The Norton family have farmed at Church Farm, Frettenham, since 1946, when the farm and surrounding land was bought by Jack Norton, who moved here from Morley in Norfolk.  There are about 400 acres of land used by the farm, which is basically split in two blocks – one north of Frettenham village around Church Farm and St Swithins Church, and one south of the village.  On the farm there were originally pigs, cows, chickens and all manner of crops, from turnips and beans to wheat and barley.

Jack was joined in the family partnership by his sons Robert (Bob) and later Philip. Bob and Philip inherited the farm when Jack died in 1977, and the family partnership grew when Philip and Bob were joined by Bob’s son David.  The general development of agriculture and commercial pressures meant the farm had to become more specialised, so the dairy herd increased in size and the other livestock enterprises were given up, and cereals and sugar beet were preferred to vegetables.  Bob sadly passed away in 2003, but David and Philip proudly carry on the family farming tradition, together with their respective wives Ruth and Rona, with some of the next generation coming along as well…Bob Norton with a rather special delivery in the early 50s - triplets are so rare this lot made the local newspaper!



Anyone who has heard Bobby Gentry’s 1967 hit “Ode to Billy Joe” might also remember that ‘Papa’ still had “five more acres in the Lower Forty to plough”. Whether or not Billy Joe jumped off the Tallahassee Bridge is uncertain – but it is my guess that the “Lower Forty” existed somewhere. Field names have been around for a long while and still survive today.

Some of the Church Farm field names are for obvious reasons – 3 Corner Piece, 26 Acres, Rectory Field and Church Piece for example. Several of the other names show interesting historical and environmental connections. Pound Piece, beside the playing field, got its name because there was a cattle pound at the site of Pound Garage. When cattle were driven in groups on foot to market, they could be held here to break the journey.

Hainford Pightles was probably once several smaller fields – the word “pightle” means a small enclosure of land – and there was probably once a wood on part of Wood Piece. Equally, Crakes Piece may have been named for migratory corncrakes nesting there.

Some of our field names have farming origins. For example, Muckles I believe is derived from “muck hills” – manure heaps stored on the field at some point in the past. And the furthest field we have from the farm is known as Hardest Piece, either because it is the hardest field to get to from the farm, or because that field is even now prone to compaction.

Perhaps the most interesting field name is Carriage Piece. Until about 1955 there was actually an old railway carriage in this field, which was the home of Billy Giles and his worker and companion Lenny Shilling, who rented several nearby fields from the neighbouring Trafford Estate. Lenny was a local character and lived in the area until quite recently.

Several years ago, on a visit to the Duxford Air Museum, I read that a field between Frettenham and Horstead had been used as an emergency landing site for aircraft flying during WW1. I subsequently found out from a worker on the Trafford Estate that there was a field close to the water tower at Horstead that was known as “Flying Field”. This field will disappear when the planned gravel extraction takes place!

With large farming companies running several small farms these days, the fields tend to be identified by numbers and the use of field names will diminish I am sure. On official DEFRA forms, fields now have to be idenitifed by the grid reference of the point in the middle of the field. It is pleasing to find a column that allows farmers’ to enter a field name for their own reference.  Thankfully for Bobby Gentry, Papa didn’t have five more acres in “TG23196802” yet to plough…