The village of Paston in NE Norfolk lies c. 1km inland from the North Sea coastline, 12km SE of Cromer and 26km NE of Norwich. It is famous as the home of the 15th century Paston family whose letters chronicle life during the Wars of the Roses. As such, it was particularly interesting to have the chance to excavate test pits in the village as part of the On Landguard Point ‘Dig and Sow’ project.
Settlement in Paston today is highly dispersed with three small hamlet clusters and a scatter of farms and cottages. The small cluster in the south-east lies along Bacton Road and includes Paston Hall, the Great Barn and the parish church of St. Margaret, The second cluster lies 300m northwest of the first, in the area where Mundesley Road, Chapel Road, Bears Road and Vicarage Road intersect. This cluster is today composed entirely of closely spaced residential housing. More dispersed settlement extends northwards along Mundesley Road, giving way to fields for c.450m before reaching a handful of properties clustered around Stow Mill, an area of the village referred to as ‘Stow Hill’. The third main area of settlement today, known as Paston Green, lies southwest of Paston Hall and is now solely occupied by Green Farm and associated farm cottages. South of Paston Green, the settlement pattern is one of fields interspersed with the occasional farm cottage. The village lies lies on on the pilgrims’ route between Bromholm Priory (in modern Bacton), and Walsingham and a hostel and medieval chapel once existed at Stow Hill. The church dates from the early 14th century, and contains notable 15th century wall paintings.
One of the details recorded in the Paston Letters relates to the settlement pattern, as they record that in the early 15th century the main road was diverted away from Paston Hall to reduce disturbance to the family. This moved the road from south of the church to its present route to its north and left a lasting impact on the layout and development of the village. The settlement appears previously to have lain south of the church but moved to its north when the road moved. However, previous finds from this field, including those made during the digging of an electricity supply trench near St Margaret’s church do not seem to have been very copious, including one rim sherd of 11th-12th century type and some stoneware dating to the late 15th-early 16th century (NHER 6894; 6895). 15th century tenants were also moved to other sites, including Green Farm (Paston Green), The Limes Farm (Bears Road) and Poplar Farm (now named Dayspring, near PAS/12/20). This may, at least in part, explain the very dispersed settlement pattern at Paston, and raise the possibility that archaeological evidence for the earlier Medieval settlement at Paston may survive under the fields to the south of Paston Hall.
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