Parish Summary: Holme next the Sea

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

Holme next the Sea is located on Norfolk’s northwest coast, northeast of Hunstanton. In the north and northwest of the parish are Holme Beach, sand dunes and drained freshwater marshes (through which the River Hun passes). The village is located in the centre west, adjacent to and amongst the marshes, and there are a number of houses and farms dotted elsewhere. To the south of the village and the A149 the land rises up from around 10m above sea level to just under 50m.

The archaeology of Holme next the Sea is well known and sites are recorded throughout the parish. There have been plenty of stray finds, metal detecting and fieldwalking has taken place and numerous sites have been identified on aerial photographs, including many recorded by the National Mapping Programme. A number of excavations and lots of site visits have been undertaken and some historic buildings survive.

Prehistoric artefacts have been discovered at a number of sites. They include a Mesolithic or Neolithic worked bone, a Neolithic stone macehead, two Bronze Age stone axeheads and Bronze Age pottery. Bronze Age metal objects have been found at several sites and include an Early Bronze Age button, at least two palstaves and a Late Bronze Age chisel.  

Another view of Seahenge.

The Bronze Age timber circle known as 'Seahenge'. (© NCC.)

The Ringstead/Holme next the Sea parish boundary follows a trackway (NHER 1338) and it has been suggested that it could follow the route of a prehistoric ridgeway. A ring ditch identified close to the trackway may be the remains of a Bronze Age barrow. A number of Bronze Age sites have been identified on Holme Beach, including two timber circles. One of these, possibly a monument to mark the death of an individual, the death of a tree or the culmination of a celebration or festival, was fully excavated in 1999 (see NHER 33771). It had an oval circuit of timber posts which surrounded an upside down tree stump. Up to twenty five trees were used to build it and the timbers revealed numerous Early Bronze Age toolmarks. Tree ring dating and environmental evidence has shown that it was constructed in the spring or early summer of 2049 BC in a saltmarsh. Nothing survives at the site which is located within a sensitive and fragile National Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest and Natura 2000 site. Holme Beach should be visited with great care not to disturb nesting or wintering birds.

Two Iron Age coins (both minted by the Iceni tribe) and an Iron Age or Roman terret have been discovered close to the village. A number of sites around the village have yielded Roman objects. These include pieces of pottery, coins, a brooch and part of a Roman finger ring set with an inscribed piece of dark blue glass (NHER 36065). The discovery of a pottery and building material at two adjacent sites (NHER 37134 and 38158) suggests the location of a settlement.

The Peddar’s Way (NHER 1289), a Roman road that linked northern Suffolk to northwest Norfolk, passed along the western boundary of the parish. A trackway and bank identified on aerial photographs could be part of it. It is likely that the Roman settlement was situated beside or astride the Peddar’s Way and that a possible Roman road to the south of the village may have had a junction with it. It has been suggested that the route of the Peddar’s Way continued through the marshes to the beach, where it may have been possible to catch a ferry to Lincolnshire.

A Roman or Early Saxon strap fitting and Middle to Late Saxon strap fittings have been recovered from a site in the south. Two Early or Middle Saxon coins and six Middle Saxon coins (NHER 44783) have also been found, although unfortunately the exact location and nature of their discoveries are uncertain. The concentration of coins suggests that there was a Middle Saxon settlement in the parish. The coins include examples minted in Merovingian Francia, East Anglia and Canterbury and this range indicates the settlement probably served as a market and a port. A complex of Saxon fishtraps has been recorded on Holme Beach and it is likely that this would have been constructed and used by the people who lived in the settlement.

Late Saxon pottery, coins and metalwork have been found close to the village, at sites on the southern edge of the marshes. These finds suggest that the village was established by or during the Late Saxon period. Some of the objects have been discovered near to St Mary’s Church (NHER 1346) and indicate that there may have been a church on its site during the period. Late Saxon objects found elsewhere include a bridle cheek piece and a chape or strap fitting. The Holme next the Sea/Thornham parish boundary follows a low bank (NHER 39682) which survives in the eastern verge of a modern road called Launditch or Bank Road. The earliest document to mention a feature with this name dates from 1382. This, along with the fact that the parish boundary follows it route, suggests that it is of medieval or earlier date. It is possible that it is similar to the Saxon earthworks known from central and western Norfolk.

Holme next the Sea is called ‘Holm’ in the Domesday Book of 1086. This Old Scandinavian name means ‘small island, dry ground or river meadow’ and may refer to a feature or features in the marshes. In 1086 land in the parish was held by King William I and William of Ecoius. Freeman, smallholders, ploughs and oxen were recorded. 

Photograph of St Mary's Church, Holme Next The Sea.

St Mary's Church, Holme Next The Sea. (© NCC.)

St Mary’s Church (NHER 1346) is located in the north of the village. The oldest visible sections are the 13th century sedilia and piscina. The tower and chancel, along with a nave that does not survive, were built around 1400 in the Perpendicular style. This is a very early date for the use of the Perpendicular style in Norfolk and as a result the church is an important one. The medieval nave and aisles were demolished in 1777/1778 and a new nave was built reusing some medieval stonework.

