Martham has always been a large village. The Saxons settled here about AD600 and gave the village its name, “the ham of the martens”, the home of the polecats. These cream-coloured ferret-like animals were found wild in Broadland marshes until about a century ago.
About AD800 Danish colonists settled densely in the Fleggs, giving their names to many villages which end in “by” (Hemsby, Filby, Ormesby, Oby etc.). Martham it would appear was large enough to absorb these newcomers and retain its Saxon name.
At the time of the Norman conquest in AD1066, the manor at Martham belonged to the bishop of Thetford, Herbert de Losinga. When he moved to Norwich, built the cathedral there and founded the priory, he gave his land at Martham to the new monastery. During the middle ages, Martham provided the monks in Norwich with wheat for their bread, barley for their beer and peat dug from the marshes for their fuel.
Martham was a large thriving village about the year AD1300 with a population of about 1000. Even after the Black Death which was extremely severe in this area, Martham was wealthy enough to build the large parish church, which has been dubbed the “Cathedral of the Fleggs”
When the monasteries were dissolved, the manor was leased to a series of landlords, many of whom lived away from the village. Martham has never had a single family that dominated village life. It was a community of farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and tradesmen. Nineteenth century directories tell of grocers, butchers, tailors, drapers, shoemakers, basket makers, wheelwrights, joiners, blacksmiths, millers, brick makers, bricklayers, thatchers, glaziers, wherrymen and watchmakers. Indeed a village large enough to be self sufficient and self supporting.
Brick making was carried on at several places in the parish, one being near Martham ferry. This is why most bricks in the older houses are of the same appearance, texture and colour, the so called “Norfolk Red”.
A fair was always held on the village green on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of July and was probably a general market where traders and peddlers sold goods not usually available in the village.
The population of Martham in 1890 was 1097 inhabitants, today that number has increased to over 3000.
Smees History. Prior to the Enclosure Award of 1812 stones and gravel for filling holes in village roads and tracks could always be taken from the wet or dry common (off what is now Common Road). After the Enclosure Award special arrangements had to be made to ensure that the road surveyors had access to the necessary sand, gravel and clay required for road maintenance. At that time four pieces of land were allocated where these materials could be obtained. One has since fallen into private ownership but three remain in the management of the parish and are known as Smees. Technically the inhabitants of Martham still have the right of “procuring clay for the daubing of houses, tenements and buildings” from these pieces of land. In practical terms the clay has run out and the pieces of land are either let to local farmers or are managed by the Parish Council as conservation areas available for any members of the public to visit and quietly enjoy.
For more information on Martham History visit: Martham Local History Group