The parish of Pudding Norton borders the river Wensum just south of Fakenham in north Norfolk. Pudding Norton comprises some 1,400 acres of predominantly arable farmland and includes Fakenham Racecourse. The parish is first mentioned in Domesday Book (1086) as “Nortuna” (“the north settlement”), entered as land held by the King, with eight heads of households, so the total population was probably about 50 people. By 1329 there were fifteen heads of households. The derivation of the name “Pudding Norton” has always given rise to speculation –– according to the History and Antiquities of Norfolk, published in 1762, “It is supposed to take its adjunct name of Pudding from its dirty scite [site], by a stream of water”.
To the south of Pudding Norton Hall, on a gentle slope extending towards a small stream which flows northwards to join the Wensum, undulations in the meadows are all that remain of the medieval village of Pudding Norton, one of the best preserved abandoned village sites in Norfolk. All that survives above ground is the ruined tower of St Margaret’s Church, a landmark visible from the Fakenham to Dereham road.
As early as 1600 the church was described as “wholly ruinated and decaied long since, unknown by whome it was pulled down”. The cause of the depopulation and ruin of the church was not the Black Death, as is often suggested, but the change over from arable to sheep farming around Fakenham in the middle years of the sixteenth century. This was largely due to the Fermour family of East Barsham Hall just north of Fakenham, who had acquired land belonging to nearby Hempton Priory after its dissolution by Henry VIII in the 1530s. The Fermours were periodically brought to court accused of destroying houses, stopping up common ways, establishing new fold courses for sheep at the expense of tenants and generally behaving in a tyrannical manner. In his will in 1557 Sir William Fermour left 20 shillings to repair Pudding Norton Church, and 11 pence to each household, but there were probably few inhabitants left by then. By 1570 Sir William’s dissolute nephew Thomas had sold Pudding Norton to pay his debts.