Parish Summary: Paston

This Parish Summary is an overview of the large amount of information held for the parish, and only selected examples of sites and finds in each period are given. It has been beyond the scope of the project to carry out detailed research into the historical background, documents, maps or other sources, but we hope that the Parish Summaries will encourage users to refer to the detailed records, and to consult the bibliographical sources referred to below. Feedback and any corrections are welcomed by email to

The coastal parish of Paston is situated in northeast Norfolk, south of Mundesley and north of Bacton. Its name comes from the Old English for ‘enclosure by the small pools’. The parish has a long history and was certainly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest, its population, land ownership and productive resources being extensively detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The earliest evidence of human activity comes in the form of prehistoric but otherwise undateable flint tools, for example flakes (NHER 32880, 33954, 41584 and 44073), a scraper and a blade (NHER 36205). The oldest objects to which a definite date can be given are Neolithic, and include polished flint axeheads (NHER 6876, 6888, 6889 and 6891), chipped axeheads (NHER 6888 and 6890) and a scraper (NHER 6889). A stone axehammer (NHER 6886) found in 1933 may be either Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The Bronze Age may have left evidence of the area’s earliest structure. Aerial photography shows the cropmark of a possible ring ditch (NHER 39008) to the west of the parish. These are the remains of the surrounding ditches of long-since flattened burial mounds. Bronze Age copper alloy objects recovered to date consist of axeheads (NHER 40669 and 40670) and a hoard of at least three palstaves and an axehead (NHER 6877) found near a World War Two coastal gun emplacement in 1945.

Iron Age finds are currently limited to pottery fragments (NHER 6879) and a coin (NHER 40669), although aerial photography has tentatively identified the cropmarks of an Iron Age to Roman farmstead (NHER 39016). The Roman period is represented by coins (NHER 32156, 40669 and 40677) and pottery fragments (NHER 6880, 6893 and 32880), though again the cropmarks of a field boundary (NHER 27279) and a trackway, enclosure and field system (NHER 39010) have been identified from the air.

Saxon objects found to date are a whole pottery jar (NHER 6892) found in 1900, pottery fragments (NHER 6892, 6894 and 6895), a coin pendant (NHER 6881), a coin and brooch (NHER 40669) and a strap fitting (NHER 44074). 

Photograph of St Margaret's Church, Paston. Photograph from

St Margaret's Church, Paston. Photograph from (© S. Knott.)

The medieval period has left the parish with its oldest surviving building, St Margaret’s Church (NHER 6913). This is a modest 14th century and later thatched affair, built on the site of an earlier church, with a 15th century south porch that is, if anything, even more modest. The medieval Paston family spent their money on Broomholm Priory (NHER 1073) near Bacton and were buried there, so St Margaret's, their local church, was left a comparatively plain affair, despite being next to the hall. When the church was built, wall paintings covered the walls inside, and some of these were rediscovered in the 1920s. On the north wall is the top half of a patriarchal St Christopher, and further along, part of a 'three living and three dead' painting, with three animated noblemen and skeletons. This theme was very popular in the years following the Black Death. 

Photograph of a medieval wall painting of St Christopher in St Margaret's Church, Paston. photograph from

A medieval wall painting of St Christopher in St Margaret's Church, Paston. Photograph from (© S. Knott.)

A less fantastical reminder of mortality can be seen in the chancel, where there are several memorials to the Pastons, one of which was brought here from Broomholm Priory when Henry VIII closed it. On the north side, and the reason why the window here is blocked, are two enormous memorials, one featuring a life-size figure of Dame Katherine Paston (who died in 1628) reclining beneath a black, white and pink alabaster confection of pillars, arches, figures and a crowned skull. Next to this, and by the same sculptor, is a rather ugly classical style memorial to the Dame's widower, Sir Edmund Paston (who died in 1632). 

Medieval finds include coins (NHER 32611, 40669 and 40670), pottery fragments (NHER 6894, 6895, 32880 and 36205), buckles (NHER 32156 and 32611) and a pilgrim bottle (NHER 40669).

Of the 16th century mansion and buildings of the Paston family, only the Great Barn (NHER 6896) is preserved. This enormous thatched structure is of flint with brick and stone dressings and has two inscriptions attributing it to Sir William Paston in 1581. Two full height double doors to the east are flanked by stepped buttresses, and further buttresses appear at intervals between the slit ventilation lights. Inside is a magnificent roof of alternating hammerbeam and tie-beam trusses. The roof span is not actually great enough to necessitate hammerbeams, and it is likely that they are there for show, an expression of wealth and bravado.

There had been plans to turn the barn into a visitor centre, but these were dropped in 2002 so that a colony of rare bats would not be disturbed. However, preservation work continues and there is still some public access. The present Paston Hall, a short distance to the south, is a 19th century two storey pale brick building, now a hotel.

Other post medieval buildings to mention are Beech cottage and Forge Cottage (NHER 46643), a pair of late 17th century and later thatched two storey flint and brick houses, The Green Farmhouse (NHER 47680), a three storey flint and brick farmhouse with a 17th century core and a late 18th century façade under a slate roof, and Heath Cottage (NHER 47737), a two storey mid 19th century brick labourer's cottage.

Standing resplendent by the road in the north of the parish is Stow Hill Windmill (NHER 6882). A famous landmark of the north Norfolk landscape, this tarred brick tower mill was built in 1827. It was converted to a house in 1930, then damaged by lightning in 1955. After many years of work it has now been fully restored, and with its timber cap, sails and fantail, is an impressive monument.

Part of the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway (NHER 13585) ran through the parish. This was a late 19th and early 20th century railway, from East Runton to North Walsham, via Cromer, Overstrand, Trimingham, Mundesley, Paston and Knapton. The Cromer to Mundesley section was closed in 1953, with the other sections closed in 1964. Paston station and a number of bridges and embankments survive. 

Abinger Cottage on Vicarage Road (NHER 41781) is a thatched house of irregular plan, built in 1912 by a student of the architect Edwin Lutyens.

On the northern coast is Mundesley Holiday Camp (NHER 34570). Opened in 1933, this was the first purpose-built fully catered holiday camp in Norfolk, and only the second in Britain. Its plan was intended to mirror the sails of Paston Mill. During World War Two, the camp and its surroundings were used as a military training camp (NHER 39109). A variety of different military features are visible on contemporary aerial photographs, including slit trenches, pillboxes, concrete and earthwork gun and/or searchlight emplacements, spigot mortar emplacements, barbed wire and various huts and buildings. Although post-war photographs indicate that the clearance of military structures from the area had begun by 1946, it is possible that some elements may survive, either hidden by vegetation or as levelled earthworks and structures.

Piet Aldridge (NLA), 12 February 2007.


Further Reading

Brown, P., 1984. Domesday Book: Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

Knott, S., 2006. ‘The Norfolk Churches Website’. Available: Accessed: 20th December 2006

Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place Names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

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