Pathways to History – parishes of few paths

Following on from earlier posts about the density of rights of way in Norfolk, the map below highlights those parishes with the least dense networks of rights of way and those with no footpaths, bridleways or byways.

PROW map
Parishes shown in white are those with no public rights of way (in terms of footpaths/bridleways/byways). Parishes shown in blue are those with the least dense networks of rights of way.

The parishes with no public rights of way are:

Anmer
Beeston St Andrew
Choseley
Didlington
Houghton
Kempstone
Little Snoring
Pudding Norton
Shernborne
Shouldham Thorpe
Stanford
Sturston
Tottenhill
Wellingham

A typical characteristic of these parishes is the presence of single dominant landed estate, often with a large park that accounts for most of the area of the parish. Anmer, Beeston and Houghton, for example, are all parishes where landscape parks dominate the landscape. The movement and closure of rights of way in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to create such landscapes is well documented, although will be the subject of further research as part of this project in terms of chronology and distribution. Other factors such as settlement shrinkage/desertion and military requisitioning (Stanford and Sturston) also loom large in the history of these parishes.

The following parishes all contain some rights of way, but in terms of density account for the 10 least dense networks in the county (excluding those parishes with no rights of way).

No Parish/Area PROW(m) per HECTARE
1 Kilverstone 0.08
2 Necton 0.13
3 West Walton 0.15
4 Scoulton 0.16
5 Morton on the Hill 0.18
6 Litcham 0.27
7 Bradenham 0.29
8 Spixworth 0.32
9 Hilborough 0.32
10 Sandringham 0.39

These parishes continue the predominant east/west divide seen across the county and again the presence of large landed estates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seems to be the key factor in most cases (e.g. Hilborough, Kilverstone, Sandringham). However, the figures are also misleading in some ways. For example Sandringham today is, by Norfolk standards, a very large parish covering over 4,000 hectares (making it the fifth largest in the county) and contributing to its low density value. Furthermore this fails to take account of the land which is now accessible to those visiting the Sandringham estate; or the nature reserves at Dersingham Bog and Wolferton Fen.

Sandringham and surrounding parishes in the 1880s. A typical nineteenth-century estate landscape in west Norfolk - parkland, plantations and large enclosed fields (most of which tend not to go hand in hand with dense networks of footpaths...)
Sandringham and surrounding parishes in the 1880s. A typical nineteenth-century estate landscape in west Norfolk – parkland, plantations and large enclosed fields (most of which tend not to go hand in hand with dense networks of footpaths…)
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Pathways to History – Mapping Density

Following on from yesterday’s post, these maps show patterns of density across the county, this time taking account of roads as well as public rights of way. In each case the density of routeways has been worked out in terms of metres per hectare.

Public Rights of Way (Footpaths, Bridleways, Byways)

PROW map 1
Density of public rights of way in Norfolk. Blues and greens = low density; oranges and reds = high density.

Highest = Wacton (59m per hectare)

Lowest = A number of parishes with no public rights of way (more on this to follow in another post)

Public Roads (excluding PROW)

Road density map
Density of roads in Norfolk  (blue = low; yellow = medium; red = high)

Highest = Norwich (102m of public road per hectare)

Lowest = Sturston (0m of public road per hectare)

Public Roads and Public Rights of Way

Roads and Prow Map
Combined density of Public rights of way and public roads.

Highest = Norwich (103m per hectare) Sheringham a close second with 101m

Lowest = Sturston (no public roads, no public rights of way)

As research and mapping progress we hope to be able to look in more depth at changing densities over time. It has already become clear from examining seventeenth and eighteenth-century maps of a number of places that processes such as parliamentary enclosure could dramatically reduce the number of paths and roads within a parish. However, in some cases similar processes are evident even in parishes which were untouched by enclosure acts.

Pathways to History – A question of density

When looking at patterns of rights of way across Norfolk some are unsurprising, such as the greater number of footpaths and lanes in the south east of the county and the relative sparseness of the north west. Examining the historic development of such contrasts will form a key part of our Pathways to History project, but as we sort through the results of fieldwork and documentary research we’ve started to explore and map a range of other patterns.

Firstly, we’ve been looking at the modern density of rights of way (footpaths, bridleways and byways), calculated in terms of metres of rights of way per hectare of each parish. On this basis the densest network of rights of way is to be found in the parish of Wacton, to the west of the A140 near Long Stratton. Anyone who has ever looked at an Ordnance Survey map of this area won’t be surprised by this – the mesh of paths and tracks across and around Wacton Common is striking even in an area with as many footpaths as south Norfolk. It might reasonably be expected that the other most densely ‘pathed’ parishes in Norfolk would be in this area, but the distribution of the top ten is rather more widespread.

The top ten parishes in Norfolk on the basis of density of rights of way (metres per hectare)
The top ten parishes in Norfolk on the basis of density of rights of way (metres per hectare)
No Parish/Area PROW(m) per HECTARE
1 Wacton 59.95
2 Thurne 54.57
3 Downham West 40.00
4 Beeston Regis 39.59
5 East Beckham 37.82
6 New Buckenham 36.56
7 Burston and Shimpling 33.25
8 Runton 31.07
9 Yelverton 30.75
10 Drayton 30.37

Looking at these in a little more detail they can be divided into a number of categories. Firstly, there are those parishes which have high densities due to their diminutive areas, such as New Buckenham and Yelverton. Secondly there is Downham West, which scores highly here by virtue of the long bridleways and byways which follow the course of fenland rivers and dykes. Thirdly there are those parishes, such as Wacton and Runton where areas of common land survived much later than elsewhere in Norfolk. Indeed, Runton is one of the few places in this region where open field strips survived late enough to be included on the first edition six inch and twenty five inch Ordnance Survey maps of the 1880s. Drayton is a somewhat surprising entry in the top ten, particularly as there appear to be very few rights of way on modern maps. However, the definitive map for Norfolk includes a cluster of footpaths around Drayton Wood and Canham’s Hill which help to explain the results above. You can see them on Norfolk County Council’s interactive map here – http://www.countrysideaccess.norfolk.gov.uk/interactive-map.aspx

Runton Map
Strip fields around Runton on the north Norfolk Coast as shown on the OS 6″ to 1 mile map of the 1880s.

Further research, both fieldwork and documentary, will undoubtedly shed more light on these patterns; and on the more detailed history of rights of way within individual parishes.