Record Details

NHER Number:2890
Type of record:Building
Name:St Nicholas' Church, Dereham


This very large and grand Norman church was extended in the 13th century and further alterations were made in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was restored and altered in the 19th century. The church is noted especially for its twin towers, the detached bell tower dating to the 16th century. Internally there is a fine seven sacrament font. In the churchyard is St Withburga's Holy well. It has been claimed that this is the site of a Middle Saxon nunnery.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TF 9867 1330
Map Sheet:TF91SE

Full description

St Nicholas' church.
Very large and grand Norman church, extended in 13th century, alterations 14th to 15th centuries. Much altered 19th century. Detached bell tower 16th century. St Withburga's holy well in yard claimed as site of Middle Saxon nunnery.
See (S1).

1970s or 80s. Alan Carter Norwich Survey.
See (S2), which includes (S3).
T.E. Miller (NLA), 19 April 2006.

April 1979. Digging new path.
Medieval and post medieval sherds found.
A. Rogerson (NAU), 25 April 1979.

Summer 1980. Surface find.
Medieval pottery found.
A. Rogerson (NAU), 1980.

One headstone listed grade II in 1999; Church is grade I.
See (S4).

This is one of the sixty five Norfolk churches selected for (S5).
D. Gurney (NLA), 17 February 2006.

2008. English Heritage Tree ring dating.
35 timbers were sampled, but only three were successfully dated. The samples were from the 'A' timbers from the guttering on the east side of the roof and were felled in 1682-1706. It was not possible to say what function these beams have or what their relationship with the rest of the roof timbers is. If these beams were not reused, it demonstrates that work was being undertaken on the roof in the late seventeenth/ early eighteenth century.
See (S6) for further information
H. White (NLA), 4 December 2008.

August 2008.
Clock face restored.
See (S7).
H. White (NLA), 15 December 2008.

November 2009. Watching brief on repairs to the churchyard wall (contexts from 1).
The excavation revealed rubble deposits which are probably the remains of former buildings. The excavation demonstrated that the former wall had been built onto the remains of these buildings and was likely to be of 20th century date. Floor surfaces exposed on the southern side of the wall could support a claim that there were once outdoor toilets associated with nearby cottages in this location. The presence of medieval and post-medieval pottery and animal bone included in the rubble deposits could indicate that there is older waste from a midden mixed with the rubble and that this could have come from an earlier building. A second deposit of oyster shells, used as painting palettes, and high status faunal remains such as wild game could have been associated with the church rather than the near by cottages. Antler and ivory knife handles also suggest higher status remains. The pottery assemblage was mostly domestic wares with a single sherd of Chinese porcelain also indicating high status. A number of clay smoking pipes of 17th to 19th century date were also recovered.
See report (S8) for further details. Work also noted in (S10).
S. Howard (HES), 1 March 2011.

NIAS records.
After World War I a committee was held in Dereham to decide upon a memorial for the fallen. The committee settled on a carved oak rood screen to be set in the parish church and engraved with the names of the fallen which was unveiled in 1921. This was met with objection by many who were either non-conformists or non-church goers, who protested for an outdoor memorial.
The stone memorial in the market place (NHER 53134) was erected in 1922.
See (S9)
W. Arnold (HES), 21 February 2011.

There is a Listed headstone, 1721, limestone. Rectangular headstone with scrolled bifurcated top in the centre of which is incised skull. Inscription below commemorating Edward Williams.
The yard also includes a headstone for Jean de Narde of France, 1799, a Napoleonic prisoner of war. The detached bell tower was used as a prison.
D. Gurney (HES), 02 February 2012.

March 2013. Observations
The south porch of the church is extraordinary in several ways. It has a pair of holy water stoops flanking the entrance and in the spandrels of the entrance arch a very well-presrved and deeply carved Annunciation. The diagonal buttresses are very remarkable. Their truncated form is owing to the fact that each buttress supported 4-sided free standing pinnacles or possibly obelisks. The positions of these can just be detected. The corners of the porch were built with a wide chamfer to allow for a crocketted pinnacle. Just above the entrance is a shalllow inscription which is difficult to decipher.

The doorway into the church has 13th-century shafts supporting a semicircular roll-moulded arch. There is a trilobe typmanum, like the Monk's Door at Ely, with a pair of heads at the springing points turned to see the entering visitor.

The niches to the sides of the west doorway have fine ogee heads. Only that to the south has cusping whilst the northern niche is rebated and has the remains of iron hinges for a cupboard or grill. It may have been built to house a valuable sculpture which could be seen through a grill which kept it secure or else in a cupboard which was opened only at certain times.
S. Heywood (HES), 19 March 2013.

