The earliest record of Thorpe Market is found in the Domesday Book of 1086. At that time it was a well-equipped farming village with a population of about a hundred and fifty, including a good proportion of free and semi-free peasants. In 1275 the Lord of the Manor, Pauline Peyvere, was granted the right to hold a Market in the village, which is how the name “Market” arose. This market had totally disappeared by the eighteenth century, probably much earlier.
In 1381 a Norwich dyer called Geoffrey (sometimes John) Litster, who was the leader of the peasant’s revolt in Norfolk, mustered his troops on the village green at Thorpe Market before marching on North Walsham. Shortly afterwards he was defeated in battle in North Walsham by the Bishop of Norwich, Walter Dispencer.
Since before the Norman Conquest (1066) the village of Thorpe Market had been split into a number of different manors, and this situation continued until after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth century. Coxford Priory, an Augustinian house in East Rudham, had been given part of Thorpe in the late twelfth century, including the church. The extent of their lands here is difficult to judge, but we do know that they had a fish pond, because there was a dispute between the Priory and local residents regarding fishing rights.
There are only two likely sites for a fishery, due north of the present church, near the boundary with Southrepps, or near Hagon’s Beck on the boundary with Roughton. Both of these sites are some way distant to the church, so if the Priory lands were continuous they must have been quite extensive.
After the reorganisation sparked by the Dissolution, the bulk of the village seems to have been reunited around 1560 under the ownership of Sir John Gresham, Lord Mayor of London. He lived in Kent, but left the manor to one of his younger sons, Edmund, who was buried in St Margaret’s church in 1586. The unity of the manor did not last long. In 1577 the former Coxford manor was for some reason taken from Edmund and eventually came into the hands of the Rant family. The Rants and their descendents held the title of the manor for the following four centuries.
Sir Thomas Rant (1606-1671) built four almshouses for poor widows on the village green. Now converted into two, they are still run as a charitable trust. He was probably also responsible for the large building known as Rant’s or Thorpe Hall, which formerly stood near the church, and was demolished around 1780. This was his manor house. Very little is known of it except that it was probably built of red brick. Its walled garden survives behind the church, also largely of brick, and has features, such a polygonal corner turrets, which suggest that the house would probably have been more renaissance in appearance (such as Blickling Hall) than classical (like Hanworth Hall). In 1664 “Dame” Rant paid twenty shillings tax for twenty working hearths, whilst Gunton paid eleven, Hanworth paid ten and Felbrigg paid fifteen. It was a very substantial building, possibly similar in overall size and style to the hall at Barningham Winter.
Thorpe Hall’s final occupant was Harbord Morden Harbord, later Lord Suffield, who was Sir Thomas’s great-great-grandson. He inherited the estate at Gunton from his uncle, Sir William Morden Harbord, in 1770. Shortly afterwards he moved to Gunton and demolished Rant’s Hall. Thorpe Market then effectively became part of Gunton Estate, much of it remaining in the ownership of the Harbord/Suffield family until the 1980s.
In 1796 Lord Suffield demolished the crumbling church at Thorpe Market and replaced it with the present building, rather as his uncle had done at Gunton thirty years previously. The resulting building has inspired mixed emotions from architectural writers ever since. (See the section “St Margaret’s Church”).
Throughout the nineteenth century Thorpe Market was run as a typical estate village, with large tenant farms which were the centre of the local economy. In the nineteenth century Thorpe Market gained a school (built in a rather similar style to the church), and what must surely be one of the remotest railway stations in Norfolk. Gunton Station, as it was known, was built primarily for the convenience of Lord Suffield (a major investor on the railway), and despite its rather splendid station buildings, was probably never heaving with local commuters.
A rather splendid gateway to Lord Suffield’s estate was built in Thorpe Market in 1838. It’s tall tower, from which Norwich cathedral is visible on a clear day, later served as a lookout for Royal trains arriving at Gunton Station. By the 1980s the tower was completely derelict, but has since been carefully restored.
Early in the twentieth century Thorpe Market gained a Post Office, a Methodist chapel and a Reading Room/Social Club. All three have since demised, although the former Reading Room is still in use as a Village Hall.