Diocesan Shrine & Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
The villages lie along an escarpment on the north side of a former glacial valley formed during the Ice Age and now occupied by the river Nene which flows northeast to the Wash. There are many Iron Age settlements along this escarpment, succeeded by Roman and Anglo-Saxon farms and villages. Both Billings (Little Billing and Great Billing) existed in those times.
Both Billings are mentioned in the Domesday Book. The most interesting of these accounts is the presence of a priest in Little Billing where there is a Saxon font.
Both villages had mills. The Great Billing mill still exists on the Nene, though obviously rebuilt over the centuries. Little Billing had a larger population than Great Billing in those days, more meadowland and ploughs. Shortly after the Norman Conquest its religious importance grew further with the building of an Augustinian Priory opposite the church. Its remains still exist incorporated in a modern house.
As the Middle Ages developed, the balance gradually moved up hill to Great Billing. A fine church was built there in the 12th century. Records of the manor, the predecessor to Great Billing Hall, exist from the 15th century. It was owned by Baron Dundalk. In 1629 it became the county seat of the Earls of Thomond, descendants of Brian Boroihome, King of Ireland in 1002.
But in the mid 1500s the Reformation fundamentally changed the religious ethos of the area for the next 300 years. The Priory was dissolved, the churches became Anglican and in Northamptonshire as a whole this took a very Low Church form. The Cromwellian Revolution was strongly backed in this area and even following the restoration of the Monarchy a very strong Nonconformist element continued on.
Gradually, any Catholic traces vanished and by 1800 were confined to a few recusant families, itinerant workmen mostly from Ireland, served by a tiny number of priests still having to be discreet about publicising their calling. As far as is known the Billings had few, if any, Catholics.