Parish Summary: Gillingham

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

Gillingham is a small parish in the southwest of the county on the border with Suffolk. It lies west of Geldeston and east of Aldeby. The south of the parish is marshy, whilst the north is mainly used for agricultural purposes. The village name is derived from Old English and means 'homestead of Gylla'. The earliest document recording the village is the Domesday Book where the village is listed as having a church, but there is plenty of archaeological evidence for earlier activity.

The earliest dated find from the parish is a Palaeolithic flint handaxe (NHER 10727). Flint tools were used throughout the prehistoric period and Neolithic worked flints (NHER 19730) and Neolithic to Bronze Age worked flints (NHER 10733) have also been found. In the Bronze Age tools began to be made of metal and a fragment of copper alloy socketed axehead (NHER 24254) illustrates that this new material was also used in Gillingham. A Bronze Age spearhead (NHER 25431) and fragments of Bronze Age pottery (NHER 30504) have also been recovered. There is evidence for activity in the Iron Age. A metal detectorist has recovered an Iron Age harness (NHER 20871) and fragments of Iron Age pottery have also been found (NHER 32881). Although there have been several prehistoric finds from the area there is no strong evidence for areas of occupation or settlement.

The same could be said for the Roman period. Casual finds of Roman coins (NHER 10662, 10731 and 20598) and brooches (NHER 13932, 20210 and 22963) indicate that there was activity in the area but no areas of settlement have been identified. Fragments of pottery (NHER 31309, 21975 and 24046), including high status Samian (NHER 21975), has also been found. Part of a Roman bracelet (NHER 20871) and a Roman cosmetic palette (NHER 24046), used for mixing minerals before applying to the face, were also found.

There is more concrete evidence for Saxon occupation. Although no settlement has been uncovered a metal detectorist has recorded a large number of Early Saxon brooches, buckles and lumps of melted copper alloy. These have been interpreted as the site of an Early Saxon cremation cemetery (NHER 24254). Other evidence for activity in the Saxon period includes possible fragments of Early Saxon pottery (NHER 32881), a Saxon iron socketed axehead (NHER 16033) and a Late Saxon cross-shaped brooch (NHER 31343). A hoard of Late Saxon coins (NHER 25090) may also come from this parish although the records are not completely clear. 

Photograph of St Mary's Church, Gillingham. This unusual Norman church may have been built in two different periods. It has an porch-like structure (narthex) west of the off centre tower and a nave and apsed chancel

St Mary's Church, Gillingham, an unusual Norman church with a narthex to the right of the tower. (© NCC.)

In the medieval period people lived in the village of Gillingham but there were at least two other centres of occupation that have since disappeared. Winston village had its own church (NHER 10732) around which occupation was probably concentrated. The parish was joined with Gillingham in 1440 and it is thought that the church and village had been abandoned by the 14th century. A second deserted medieval village is Wyndale (NHER 10733). The precise location is unknown but the village is thought to have been at Windle Hills where gravel extraction may have removed all archaeological evidence of the site. Human remains have been recorded at the gravel pits and may have come from Wyndale churchyard. Several other churches survive in the parish. All Saints' (NHER 10737) was demolished in 1748 but the 15th century tower and churchyard still remain. St Mary's (NHER 10739) is an unusual Norman church that was probably built in two periods. Other medieval remains include a hollow way that can be seen in Gillingham Park (NHER 30504) and a probable medieval bridge (NHER 30930). All that remains of the bridge is a set of rectangular wooden piles.

Several post medieval buildings survive in the parish. Ivy Farm House Barn (NHER 30756) is a 17th century building whilst Gillingham House (NHER 30757) is a former rectory that dates to the late 18th century. Gillingham Hall (NHER 10738) is an interesting building. It may have been built between 1536 and 1556 or around 1600. It is difficult to date exactly because it was heavily altered in the 18th and 19th century. The park (NHER 30504) was in existence before 1797 and after this date it was dramatically expanded and landscaped. The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (NHER 42703) was built in 1893 for the owners of the hall. The site of a post medieval windpump (NHER 15570) is also recorded in the parish. A Civil War weapon (NHER 25089) may have been found the gravel works at Gillingham.

There are also several later archaeological sites. A World War Two German bomber (NHER 18065) crashed in the parish. Only one of the crew survived. The site was excavated in the 1970s by the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum. Other World War Two sites including a pillbox (NHER 32727) and a searchlight battery (NHER 33262) have also been recorded. The most recent site recorded is two rows of council housing (NHER 40818) that were built between 1955 and 1957. These terraces are excellent examples of vernacular architecture of this period.

Megan Dennis (NLA), 23 December 2005.


Further Reading

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

Gregory, T., 1982. 'Romano-British Settlement in West Norfolk and on the Norfolk Fen Edge' in Miles, D. (ed.), 1982. The Romano-British Countryside. Studies in Rural Settlement and Economy. Part II. British Archaeological Reports. British Series. 103 (II) (Oxford, BAR)

Knott, S., 2005. 'Gillingham St Mary'. Available: Accessed 23 December 2005.

Knott, S., 2005. 'Gillingham All Saints'. Available: Accessed 23 December 2005.

Knott, S., 2005. 'Gillingham Our Lady of Perpetual Succour'. Available: Accessed 23 December 2005.

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

Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B., 1999. The Buildings of England. Norfolk 2. North-west and south (London, Penguin Books)

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


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