The workhouse at Gressenhall is an imposing place with its high, stark walls and grim windows. You would never guess that inside there is a fascinating collection of information about the Forncetts – but there is. Eleven of us from the History Group were welcomed by Alice Cattermole, an Historic Environment Record Officer, to dabble our toes in an ocean of knowledge.
Every place in the Forncetts known to have an interesting history is listed – houses, churches, earthworks, spots where archaeological fragments have been found – and windmills. And every place has a folder of photographs, newspaper cuttings and articles painting the history of our villages in intriguing detail. Of course the histories are not complete. They form glimpses into the past, added to as people have found new information.
Sets of aerial photographs record the villages and surrounding areas as they have changed over the years – nostalgic black and white images allowing us to trace the ebb and flow off development.
Perhaps most exciting is the on-line database plotting all the points of historic interest on a map of the parish. Click on a site and read all about it. Did you know that there was probably a Roman villa in the field opposite St Peter’s Church? That’s what the scatter of Roman finds from that area suggests. Roman Forncett – what must that have been like!
The Norfolk Historic Environment Record gives us all free access to a wealth of information. Alice and her colleagues are happy to guide us around the different resources so that we can use them on our own. The website www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk allows us to explore some of it from the comfort of home. Choose something from the list of places with historic interest (copy available from the History Group) and browse records of your listed house, the medieval deserted village, the spot where a Neolithic polished axe head was found …..139 fascinating stories.
We had a great afternoon rummaging amongst the history of the Forncetts. Tea in the pleasant surroundings of the Itch Ward rounded it off nicely. With so much potential the History Group will be discussing what to do next. Want to see what Forncett was like in the eighteenth century? We can do it – and print the map! We can also keep adding to the records, scanning photographs, writing down or recording personal memories and snippets of local knowledge. Records for St Mary’s Church, for instance, include the work of May and Graham Prior and the Friends. History is growing and we can help it.
Warm thanks are due to Alice and her colleagues for introducing us to the world of Historic Environment records.