A Brief History of Griston
There has been very little archaeological work done in Griston so little is known about the early history of the village. The Domesday book gives the village name as Grestuna or Gristuna. There have been various suggestions as to the meaning of these including gravelly enclosure or settlement, grass town or an enclosure or farmstead where young pigs are reared.
At the time of the Domesday survey with 29.5 households Griston was quite a large village. In 1821 the population and number of houses is recorded in one of the church registers as “males 96, females 102 and 39 houses”
Farming was once the main form of employment and there were eleven farms in the village but many of these lost their land to the airfield. Today there are only four working farms. Griston Hall farmhouse dates from the 1500’s and is believed to have been the home of the wicked uncle in the legend of The Babes in the Wood. The village sign reflects the story. The farmhouse at Park Farm is also thought to date from the 1500’s and 1600’s with later rebuilds.
The present church stands on the site of the original mentioned in Domesday. The tower as it is today was rebuilt in 1477. The church houses a memorial to the fallen of World War One and World War Two. For more information on the church see; http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/griston/griston.htm
The earliest recorded industry in Griston would appear to be honey making. 10 bee hives are recorded in the village in the Domesday Book. A linen weaver and a wool comber have been recorded in wills dated 1682 and 1700-1702. In 1895 Alfred Coughtrey established a saw pit that would become Griston Sawmill. Initially trees were brought in by horses, having been cut down by hand using axe and saw. At this time there was no machinery for converting the trees into useable timber. Around 1907-08 a portable steam engine was bought to drive a circular saw and in 1924 a Garrett road locomotive was purchased to haul the timber from woods all over Norfolk and Suffolk and occasionally Essex & Hertfordshire. The Garrett steam engine was replaced by a French Latil in 1937. The sawmill supplied oak to many well known companies including British Rail, Bass Brewers and Rowntrees and also to St Paul’s cathedral. The business was taken over by a London company, Lloyds of Leyton, in 1965 and was expanded to sell bathrooms, kitchens and doors. Industrial units were built on the site and today are occupied by label printers, engineers, bathroom and kitchen sales, a garage and equine supplies. The sawmill was closed and demolished in 2004.
In 1936 with the build-up of the Royal Air Force and new airfields being constructed an area of farmland, almost half the size of the village, to the north and west was taken for the airfield that would become RAF Watton. The roads to Watton and Carbrooke that crossed this land were closed. With the arrival of the American forces in 1943 more farm land was taken east and south leaving the village virtually surrounded by American servicemen. The 3rd Strategic Air Depot (SAD) occupied the land south of the airfield where they carried out the maintenance and repair of aircraft of the US Eighth Air Force. After the end of the war in Europe the Americans departed and the RAF returned to the airfield. In 1988 RAF Watton closed and the airfield part was transferred to the Ministry of Defence and became part of STANTA Army Training Area. The remaining part was transferred to the Ministry of Justice and Wayland Prison was built on the site and opened in 1985. It has been extended a number of times and now houses over 1000 inmates. An estate of sixty houses and a social club was built off Watton Road for the officers of the prison. When the social club closed an attempt was made to purchase it for a community centre for the village but funding could not be obtained within the time limit set by the Ministry of Justice. The building is now used as a Day Care Centre. The Ministry of Defence disposed of the airfield in 2012 and the land has now been returned to farmland.
The 3rd SAD sites were disposed of in the late 1960’s and industrial development began. On Church Road factory units were built for engineering and racing car manufacturers and later label printers and fibre glass moulders. A double glazing manufacturer was later replaced by a structural steel company and another racing car manufacturer. The remainder of the site became Longmeadow Close. The former motorpool south of Thompson Road became a scrap metal store before being sold in 1996 when it was returned to farmland and a motorcycle training area. A mobile home park has been developed on what was the medical area.
A grocery shop was situated opposite the church from the early 1820’s, possibly earlier. Petrol was also available via a hand operated pump. This shop closed when the owners built a larger shop and house at Watton Road in the 1930’s. A separate shop for household goods and cycles was included and petrol pumps were also installed.
The village once had two public houses, The Fox and Hounds at Thompson Road which closed in 1915 and The Waggon and Horses.
A school was built on land off Carbrooke Road and was opened in 1878. When the airfield was built the school playing field was lost and then the school was closed in 1942 due to the proximity of the airfield. In 1950 the building became a kitchen where meals were cooked and distributed to local schools. This ceased after about eight years and the building remained unused until it was bought by the Parish Council and demolished to make way for a play area.
In 2009 a field was leased from the Ministry of Justice to establish a recreation ground. A wide range of play equipment was installed and a heritage orchard planted. The field gained Fields in Trust status in 2014 to protect it from development.
A long campaign to get a direct cycle route to Watton avoiding the busy A1075 came to fruition when the former airfield was sold. The route of the former Watton Road was obtained and with the co-operation of Sustrans and Norfolk County Council Stans Walk was established as a cycle and walking route and opened in 2013.
For further maps of Griston see; http://www.historic-maps.norfolk.gov.uk/
A 5 -minute film was made by the BBC in the early 1970's featuring Griston Hall Farm (where the Wicked Uncle lived) and Wayland Wood. To watch it click on the foillowing link; http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/eafa/INV336610-Low.mp4