Parish Summary: North Creake

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 heritage@norfolk.gov.uk

North Creake is a large parish in the West Norfolk district. It is south of Burnham Market and Burnham Thorpe and north of South Creake. The village name derives from the Celtic word ‘Creic’ meaning ‘rock’ or ‘cliff’. This is one of very few Norfolk place names to be derived from Celtic. The term rock or cliff could refer to the ridge that the villages sit upon.

The earliest recorded object is a Palaeolithic flint hand axe (NHER 1932). Several Neolithic worked flint tools have been recovered including axeheads (NHER 1906, 1961 and 44091) and an axe hammer (NHER 1907). A Bronze Age macehead (NHER 1908), several copper alloy palstaves (NHER 31114, 1942 and 1943) and an axehead (NHER 20655) have also been found. The earliest sites recorded in the database also date to the Bronze Age. A number of Bronze Age barrows (NHER 1909) are recorded in old documents but the exact location referred to is unknown. Another group of barrows (NHER 1969) was probably removed by quarrying. Other barrows have been ploughed up and all that can now be seen of them are the marks of the ditches (ring ditches, NHER 11707 and 19078) that once surrounded the burial mounds. These are mostly recorded from aerial photographs.

There are several well-known Iron Age finds. A gold alloy torc terminal (NHER 1911) was found here in 1947. The ring-shaped terminal is decorated in a similar style to the torcs recovered at Snettisham (NHER 1487) and was made in the 1st century BC or AD perhaps by the same workshop as the Snettisham examples. Interestingly a copper alloy mould for an Iron Age disc (NHER 1913) or buffer terminal of a torc was found near the torc terminal. This suggests that metalworking was going on in the area. Less glamorous finds, although just as exciting, include a complete upside-down Iron Age pot (NHER 1947) that was found during the construction of a new housing estate. Several Iron Age coins (NHER 24877, 28298 and 28743) have been recorded. One of these (NHER 28743) is a copper alloy copy of a gold coin. A hoard of at least sixteen Iron Age and Roman coins (NHER 25777) was probably deposited as a hoard in the first century AD. An Iron Age terret was also recovered from the same site as the hoard. An Iron Age tankard handle (NHER 28299) was found by a metal detectorist. The number of Iron Age finds recovered suggests this was an area of some importance.

A large number of Roman finds have also been recorded. A hoard of silver coins was found in Creake in 1799 (NHER 1948). Varied reports suggest it contained between 1300 and 2000 coins. Several of the coins from the hoard were probably acquired by the Norwich Castle Museum in 1840. At another site a votive stand and a razor handle in the form of a horse with a crocodile's tail (NHER 1913) were found. When the pond in the centre of this field was cleaned in 1920, steps were found descending into the pond and there was a well in the base of the pond. It has been suggested that this may be the site of a Roman temple although this now seems unlikely. Metal detectorists have found a pair of Roman tweezers (NHER 30149) and a cosmetic mortar (NHER 30240). Other finds include coins (NHER 1911, 1917 and 1918) brooches (NHER 11707, 28300 and 29301) and pieces of pot (NHER 1912).

Metal detecting around the parish has recovered many Saxon objects but there is no evidence for the location of settlement at this date. A large number of finds from one site date to the Early Saxon period. These include brooches and pieces of wrist clasp. It is suggested that this might be an Early Saxon cemetery (NHER 30986). Other Early Saxon finds include part of a buckle (NHER 11707), brooches (NHER 25576), a bracelet (NHER 28590), and an unusual circular mount made out of a Roman coin (NHER 29389). Middle Saxon finds include a coin of Offa (NHER 1952), strap end (NHER 25566), nummular brooch (NHER 28242), and pins (NHER 29428). Finally many Late Saxon finds have been recorded. These include a Viking style buckle frame and a box mount depicting four animal heads (NHER 11707), a finger ring (NHER 25576), a Borre style strap end (NHER 25777) and a Viking style terminal (NHER 29428). In addition an archaeological excavation in advance of pipe laying by Anglian Water discovered two 10th or 11th century crop processing kilns in North Creake in association with iron metallurgical debris and possible structural beam slots.

