The Face of Forncett

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by John H Webster©
What we do. The parish has always been devoted to agriculture. Nowadays we have dairy herds and arable farms growing beet, barley, oilseed rape and wheat. They determine the landscape, which is part of the South Norfolk Claylands. The parish falls into two distinct areas: firstly, the Tas Valley with its water meadows, some of ecological significance with protected habitats for wildlife and the Conservation Area of Low Road from church to church, and secondly, the upper ‘plateau’ area with its arable fields.

How we live. Residential development was for ages quite static; families, who were here (some still are) or hereabouts for generations, worked the land; few left to ‘seek their fortune’ elsewhere. Major changes, however, have occurred within the lifetime of the present senior generation. Technological advances in transport and farming combined with economic factors have led to the disappearance of the small family run business, whereas the arrival of many families, who commute to work by car, has become commonplace. Thus we see infill of newer buildings in part of the Tas Valley in Forncett St Peter and a much larger expansion in Forncett End, the former ‘services hub’ of the locality, from the 1970s to the present.

A bit of history. We live in a place that was very important at the time of Domesday; the Bigot family was here for four generations. Later the manor passed to the king, Edward II, and thereafter to the Earldom of Norfolk.
The area around Forncett St Mary church was considered the main settlement; but after 1496 Forncett St Peter church became more important. The earliest parts of St Peter church, such as the tower, date from about 1000 AD with enlargement four centuries later.
The Earls (later Dukes) of Norfolk appointed the rectors to the living from 1315 to 1725. at that date the right to do so (known as the advowson) was purchased by Dr. Rowland Hill. He bequeathed this right to St. John’s College, Cambridge..
From the original four settlements described in Domesday the two parishes based on the two churches developed. Forncett St Peter parish was considerably larger in extent with its extension of common land at what was to become known as Forncett End and land out eastwards to include the hamlet of the present Bustards Green, whereas Forncett St Mary extended north from the present Street Farm to Hapton.