Where and what was Forncett Manor House?


Today Forncett Manor is the name given to what was originally the Rectory built in 1848 for the then new rector of Forncett St. Mary, Revd. Dr. John Colenso. However, the original Forncett Manor House was built at least 600 years earlier on a completely different site, and we know quite a lot about it, owing to the scholarly research of Frances Davenport, the subject of last month's article. Frances studied the old records of Forncett Manor in great detail and she provides not only a description of the manor house but also an indication of where it stood. Her map, published in 1906, was based on a survey of the parish in 1565. It shows that the manor house stood just to the north of St. Mary's church opposite the present site of our village hall.

In the thirteenth century, the manor house was home to Roger Bigod. He was a direct descendant of a Norman knight of the same name, who came to England with William the Conqueror. Bigod was rewarded for his service to William with substantial estates in East Anglia, including the manor of Forncett.

Frances described the manor house as "almost palatial". "For while the ordinary house of the period contained only a central hall with a chamber one side and a stable on the other", the manor house had "some dozen chambers and outbuildings more or less separated from the main room and some half-dozen barns and stables". Besides the main hall, the manor house boasted the Earl's chamber, a knight's chamber, a chapel, kitchen, buttery, larder, bake-house, dairy and at least ten outbuildings, including stables, a granary and a hen house. The building was also thatched with reed rather than the straw stubble used for most village dwellings.

Sadly, all signs of the original manor house have disappeared long ago and we have no real idea of what this palatial building might have looked like. The building is commemorated in the lower left quadrant of Forncett village sign, where it is, perhaps somewhat incongruously, depicted as an elegant half-timbered house.