Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
From at least the 10th century - and perhaps even earlier - East Anglia (like many other areas) was divided into Hundreds, areas of land possibly based on a hundred 'hides' or family holdings. In medieval times, the Hundred was the basis of all public administration, and its courts, known as 'moots' or 'things', and which were second only to the county, were often held at local landmarks such as fords, lakes, prominent boulders and trees - or in these cases, at artificial mounds or earthworks. Moots were also held for other local assemblies such as sheriff's courts, manorial courts, and possibly also for trading or religious gatherings:
Barrow, Suffolk: The Lodge is a listed 18th century house at TL759639. In the grounds is a low flat mound with a ditch around it that, at various times, has been labeled as a moat, a mill mound, or a landscaped feature. The Ordnance Survey has suggested it might be a moot hill. It couldn't have been the main Hundred moot though, as Barrow was in Thingoe Hundred, and the Court was held elsewhere (see the Bury entry).
Bunwell, Norfolk: See Old Groggrams, possibly the moot-place of Depwade Hundred.
Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk: The Court for the Hundred of Thingoe met at a mound known as the Thing-Howe, Dinghowe, Thinghill or Thingo on Shirehouse Heath, just outside Bury's Northgate, where Northgate Avenue is today. The Thinghowe (TL849655) was also the meeting place for the Liberty of St. Edmund, a group of eight half-Hundreds under the jurisdiction of the abbot of St. Edmunds.
The hill was obtained by the local convent in the early 11th century, and the Court transferred to a tumulus called Catteshill (TL884653, now Catteshall) at Great Barton, where the Tyburn Barn now stands. In 1305 it moved again to a tumulus called Henhowe (TL845657), one of four mounds on the boundary of Bury, on Shire-house Heath, where the Black Cross also stood. The Shire Hall itself stood on Henhowe till about 1573, to be superseded by Henhowe Mill. This mound too has gone.
After the Court was moved from the Thinghowe, the hill was a place of execution till the 18th century. Forty witches were hanged there during Matthew Hopkins' persecutions in 1644, and Lowestoft's two famous witches in 1662. The last execution was on April 4th 1766, when Elizabeth Burroughs was hanged for the 'wilful murder' of Mary Booty, and the site became known locally as Betty Burroughs' Hill.
Buxhall, Suffolk: A low tree-covered mound in the grounds of Buxhall Rectory (TM003576) is considered to be simply an ornamental feature, and the field in which it sits is called Home Lawn on the 1837 Tithe Map. However, locals have called it Moot Hill, and claimed it as the site of the manor court.
Castle Hedingham, Essex: At the junction of Nunnery Street and Yeldham Road is Crouch Green (TL775355), formerly a more raised area that may have once been a mound. It was once called Musloe or Mustoe Green, perhaps a corruption of (ge)mot-stow, Saxon for ‘assembly place’. Close to the ford that gave ‘Hinckford’ its name, it was the site of the gallows, and the court leet for the Hinckford Hundred. (See also Thunderlow, below.)
Flitcham-with-Appleton, Norfolk: Freebridge-Lynn Hundred Court met at a lost mound surrounded by a square ditch called Flitcham Burgh by the roadside a little north of Flitcham. Beloe in 1893 said it was in the wooded and ditched Paston's Clump, at the crossroads at TF718282. In the 3rd year of Elizabeth 1st, the court met under an oak at Gaywood near King's Lynn, and after that, till about 1710, at the Fitton Oak at Wiggenhall St. Germans.
Frettenham, Norfolk: A number of Bronze Age barrows used to exist in the wooded area at Chisel Hill, with only one now remaining, at TG241175. One of the destroyed mounds was called Court Hill, after which a nearby road is named, and which has been suggested as the site of the Hundred Court or sheriff's court for Taverham Hundred. The same mound, also known as Frettenham Hill, was home to the manorial court in the 16th century.
Gisleham, Suffolk: An Anglo-Saxon burial mound used to stand here on Bloodmoor Hill, an area marked as 'Mootway Common' on the 1799 enclosure map. Three parishes once met here, and it has been suggested as a possible moot site of the Mutford Hundred. Another possibility is Mutford Bridge, a mile or so to the north in Oulton Broad.
Great Fransham, Norfolk: Mills-on-the-Moor was the name of both a manor and a mound - a mill mound or perhaps a barrow - where the Great Fransham court leet was held each year. It lay close to where the Fransham boundary met those of Beeston, Kempstone and Great Dunham, which would put it in the area of TF891141.
Great Waldingfield, Suffolk: A site for the meeting place of Babergh Hundred has been proposed here, where a ring ditch between Babergh Hall and Babergh Place is suggested as the remnant of an original moot mound. (See also Long Melford, below).
Great Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire: Mutlow Hill (TL547544) is the name of both a Bronze Age burial mound, and the small hill upon which it stands, next to the Anglo Saxon defensive earthwork called the Fleam Dyke. The edge of the hill is where three parishes and three Hundreds meet, and the name itself suggests a meeting-place.
Harlow, Essex: A probable Bronze Age bowl barrow stands at TL478112, near Old Harlow. Known variously as Mulberry Hill and Old Moat Bury, this may well account for the ‘hlaew’ part of the parish name, and was probably the moot place for the Harlow Hundred.
