A lonely ruined tower – all that remains of the deserted village of Pudding Norton. Its strange name is lost in the mists of time – it was called Nortuna in the Domesday Book, and no one knows where ‘Pudding’ comes from. In aerial photos the outline of old streets and cottages is clear, but on the ground all you can see is mysterious humps and lumps. These cover the grassy field surrounding St Margaret’s church tower.
I was on a farm walk – in the rain and mud – looking at the methods the current landowner uses to encourage wildlife. He provides areas of winter food and wetland for birds and the farm is well known for the large number of farmland bird species such as grey partridge, turtle dove, lapwing and linnet. He is also steward of this lost village, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Why and when did the inhabitants leave? No one really knows. Old records show that before the Black Death in the fourteenth century there were fifteen households and the village was still in existence in 1428. Peasant farming was hand to mouth – livestock feeding on open fields caught disease from one another and foot-and-mouth, cattle plague and liver rot were everywhere. Corn harvests were often poor as soil nutrients were taken up in the crop and little was returned for the following year. Bad weather and problems of farming heavy soils further tipped the balance against the peasant. Even worse it was a time of inflation, rising rents and declining wages.
The Fermour family of nearby East Barsham Hall had acquired the land by the sixteenth century. Sheep farming was profitable and the Fermours were taken to court for destroying houses, stopping up the common ways and taking over land for sheep. The villagers were unable to feed themselves and gradually left. By the end of the century Pudding Norton village was deserted.
This was the time when Robert Kett led a revolt against land enclosures and was hanged for rebellion at Norwich castle in 1549.
Wandering among the grassy mounds I thought about the sad plight of those poor folk. But I was also happy to see the care the current farmer takes to encourage wildlife. We all know about the threats to our wildlife as urbanization takes over the country side and our increasing population requires farmers to grow food ever more intensively. Farmers are greatly concerned about the loss of birds and wild plants, as they, more than any urban dweller, are in continual contact with the land.