Parish Summary: Cockley Cley

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

Cockley Cley, a large parish in Breckland, comes from the Old English meaning ‘clayey soil’, but the Cockley part of the name is obscure, it may refer to the name of a local family, or to a ‘wood frequented by birds’.

Several Neolithic flint implements have been found scattered throughout the parish, including a chisel (NHER 4564), arrowheads (NHER 14082), and scrapers (NHER 12885 and 13961). The sites of eight possible Bronze Age barrows are known within the parish, some are still visible in the landscape as mounds (NHER 2688 and 2716), whilst others show up as cropmarks on aerial photographs (NHER 35496 and NHER 35495). One of the barrows was used during the medieval period as a moot (NHER 2688).

The site of a Roman settlement (NHER 24052) in the south of the parish is the only evidence of Roman occupation in the parish, although several Iron Age and Roman coins (NHER 19122 and 19155) and brooches (NHER 15504 and 24443) have been found.

There is little evidence for Saxon settlement in the parish, which is perhaps unsurprising as the entry for the manor in Domesday Book records only a handful of households. A Middle Saxon coin (NHER 15662), and a Late Saxon brooch (NHER 15017) and coin (NHER 17627) have been found in the parish. No church is mentioned in the Domesday Book, but the chapel of St Mary’s (NHER 4567) is thought to date from the 12th century, although the later reconstruction of the chapel makes the architectural evidence somewhat dubious. All Saints’ Church (NHER 4592) dates mainly to the 14th and 15th century, but contains some Norman work, including the Norman round tower, which collapsed in 1991. During the medieval period the settlement of Cley St Peter (NHER 2715), to the west of the village of Cockley Cley, was gradually deserted. St Peter’s Church (NHER 2715) burnt down in the 16th century, and was never rebuilt. In the 13th century a leper hospital (NHER 12389) was founded in the parish, although its exact location is unknown, the sparse settlement and relative poverty in Breckland perhaps made it an attractive location for a leper hospital, seemingly far from the rest of civilization.

During the post medieval period the agricultural landscape of Breckland was revolutionised by the creation of large estates, and the efforts of ‘improving’ landowners. Cockley Cley Hall (NHER 4589) is an Italianate 19th century house, built on the site of a 17th century hall. An ornamental lake was created in the grounds of the hall, and cropmarks of the formal gardens are visible on aerial photographs. 

World War Two Allan Williams turret

Allan Williams turret at Cockley Cley. (© NCC)

The modern landscape of the parish is dominated by large plantations, planted during the 20th century by the Forestry Commission. Several rare examples of Allan Williams gun turrets (NHER 32393, 32397 and 32398) have also survived in the parish.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 15 September 2005.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book: Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

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

Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names (Dereham, 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 - 2021 Norfolk Historic Environment Service