Parish Summary: Foulsham

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 large mid Norfolk parish of Foulsham is situated to the north west of the even larger parish of Reepham. Its name comes from the Old English for ‘Homestead of the birds’. 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.

So far there is no evidence of any firmly dateable human activity until the Neolithic, this evidence coming in the form of two flint tools, a scraper (NHER 7187) and a chipped axehead (NHER 12932). A perforated stone axehammer found in 1961 (NHER 3088) may be Neolithic, but could equally well be Bronze Age.

Two Bronze Age discoveries have been unusually spectacular; a gold torc ploughed up in 1846 was found to have been located in exactly the same place as a ring ditch seen on 1977 aerial photographs, indicating that the torc was part of a burial (NHER 7188). Then in 1953 during drain cutting, a hoard of a hundred and forty one copper alloy socketed axeheads was uncovered (NHER 3089). Known as The Foulsham Hoard, this was one of the largest of its kind found in Norfolk, and most of it is now in the Castle Museum. Other less glamorous Bronze Age finds include a copper alloy axehead (on its own) (NHER 7189), and several possible ring ditches on aerial photographs (e.g. NHER 18559 and 11378)

It is not uncommon for the Iron Age to leave little or no trace of its passing, and to date, there have been no discoveries in the parish from this period.

The Roman occupation has left no traces of any buildings (or none that have yet been discovered), but quite a number of coins (for example NHER 3090 and 35858) and brooches (e.g. NHER 25759, 35718 and 40307) have been found, together with pottery fragments (NHER 17252 and 30607) and a gold strip of uncertain function (NHER 22972). Saxon finds are somewhat rarer, but include coins (e.g. NHER 30607), brooches (e.g. NHER 25759) pottery fragments (e.g. NHER 30607) and a pin (NHER 40307). 

The late 15th century west tower of Holy Innocent's Church, Foulsham.

The west tower of Holy Innocent's Church, Foulsham. (© NCC.)

The medieval period following the Norman Conquest has left the parish with its earliest surviving building, Holy Innocents’ Church (NHER 3105). The chancel is the oldest part of the church, dating to the 14th century, the tall, battlemented west tower, nave, north and south aisles and south porch being mostly 15th century. A north vestry has since been demolished. The decorated west door at the base of the tower includes the arms of Lord Morley, under whose patronage major building work was carried out. The church was largely destroyed by the Great Fire of 1770, (which also burned down most of the town), and was rebuilt by Sir Edward Astley. The two fine bells date from this time. A fire engine was purchased after the fire, and until it was given an engine shed in 1853 (NHER 38170), was kept in the church. Much of the interior is 19th century, but there is a fine (though fire damaged) alabaster memorial to Sir Thomas Hunt (died 1616), and fragments of medieval window glass survive in the chancel windows.

Other medieval buildings have not survived, but have left traces of their surrounding moats (NHER 3102). A very large moated site (NHER 7190) also has the remains of fishponds associated with it. Some medieval monuments have disappeared leaving no trace, like the old market cross (NHER 12421), which was pulled down in 1760, and on whose site now stands a war memorial. Small finds from the medieval period include coins (NHER 30607, 30979, 35718, and 39628), brooches (NHER 30979), seal matrices (NHER 30979 and 39711), buckles, rings and a coin weight (NHER 41224) and a pottery pilgrim bottle (NHER 7192).

Small finds have also been found from the post medieval period including in particular an impressive gold double-sided seal ring (NHER 32327), thought to have belonged to Sir Thomas Anguish (1536 to 1617), a Mayor of Norwich, or to his cousin Edmund. This was found in 1996 and is now in the Castle Museum.

Post medieval buildings of interest in the parish are numerous, and for reasons of space it is not possible to list them all in this summary. However, with apologies to the occupiers of those properties not mentioned, a selection could include:

The late 18th century facade of Foulsham House showing the central porch with Doric columns.

Foulsham House. (© NCC.)

Old Hall Farm (NHER 7191), the remaining fragment of a large 16th century hall with fine internal wood panelling, once home to the Commander of the Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Naseby in 1645.

Westfield House (NHER 19356), a late 16th century brick and flint house with an impressive south façade of about 1800. Inside are to be found some of the finest moulded beams in Norfolk.

The Old King’s Arms (NHER 20530), an 18th century former pub, later altered but with its original interior detailing intact.

Old Rectory (NHER 28554), a late 18th century former rectory, now a private house, reputed to have been built after the fire of 1770, which destroyed the thatched roof of the former parsonage. It has impressive 19th century interiors.

Bank House and Market Stores (NHER 40697), a house dating to about 1700 with an attached 19th century shop.

Virginia House (NHER 38173), an attractive late 18th century house, probably built after the fire of 1770.

Mill House (NHER 41032), an early 19th century former miller’s house.

There were also two post medieval windmills. One of these was a post mill (NHER 17898) that was probably taken down in the mid 19th century, and no trace of it remains today. The other, a brick tower mill (NHER 7213) was built in about 1820, but burned down in 1912, and only the derelict tower still stands. A brickworks (NHER 14173) also operated up until World War Two, the site of which was built over in 1967.

World War Two left its mark with the construction of Foulsham Airfield (NHER 3100). Opened in 1942, the airfield was home to various RAF bomber squadrons. The station was closed after the war, but remained in small scale civilian use for some years. Today though, most of the concrete runways have been taken up, and the control tower has been demolished. However, there have been reports that some of the hangars still stand.

Piet Aldridge (NLA), 23 January 2006.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. The Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore & Co.)

Fairfield, H. and Tuffen, R., 1987. Airfields of Norfolk and Suffolk, Part One, p. 19 (Flixton, Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum).

Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place Names (Dereham, the Lark’s Press)

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