Watton....a growing town set in the heart of Breckland.
WATTON is worthy of a visit because of its character and place in folk
law as the scene of the original 'Babes in the Wood'. This is commemorated
in the Town Sign in front of the Clock Tower in the High Street (as above).
This tower was erected in 1679 to commemorate a fire which destroyed
large parts of the town in 1674. A fire bell was incorporated in the building
designed by Christopher Hey, to warn the towns people of danger.
Following the fire funds to help the people of Watton were raised over
the whole country and rebuilding was finished in 1681.
The Clock Tower, was renovated in 1827 when a new clock was installed. This is still hand wound today.
The Doomsday Book of 1086 tells that Watton (Wadetuna) had a Church and a nearby Anglo Saxon settlement and manor house. The Market has played an important roll in the expansion of the Town over the years. Its Royal Charter, granted by King John for Wednesdays gave it prominence over nearby Saham which was a Royal Manor and principal settlement in the 'Wayland Hundred' The Church, largely rebuilt in Victorian times, was not touched by the fire and has a distinctive round tower. It is unusual in that it is wider than it is deep. Its old pews and 17th century alms box make it worth a visit.
Wattons' Mill, Brewery and many of its long destroyed Inns were thriving during the reign of Elizabeth the First and its principal industry was the manufacture of woollen cloth. The wooden market cross with its 8 pillars was destroyed in 1820. Some of the wood was incorporated in the front of the Clock Tower. Other old property includes Julnes, built around 1769 and Goffes Alms Houses which, although no longer in existence, stood on the site of the Methodist Church car park dated from 1611. Harvey House in Harvey Street dates from 1720 and the Crown Hotel from 1761. The buildings around what was Watton Hardware Centre were built between 1761 and 1787. Khyber House dates from the late 18th Century and the wall was already built in 1834 around the garden of the Manor House.
House building was mainly confined to the area of the High Street from around 1803 with expansion along the Brandon and Norwich Roads starting in 1839. Development continued on all roads out of the Town and continued in the Griston Road following the building of the Railway Station in 1869. Gas came to Watton in 1859 followed soon by mains drainage and proper pavements in the High Street. The Wayland Show started on the land where the George Trollope estate stands today. The Wayland Hall is now the Town Council offices and dates from 1853. Well worth a visit, it was opened by Lady Walsingham who lived at Merton Hall, just out of the town.
A visitor to Watton can visit the Sports Centre with its wide range of sporting facilities and the nearby Loch Neaton recreational area and fishing lake. The old R.A.F. Station dates from the Second World War and has been sold for future development. Americans who were based here during the Second World War and the RAF have memorials on the site. Golf players are well catered for with an 18 hole course which contains many fine old trees and water as natural hazards.
For a visitor with a longer stay the Town hosts two theatrical groups, over a hundred clubs and organisations catering for every kind of activity and interest. The service clubs include two Masonic Lodges, Rotary, & Lions. The R.A.F. tradition has led to a strong Air Training Corps along with R.A.F.A. , Air Crew and Ground Crew Associations. With the runways at the R.A.F. camp and nearby Bodney providing training for the Army since this huge area of the Brecks was taken over by them during the War it is not surprising that the Army Cadets flourish. Traditional Scout and Guide groups are doing well as well as many other activities for young people.
Three good schools provide education for the youngsters of Watton and the surrounding villages. Many other activities including a very well attended Adult Education Centre are based at the Wayland Community High School and the extensive town library. A purpose built Youth Centre opened in 1968, provides a home for many local clubs and activities with its extensive playing field. Many local youngsters have learnt football skills through the towns junior football clubs, several of them now playing for big clubs in East Anglia.
Shoppers are well catered for with two national supermarkets and a wide variety of small shops along with three banks. Entertainment is available at the Queens Hall with dances most weekends. In June and August the town hosts the Town Carnival and then the Wayland Show. Every other year a week long festival takes place in October. The town is twinned with Weeze, in Germany. This relationship has existed since 1984, with the Twinning Charter being signed in March 1987. The adjoining, ex, RAF Laarbruch has now been re-developed into a commercial airport, Dusseldorf Weeze, and opened for flights from Stanstead on the 1st May 2003. This opens up further, cheap, contacts for twinning opportunities.
Accommodation ranges from a large central hotel, The Crown, through several smaller motels to bed and breakfast in one of many picturesque cottages scattered around the area. Several free car parks in the town centre give visitors chance to leave their cars and walk up and down the main street where a feature of the town is the roof line on the many old buildings.
Watton, being in the centre of Breckland, can be used as a base for visits to many other attractions for the visitor including Oxborough Hall, Castle Rising, the Norfolk Broads the city of Norwich and historical Kings Lynn.