North Creake is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. This census recorded the population and the productive resources of the country. Part of North Creake was considered to be an outlier of the larger manor of Fakenham and William of Warenne owned part of the rest of the parish including a church. 

The ruins of St Mary's Abbey, North Creake showing the remains of the Abbey church and other buildings.

The ruins of St Mary's Abbey, North Creake. (© NCC)

The foundation of a religious site (later to become St Mary’s Abbey, NHER 1953) here in the early medieval period is shrouded in mystery. The site may have been founded as a private hospital or chapel in the 12th century AD. It became an Augustinian priory in 1206 and was an abbey between 1231 and 1506. Part of the church was rebuilt after a disastrous fire around 1484. The abbey was dissolved after an infectious disease carried off all of the canons of this small establishment in 1506. In the 19th century a farmhouse was built amongst the ruins. The standing and buried remains of the abbey, church and related buildings together with earthwork enclosures and water management features (NHER 29748) can still be seen. The abbey church is managed by English Heritage and open to the public. 

Photograph of St Mary's Church, North Creake.

St Mary's Church, North Creake. (© NCC)

The site of St Michael on the Mount medieval church (NHER 1951) was mentioned in documents dating to the reign of Edward I. Ruins of the church have been identified on the south side of the mound on which Old School House stands. St Mary’s Church (NHER 1974) was probably built in 1301. Although much of the church has been restored the retained architectural details seem to support this date of building. The building was altered in the 15th century but most of what can be seen dates to the 19th century when the interior was refurbished.

Many medieval finds have been recorded. Coins (NHER 29725, 38051 and 30986) including a gold half-ryal coin of Edward IV (NHER 29725), a sword belt fitting (NHER 30866), ampullae (flasks for holy oil, NHER 30149 and 11707) and a 13th century buckle plate depicting a lion (NHER 29264) have all been recovered.

The post medieval brick tower mill (NHER 1968) survives to its full height except for its wooden cap. The mill was built in 1820 and last used in 1890. Nos. 24 to 28 Church Street (NHER 12877) includes an important late example of an elaborately shaped gable. The buildings are dated to 1776 to 1778 by a plaque. The Old Rectory (NHER 28466) was built in 1845. There is an attached stable range, cottages and a kitchen wing. Inside the main house are many of the original interiors including several feature fireplaces that have a window above them where you would expect to see the chimney. A substantial terrace (NHER 32852) cut into a hillside close by is probably a garden feature related to the Rectory. The complex of buildings at Crosshouse Farm (NHER 29179) includes 18th and 19th century stables, an animal engine house, an implement shed, barns and a cattle shed. The farm was one of three on Lord Spencer's North Creake estate. Some of the buildings have now been converted into housing. Post medieval finds include a Swiss silver coin made in 1718 and a Netherlands doit coin made in 1720 (NHER 25978).

The most modern archaeological site recorded is a World War Two RAF airfield decoy called 'Burnham Sutton' (NHER 32417). It was a type Q decoy that was used at night with flares and mock runway lights.

Megan Dennis (NLA), 10 August 2006.

 

Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I and Part II (Chichester, Philimore)

Knott, S., 2005. ‘Abbey Church of St Mary, North Creake’. Available:

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/creakeabbey/creakeabbey.htm. Accessed: 9 August 2006.

Knott, S., 2005. ‘St Mary, North Creake’. Available:

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/northcreake/northcreake.htm. Accessed: 9 August 2006.

Langley, C. and Edwards, M., 2004 ‘Roll of Honour- Norfolk – North Creake’. Available:

http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Norfolk/NorthCreake.html. Accessed: 9 August 2006.

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

Rye, J., 2000. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

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