The stable yard of West Hall Farm lies in the north-west Norfolk village of Sedgeford and is contained within Ordnance Survey Grid square TF708364. The majority of the site is located on the northern bank of the Heacham river, being bounded on the west by the graveyard of the church of St. Mary the Virgin, on the east by modern housing and on the north by Church Lane. The farmhouse is located on the southern bank of the river, opposite the farm buildings, and is now under separate ownership. This house has also been the subject of a separate study by SHARP. There is a small range of farm buildings on the south side of the river close to the farmhouse, but these have been converted to residential use and as such were not able to be included in this study.
The changes which have taken place in agriculture in Norfolk since mechanisation in the 1940s have led to many of the buildings in the complex ceasing to have the function for which they were originally built or to be suitable for the requirements of a modern farm. Attempts have been made to utilise the buildings by modifying them, including the installation of dryers in the barns and letting others for non-agricultural purposes. Notwithstanding these changes, some buildings have ceased to have any real use and have gradually fallen into disrepair. It has been decided to convert a number of buildings for residential use. This change of use will seriously affect the internal arrangements and therefore there is a need to record the structures prior to this redevelopment.
This conversion allowed the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project to conduct a comprehensive programme of standing building recording in order to gain an insight into the developmental sequence of the farm yard. This work was complemented by a study of the cartographic depictions of the farmyard since 1631 and a series of test pits and trial trenches sited throughout the farm yard. The results of these investigations are presented here.
A triple-pronged investigation of West Hall farmyard conducted by the SHARP has produced extensive evidence of the development of the site since the seventeenth century, as well as demonstrating that the survival of significant architectural and archaeological features is minimal.
The cartographic records of the farmyard from the early seventeenth century onwards demonstrate that the site has developed greatly over the last four centuries, with the 1631 estate map suggesting a different alignment of the western boundary and showing ranges of buildings, physical traces of which have not been found in either the building surveys or the archaeological interventions.
The earliest extant traces of buildings within the farmyard have been demonstrated to date from the late seventeenth century. Specifically, the small extent of wall that now forms a buttress to the northern wall of the site can be equated with the large northern barn shown on the 1690 estate map, and other possible traces of it were found within the extant Double Barn, but such traces are minimal. The 1840 tithe map suggests that the beginnings of the Stable Yard, the Cartlodge, the Single Barn and the Double Barn are in place by that date, and this is confirmed by the results of the building survey. However, it is the 1888 Ordnance Survey map that contains the depiction of the farmyard most similar to that of the present day, suggesting that the majority of the buildings date from the mid-nineteenth century. Again, this is supported by the evidence of the buildings themselves.
The farmyard was greatly altered during the mid-twentieth century, with the entire north western corner of the yard being cleared to accommodate newer barn structures, the Single Barn being extended and the diagonal range across the Stable Yard being demolished.
The archaeological sampling of the farmyard found traces of these changes, as well as serving to demonstrate that the natural chalk bedrock is very close to the surface throughout the site, although it dives away beneath the Stable Yard. Archaeological evidence was found of structures being built straight onto bedrock, with the surface of the yard being cut back to the natural to accommodate this. Evidence was also found of the successive build up of yard surfaces over time, although no archaeological evidence was found that could be said to predate the nineteenth century construction of the majority of the buildings.
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