Parish Summary: Shernborne

This Parish Summary is very much an overview of the 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 small parish of Shernborne is situated right up in northwest Norfolk, south of the much larger parish of Snettisham. The name Shernborne comes from the Old English for ‘muddy stream’, and there was certainly an established settlement here by the time of the Norman Conquest, its population, land ownership and productive resources being extensively detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086. The earliest evidence of human activity comes in the form of a Mesolithic or Neolithic stone macehead (NHER 29269) from a field in the northeast part of the parish. Neolithic finds are three polished flint axeheads (NHER 25483) and a partly polished axehead (NHER 28135). Three possible Bronze Age barrows (NHER 1683) were noted in a field to the east of the village on an early aerial photograph, but they are not visible on the ground today. However, quite a number of Bronze Age objects have been recovered, including a stone axe hammer (NHER 28125), copper alloy axeheads (NHER 1679, 1680 and 25483) and copper alloy spearheads (NHER 1679 and 17665).

Iron Age finds are fairly scarce, consisting of pottery fragments (NHER 24549 and 30122), coins (NHER 24431), a decorative binding (NHER 28124) and a curious Iron Age moustache-shaped object (NHER 24431), the function of which is unknown. Roman finds are coins (NHER 24431, 24548, 24549 and 28124), brooches (NHER 24431, 28124, 29374, 37714 and 39949), pottery fragments (NHER 11259, 24431, 24549 and 24433), a bracelet (NHER 1681) and a harness fitting (NHER 24549). There is no firm evidence for any Roman structures, but a 1950s aerial photograph shows the cropmarks of enclosures and ditches (NHER 1684). Roman pottery and tile fragments, oyster shells and part of a quern were noted in the area in 1974, and it may be that these finds relate to the cropmarks. 

Photograph of the Norman font in St Mary's Church, Shernbourne.

The splendid Norman font in St Peter's Church, Shernborne. 

Although there is no trace of it today, 19th century documentary sources refer to a possible Saxon church in the parish (NHER 14042). Saxon finds are a coin, brooches and an unusual and elaborately decorated Late Saxon copper alloy strap end (NHER 23738) with traces of white enamel, all part of a large scatter of finds (NHER 28124) in the north of the parish. Pottery fragments (NHER 24431) have also been recorded. St Peter’s Church (NHER 1682) was until 1898 the earliest medieval structure to survive. However, by then it was very decayed and was largely rebuilt, the work being paid for by the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. It now consists of a nave with a south aisle, chancel, south porch and west bell cote. Although a lot of the old church stonework was re-used, the only parts easily recognisable are the bases of the south aisle arcade and part of the arches above. A ledger slab on the north wall of the chancel has a fine brass of Thomas Shernborne and his wife. The church also boasts one of the finest Norman fonts in England, a mighty piece with a square top and rounded bowl on four short columns, with not an inch of uncarved stone. 

Other medieval features have not survived but have left evidence of their former presence. Earthworks (NHER 29361) noted in a field to the west of the hall include a broad hollow way about eight metres wide, other enclosures and possible ridge and furrow cultivation marks. Sherborne Hall (NHER 1692), the remaining wing of an Elizabethan house, sits on a probable medieval moated site. Only parts of the moat and associated fish ponds remain but they clearly pre-date the hall. Medieval finds include coins (NHER 24431 and 28124), pottery fragments (NHER 24431), keys (NHER 24549 and 28124), a seal matrix (NHER 29661) and an inscribed seal (NHER 16509) found in 1754. Post medieval finds are coins and pottery fragments (NHER 24431). 

P. Aldridge (NLA), 25 May 2007. 


Further Reading

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

Brown, P. (Ed.) Domesday Book; Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

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

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