A History Of Oulton and Irmingland
In the Doomsday book Oulton is Oulstuna. In 1199 it is recorded as Oueltune, in 1253 as Owelton, but it has been known as Oulton mostly since 1219. There are two theories for the origin of Oulton. Ton as the suffix indicates a Scandavian origin and so predates the Norman Conquest. ‘Oul’ comes from ‘Ule’ in Norse, which later developed into Owl. ‘Ton’ in turn refers to place or town in Norse and Old English and so we have Owl Town or Place. Another option is that it means Outhulf’s enclosure from someone called Outhulf plus ‘tun’, an enclosure, settlement and/or farm.
For Irmingland, also known as Ermingland and sometimes Armingland, there is a possible meaning of newly cultivated land of Eorma’s people from Eorma plus ‘ingas’ (the people of) plus land.
A house of God
At one time or another the parish has had two churches and two chapels.
Oulton Parish Church, St Peter and St Paul dates back to the twelfth century. The tower is somewhat more modern being added in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century along with the porch. Since the late nineteenth century numerous repairs have taken place. On the wall is a small painting of a fish, uncovered in the twentieth century and dating back to the middle ages. The list of incumbants dates back to 1337. In 1603 the rector was able to say that there were 70 communicants and no recusants. The living itself has been in the domain of the Bishop of Norwich since 1280, prior to that it was held by Walsingham Priory and the Manor of Cawston. The chalice is dated 1567 and is inscribed ‘for the toune of Oultoun’.
In the seventeenth century a Dissenters chapel was founded at Irmingland Hall by the Fleetwoods. Prior to this Dissenters met in a local farm and evidence of the turbulent times can still be seen as the farm house boasts its own ‘priest hole’. In 1725 work began on the congregational chapel, built by Rev. Abraham Coveney, who had married Mary Fleetwood (grand daughter of Lt General Charles Fleetwood). This was officially opened in 1731 and continued to function until the 1970s. It was restored and reopened in 1991. It is now owned by the Norfolk Historic Building Trust. It offers a wonderful insight to the look and feel of congregational worship in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In Oulton Street is a Wesleyan Reform chapel built in 1911 but now closed.
St Andrews church in Irmingland was abandoned in the late sixteenth century. In White’s Directory of Norfolk 1845 it was reported ‘The Church (St. Andrew,) was taken down, and the site ploughed up many years ago, when the rectory, valued in the King’s Book at £5, was consolidated with Heydon.’
Social Care in the Community
In 1848 the Dowager Lady Suffield built a free school and endowed it with £2,000 for the education of poor children. In the 1854 edition of White’s Norfolk Directory it was reported that 60 children attended the school. The school closed in the twenty years after the second world war.
In 1804 a farm house in Oulton on the Aylsham Road was altered to become a House of Industry at a cost of £1100. Together with the workhouse at Buxton the Oulton Workhouse formed the Aylsham Union. At Buxton they could accommodate 400 and at Oulton 100. The workhouse was transferred to Aylsham when St Michael’s was built. The workhouse in Oulton dated back to 1792 when a Gilbert Union was formed. After 1836 Oulton specialized in the old and infirm, with the average cost per inmate of 2s. 11d. In the last three months of 1844 the workhouse governor, Elden Frederick Barnaby, reported the deaths of 18 inmates, all over the age of 80, three of whom were over 90.
Lords of the Manor
Irmingland Hall was owned by Lt General Charles Fleetwood in the seventeenth century. This he owned through his first wife Frances Smith. Fleetwood married again to Bridget, the daughter of Oliver Cromwell and is reputed to have entertained his father in law, The Lord Protector, many times at the Hall. In the mid eighteenth century the hall was owned by the Rev S Pitman.
Working the Land.
During the enclosure movement or the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was not uncommon for parishes to join together to share the cost of enclosing a piece of common or waste land which crossed their boundaries. Arguably the most extreme case of this took place between 1818 and 1823 when the parishes of Wood Dalling, Wickmere, Itteringham and Oulton shared an enclosure act – extreme as only two of the parishes were actually next door to each other.
The main industry in the parish has always been farming. Families, which have farmed in the parish over the centuries include Brooks, Gay, Keeler, Martin, Poll, Rice, Roberson, Seaman, Skinner and Tipple.
Over the last two hundred years the population of the parish has been in decline. By 1881 the population of Irmingland had declined to 5 and in 1935 it was amalgamated with Oulton. In 1845 Oulton was reported as having 409 souls, and Irmingland 13 souls.
Recreation and Revolution
The parish boasted shops and public houses until the later part of the twentieth century. On the seventh of September 1971 the Pitman Arms closed. It had functioned since at least 1826 when it was known as the Bell Inn and it is marked on Bryants map of Norfolk as such. In 1836 it is recorded as Bells Arms and in 1840 it became the Pitmans Arms. From 1883 to 1888 it was known as the New Inn (possibly following some rebuilding) before reverting to the Pitman Arms. From 1861 to circa 1950 the village was also served by the Bird in the Hand and in the 1854 White’s directory George Keeler was listed as having a beerhouse and being a shoemaker.
The Pitman Arms acted as a point of contact for the rest of the world as carriers to Norwich and Holt called there.
A couple of people from Oulton were caught up in Ketts revolt in 1549. During the Civil War parish gentry declared themselves for the King. In 1830 Luddites were in action in the parish when threshing machines were destroyed.