Holt, Norfolk: The Holt Hundred moot place seems likely to have been at Ingmote Hill (TG066373), a steep hill overlooking the Glaven valley, south-west of the town.1 Tom Williamson has suggested that there may actually have been an ancient barrow on this height that served as the moot, rather than simply the hill.2 The field-name of Thinghou - 'meeting hill' - is also known in the parish of Holt from a source of 1203, but whether or not it was at or near Ingmote Hill, I don't know.3
1. Walter Rye: 'Scandinavian Names in Norfolk' (2nd edition, 1920), p.25.
2. Tom Williamson: 'The Origins of Norfolk' (Manchester University Press, 1993), p.129.
3. Karl Inge Sandred: 'The Place-Names of Norfolk' (English Place-Name Society, 2002), part 3, p.111.
Hacheston, Suffolk: Gallows Hill (TM309569) has been suggested as the moot site of Wicklaw or Wicklow, the five and a half Hundreds bestowed upon the Liberty of Ely between the 9th and 13th centuries. It was certainly recorded as a meeting place in 1160, and as the site of a gallows in the 15th century.
Little Sampford, Essex: A circular moated site (TL647336), shrouded in trees just west of the village, has been suggested as the moot place for Freshwell Hundred. Now flattened, it was also possibly a mill mound at one time.
Long Melford, Suffolk: As well as the suggested site at Great Waldingfield (see above), the Court for Babergh Hundred is said to have met at a mound on Babergh Heath near Long Melford, but this was removed during the making of an airfield.
Meldreth, Cambridgeshire: The Kneesworth Road runs out of Meldreth across a slope called Mettle Hill (TL364457), where Roman remains were found in the 19th century. In 1319 it is recorded as 'Motloweyhil', and was probably the meeting place for Armingford Hundred.
New Buckenham, Norfolk: There is now no trace of Haugh Head, a ditched enclosure once to be found at TM094900, in fields south-east of the village. It has been claimed as the site of the Shropham Hundred Court, and pre-dating the 12th century.
Snape, Suffolk: The meeting place of Plomesgate Hundred is unknown, but at least one site in this parish has been suggested. At TM403593 is the last surviving mound of a group of nine or ten where was found an Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery and two ship burials. A spot here was called Thingelow in the 13th/14th century, almost certainly derived from Old English 'meeting mound'.
Snettisham, Norfolk: It has been suggested that Smithdon or Smethdon Hundred met at the former site of a Bronze Age mound at approx. TF733340, some way east of the village. It was recorded as Smithdon Hill on a map of 1626. An alternative site is further to the south-east, a bell barrow on the heath at Great Bircham (TF776308).
Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk: A burial mound known as Modberge or Medberge (from Old English gemot-beorg, 'hill of assembly') stood somewhere in the Upper Stoke area of this parish, and was once the moot hill for Henstead Hundred.
Swafield, Norfolk: Walter Rye in 1920 reported that Miss Christabel Hoare had, from old documents, identified the moot hill for Tunstead hundred as the aptly named Tunstead Hundred Hill, which she believed was in the area of St. Giles' church (TG268333) at Bradfield, now in the parish of Swafield.1 Tom Williamson has suggested that this might well have been a burial mound.2
1. Walter Rye: 'Scandinavian Names in Norfolk' (2nd edition, 1920), p.33.
2. Tom Williamson: 'The Origins of Norfolk' (Manchester University Press, 1993), p.129.
Thorpe St. Andrew, Norfolk: Walter Rye in 1920 suggested that Gargytt Hill, on the outskirts of Norwich, may have been the meeting-place for Blofield Hundred. A group of burial mounds that used to stand there, at TG274094, have been described as both Bronze Age and Neolithic.
Thunderlow, Essex: Now a lost name, the little half-Hundred of Thunderlow in the north of the county was long ago absorbed into Hinckford Hundred. The name itself suggests a specific spot, a meeting-place called ‘Thunor’s hlaew’, or ‘Thor’s mound/hill’. ‘Hinckford’ actually refers to a ford at Castle Hedingham (see above).
Thurston, Suffolk: Thedwastre Hundred is thought to have met at the top of Thedwastre Hill (TL921649) in Thurston - possibly under a specific oak tree, as the name translates as 'Theodward's tree', an idea which the village sign commemorates. A mound outside the village at TL911647 has also been suggested as the moot site, but this is now reckoned to be a more modern object.
Tilney All Saints, Norfolk: Known as 'Knights Seats' on the enclosure map, a Bronze Age burial mound used to exist at about TF561200, in Spellow Fields close to the boundary with Terrington St. Clement. This is believed to have been the medieval moot site for the 'lost' Hundred of Spelhoge ('speech hill').
Troston, Suffolk: See Troston Mount, moot hill for the Bradmere Hundred.
Walpole St. Peter, Norfolk: Called "a very pronounced moot hill", a mound used to stand at TF501165, next to Walnut Road. It could also have been the site of a beacon fire, and was known as Mill Hill in the early 17th century.
Weeting, Norfolk: At the southern edge of the clearing in which the hollows of Grime's Graves can be seen is an artificial mound (possibly a spoil heap from the mines) known as Grimshoe (TL819898), where the assembly for Grimshoe Hundred was probably convened.
Witham, Essex: The moot for the Witham Hundred, at least in the later Saxon period, was probably held at Chipping Hill Camp (TL819151) in the town, a possible Iron Age settlement earthwork that is now mostly gone. An alternative suggested site was a mound that used to stand in the vicarage grounds, next to the church.