Won­der­ful Wat­ton:

Seven fab facts about this old county town

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell

1 WAY BACK AND WAY FOR­WARD

Wat­ton parish church has sev­eral claims to fame. The round tower topped with an oc­tag­o­nal bel­fry is one. The wooden char­ity box, made in the shape of a pri­est, and en­graved with the words ‘Re­mem­ber the Poore 1639’ is an­other. And it is the only church in Nor­folk that is wider than it is long, thanks to two huge 19th cen­tury aisles flank­ing the 13th cen­tury nave.

A Mu­seum for Wat­ton was set up last year in Way­land Hall. Free and open Wed­nes­day to Satur­day, 10am-4pm, it was in­spired by the dis­cov­ery of a Ro­man burial site, near Nor­wich Road, and in­cludes a full-scale replica of the skele­ton, a half-mil­lion-year-old hand axe, archives of the Manor of Wat­ton dat­ing back to 1640 and runs a his­tory club for chil­dren.

2 WAT­TON’S LOCH

Pretty Loch Neaton was once part of a Vic­to­rian plea­sure gar­den with row­ing boats for hire, con­certs in the band­stand, iceskat­ing in win­ter and wood­land foot­paths with views across the wa­terlily beds. But the lake is not a nat­u­ral fea­ture of the Nor­folk land­scape. It was dug by hand in the ham­let of Neaton, just out­side Wat­ton, by Scot­tish rail­way work­ers in 1875, as they made an em­bank­ment for the new line to Swaffham. When the ex­ca­va­tions filled with wa­ter from the nearby River Wis­sey a new lake was born – and named for the Scot­tish work­ers who had cre­ated it. A group of Vic­to­rian busi­ness­men cre­ated plea­sure gar­dens around the lake, de­sign­ing a park­land of trees, shrubs, paths, ten­nis courts and a bowl­ing green. Fairy lights hung from the trees on spe­cial oc­ca­sions. Swim­ming pools were added just af­ter the Sec­ond World War, but have since been filled in and turned into a pic­nic area. The loch is still there though, and while swim­ming, boat­ing and skat­ing are no longer al­lowed, fish­ing tick­ets are sold to help fund the up­keep, Wat­ton Sports Cen­tre is nearby and a weekly Park Run is held. And lovely Loch Neaton, sur­rounded by trees, bright with wa­terlilies and cared for by vol­un­teers, is run as a char­ity by and for the peo­ple of Wat­ton.

3 TING TANG

A bell has hung in the clock tower of Wat­ton High Street for 340 years, ready to ring out if fire rages through the town again. In 1674 the Great Fire of Wat­ton de­stroyed more than 60 homes, and many busi­nesses. Five years later the clock tower was built and the warn­ing bell, af­fec­tion­ately named Ting Tang, in­stalled. The clock tower also dis­plays Wat­ton’s coat of arms – a hare (known as a wat in lo­cal di­alect) and a bar­rel (or ton). Its ground floor, with two strong stud­ded doors, was once the town ‘lock-up’ or overnight cell.

4 WAT­TON BABES

Wat­ton has its own fairy­tale. The dark story of the Babes in the Wood is set in Way­land Wood, just out­side the town.

First pub­lished more than 400 years ago, the tragic tale of two or­phaned chil­dren, aban­doned in the woods by their wicked uncle so that he could steal their in­her­i­tance, has been re­told by Dis­ney and as a pan­tomime through the cen­turies. It is said that their plain­tive cries, as they lay dy­ing, can still be heard in ‘Wail­ing’ Way­land Wood. And the woods, now a na­ture re­serve, have even older sto­ries to tell. The name Way­land is said to come from Waneland, or a Vik­ing place of wor­ship.

5 OYEZ!

It is a tra­di­tion which dates back cen­turies, but Wat­ton has one of the world’s most modern town cri­ers – with its first crier ap­pointed only last year. Wat­ton town crier Mike Wabe was al­ready town crier of Thet­ford and has now added Wat­ton to his high deci­bel port­fo­lio. Mike writes his own cries for ev­ery oc­ca­sion – in rhyme. Lis­ten out for him at events around the town – he’s loud! Dressed in lav­ish cos­tume he’s sure to draw a crowd.

6 SAVE THE DATE

The Way­land Show is hav­ing a rest this year, ready to spring back in 2020 on its new Spring Bank Hol­i­day date.

Af­ter be­ing held in Au­gust for decades the coun­try­side show will re­turn, re­vamped and re­vi­talised, on Mon­day May 3. Farm­ing, food, crafts and mu­sic are al­ready on the pro­gramme for the 146th Way­land Show. A re­gional cel­e­bra­tion of her­itage, and a fo­cus on the fu­ture, with fun for all the fam­ily, is promised for the Spring Show.

In the mean­time there is a col­lecta­bles and an­tiques street mar­ket in Wat­ton town cen­tre on Sun­day, July 7, 8am-4pm, and the car­ni­val in Septem­ber.

7 HEROES AND VIL­LAINS

Both the Royal Air Force and the Amer­i­can Air Force flew bomb­ing raids from Wat­ton dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. RAF Wat­ton opened ex­actly 80 years ago and bomber and re­con­nais­sance planes flew from here into oc­cu­pied Europe, with raids as far as eastern Ger­many and Aus­tria.

One au­da­cious flight saw an Amer­i­can plane fly across Europe, from Wat­ton to Berlin, in the dark and just above tree-top height to avoid radar de­tec­tion, to drop two spies into the Ger­man city. Many wartime feats of courage, ser­vice and sac­ri­fice are told on the web­site RAFWat­ton.info

The air­base site now in­cludes monuments to the mem­ory of the peo­ple who served here, plus hous­ing, farm­land and Way­land Prison. Prison in­mates in­cluded dis­graced politi­cian Jef­frey Archer, who called the sec­ond vol­ume of his prison mem­oirs Way­land: Pur­ga­tory.

‘Loch Neaton was once part of a Vic­to­rian plea­sure gar­den’

St Mary’s Church at Wat­ton Denise Bradley

ABOVE: From Project Guten­berg’s The Babes in the Wood, il­lus­trated by Ran­dolph Calde­cott Project Guten­berg

LEFT: Wat­ton have ap­pointed Mike Wabe as their Town Crier Sonya Dun­can

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