Parish Summary: Rougham

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 Rougham is located in the Breckland district of Norfolk. It lies to the north of Castle Acre and Lexham and to the east of Great Massingham. The area is very pretty, with Rougham village a fine advert for the traditional and rural Norfolk of the past. The name Rougham derives from the Old English meaning ‘rough (uncultivated) homestead’, which seems quite fitting.  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. This document reveals that before 1066 the lands were under the jurisdiction of Stigand but that by the time of the survey Godric held them. Nowadays the North family are the most prominent landholders in the parish.

The vast majority of the archaeology of Rougham parish dates to the prehistoric period. Extensive fieldwalking by local landowners has recorded a huge quantity of prehistoric flint pieces. The largest scatters relate to land belonging to Ponder’s Farm (e.g. NHER 16901-16907) and Fincham Farm (e.g. NHER 17083-17092), although a number have also been found in the vicinity of Keith’s Farm (NHER 16933 and 16934) and Washpit Farm (NHER 16914, 16926 and 17096). Some of these flints are miscellaneous or natural pieces but many have been fashioned into tools. Tool types that have been identified include axes (NHER 11250 and 17100), scrapers (NHER 4058, 14016, 16912 and 16922), arrowheads (NHER 15728 and 16913), knives (NHER 12952, 16897 and 16898), pounders (NHER 16918 and 16909) and ‘agricultural implements’ (NHER 16920, 16927 and 16945). Any reader wanting to study these finds further should investigate the individual records as only a few of these prehistoric artefacts can be listed here. Surprisingly, despite the weight of prehistoric finds that have been retrieved, no definitive prehistoric sites have been located within Rougham. However, it seems clear that during prehistory the entire landscape was explored and utilised for lithic gathering and tool production. The presence and extent of occupation is difficult to accurately judge from the evidence we currently possess.

As we move into the Bronze Age only a single metal artefact has been discovered to complement the flint tools that saw continuing use (NHER 16899 and 17085). This find takes the form of an impressive winged palstave that was found at an unknown location in 1870 (NHER 12593). Similarly, the Iron Age pottery sherds (NHER 3671) found on a field belonging to Fincham Farm are the only definitive finds from this era.

More archaeological records exist to attest to Roman activity in the parish. Aerial photographs of the Duckhills fields show the cropmarks of a rectangular enclosure (NHER 11348). These marks have been interpreted as the possible remains of a Roman temple, although this assignation is not certain with another suggestion being that it was a medieval warrener’s lodge. More concrete evidence for Roman occupation has been found in the form of Two Oaks Roman villa (NHER 3699). This structure lies located approximately 1000m northwest of Fincham Farm and was identified as a villa due to the presence of a hypocaust and fragments of painted wall plaster. It is also possible that some Roman buildings stood 800m or so northwest of Rougham Hall as fieldwalking here fieldwalking recovered a wealth of Roman artefacts (NHER 16177). Finally, the Bacton to King’s Lynn Transco pipeline uncovered numerous pottery sherds and pit-like anomalies from the sector crossing this parish (NHER 37821). Subsequent excavation in the area of these finds and features revealed evidence of a small settlement dating to around the 1st century AD. The only noteworthy Roman artefact not associated with the sites discussed above was a Roman quern stone/millstone (NHER 16930), retrieved from land near to Washpit Woods.

Pottery sherds constitute the only archaeological evidence for the Saxon period in Rougham. Pieces were found on land belonging to Washpit Farm (NHER 16926) and Fincham Farm (NHER 3671 and 17089). However, the majority were found at the Roman site (NHER 16177) north of Rougham Hall, which perhaps suggests some sort of continuity of activity here during this later period. Perhaps a lack of metal detecting explains the absence of the fine metalwork Saxon finds that have been found in many other Norfolk parishes.  

St Mary's Church taken from the east end.

St Mary's Church in Rougham. (© NCC)

St Mary’s (NHER 3683) in Rougham is a particularly interesting medieval church. It dates mostly to the 14th-16th centuries but features earlier Norman carvings and Roman bricks. The north aisle and roof are far more modern, having been restored in 1913. Inside the arcade features very slim columns with floral capitals as well as a nice, early 19th century carving of the Ten Commandments. Several important late medieval brasses are housed here, including one dedicated to Judge Yelverton who was an associate of the Pastons; the best documented gentry family of late medieval England. It is also worth noting that a gravestone in the churchyard commemorates Thomas Keppel North, the man who designed the first aeroplane to fly across the Atlantic. This was not the only place of worship during medieval times as 19th century documents record the presence of a chapel (NHER 13167) to the south of the church. However, due to extensive building work in the area the actual site of this chapel has yet to be discovered.

