Parish Summary: Holt

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 north Norfolk parish of Holt is situated just south of the coastal parishes of Salthouse and Kelling. Its name comes from the Old English or Old Norse for a wood or thicket. The area 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.

The earliest dateable evidence of human activity comes in the form of Neolithic flint axeheads (NHER 6194 and 6222), some of them polished (NHER 6482, 24786 and 40766). A Bronze Age round barrow (NHER 6843) can still be seen on heathland in Holt Country Park. It was excavated in 1934, but nothing was found. The barrow was visible again after a heath fire in 1986, being 7 metres in diameter and about 60 centimetres high. Ring ditches (NHER 6194 and 18103), the traces of subsequently flattened barrows, have been identified from aerial photographs. Bronze Age finds are a copper alloy palstave (NHER 6484), a rapier (NHER 32037) and pottery fragments (NHER 11155). There is as yet no evidence of Iron Age activity.

No Roman structural remains have been noted, but Roman finds include pottery fragments (NHER 11933, 15024 and 28638), coins (NHER 15024, 18103, 31352 and 32037) and brooches (NHER 18103, 28638 and 28656).

In the north of the parish at NHER 31172, a number of Early Saxon brooches recovered during metal detecting have revealed that this is the site of an Early Saxon inhumation cemetery. Roman coins and medieval and post medieval metal finds have also been found on the site. Other Saxon finds are a harness mount (NHER 18103), more brooches (NHER 28656 and 32037) and a strap fitting (NHER 32037). 

Photograph of St Andrew's Church, Holt. This parish church is to all intents and purposes Victorian, in the shell of its medieval predecessor which was gutted by fire in 1708. Photograph from

St Andrew's Church, Holt. This parish church is to all intents and purposes Victorian, in the shell of its medieval predecessor which was gutted by fire in 1708. Photograph from  S. Knott.)

The medieval period usually leaves behind its earliest surviving building, the parish church. St Andrew’s Church (NHER 6520) was originally medieval, but was gutted by fire in 1708 and later rebuilt in the 19th century, though the original core is still there.

At Hall Cottages is the site of Old Hall (NHER 6488), a medieval and later manor house with a 12th century chapel and two ponds. The hall was demolished in the mid 19th century when the ponds were enlarged into the present lake and the chapel removed to a new site. Some foundations are reported to be visible today, and much of the garden wall at the new hall is probably from the walling of the old house.

Medieval finds include pottery fragments (NHER 11933 and 28638), coins (NHER 18103 and 28640) and a strap fitting (NHER 28638). 

Photograph of Holt Free School. From Picture Norfolk.

Holt Free School. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service.

Of the post medieval buildings to survive in the parish, the ones with the earliest origins are 3 to 6 Chapel Yard (NHER 15150). These four cottages, now an antique shop, have 19th century exteriors, but restoration work in the 1970s revealed an original basic structure of about 1550, including a brick fireplace with five niches over it. The cottages can lay claim to be the oldest surviving examples of their kind in the town, much of which was destroyed by fire in the early 18th century.

At the last count, there were some one hundred and thirteen buildings of historical and architectural interest, way too many to detail in this summary. The majority are 18th and 19th century houses and shops, concentrated in the Market Place, Fish Hill, Bull Street, High Street, Station Road, Albert Street, New Street, Cromer Road and Norwich Road. The detailed records should be consulted for further information.

Selected other post medieval buildings include;

Holt Hall (NHER 6487), a large mid 19th century red brick house, built for Walter Hamilton Pemberton and enlarged shortly afterwards. Four gables of different sizes garnish the entrance front and polygonal chimney stacks pierce the skyline. Standing by the hall is a folly containing fragments of a 12th century chapel from the old hall site (NHER 6488). The site was purchased by the County Council in 1947.

Hempstead Mill (NHER 11904), despite its name, is actually in Holt. First recorded on the 1839 tithe map, it is a three storey flint and brick building with a pantiled roof and an adjoining mill house at its southeast end. The adjacent bakery was added in 1911.

Tucked away to the east of the Market Place and approached up an avenue of trees, St Andrew’s Church (NHER 6520) is to all intents and purposes Victorian, in the shell of its medieval predecessor which was gutted by fire in 1708. It consists of a stumpy west tower that once had a steeple, an aisled nave, chancel and south porch. The well-kept interior is lit by good stained glass windows depicting a sequence of saints often found in Anglo-Catholic churches, and Julian of Norwich is a particularly striking figure, appearing with Fursey and Felix, who has a splendid beard. The interior arcades and chancel are 14th century, as is the south aisle piscina, which has a large consecration cross in it. The font, which has stylized fleur-de-lys decoration, is probably 13th century. There are various tablets and memorials, including a monument to Edmund Hobart (who died in 1666) and a simple and moving memorial to seven airmen killed in 1968 when two aircraft collided over the town.

At NHER 17829 is a square stone obelisk marked with a list of places and their distances. It seems to have been a 17th century gatepost from Melton Constable Hall, removed during alterations and given to the town. Adjacent to the obelisk is a good quality cast iron lamp post of 1887, removed from the Market Place when the present War Memorial was built.

The Shire Hall (NHER 20972) is an 18th century rebuilding of the medieval Corn Hall. It is two storeys high with quoins at the angles. Its use as a magistrates' court until the 1970s is clear from the first floor courtroom under a barrel-vaulted ceiling.

At Greshams School, the school chapel (NHER 40924) was built in 1912 by Maxwell Ayrton in knapped flint and limestone. The chapel has two angle turrets, an embattled parapet and a porch to the southwest.

The Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (NHER 13584) ran through the parish. This was a 19th century railway from Norwich City Station to Cromer. The section from Norwich to Melton Constable opened in 1882, with the extension to Holt opened in 1884 and the continuation to Cromer opened in 1887. All but the Cromer to Sheringham section (which is now part of the Bittern Line) closed to trains in 1964. The stretch between Sheringham and Weybourne reopened as the North Norfolk Railway in the 1970s, with the Weybourne to Holt section added during the 1980s. The Norwich to Reepham section is now part of the Marriot's Way, a footpath and cycle track. 19th century stations, signal boxes, bridges and embankments survive in a number of locations.

Some post medieval structures have not survived. Three windmills stood in the parish, marked on 18th and 19th century maps, but have now gone (NHER 15216, 33884 and 36186). A fourth, NHER 15823, was built in 1792 and was last powered by wind in 1918. Today, a modern mill stands on the site. A gibbet (NHER 15218) is also marked on Faden’s Map of 1797 to the east of Holt.

NHER 13008 is the site of a hydraulic ram, situated on an island in the middle of a lake. It is thought to have been removed in the early 20th century, but the brick foundations are reported to remain.

A World War Two gun battery (NHER 32453) stood in Stibbardhill Plantation, but was demolished after the war. A rare example of a World War Two Allan Williams turret (NHER 40771) is in the back garden of 5 King’s Road, moved to this location from its original site near Bayfield Hall. 

This summary is intended very much as an overview, and those wishin to dig a little deeper, particularly with regard to the large number of buildings of interest, should consult the detailed records.

Piet Aldridge (NLA), 3 November 2006.


Further Reading

Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place Names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

Brown. P., 1984. Domesday Book; Norrfolk (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

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