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Hethersett Woodhall Manor

Manors were not unlike modern country estates. They consisted of cropland, meadows, woods and common land. Their main house in which the lord or his steward or bailiff lived was known as a manor house. 

Although Wood Hall might be assumed to have been the manor house of Woodhall Manor, it would appear that William Waite Andrew, vicar of Ketteringham, 1835-87, adopted the name, instead of Red House by which it was known, when he bought it in 1841. Wood Hall, to judge from a sale notice of 1894, appears to have been in land of the manor of Hethersett Cromwells. The site of the original manor house of Woodhall is not, at present, known.

In the Domesday Book, which dates from 1086, we find that Hethersett was owned by two important people, one was Count Alan of Richmond, one of three Norman Count Alans who came over with King William. This was the bigger part of the parish. The manor house may have been in the meadow south of Church Farm. The second was Eudo the Steward who acted as guardian of a smaller section of the parish for the King. The big manor became known, because of its lords, as Cromwells Manor by 1359. A part of this big manor was in turn split off and granted to the Hacon family. This overlapped into Great and Little Melton and the manor house was probably opposite the two Great Melton churches. In 1556 Sergeant Flowerdew joined the two manors together again.

The smaller manor of Woodhall and Cantley appears to have been in the hands of the Hethersett family from about 1350, and by 1486 it was in the hands of the Palgrave family. It is still not clear when it became known as Woodhall Manor, but the records of its courts survive from 1678 and it was clearly referred to as Hethersett Woodhall by then.

The manor court books show that land belonging to Woodhall Manor was dotted about in Hethersett. Unlike modern estates there was not a ring fence round manorial lands. The map shows, in diagrammatic form, where some of the lands of the manor lay. In some cases, as at Bragate Hirne they were blocks of land, probably arable.

In others, as at Brackett Field, one piece was only a quarter of an acre and still a "strip" within the remnants of a medieval open field. The manor of Woodhall overshot the bounds of the parish of Hethersett. It was not possible to place many other pieces referred to in the court books on the map, as being in the manor of Woodhall, so the true picture would have been even more complicated. In one field there would have been strips belonging to perhaps three manors, Woodhall, Cromwells and Hacon. 

The tenants of the manors must have spent a lot of time attending different manor courts and possibly following different rules of land management in each of the manors. Over the next two hundred years this complex system was gradually simplified into one of bigger closes (fields as we now term them) and fewer tenants. 

As the nineteenth century progressed many copyholders bought out the manorial ownership of their property, this was a process known as enfranchisement. Gradually, more and more manorial land became clear of the manorial system and was described as freehold. In 1841, a farm of 137 acres, now known as Burnt House Farm was occupied by Mr William Stannard and owned by Richard Hanbury Gurney of Thickthorn. A second farm of 12 acres was occupied by Mr. Samuel Bailey. Two and a half acres of the former and an acre of the latter were copyhold of Hethersett Woodhall showing how little land lay within the manorial system by that date. 

When Wood Hall and its associated estate were sold in 1894 it consisted of 62.5 acres. Mr. J. A. Curson farmed the small farm on the estate, whose buildings still existed in 1966. The farm pond now forms part of the garden of a house in Karen Close. By this date,1894, only two acres of this estate were part of the manor of Woodhall and four acres part of Cromwells. The manorial system finally disappeared when copyhold was abolished in 1924 after it had survived from the late Saxon period of perhaps 800 AD.

NB. A copyholder purchased the right of tenure of land or property from the lord of the manor, by virtue of an entry in the manorial court roll, of which he had a copy.