Parish Summary: Terrington St John

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

Terrington St John is situated in the Marshland area of the Fens, in the very west of Norfolk. It is 9.5km from King’s Lynn, and is dominated by agricultural land and criss-crossed by drains. The parish has an area of 823 hectares, and contains the settlements of Terrington St John, St John’s Highway and St John’s Fen End. The name  ‘Terrington’ is thought to derived from the Old English words for enclosure of Tira’s people, and ‘St John’ refers to the dedication of the parish church. This parish is a daughter of its larger neighbour to the north, Terrington St Clement, though when it gained independence is uncertain. 

Large parts of the parish are former salt marshes, mostly drained only during the last two hundred years. As a result, it is thought unlikely that any occupation would have been possible during the prehistoric period. However, a number of Iron Age pottery sherds have been recovered from a site (NHER 19815) in the south of the parish.

However, there is considerable evidence for Roman activity, with concentrations of material recovered from across the parish, although with a bias towards the southern part. The only recorded monument is a ditch (NEHR 20278) situated in the side of a dyke to the west of Terrington St John village, which contained charcoal, pottery sherds and briquetage, and was noted in conjunction with a number of Roman pottery sherds and bone. This is particularly significant due to the quantity of briquetage, which amounted to eighteen large pieces including a complete slab.

The main form of evidence, which amounts to some seventeen sites, is pottery sherd concentrations. These were recovered during an intensive systematic fieldwalking project by the Fenland Survey. Three of these sites consist solely of low concentrations of Roman pottery sherds (NHER 21340, NHER 21418, NHER 21419), but five number include medieval pottery sherds (NHER 19591, NHER 19667, NHER 20080, NHER 20263, NHER 20840). Perhaps of more importance are the eight defined concentrations of Roman pottery sherds (NHER 19711, NHER 19810, NHER 20079), a number of which have been found in conjunction with objects such as bone (NHER 20117, NHER 20847) and fired clay (NHER 20116), or even Roman metal objects such as an awl and coin (NHER 19813).

There is very little evidence for Saxon period activity in the parish, although a small number of possible Saxon pottery sherds have been noted (NHER 20839, NHER 20081). As this parish was joined with Terrington St Clement during this period, there is no individual entry in the Domesday Book for the settlements in this parish, and the area is likely to have been included with the entry for Terrington St Clement, which does not indicate a high value or population. 

Drawing of a medieval buckle found in Terrington St John.

Part of a medieval buckle from Terrington St John. (© NCC) 

This low population density is also reflected in the medieval period. The medieval objects recovered indicate that there was no concentrated settlement, and that activity was strung around the drove road which ran from Terrington St Clement to the Smeeth, and crossed the length of the parish north to south. This track survives as the modern roads of Church Lane, Old Church Road and School Lane today, and a number of other trackways have also been recorded (NHER 2223, NHER 20697, NHER 20846, NHER 21338, NHER 21406).

However the medieval period did produce the oldest extant building in the parish, St John’s Church (NHER 2230). This dates largely to the 15th century and is in the Decorated style, with Early English style lancet windows in the tower. This tower was originally separate from the church, but at some point a number of linking buildings were added including a brick barrel-vaulted ground floor room. Situated nearby is a moated site (NHER 2223), which is thought to have been the site of a vicarage. 

In addition to this medieval pottery sherds, often deposited during manuring have been recovered from areas across the parish, though concentrated close to the main drove way. A total of thirty-five separate scatters of material have been recorded, though nineteen of these consist purely of pottery sherds (NHER 20262, NHER 20698, NHER 22004). However a number of concentrations of objects have been noted, and these include shell and bone fragments (NHER 22406) and fired clay (NHER 20081). A few have been recovered in association with metal objects such as coins (NHER 20261).

The scattered nature of medieval settlement in the area is also continued in the post medieval period. As a result there are only a few post medieval buildings of architectural interest. These include Church Farmhouse (NHER 22627), a house of 1665, and the barn at Grange Farm (NHER 46997), which is cruciform in plan and is constructed of brick in English bond. In 1958 a pit for baking bricks (NHER 21299) was recovered at Elm Tree House, and it is thought that the associated barn was made of these bricks. Little other industrial activity is visible in the parish, but the sites of two post wind mills or drainage mills (NHER 16343, NHER 19327) have been recorded.

World War Two also left its mark on the parish, with a World War Two pillbox (NHER 14610) still thought to survive on Church Lane. The construction of a Cold War Royal Observer Corps post on top of it may make it a unique monument.

Ruth Fillery-Travis (NLA), July 2007


Further Reading

Morris, J. (General Editor), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I and Part II (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

Pevsner, N., 1997. The buildings of England: Norfolk 2: Northwest and South (London, Penguin Books)

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

Silvester, R. J., 1988. The Fenland Project Number 3: Marshland and the Nar Valley, Norfolk (Gressenhall, Norfolk Archaeological Unit)

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