The most visible sign of the earliest human occupation is the Iron Age hilltop fort on Bloodgate Hill. Archaeologists attribute its construction to one of the local warrior tribes during the three or four hundred years prior to the Roman invasion in AD 43. The sheer scale of the original earthworks indicates the importance of the settlement above the valley of the River Burn (which at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086 was impressive enough to support a watermill at neighbouring North Creake). A large number of flint tools have been discovered in village fields, along with fragments of pottery, Roman coins and a Saxon trade weight, all testifying to a continuous history of occupation and trade.
The earthworks to the South east of St Mary’s Church was the site of a manor granted by William the Conqueror to William de Beaufoe, his chaplain and chancellor who had fought beside him at the Battle of Hastings. The early Middle Ages saw the development of the local wool trade, which brought great wealth and the opportunity for manorial barons to build new stone churches to replace earlier wooden structures. A descendant, Ralph de Beaufoe, gave the church and its tithes to Castle Acre Priory in 1181. Much rebuilding of the church was carried out by the Priory at the beginning of the fourteenth century, but this was brought to a standstill by the Black Death in 1348/49 (to which South Creake’s vicar succumbed). The next important phase of building began around 1450, when the beautiful nave roof with its angels was raised to give thanks for the victory at the Battle of Agincourt.
There are three village Charities originating in 1640, 1669 and 1730, variously to provide bread, coal and education to the poor. In modern times they provide a fuel allowance for the elderly each year, and assistance to students entering further education. Subsidised by this charity, education was first provided at the Town House which was occupied by poor widows. In 1859 a Trust deed conveyed a building and land of the Towns Lands Charity to the Vicars and Churchwardens of St Mary’s Church, to be used as a school. The school was rebuilt, and in 1883, when the village population was 976, there were 224 children. It continued to serve the village until 1991. There are two independent chapels, the Congregational built in 1783 and the Methodist in 1883. Both closed in the mid-70’s.
The economy of the village was probably at its most vibrant during the 19th century up until the First World War, when all essentials could be sourced within the village. Trade directories confirm the existence of grocers and drapers, tailors, a miller and bakers, butchers, boot and shoe makers, bricklayers, carpenters, undertaker, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, a cooper, a saddler/harnessmaker, a basket maker, nine farmers, and as many as seven inns and beerhouses. Whilst agriculture was the main employer, another important local industry was the brewery and adjoining ‘Chequers’, owned by the Oliver family 1835-1892. It continued as Pinchen’s Brewery until the early 1900’s. In 1925 part of the premises was purchased by G.T. Money, and became the Ace Razor Blade Works, subsequently also manufacturing ‘ Myflakes’ breakfast cereal after the Alley Bros. left the village in 1923. They had previously begun the manufacture of ‘Farmers’ Glory’ wheatflakes at Bluestone Farm, which under their guidance became the first fully mechanised farm in the country.
St Mary’s Church The last sixty years have seen the greatest change in our village. We now have just four highly mechanised farms employing very little labour. Most of the great barns, along with the brewery, the school, the Methodist Chapel and the old Oddfellows Hall, have been converted to desirable residences. Many of our cottages are second homes which stand unoccupied for long periods. We have one pub, but no school, post office or village shop. We do still have our great medieval church, St Mary’s church but there is no equivalent of the medieval wool trade to support it.
Barbara Allen, (Church Warden)