream which joins the main river in Low Tharston, before climbing the Furze Hills to emerge as a loke, which eventually dropped down to the river crossing near the present Tasburgh ford. Part of this track is preserved in a short section of Brand's Lane; and the line is continued on either side by hedgerows set on prominent banks. Called "Lizard Lane" on Faden's map of 1791, this route was lost, quite legally, when the Long Common was inclosed in 1805. The surviving hedgerows are rich in variety; and the fact that the pre-Norman parish boundary is attracted to lengths of the lane confirm its great age.

Some lanes in the higher parts of the village run in deep cuttings between high banks. These "hollow ways" often mark the ancient boundaries between the enclosed land belonging to the manor or the rectory and the open fields and lands held in common by the villagers and smaller farmers. Many of them were important local routeways, along which cattle were driven to and from pasture; and through which the plough teams moved to their work in the fields. The church was the hub of village life, to whose frequent services all parishioners were bound to come; and where much important non-religious business was transacted. Centuries of use have resulted in roads leading to the church and manor house, such as Park's Lane and Hall Lane, becoming hollow ways, scored deeply into the hillside and leaving high banks on either side.

< Chapter 5: The Commons - Chapter 7: Place Names in Tharston >

(c) Barbara Cattermole and family, first published in 1993 by Paul Cattermole. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, without the prior consent of the author's family.

Page last updated: 11 February 2019