Medieval and post medieval objects have been found throughout. They include fragments of pottery, coins, jettons and metalwork. One of the most interesting is a late 13th century French coin brooch that features a coin of Philip IV of France (1285 to 1314). The coins include English and Scottish examples and the jettons come from England and France.

Several groups of medieval and/or post medieval ridge and furrow earthworks and cropmarks have been identified on aerial photographs. These are located to the southeast, northwest and west of the village and in the east. One of the groups in the northwest and west (NHER 26716 and 26723) may be associated with a number of depressions that could be fishponds. A series of roads visible on a map dating to 1609 may be medieval in origin. Some are no longer used and appear on aerial photographs as cropmarks and earthworks. A number of disused post medieval roads are also visible on aerial photographs.

Late 18th and early 19th century maps show that at the time most of the marshes in the north of the parish were salt marshes. They also show their southern boundary was defined by a sea and flood defence bank (see NHER 26761). To the north of this bank and to the north of the village was a group of enclosures known as Beloe’s Camps (NHER 1298). The date of these is uncertain, although it has been suggested that they could be post medieval or even pre-Roman. Roman, Saxon, medieval and post medieval artefacts have been found within them and they were probably used a military camp in the early 20th century. During the 19th century a number of sea defence banks were constructed within the salt marshes. These were associated with the drainage and reclamation of the marshes and were used as part of the works to convert them to freshwater grazing marshes. Several groups of short linear ditches (NHER 26929) associated with drainage and reclamation are visible on aerial photographs.

Surviving post medieval buildings include 6 Westgate Street, Old Farm and Nield Farm, Whitehall Farm, Wishing Well Cottage, The Rookery, Vine Cottage, the White Horse, 43 to 53 Kirkgate and Holme House. The house known as Old Farm and Nield Farm (NHER 19435) was probably built around 1600, incorporating timbers and a datestone marked 1535 from an earlier building. It may have been a manor house and is now divided into two cottages. In the village a post medieval saw pit (NHER 19448) is preserved beneath a modern house. It is large example, is over 1.8m deep and is brick-lined. A 19th century shed and a blacksmith's workshop used to stand close by. 

Photograph of a post medieval wreck on Holme beach. It may be the remains of the Vicuna, an ice carrying ship that sank on 7 March 1883 on route to King's Lynn.

A post medieval wreck on Holme beach. It may be the remains of the Vicuna, an ice carrying ship that sank on 7 March 1883 on route to King's Lynn. (© NCC.)

Three post medieval wrecks have been recorded on Holme Beach. These include the wreck of the Vicuna (NHER 21961), an ice carrying ship that sank on 7 March 1883 on route to King's Lynn. Another may be an 18th century collier called the Carrington (NHER 21962).

During World War Two the parish was heavily defended. In the event of an invasion, defences on the beach and in the sand dunes would have served as the first line of defence. Barbed wire obstructions and anti tank scaffolding (NHER 26694) were set up on the western part of the beach, with at least one pillbox amongst them. A further section of scaffolding was set up near Gore Point. Amongst the dunes north of Beach Road two pillboxes, spigot mortar emplacements, gun emplacements and a series of banks and slit trenches were constructed. A minefield and two military camps were set up alongside Broadwater Road. One of the camps was probably used for training tank drivers. To the south, beside Beach Road, was an anti-tank gun emplacement (NHER 32395).

A World War Two military installation (NHER 23518) was established in the eastern section of the sand dunes. It comprised a group of buildings, including a concrete blockhouse and an underground headquarters, from which a series of straight trenches and banks radiated out. Two further underground headquarters or bunkers were located in the trenches. An undated ring shaped feature visible on aerial photographs close by may have been associated. A further line of defences was constructed in the marshes alongside the River Hun. A bank over 3km long was formed using dredgings from the river (NHER 26707 and 26748); in one area it was accompanied by a minefield.

David Robertson (NLA), 20 June 2006.


Further Reading

Ashwin, T. & Davison, A., 2005. An Historical Atlas of Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

Barringer, C., 1989. Faden’s Map of Norfolk (Dereham, Larks Press)

Barringer, C., 1998. Bryant’s Map of Norfolk in 1826 (Dereham, Larks Press)

Brennand, M. & Taylor, M., 2003. 'The survey and excavation of a Bronze Age timber circle at Holme-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, 1998-9', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 69, pp 1-84.

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book: Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

English Nature, no date. 'Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve'.

Available: Accessed: 19 May 2006.

English Nature, no date. 'Holme Dunes NNR'. Available: Accessed: 19 May 2006.

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

Ryder, M., 2001. 'Holme next Sea Journal'. Available: Accessed: 21 June 2006.

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

Stock Software, 2006. 'Holme'. Available: Accessed: 21 June 2006.

Watson, C., 2005. Seahenge: An Archaeological Conundrum (London, English Heritage)

Norfolk County Council logo Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Powered by HBSMR-web and the HBSMR Gateway from exeGesIS SDM Ltd, and mojoPortal CMS
© 2007 - 2024 Norfolk Historic Environment Service