Parish Summary: Hemsby

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

Hemsby is located on the east coast of Norfolk north of Great Yarmouth. This small village is now dominated by coastal holiday camps, chalets and caravan parks but in the past the local economy depended on fishing and farming. The village name derives from Old Scandinavian and means 'Heimer’s settlement'. The Scandinavian element of the name suggests Viking settlers may have founded the village. The archaeology of the parish, however, does not support this interpretation. Despite extensive fieldwalking in advance of the construction of the Bacton to Yarmouth pipeline and metal detecting and recording of archaeological sites from aerial photographs by the National Mapping Project, no finds or sites characteristic of Viking culture have been identified. The Domesday Book records the presence of the village in 1086, when there was a church and two salt houses here. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that there was settlement in the area at a much earlier period however.

The earliest prehistoric evidence dates from the Palaeolithic. An Upper Palaeolithic flint handaxe (NHER 37458) was found in a garden within the parish. Two possible Neolithic barrows (NHER 27458 and 27345) have been identified from aerial photographs. An in-depth analysis of archaeological sites visible on aerial photographs has also identified a possible Neolithic mortuary enclosure (NHER 27457) in the parish. Not all Neolithic evidence is associated with death. A Neolithic flint axehead (NHER 14188) and a Neolithic flint leaf arrowhead (NHER 35651) have also been recorded. At the end of the Neolithic period a complete Beaker period vessel (NHER 19154) may have been deposited close to the Lacon Arms pub. The Neolithic barrows and mortuary enclosure described above suggests the area was of significance to people during this period. The identification of two Bronze Age barrow cemeteries (NHER 27342 and 27350) near these monuments suggests the landscape continued to hold ritual significance during the Bronze Age. Two Bronze Age enclosures (NHER 27337 and 34234) have also been recorded. One of these was excavated and shown to consist of a ditch and banked enclosure with a complex entrance. There is also evidence of more day-to-day life as well. The field boundaries of a Bronze Age field system (NHER 27338) can be seen as cropmarks on aerial photographs. The land was also split into fields during the Iron Age and Roman period but a different field system (NHER 27339) was used.

The dating of the Iron Age or Roman period field system (NHER 27339) is not clear. There is also other evidence of Roman activity. Roman coins (NHER 8659, 20255 and 12166) and pottery (NHER 24619) have been found. At one site Roman brick from a building (NHER 12166) has also been recovered. A third field system (NHER 27340) identified by the National Mapping Project is post Roman in date. Nearby are further cropmarks of complicated multi-phase use of the landscape (NHER 43426). The proximity of evidence for Saxon settlement in Ormesby St Margaret with Scratby parish suggests this may be a Saxon system although this is not clear. Early Saxon pottery fragments (NHER 8565), a Middle Saxon coin (NHER 24527) and part of a Late Saxon brooch (NHER 33159) are evidence for Saxon activity in the parish. 

Carving of winged bull on medieval cross.

The carved medieval cross on Yarmouth Road in Hemsby. (© NCC.)

A cross (NHER 8566) previously dated to this period is probably 14th century. This cross may be part of a set of four medieval crosses (NHER 8578, 8566, 8579 and 11738) that were recorded by the vicar of St Mary’s (NHER 8577) around 1900 as being sanctuary markers. One of these (NHER 11738) has been moved from its original position west of the church (NHER 8579). These medieval crosses were constructed around the same time as the church that dates to the 14th century and later. In addition to the church the parish also contains the oldest timber framed building in Norfolk. The aisled barn at Hall Farm (NHER 30804) dates to around 1300. Excavations at the site of the village stores also uncovered evidence for a medieval clay extraction pit (NHER 41649). Other interesting medieval finds include a gold coin (NHER 37288) found on the beach and a carved limestone lion’s head (NHER 41355) found in someone’s garden.

There are several buildings in the parish that date to the post medieval period. Shamrock Cottage (NHER 24916) was built around 1700, whilst Home Farm (NHER 22901), The Chimneys (NHER 42879) and The Lodge (NHER 42880) are all 18th century. 19th century Decoy Farmhouse (NHER 42878) was built near the site of the earliest duck decoy built in Britain (NHER 27213). Nearby clay extraction may have provided raw material for several brick kilns (NHER 16669 and 16670). There was a local windmill and bakery (NHER 20515) that sold bread until 1920 and was used as a piggery until 1975 when it was demolished. Several 19th century wrecks (NHER 22884, 30728 and 41608) are recorded on Hemsby beach. One of these is the Vigo that sunk killing all its crew.

The coast was important during World War Two. Defences including pillboxes (NHER 15113, 16791 and 28938), anti tank blocks (NHER 41605) and a spigot mortar emplacement (NHER 41607) were built along the beach. One of the pillboxes may have been disguised as a windmill or lighthouse (NHER 27388). Lysanders, lightweight aircraft, may have landed at an airfield in the parish (NHER 25539). A more complex military site (NHER 27341)  and two military camps (NHER 27370 and 42500) can be seen on RAF aerial photographs taken during the 1940s.

Megan Dennis (NLA), 27 January 2006.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I and Part II (Chichester, Phillimore)

Hemsby Parish Council, 2004. ‘Hemsby Parish Council’. Available: Accessed: 26 January 2006.

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

Neville, J., 2005. ‘Norfolk Mills – Hemsby tower windmill’. Available: Accessed: 26 January 2006.

Rye, J., 2000. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

Scaife, S., 2006. ‘Saint Mary the Virgin Churchyard – Norfolk County, England’. Available: Accessed: 26 January 2006.

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