Parish Summary: Burnham Market

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

Burnham Market is the largest parish in the group that makes up the ‘Burnhams’. Burnham comes from the Old English meaning ‘village on a stream’, and the present settlement is an amalgamation of several small villages; Burnham Westgate, Burnham Ulph and Burnham Sutton.

There is some evidence for early settlement in the parish; a number of Neolithic axeheads (NHER 14084, 14085, 14563) and Neolithic pottery (NHER 11608) have been found. Bronze Age axeheads (NHER 1744, 1745, 1747) and a palstave (NHER 30845) have also been found. The sites of several ring ditches (NHER 11880, 12149, 12787), probably the remains of Bronze Age barrows, are visible on aerial photographs, and the site of a possible barrow cemetery (NHER 35950) has been recorded in the park of Burnham Westgate Hall. A large bowl barrow (NHER 1746) is probably part of this cemetery, and a unique type of World War Two pillbox has been built into the side of the barrow.

Iron Age coins (NHER 1750) and pottery (NHER 28127) suggest that Burnham Market may have been settled in the Iron Age, and there is ample evidence to suggest that settlement continued to develop in the Roman period. The site of a Roman building (NHER 18496) has been discovered, as well as a series of Roman ditches (NHER 32791), which were probably part of a field system. Another Roman field system (NHER 27010) is also visible on aerial photographs. Roman pottery (NHER 12616, 28117, 39979), coins (NHER 13659 and 37468), brooches (NHER 36623) and other metalwork has also been found around the parish. 

Drawing of a Middle Saxon ansate brooch from Burnham Market.

A Middle Saxon ansate brooch from Burnham Market. (©NCC)

During the Saxon period Burnham was a settlement of some importance and status, probably the heart of a larger estate, which subsequently broke down to form the different manors and parishes of the Burnhams. The amount of Middle Saxon pottery and high quality continental metalwork found in the parish suggests that during the Middle Saxon period there was a market or trading centre (NHER 18496) at Burnham, which continued to develop as a settlement during the Late Saxon period. The settlement probably shifted its focus slightly to where the present village is, developing along a narrow green which became the main street. Excavation has revealed ditches which formed part of a Late Saxon field system (NHER 32791, NHER 34581), as well as the remains of a possible building (NHER 32791). 

Photograph of St Ethelbert's Church, Burnham Market.

St Ethelbert's Church, Burnham Market. (©NCC)

There were three parishes in Burnham Market that gradually merged over the course of the medieval period. There were five churches in the present day parish, nothing remains of St Andrew’s (NHER 1753) and St Edmund’s Westgate (NHER 1752), and St Ethelbert’s Burnham Sutton (NHER 1755) is in ruins, although some Norman work has survived. All Saints’ Church Burnham Ulph (NHER 1759) was built in the late 12th century, and St Mary’s Westgate (NHER 1767) dates mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries, with elaborate early 16th century carvings on the battlements.

Early 18th century facade with sash windows and a wooden porch with Tuscan Doric columns and fluted pilasters.

Market House and Limetree Cottage, Burnham Market. All the windows in the front facade are sash windows. (©NCC)

Burnham Market has a wealth of post medieval buildings, for example Satchell’s Foundry House (NHER 20873), which has unusual cast iron decoration, made in a foundry in Burnham Market in the early 19th century. Forge House (NHER 30423) is an early 16th century house, as are Lion Cottage and Clare House (NHER 30886), both of which contain remarkable examples of early 16th century ceilings. Burnham Westgate Hall is a late 18th century house (NHER 1768), surrounded a small park. Traces of the pre-park landscape survive within the park, including a complex series of cropmarks that may represent the remains of a late medieval field system and other medieval and post medieval features (NHER 35951). The Great Eastern Railway (NHER 13590) arrived in Burnham Market in the 1880s, and closed in the 1960s. The sites of a World War Two searchlight battery (NHER 33697) and a radar or radio station (NHER 33700) are visible on aerial photographs.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 29 September 2006.


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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