Parish Summary: Swainsthorpe

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

Swainsthorpe is a small village and parish, situated some 8km to the south of Norwich City. The parish has an area of 366 hectares, and is cut in half by the route of the main Norwich to London railway line (NHER 13578). The word ‘Swainsthorpe’ is thought to derive from the Old Norse words for either Sveinn’s hamlet, or perhaps hamlet belonging to the lads, as the word ‘Sveinn’ means lad

The earliest record is that of a Neolithic flaked axehead (NHER 9718), recovered in 1924. Although there have been no excavated monuments from the prehistoric periods, the cropmarks of several ring ditches or round barrows have been noted (NHER 10107 and 12185), which may date to the Bronze Age.  The other mounds near to the Pye Roman road (NHER 7947) are undated but could be Roman (NHER 9756 and 48963).

The Pye Road itself runs between Scole and the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund. A post medieval turnpike road runs along part of the section here, and some possible square barrows have been recorded (NHER 21115) which may also be Roman in date. The presence of rectangular cropmarks, in association with daub and pottery sherds (NHER 9719), has also suggested a building near the road to the south of Stoke Lane. 

A small number of Roman period objects have been recovered. These are predominantly coins (NHER 30323 and 40429) and pottery sherds (NHER 9720 and 34620), although a number of brooches (NHER 9724 and 38065) and an interesting Late Roman strap end (NHER 23724) have also been found. 

Drawing of part of an Early Saxon small-long brooch from Swainsthorpe.

Part of an Early Saxon small-long brooch from Swainsthorpe (© NCC) 

From the Saxon period a Late Saxon disc brooch (NHER 9721 and 9722) has been recovered, as well as a notable concentration of brooches, fittings and at least one coin from a site (NHER 9724) near to the modern village. Although there have been no Saxon period monuments excavated, the Domesday Book lists a church amongst the assets of Swainsthorpe in 1086, and it is possible that this refers to the church of St Peter (NHER 9723). 

The present church building (NHER 9723) has a tall round tower that, along with parts of the nave, may date to the Late Saxon or early medieval periods. Some of what may be Roman or early medieval bricks are also noted here, although the majority of the building dates to the 14th or 15th centuries.

It is also known that there was another church, dedicated to St Mary (NHER 9725) in this parish. The building was destroyed during the Reformation, but occasional human remains have been recovered from the area of the church and its churchyard (NHER 9724). A small number of medieval objects have also been recovered, though these are limited to pottery sherds (NHER 9721 and 9722), coins (NHER 34620 and 38065) and building materials (NHER 18372). Similar objects have been recovered from the post medieval period, as well as a silver post medieval dress hook (NHER 40429). 

There are also a number of buildings from the post medieval period that are of architectural interest. These include Swainsthorpe Hall (NHER 13245), a building which was originally built in 1570, although it was partially burnt down and rebuilt later. Inside is a fireplace dated to 1654, made entirely of plaster, and depicting the arms of the Merchant Adventurers.

Also of interest is Primrose Cottage (NHER 24842), which dates to the 17th century, and The Rookery (NHER 13246), a large timber-framed house of 17th century date that may have originated in the 16th century. From more recent history, the buildings that formed Henstead Union Workhouse (NHER 9770) are also standing. They were constructed in 1836 on a double-cruciform plan, and are said to have used almost a million bricks from a local brickyard. In 1948 the building became a hospital for the NHS under the name Vale Hospital, closing in 1984 and now converted to private residential properties.

Ruth Fillery-Travis (NLA), 1 July 2007


Further Reading

Higginbotham, P., 13 October 2006. ‘Henstead, Norfolk’. Available: Accessed: 1 July 2007

Knott, S., April 2007. ‘St Peter, Swainsthorpe’. Available: Accessed: 1 July 2007

Morris, J. (General Editor), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I and Part II (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

Pevsner, N., 1997. The buildings of England: Norfolk 2: North-west and South (London, Penguin Books)

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

Wikipedia Authors, 28 December 2006. ‘Company of Merchant Adventurers of London’. Available: Accessed: 1 July 2007

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