At least one centre of medieval occupation has been recorded in the parish, at the so-called ‘Shrunken village’ site (NHER 3673) east of Rougham Hall. The earthworks of this deserted medieval settlement were visible on aerial photographs taken in 1946 and subsequent fieldwalking and metal detecting surveys recovered a huge diversity of finds. Study of this assemblage showed that the major period of inhabitation spanned from the 11th to the 15th century. The exact reasons for abandonment are not clear although it has been suggested that land was acquired on a large scale for sheep farming, which increased the speed of desertion from land that had suffered from poor drainage and bad harvests throughout the 14th century. Additionally, some sort of medieval hall was sited at the present location of the modern Rougham Hall (NHER 3680) as Roger North, who bought the land here in 1691, found an ‘ancient mannor house’ (the hall of the Yelvertons?) which he remodelled into a Classical style in 1693.  

In addition to mundane pottery sherds, a number of nice medieval artefacts have been recovered from Rougham parish. These include a circular seal matrix intended for personal use (NHER 16474) and a silver gilt finger ring formed from clasped hands holding a fleur-de-lys (NHER 18029).

During post medieval times Rougham was clearly involved in the production of bricks. Three manufacturing sites (NHER 3670, 3672 and 17799) have been found in the vicinity of Rougham Hall (NHER 3680). The first of these sites, roughly 850m northwest of the Hall, had a 17th century brick kiln (NHER 3670), which was excavated in 1968. The second, and by far the largest site, lies nearer to the Hall – being approximately 270m to the northwest. Here, the remains of a brick kiln, clay pits, wash pit and pug mill have been recorded (NHER 3672) indicating production on quite some scale. Sadly, a great number of the aforementioned structures here survive in a poor state of preservation. The final brick kiln lies about 400m northeast of the hall, having being recorded by a fieldwalking survey conducted in 1981. Documentary evidence records that Lord North hired a brickmaker from Fulham during this period, and perhaps it was he who was working the largest site (NHER 3672) just a short distance away from Lord North’s home.

At this juncture it seems appropriate to discuss Rougham Hall (NHER 3680), home to the North family. The present hall that stands here dates to 1878 and 1906 but also includes the outbuildings of the earlier 1693 hall which was demolished. The dovecote is left over from this original construction and is one of the finest in Britain with accommodation for 936 birds! Inside is a staircase and panelling from Finborough Hall whilst the garden contains an Ionic capital from the portico of the old mansion. As is traditional, the Hall is set within a magnificent park. Rougham Park dates to the 17th century and is laid out in a formal style. Its size has fluctuated over time from 15-45 hectares, with the present park 40 hectares in area. Visitors to the park should look out for the earthworks of the 17th century kitchen garden and 19th century brick and flint haha that survive here.

The last building of this period to merit a mention is the 18th century Crown Inn (NHER 5769). This flint and brick building is of interest because the stone blocks in the south gable are believed to be fragments of the ruined medieval chapel (NHER 13167) mentioned earlier on in the medieval overview. As with the Saxon period the only finds dating to this period consist of pottery sherds.

The latest archaeological records for Rougham concern the lodge (NHER 46240) to Rougham Hall and the telephone booth (NHER 46234) located on The Street in the village centre. The lodge dates to 1907 and combines a colourwashed brick ground floor with a jettied timber framed upper floor, making for an attractive building. The cast iron telephone booth is rather more mundane. It is of the K6 type designed in 1935 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and made by various contractors. Booths such as these have generally stood the test of time well and a number of them survive in the archaeological record for Norfolk.

This brings to an end the overview of the archaeology of Rougham. As readers will see there is a rather unequal distribution of sites and artefacts across time periods, with a great deal of prehistoric archaeology being recovered and documented. Nevertheless, enough evidence survives to provide an interesting history of the parish and its people. Anyone wishing to find out more about the archaeology here should consult the individual records.

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 2 February 2007.


Further Reading

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

Davison, A., 1988. 'Six deserted villages in Norfolk’, East Anglian Archaeology 44, 48-70

Mortlock, D. P. and Roberts, C. V., 1985. The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches: No.3 West and South-West Norfolk (Cambridge, Acorn Editions)

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