Monument Types

  • INHUMATION (Unknown date)
  • NUNNERY (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • CHAPEL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • CHURCH (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • HOLY WELL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • WALL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • BELL TOWER (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • CHURCH (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • CISTERN (Post Medieval to 21st Century - 1540 AD to 2010 AD)
  • DRAIN (Post Medieval to 21st Century - 1540 AD to 2010 AD)
  • FLOOR (Post Medieval to 21st Century - 1540 AD to 2010 AD)
  • SPA (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Finds

  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Unknown date)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Unknown date)
  • BUILDING MATERIAL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • COFFIN (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FLOOR TILE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • POT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • WORKED OBJECT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • BUILDING MATERIAL (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • CLAY PIPE (SMOKING) (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • POT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

  • Listed Building
  • Listed Building
  • Listed Building
  • Listed Building

Sources and further reading

---Aerial Photograph: TG9813 X-AB,AF-AK,AW-AY,ABV-ABW.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1984. [Article on the memorial cross for Jean de Narde]. 20 February.
---Publication: Britton, J. & Brayley, E.W.. 1808. Description of Norfolk. p.264.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1995. TF9813/ACN - ACQ.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1995. TF 9813ACJ - ACL.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1998. TF 9813ACC, ACR - ACS; TF 9913ABD - ADG.
---Record Card: Ordnance Survey Staff. 1933-1979?. Ordnance Survey Record Cards. TF 91 SE 13 [3].
---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Unpublished Document: Rose, E. (NAU). 1990. A Tale of Two Derehams. St Withburga and her Wells.. January.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1985. Clocking on time at Dereham. 9 May.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1986-1988. [Articles on the fund raising for the restoration work at St Nicholas' Church, Dereham].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1994. [Article on the dismantling of the organ at St Nicholas' Church, Dereham]. 9 September.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1998-2001. [Articles on the restoration of the windows at St Nicholas' Church, Dereham].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999. [Articles on the properties of the water from Withburga Well].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999. Aerial photograph of Dereham, with St Nicholas' Church in foreground. 8 October.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1979. Church gates head for heaven. 23 April.
---Newspaper Article: Dereham and Fakenham Times. 1988. [Articles on the stone slab found during the removal of the floor at St Nicholas' Church, Dereham].
---Newspaper Article: Dereham and Fakenham Times. 1988. Mystery slab 'is priest's tomb'. 23 September.
---Publication: Hope, R.C.. 1893. Holy Wells of England. p.93.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. Medieval oyster shell palette found. 10 June.
---Monograph: Pevsner, N and Wilson, W. 1999. Norfolk 2: North-West and South. The Buildings of England. 2nd Edition. pp 283-286, 291; Pl 38, Pl 39.
---Monograph: Pevsner, N. 1962. North-West and South Norfolk. The Buildings of England. 1st Edition. pp 141-143; Pl 26, Pl 35a.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. Town's festival will lay claim to its patron saint. 2 July.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. Dereham: A town fit for saints, poets, authors and antiquarians. 1 September.
---Photograph: S. Westall.. 2009. PPC.
---Slide: Westall, S.. 2009. Slides 1-24, St Nicholas Church Dereham, Watching Brief on reconstruction of a sectoin of Churchyard wall..
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Slide: Various. Slide.
---Photograph: CVY27-35.
---Collection: Norfolk Historic Environment Record Staff. 1975-[2000]. HER Record Notes. Norfolk Historic Environment Service.
---Designation: English Heritage. 1990-2013. English Heritage Listing Notification. Notification. DNF3492.
<S1>Unpublished Document: Rose, E.. Building Report.. Building Report.
<S2>Unpublished Document: Carter, A.. Building Survey.
<S3>Illustration: Various. Various. Architectural plans.
<S4>Designation: English Heritage. National Heritage List for England. List Entry 1378780.
<S5>Publication: Jenkins, S. 2000. England's Thousand Best Churches.
<S6>Monograph: Arnold, A. and Howard, R. 2008. Church of St Nicholas, Dereham, Norfolk. Tree Ring Analysis of Timbers from the North Transept/North Chapel and Nave Roofs. English Heritage Research Department Report Series. 42-2008.
<S7>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2008. Church clock to get facelift. 16 August.
<S8>Unpublished Contractor Report: Westall, S. 2010. An Archaeological Watching Brief at St Nicolas' Church, East Dereham, Norfolk. NAU Archaeology. 2145.
<S9>Archive: NIAS. Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society Records.
<S10>Article in Serial: Gurney, D. and Hoggett, R. 2010. Excavations and Surveys in Norfolk in 2009. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XLVI Pt I pp 135-147. p 138.

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