Tharston, The Village

by Paul Cattermole

Chapter 8: The Manors

There was a limit to the number of manor houses which a feudal lord could actually inhabit, even if he moved round them in rotation, as many did; and most estates were managed by a steward, who lived on the manor, holding courts, collecting fines and transmitting the proceeds to his master's treasury. Roger Bogod's tenants in the chief manor of Tharston, the de Vaux family, and their immediate descendants, the Nerfords and the Reeses, were people who moved in exalted circles; and their visits to Tharston would hardly have been frequent. For them the income from the village was the most important consideration; and many 13th-century lords purchased additional rights from the crown, which increased the value of their manors. While these advantages may have pleased the lord, his tenants saw some of these privileges from a different standpoint. John de Vaux acquired in 1275 a charter for freewarren in Tharston, which meant that the lord was entitled to all "beasts of the Warren" (not just the rabbits) found on his manor: and that his tenants were not entitled to catch those tasty additions to their diet without payment of a fine. A few years later he secured the assize of bread and ale, view of frankpledge and waif. Law abiding inhabitants probably welcomed the assize of bread and ale, which imposed a fine (collected and retained by the lord) on those who sold poor quality food and drink, or who gave short measure. The frankpledge system - a survival from Anglo Saxon times - meant that the tenants were divided into groups of ten households where all were held responsible for the good behaviour (and appearance at court when neccessary) of each member. The privilege of waif allowed the lord to claim any ownerless piece of property on his manor.

The first major upheaval in the history of the chief manor occurred in 1410 when William Rees decided that the time had come to make some provision for the health of his soul; and he bequeathed properties, among them his Tharston estate, to be sold in order to found a perpetual chantry in the College of St Mary in the Fields at Norwich. After passing through the hands of William Loveney the manor was purchased by the Clere family (associated mainly with Ormesby and later with Blickling), who retained the lordship for the next 150 years. Perhaps the attraction of the Tharston property was that it was close to the family home of Lady Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Thomas d'Ovedale of Tacolnestone, whose marriage to Sir Robert Clere brought together a great deal of wealth. The Cleres were notable among the great and the good of late mediaeval Norfolk, being kinsmen and friends of the Fastolfs, the Calthorpes and the Boleyns. During her long widowhood (1446 - 1492) the Lady Elizabeth occupied a prominent place in Norfolk society; and some of her correspondence with the Pastons survives. In 1453 when Queen Margaret came to Norwich she sent for Elizabeth Clere, and "made right much of her and desired her to have a husband"; and although the advice was left unheeded it would be interesting to know whom the Queen had in mind. Lady Elizabeth's cousin Edmund was an esquire in the household of Henry VI; and her son Robert was, according to Blomefield, "famed for his great wealth, and acquired much reputation for his manly courage". Robert, who married Alice Boleyn of Blickling and was knighted in 1494, shortly after the death of his mother, seems to have made Ormesby his principal residence. As a courtier he accompanied Henry VIII to France in 1520, on the celebrated occasion which became known as the "Field of the Cloth of Gold"; and he must have looked on with some pride as his niece Anne gained the approving eye of the King of England. His son John, who saw his cousin Anne Boleyn's marriage to Henry VIII, and her eventual downfall, seems to have been over ambitious; and his purchase of Blickling saddled the family with a burden of debt from which they never recovered. The Tharston estate was one of several manors which were mortgaged or leased out by two or three more generations of Cleres, to pay various debts and marriage portions.

The chief manor was long known as Nerfords, and for a short time as Loveneys. After it came to the Cleres, the name changed to Tharston Hall, perhaps reflecting the building of a new manor house on the estate. The present Hall is a typical small Tudor manor house, most likely to have been built during the widowhood of Elizabeth Clere; and the fact that she endowed her chantry foundation in Norwich Cathedral with income from Tharston and Claydon (Suffolk) suggests more that felt more than a nominal association with the village. One of her more practical bequests was to leave the sum of ?200 towards the upkeep of the highways on her various manors; and the surprisingly large number of brick arches over the Tharston streams, looked after by 18th-century surveyors may have had their origins in this bequest. It is interesting to record that one of them, known as the Lady's Bridge, was associated with a nearby causeway, perhaps the predecessor of the raised section of roadway where Brand's Lane crosses the beck. There are many reasons why a mediaeval lord would not want a substantial tenant to build close to his own manor house; and it is not unlikely that the oldest part of El Bodon was an earlier manor house, which was converted to cottages when the larger and more prestigious Hall was built towards the end of the 15th century.

The smaller manor called Therston's originated in an estate granted by William I to Robert Fitz Corbutio, whose land spilled over the parish boundary into Forncett. Its 13th century tenant, Richard de Therston, who took his name from the village, was a minor landlord who owed service to Robert de Shelton, and through him to the great lords of Buckenham Castle. When the manor of Therstons was divided early in the 14th century, one part became the manor of St Omer's, and the other became Jermy's manor, both named after their earliest sub-tenants. The old manor house of Jermy's had gone down in the world by 1611, when an inventory of the goods of Thomas Baryt showed that it was occupied by "iij gose with ther yonge, ij turkeys and iij hennys'; but its probable successor survives as the Spreading Oak farm house. The important point is that when the new house was built, the old one was not pulled down. While Jermy's remained a distinct manor through to the 19th century (using the alternative name Cock's for a short time in the 16th century) St Omers was rejoined to the chief manor to create a substantial holding. A piece of land called "St Omer's" is recorded in 17th-century documents, which was part of an estate centred on the house which gained the name Picton in the 19th century, Picton Farm house may well be the old manor house of St Omer's.

A fourth manor, whose land lay in both Tharston and Stratton St. Michael, was known as Welholme's; and documents suggest that the site of the manor house was in Low Tharston. The name implies that the distinguishing feature of the manor was a small island or "holm" associated with a stream or marshy ground: a description which fits the area to the west of Tasburgh Hall very well, where there is a small hillock rising above the low meadows, and where aerial photography suggests a complex archaeological site. It seems most likely that this was the site of the ancient manor house and its chapel lying just within the parish of Tharston. Attached to this manor was the chapel of St. Giles, which gave its name to "Chapel Hill", otherwise called "Holm Hill", referred to in documents of the 16th century and later. The skeletons unearthed on the site in 1897 probably came from a graveyard attached to St. Giles Chapel rather than from a hasty burial of those who had fallen in some obscure battle, as has been suggested. There is little doubt that there was a small settlement near Holm Hill during the 13th century (when documents refer to "Ulsonne's Street" in the vicinity); and St. Giles Chapel may have been convenient for the Lords and tenants of Welholme's Manor who lived close by. St. Giles' Chapel was demolished before the general suppression of non-parochial chapels c.1548. Since most of the Welholmes land was in Stratton, the manor house migrated to Stratton St Michael in the 15th century, leaving the old site to be used as a rabbit warren.

< Chapter 7: Place Names in Tharston - Chapter 9: General Harvey >

(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