What have St. Mary's Church, Watton and Wayland Wood in common? Both are situated on the outskirts of the parish and whilst the former is the oldest building in the town, having served the residents for nearly 900 years, the latter has attracted Wattonians to view its extensive carpets of wood anemones, primroses and bluebells and to hear the delightful dawn chorus of its birds for over a thousand years. With the exception of Sherwood Forest and Selwood it is the oldest wood in England . It became nationally famous when legend linked it with the sinister deaths of the Babes in the Wood.
After the Saxon armies had won back the Danelaw about 950 they divided the reconquered land into Hundreds and wherever possible named them after some natural feature in the district. Thus it was that the area forming a rough triangle between Attleborough, East Marling and Watton, together with the surrounding villages were named the "Wayland Hundred". The Doomsday Book refers to it as Wane-lond. As lond means wood it will be realised that Wayland Wood gave its name to the Hun dred and not vice-versa. Various theories have been suggested as to how the legend of the Babes in the Wood came to be associated with Watton's Wayland Wood.
One of them is that the Elizabethan Manor House, standing a half mile to the south-east, con tained — until about a hundred years ago-a carved overmantel of the period, depicting the story of the Babes, so even in Elizabeth 1st time it was already a legend. It was also in this house that the Wicked Uncle, who paid two ruffians to dispose of the Babes, was supposed to have lived.
This house, a half mile past Wayland Wood, is supposed to be where the "Wicked Uncle" lived.
As all the world knows, the story of the Babes in the Wood has for hundreds of years been a favourite subject for Christmas pantomimes. From the 14th century until 1975 the wood was owned by the de Grey Family, but it was almost lost during Elizabethan times when Robert de Grey, a staunch Papist, who owned it at the time, was in Norwich gaol after having refused to attend the Anglican services, or to pay the fines incurred by his action.