Parish Summary: Shipdham

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 Shipdham is situated in the Breckland District of Norfolk. It lies to the north of Cranworth and Carbrooke and to the south of Dereham, Scarning and Bradenham. The name Shipdham may derive from the Old English meaning ‘homestead with a flock of sheep’. 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 mentions the presence of a church and the fact that the parish held a reasonable quantity of woodland. The modern village at Shipdham is very long and stretches along one of the main routes to and from Dereham. 

Several prehistoric artefacts have been found in Shipdham, and the earliest of these date to the Neolithic period. A chipped flint axehead has been found east of Ash Farm (NHER 19729) and a polished example (NHER 2761) has been found around 300m south of the recreation ground. Flint daggers (NHER 34362) have also been found in Shipdham, although it is unclear whether these are Neolithic or Bronze Age in date.

The earliest monument we have archaeological evidence for is a possible Bronze Age ring ditch (NHER 25768), situated some distance northeast of the main village centre, to the east of Walnut Tree House. This feature was identified through aerial photography and is consequently difficult to see at ground level. Only a few Bronze Age finds have been discovered and these take the form of tools such as awls (NHER 30580 and 33368) and axeheads (NHER 8704 and 35800). Metal detecting has helped to recover rather more Iron Age artefacts. The majority of these are coins, a number of which were minted by the Iceni tribe (NHER 31487 and 35838). However, the most interesting find from this period is a bucket mount in the form of a dove with the eye sockets showing signs that they were once inlaid (NHER 33368). No Iron Age sites have been identified here, which may suggest that the pre Roman period in Shipdham was fairly quiet.

A possible Roman road (NHER 8714) enters Shipdham from the southwest, joining the Bradenham road near the Unison building. This presumably served Roman sites elsewhere, merely passing through Shipdham, as no Roman sites have been found here. However, the wealth of Roman artefacts here compensate for this fact. A hoard of seventy Roman coins was found by metal detecting in the area around Barnham Farm (NHER 36283). Items associated with grooming and personal ornamentation have been found here, including a cosmetic mortar (NHER 32955), nail cleaner (NHER 31179), a finger ring fashioned from a bracelet (NHER 32954) and part of a copper neck ring (NHER 36285). Of course brooches (NHER 31179 and 37201), a characteristically Roman find, have also been recovered with a particularly nice rosette brooch (NHER 34360) amongst those collected. It is hard to determine whether these items relate to occupation or activity in Shipdham or related to people travelling through the parish to sites in places like Saham Toney.

As we move into Saxon times the archaeological record is very similar to that of Roman times, i.e. a lack of sites but a good range of metalwork pieces and coins (NHER 30957 and 42593). Along with the more common finds (e.g. NHER 32956 and 32954) were a number of intriguing objects, and these mainly dated to the Late Saxon period. The items in question include a honestone (NHER 35838) used to sharpen tool and weapons and a strap end decorated with delicate curling tendrils. Perhaps continued metal detecting will find more objects to help interpret the goings-on in Shipdham at this point in time. 

Showing the 14th century tower

The tower of All Saints' Church, Shipdham. (© NCC)

The most prominent reminder of the medieval period in Shipdham is All Saints’ Church (NHER 2777), although it is advisable to view this on foot as the sharply bending road around the churchyard makes viewing the church whilst driving a dangerous proposition! This handsome church dates mainly to the 13th to 15th centuries and has a most striking appearance because the 15th century tower is topped with a splendid wooden two-domed cupola. Inside, the spacious nave has a fine Victorian roof, a superb 16th century wooden lectern and huge medieval lockable chest. We also know that the Bishop of Ely had a medieval manor in the parish (NHER 22124). Ordnance Survey maps show that this was located opposite Sunnyside Court on Market Street, but the only medieval feature that remains of this manor is the moat as the present Manor House takes the form of an 18th century cottage with a facade of 1945. Shipdham was of importance during the medieval period because it contained a Royal Deer Park (NHER 2765), which was owned by the See of Ely. The park, known as Little Haw/West Haw, was in existence by 1277 but the affiliation with Ely was ended when it was given to the Wodehouse family in 1561 and 1584.

As well as occupation around the church we also know that some sort of medieval settlement (NHER 33855) existed in the southernmost tip of the parish, near to Cotteridge’s plantation. This was identified from a 1946 aerial photograph, which shows cropmarks of ditched enclosures, and the presence of internal divisions and ponds. Additionally, a visit to the site in 1998 noted the remains of an agricultural toft. A number of the buildings in Shipdham have their earliest origins in the late medieval period, such as the derelict Ash Farm House (NHER 21613) constructed from a timber frame with queenpost trusses. Others that survive in better condition are Beech Farmhouse on Thorpe Row (NHER 46719) and Field Cottage (NHER 46523) on Blackmoor Road. A medieval glebe farm has also been located at Shipdham Place (NHER 19285) as 18th century documents record that an ancient barn and gate stood here before the 16th/17th century house that now occupies this moated site. 

