‘Unto a certain brigge’

Spratt’s Green and Burgh are neighbours, but distinctly separate communities divided by geography and history.  The river Bure flows between them. On one side, Spratt’s Green is in the parish of Aylsham while, half a mile away, Burgh forms its own parish with Tuttington. The boundary is significant and dates back to at least Anglo-Saxon times.

In 1444, the bounds of Aylsham parish were documented . . . “and the said ryver extend further unto a certain brigge called Burghbrigge, and further extend the said ryver unto a certain caussey (causeway) called Burgh Sponge (a long thin strip of land) and the said sponge extende further unto a certain ryver which divide in that part the parishes of Aylsham and Brampton“.

A cluster of dwellings straddling the Burgh Road, Spratt’s Green sits by a small common which used to be known as Eastern Green. The name Spratt’s Green, however, was in use by the time of the Ordnance Survey map of 1816.

Spratt or Sprat is thought to derive from the Middle English word “sprat”, a nickname for a small or insignificant person. Who Spratt may have been remains a mystery. However, Aylsham church records contain a reference to a Richard Pratt who married there in 1800. The green itself was a roughly rectangular plot of common land bordered by Burgh Road to the east, Valley Lane to the north and Stapleton’s Lane to the west (running parallel to the present railway line) closing off opposite Spratt’s Green House.

The layout of the surviving farms and roads suggests that it might once have been a rather larger area with the dwellings as classic developments around its edge.   Among the more notable buildings are Spratt’s Green House, Spratt’s Green Farm and Stapleton’s Farm.

The following extracts are taken from Hearths and Heaths: Dispersed Settlements in Aylsham’s Early modern landscape by William and Maggie Vaughan-Lewis, and reproduced here by kind permission of Peter Purdy and his family.

Spratt’s Green House
In 1839, Spratt’s Green House and its immediate farmland was owned by Thomas Rackham of Hevingham and was rented out to farmer William Burton Robins. Thomas had inherited from his father Peter Rackham in 1802 and it is quite likely that Peter, initially of Hevingham and in his later years of Aylsham, built the present main house on the site of an older home. His wife Martha held their house The Grange on Cromer Road and a farm at Stonegate, Aylsham. Their daughter Martha inherited the Spratt’s Green property in 1848 and it was later, briefly, the home of attorney William Forster (an English industrialist, philanthropist and Liberal Party statesman, nicknamed Buckshot Forster).

Rackham had the estate from Diana Tills in 1791 and it can be traced back to the Curson family who bought it from Christopher Parkins, a weaver, of Saxthorpe in 1700. Parkins had acquired it when Aylsham brewer Simon Ollyett defaulted on a mortgage. Before Ollyett, the estate had been held by the Salter and Westhorpe families and from the 1630s to 1660s by major tradesman Robert Russell.

At the time of the Lancaster survey of 1622, it was held by Gregory Breviter who had it from his father Richard.  The old house was then described as of four bays, a standard old hall house, and its outbuildings included a malthouse. It may have been the malting capacity that attracted Ollyett. The property also boasted a dovecot on Dovehouse Close.

Standing very close to the house is an old cottage which bears the date 1742 on one gable; its curious upstairs door suggests it may have been a very small cottage with part of the upper floor being a hayloft.

Among the 70 or so acres attached to the house, there was a good proportion of pasture, meadow and land called The Carrs. This had been a parcel of 22 acres of pasture and carr (wet woodland, often alder) and included a spot called Hollhead or Hollhole, suggesting a large pit.  Interestingly, there was a 16-acre close called Watt’s Croft beside the Burgh Road and it is quite likely that this was the site of the old Lancaster toft (site of a homestead and buildings) of that name. 

Spratt’s Green Farm
This was a very large property that had its house and farmyard just to the south of the green. The main farm had been created from two purchases in the late 1660s by Thomas Goddard and from that time onwards was one of Aylsham’s largest single cohesive units in the early modern era.  At the 1662 survey, as part of a much larger holding, Edward Brampton of Brampton Hall had the house. The entry includes a reference to reed beds, a useful crop to supply the local thatchers. 

In 1834 Henry Edward Soame inherited from his father Henry a further 14 acres in two closes once a single parcel called Brick Kiln Close. The Soame family was heavily involved in brick making at Woodgate and it is quite likely that the same activity or at least digging for clay from the field known as Marl Pit Piece was going on here. 

The 14-acre parcel can be traced back into the middle of the 17th century, always as a distinct parcel, when it was called Brickill Close and was owned by the Burr family; we can assume a long-standing brick-making site dating back to the era when so many of Aylsham’s old timber-framed houses were either rebuilt in brick or given a brick outer skin. 

Stapleton’s Farm
Stapleton’s Farm is just to the west of Spratt’s Green on the edge of Eston Field,  and originally totalled 30 acres. The main messuage (house and land immediately around it) was called Sandlings, and was once owned by Laurence Burr. A house in a five-acre close, “wasted” or fallen down by the early 18th century, is described as next to the green way called “Elson” Green (probably a field a little to the east of the river). There was also a cottage on the green.