The origins of Great Massingham are thought to go back as far as the 5th Century AD, when the area was inhabited by a group of Angles and Saxons in the wake of the Roman withdrawal. Their leader’s name was said to be Maesron and this ‘family’ of settlers were called Maersings, hence the home of the Maersings – Maersingham, later spelt as we know it today.
An Augustinian Priory existed from the 11th century and there is a a recorded visit by King Edward I on March 29th 1302 on his way to the shrine in Walsingham. Some of the original priory stonework can still be seen in Abbey House formerly the main residence of Abbey Farm which existed as a working farm until relatively recently.
The parish is mentioned in the Domesday report of 1086, but no reference is made to a church or priest. Less than 100 years later there were 2 churches in the Village, St Mary’s and All Saints, but there are no traces of All Saints now.
The church represented the focal point of village life for hundreds of years, and would have been used for various meetings other than religious occasions. For example the porch, which was added to the building around 1300, was used as a school room.
Sir Robert Walpole, England’s first Prime Minister in 1720 was educated in this “school room” as a young boy. His descendents still live in Houghton Hall, which is just 3 miles north of Great Massingham.
Agriculture has been the mainstay of village life for many hundreds of years and still plays an important role. The area is extensively farmed, predominately arable but several large pig farms have sprung up in recent years, in fact this region was one of the first in the country to begin raising pigs on an industrial scale.
Only one shop and pub today but not too long ago there was a whole range of shops and trades carried on within the village. A blacksmiths, butchers, bakers, a general store and as many as 5 pubs – the Fox & Pheasant, The Old Swan, the Royal Oak, The New Inn and The Rose & Crown, (now The Dabbling Duck) which is the only one still trading. The other pub buildings still exist however they have all been converted to residential use.
You can see a selection of old photographs taken during the early part of the last century by clicking here, Historical Photos or on the tab at the top of the page.
The Royal Air Force commandeered one of the largest farms in the village to build an airfield soon after the outbreak of WW II. More detail on its operations can be found by clicking the link here, RAF Massingham, or the one at the top of this page.
The airfield was returned to agricultural use in 1957, although it is still in use for private flying.