Parish Summary: Bawsey

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 parish of Bawsey is located in the Borough of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, directly to the east of King’s Lynn and Gaywood. It is roughly rectangular shaped, this neatness the result of recent boundary changes. Prior to the changes, it was more irregularly shaped and included areas now in Grimston parish. The modern boundaries follow the Gaywood River, the A149, a railway, the Leziate to Middleton Road and field boundaries.

The B1145 Lynn to Litcham Road passes through the centre of the parish and there are industrial premises, a crematorium and a small hamlet alongside it. The rest of the settlement is characterised by a few scattered houses and farms, although the narrow linear village of Leziate is located along the southeastern parish boundary. Working or former gravel quarries occupy about a fifth of the parish. The former gravel pits have been made into a Country Park.

Unfortunately there are few records of discoveries made during gravel quarrying. As a result, making observations about artefact and site distribution within the parish is somewhat hampered. However, as much of the rest the parish has been examined by metal detecting, fieldwalking, excavation and surveying, we have a good idea about which areas were used during the various archaeological periods.

The earliest artefact found is a Palaeolithic flint handaxe (NHER 18446) that was recovered in the southwest of the parish. Flint artefacts that could be of similar date have been found at a few sites nearby. It is interesting to note that Palaeolithic finds have been made close to two canalised streams. The streams may have been important during the period, although it is equally possible that when the artefacts were found they had been disturbed from their original location in gravels associated with the prehistoric watercourses.

An important Mesolithic site (NHER 20577) was found in the southwest of the parish in the early 1980s. On a low rise of land between two streams eighteen flint microliths and ten flint flakes were discovered. Possible Mesolithic blades have also been found at a site on a low hill between the Gaywood River and a stream in the northwest of the parish.

Neolithic artefacts have been found close to both Mesolithic sites. This suggests that the rising land and the water courses continued to be important, either for settlement or for resources. A few Neolithic finds have also been collected in the northeast of the parish, close to the Gaywood River. Artefacts include flint arrowheads, flint axeheads, flint flakes and a flint adze.

Many of the flint artefacts found in the parish cannot be dated more closely than ‘prehistoric’ (although it is probable many are Neolithic or Bronze Age in date). Interestingly the distribution of their findspots is very similar to that of the Neolithic finds. This probably indicates the importance of the rising land and the water courses during the prehistoric period.

Quite a few Bronze Age objects have been found in the northwest of the parish on or close to the low hill between the Gaywood River and a stream. These include flint arrowheads, a bronze pin, a bronze awl and a bronze flat axehead. As only a few artefacts have been found elsewhere in the parish, the hill appears to have been an important place during the period. This probability is strengthened by the fact that no Bronze Age finds have been collected in the southwestern area with Neolithic finds. Perhaps settlement was concentrated on the hill, although the possibility that the some of the ‘prehistoric’ flints found in the southern area are Bronze Age and might indicate settlement cannot be discounted.

To the south of the hill, close to the source of two streams, a Bronze Age round barrow (NHER 16286) survives as an earthwork. It was excavated in 1984 and a possible tree trunk coffin, a complete pot containing a cremation and seven subsidiary cremations were found. A ring ditch (NHER 30409) to the south could be the remains of a round barrow.

As nearly all the Iron Age finds have been found on the northwestern hill (see NHER 25962 and associated sites), it was also an important location during the Iron Age. Artefacts found there or nearby include one complete torc, terminals from another torc, at least 140 torc fragments, a terret, a coin and pottery. Part of a third torc is also known, although where it was found is uncertain. Possible Iron Age flint artefacts have been recovered in the south of the parish, although they could be Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The northwestern hill was probably also the site of a Roman settlement (see NHER 25962 and associated sites). Finds from the hill and close by include numerous coins, brooches and other metalwork, tile and lots of pottery. Roman activity appears also to have taken place in the northeast of the parish and in the southwest. Both areas have produced Roman pottery. The large amount of undated metal working debris found in the southwest area may indicate the site of Roman industry, although as Late Saxon and medieval pottery has also been found the metalworking may be later in date.

Early Saxon activity on the northwestern hill is evidenced by the discovery of Early Saxon pottery, buckles, brooches and other metal objects (NHER 25962, with NHER 12364 and 21078). The nature of the activity is uncertain, as many of the objects found are equally as likely to have been deposited in burials or in a settlement.

During the Middle Saxon period there was an important settlement on and around the northwestern hill (see NHER 25962 and associated sites). Survey work has shown that an enclosure ditch surrounded the settlement. Pits, ditches and a burial have been excavated and pottery, metalwork and coins have been collected. The settlement is one of a small group of Middle Saxon sites known as ‘productive sites’. It probably served as a market, possibly as a port and the discovery of styli suggest that there was a religious component, possibly a monastery or minster. 

During the Late Saxon and medieval periods settlement continued on and around the northwestern hill. Late Saxon pottery, coins and metalwork have been found in an area slightly larger than that of Middle Saxon finds, possibly suggesting that the settlement was larger or shifted slightly. Late Saxon gravestones have been found on the hill top, amongst the ruins of the medieval church of St Mary’s Church (NHER 3328). Although no part of the structure is Late Saxon, the gravestones suggest that the first church on the site was built prior to the Norman Conquest.

The settlement on the hill was probably that called ‘Boweseia’ (an Old English placename meaning ‘Gadfly island’) in the Domesday Book of 1086. In 1086 land at Bawsey was held by Count Alan and Robert Malet. Smallholders, villagers, slaves, meadow, ploughs, mills, woodland, salthouses, oxen, pigs, sheep and goats are recorded. 

Finds of Late Saxon and medieval pottery in the southwest of the parish probably indicate there was a second Late Saxon settlement. The findspots roughly surround the medieval ruins of St Michael’s Church, Mintlyn (NHER 3410). Mintlyn is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Meltinga’ (possibly ‘Myntel’s people’ in Old English). It was held by Bishop William, and freemen, smallholders and a plough are recorded. Although the exact site of Mintlyn is unknown, the pottery gives an approximate location for it. Undated metal working debris has been found with the pottery and could indicate Late Saxon and/or medieval industry, although it could also be Roman in date.

Two medieval moated sites are known in the parish, both located away from the settlement sites. Between the northwest hill and Mintlyn church are a moat, an enclosure and ditches (NHER 5554). A probable medieval rabbit warren to the east may have been associated with the site. To the southeast of Mintlyn church are a moat and pond. They indicate the site of the medieval Haveless Hall (NHER 3411).

In the northeast of the parish there was a medieval watermill (NHER 3343) and a group of medieval tile kilns (NHER 1075). A number have been excavated and numerous glazed and plain tiles have been collected, along with large quantities of medieval pottery and kiln waste. The tiles from the site have become known as 'Bawsey tiles'.

The northwestern hill and Mintlyn settlements were deserted during the later medieval or post medieval periods. As a result, both ruined churches currently stand in isolated positions. Church Farm (NHER 3329) may have been founded as part of the northwestern hill settlement or after it had been deserted. It includes a 17th or 18th century house. There was a brickworks (NHER 3413) in the east of the parish, sited alongside the B1145, until it closed in 1942.

David Robertson (NLA), 25 October 2005.


Further Reading

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

Mills, A.D., 1998. Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

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

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