Parish Summary: North Runcton

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 parish of North Runcton is situated in the west of Norfolk, directly southeast of King’s Lynn. Its name may derive from the Old English for ‘settlement at the bridge’, obviously in this case either ‘the settlement at the north bridge’ or the ‘northern settlement at the bridge’. The parish 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. In particular this source mentions rich agricultural land and mills in the parish.

This parish has numerous cropmarks (NHER 2278, 3360, 3371, 30857, 27954, 27985, 27995, 38308) but many of the features recorded are of an unknown date and function.

Various artefacts from the prehistoric period have been retrieved. Neolithic flint flakes (NHER 3346) and flint implements (NHER 3347) have been found. However, the most numerous finds from this period are pot boilers (NHER 3360, 5790 and 23040) from the fenland areas of the parish, which may indicate exploitation of resources here during parts of prehistory.

Only a few artefacts have been recovered that date to the periods immediately before the Roman occupation. A single Iron Age brooch (NHER 36070) and some Early Bronze Age flints (NHER 23008) form the sum total of finds from these eras.

In contrast there is considerable archaeological evidence from the Roman period. Metal detecting has recovered a number of Roman objects from across the parish including coins (NHER 35815 and 44756), a silver finger ring, cosmetics pestle (both NHER 36070) and a Dolphin brooch (NHER 28757). A quantity of pottery sherds (NHER 3361, 3362 and 3363), including coarse ware (NHER 11452), has also been retrieved. These finds are perhaps unsurprising as a group of three Roman furnaces (NHER 3365, 3366 and 3367) serving a nearby iron working site (NHER 3364) were recorded here, indicating some degree of manufacturing/industrial activity.

Antiquarians discovered and excavated an Early Saxon cremation cemetery here (NHER 3348) while later work at the site in the 1920s and 30s unearthed a Saxon inhumation containing beads and a brooch (also NHER 3348). A few metal objects have also been recovered including a Late Saxon stirrup strap of an unusual form from Brooke Farm (NHER 35895).

A few medieval artefacts have been recovered from North Runcton and these include an impressive Grimston Ware jug (NHER 28676) and a beautiful square-shaped bronze buckle (NHER 28757). Intriguingly it is possible to see the remains of the deserted medieval village of Hardwick here. Earthwork enclosures (NHER 38259) and ditches and banks (NHER 38258) attest to this abandoned occupation site, although there is a frustrating lack of evidence to explain why this event occurred.

There is an upsurge in quantity of archaeological evidence relating to the post medieval period, and the parish seems to have been thriving at this time. Along with the usual finds of pottery sherds (NHER 11452 and 36327) and coins (NHER 35815), including a sixpence of Philip and Mary (NHER 39651), there are a number of fine buildings. First and foremost of these is All Saints’ Church (NHER 3369), a rare example of a Georgian church in Norfolk. It was rebuilt by Henry Bell, a contemporary of the famous Christopher Wren, in 1713 after the collapse of the tower in 1701 destroyed much of the former church. Inside visitors can see the beautiful 18th century polished marble font brought in 1907 from St Margaret's in King's Lynn. Samuel Gurney Cresswell (1827-1867), one of the first people to actually traverse the length of the Northwest Passage (between Canada and the Arctic) is buried in the churchyard. 

Photograph of The Old Forge, North Runcton, an early 19th century blacksmith's house and forge, with outlying smithy buildings.

The Old Forge, North Runcton, an early 19th century blacksmith's house and forge, with outlying smithy buildings.

A later spate of building in the early 19th century saw the erection of the Old Forge (NHER 41248), although the associated smithy does not survive, as well as the Old Rectory (NHER 46814) with its magnificent bulbous chimney pots and North Runcton Lodge (NHER 46889). Unfortunately the majestic North Runcton Hall (NHER 3368), which was built in 1835 with a combination of Georgian and Jacobean features, was demolished between 1962-72.

The fact that the parish was bustling with trade and commerce in this period is demonstrated by the construction in the early 1800s of a gothick-style tollbooth (NHER 17880) at the former village crossroads and the routing of the east to west line of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway through the parish (NHER 13581). The line was constructed in stages from 1865-1935 and was an important link from Great Yarmouth to King’s Lynn. Although it is now redundant a number of stations, signal boxes, goods sheds and concrete mileposts hark back to the halcyon days of rail travel in the region. The exact route can also be traced on recent aerial photographs.

Little evidence survives to register the impact of World War Two on North Runcton. A solitary type 22 pillbox (NHER 27929) was recorded by aerial photography in 1946 but it was demolished in 1962 having served its purpose. It is also worth noting that it was to here that a young Michael Caine was evacuated during the war.

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 1 December 2006.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. The Domesday Book (Chichester, Phillimore & Co.)

Pevsner, N. and Watson, B., 1997. Norfolk 2: North West and South (London, Penguin)

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

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