Photograph of a drawing of a medieval belt fitting from Shipdham. The fitting depicts a lion.

A medieval belt fitting from Shipdham. The fitting depicts a lion. (© NCC)

When it comes to artefacts the medieval period is the most bountiful. The quantity found makes it impossible to mention them all so a selection of the most exciting are presented here. An unusual medieval hollow cast bronze head with a rather sad expression and a three cornered hat (NHER 35004) was found behind houses north of the Granary on Chapel Street. The purpose of this piece is unclear but it may be some sort of religious figurine. We can be more certain that a gilded human head (NHER 31489) found by metal detecting east of Old Hall was part of a religious artefact, such as a Limoges casket. Several lead seal matrices have also been recovered, one of which was engraved with a cross (NHER 30958) and another with a clearly legible inscription (NHER 31488). Finally, a peculiar copper alloy strap end (NHER 38104) was discovered in a field east of Hall’s Lane. This strap end was formed from a single piece of metal with part of it bent over to form a clip with sections decorated with zigzags. Another strap fitting, this time a buckle (NHER 35321) depicts a creature trying to bite its' own tail.

The post medieval period in Shipdham seems to have been busy, with lots of buildings being erected for residential and manufacturing purposes. A typical selection of properties of this era can be seen in Church Close with Shrub House (NHER 22424), Spinky Den (NHER 12103) and others (NHER 22423) noted by the archaeological records. At one time Shipdham had twenty public houses and beer houses to support the numerous residents, only one of these has been listed – the Golden Dog (NHER 19170). This flint building was originally constructed as a house in the first half of the 16th century before undergoing conversion to a public house in around 1850. The cellars of this building are particularly impressive and no doubt help with the stocking of the current bar! 

A number of grander houses also date to this period. Crowshill Old Hall, set inside its own moat, is one of the finest (NHER 8724) and dates to the 17th century. The timber-framed building is in filled with brick and features a roof adorned with lion’s head guttering. Massingham Manor (NHER 19171) is of a similar date and also worth a look. A date stone reading 1575 in an upstairs fireplace would seemingly make this a much earlier building but the stone appears to have been a Victorian addition to make the property more fashionable. Rather confusingly Shipdham Manor House (NHER 46299) is not an actual manor house but was renamed this in relatively recent times. That is not to say that this 18th century brick-built property, which serves as a home for the elderly, is not impressive but that those wishing to see the real manor house should see the building opposite Sunnyside Court (NHER 22124).

Production of agricultural goods during this era was clearly helped by Shipdham’s many windmills! Three mills appeared on an 1891 Ordnance Survey Map: West End post mill (NHER 15259), a postmill in Mill Road (NHER 15262) and another in Market Street (NHER 15261) at the opposite side of the village. Little is known about these mills but is seems the West End mill was leased from 1778 and last used in 1908. A 1797 map also shows brickworks (NHER 15260) to the east of the modern Brick-kiln Road, presumably the feature after which it was named.

The majority of post-medieval finds are mundane pottery sherds (e.g. NHER 37237), coins (NHER 30957) and metalwork components from everyday equipment (NHER 41710) and clothing (e.g. NHER 35144). However, a rather nice gold ring (NHER 36284) with an engraving reading 'Rather die then (sic) faith denie' merits a mention.

The most recent archaeological record for the parish relates to World War Two. Shipdham had very strong links with the US at this time and the USAAF 44th bomber group was based at the airfield (NHER 2773) here from 1942. Most of the runways were taken up in 1980 to be used as hardcore on the Swaffham bypass. However, a few of the smaller structures that were built here still survive but it should be noted that no other wartime structures have been reported in Shipdham.

This completes the overview of the archaeology of Shipdham. Interested parties should access the individual records to learn more about the parish.

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 20 February 2007.


Further Reading

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

Mortlock, D. P. and Roberts, C. V., 1985. The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches: No.1 North-East Norfolk (Cambridge, Acorn Editions)

Neville, J., 2006. ‘Shipdham West end postmill’. Available: Accessed: 20 February 2007

Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes, 1990. The Norfolk Village Book (Newbury, Countryside Books) 

Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B., 1999. The Buildings of England, Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East (London, Penguin)

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


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