Parish Summary: Walpole

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

Walpole is a very large parish situated on the very western edge of Norfolk, on the border with Cambridgeshire. It is situated in the West Norfolk Local Government District, and has an area of almost 2000 hectares. The name ‘Walpole’ is thought to derive from the Old English for pool by the wall, and may refer to the Roman bank which encircled a number of the Marshland parishes. This parish contains the settlements of Walpole St Peter and Walpole St Andrew, and contains the southern half of the old parish of Walpole St Andrew, and the northern half of the old parish of Walpole St Peter. 

Large parts of the parish are former salt marshes, mostly drained only during the last two hundred years. As a result, it is thought unlikely that any occupation would have been possible during the prehistoric period, and no evidence for prehistoric settlement has been recorded. However it is known that the tell-tale signs of Iron Age water courses can be seen as soil marks or occasionally as earthworks across the parish, and a number of these have been noted crossing thirty-four separate sites (such as NHER 20073, 20201 and 21319). 

Drawing of a Roman bowl from Walpole.

A Roman bowl from Walpole. (© NCC)

The first evidence for occupation of this landscape is therefore in the Roman period, and extensive fieldwalking by the Fenland Survey during the 1980s has provided good evidence for small-scale land use across the parish, thought particularly around the edges of the Iron Age watercourses (such as NHER 20030, 20158, and 20306). Seven concentrations of Roman pottery sherds have been noted in this parish (such as NHER 20030, 22137 and 22138), some of which have included other material such as bone (NHER 20306).

In addition, Roman pottery sherds have been recovered from another fifteen  sites (such as NHER 14178, 19865 and 21333), though in not in enough density to be considered occupation sites. Compared with the occupation distribution to the south, in the parish of Walpole Highway, the density here is far greater. Assessment of the evidence gathered suggest that settlement did not commence here until the 2nd century, and probably reached a peak in the 3rd century.

However during the Saxon period settlement focus seems to shift from the southern area of Walpole Highway to this parish. The earliest objects are a pendant (NHER 20274) and three brooches (NHER 21341, 21336 and 31705). However, the first substantial settlements are found during the Middle Saxon period. Two sites have been recorded and these include extensive scatters of Ipswich Ware pottery sherds and both are situated on low roddon systems (NHER 21325 and 21341). One of these sites (NHER 21341) also yielded a number of metal objects, including a sceatta coin of 8th century date. 

Settlement develops during the Late Saxon period. Although occupation evidence continues at one of the Middle Saxon sites (NHER 21341), settlement moves to an area around Walpole St Peter and St Andrew. Possible occupation sites have been identified (NHER 20078, 20274 and 21321), and Late Saxon pottery sherds have been recovered from twenty-eight separate sites.

Evidence for medieval occupation is more numerous, with almost thirty-five possible sites identified (including NHER 20030, 20157 and 20274). Pottery sherds have been recovered in less density from a further ninety-two separate sites (such as NHER 19865, 19953 and 20073), probably due to the extent of medieval manuring activity. Other medieval objects recovered include a 13th century gilded horse harness pendant (NHER 33232) and a gold coin minted under Edward III (NHER 29230). 

It is during the medieval period that this area experienced its greatest activity and expansion. The drainage of the fens here provided high quality agricultural land that had been enriched by the silts and muds.  The farmers and merchants who profited from this expressed their wealth through lavish donations to their parish churches, and it is result of this that we have the churches of St Andrews (NHER 2227) and St Peters (NHER 2229). 

St Andrew’s Church (NHER 2227) is a grand building, and was almost completely rebuilt in the Perpendicular period. The visible structure therefore dates to the late 15th century, though some 14th century work has been reused in the tower, which is of brick. The church is currently in the protection of the Churches Conservation Trust. 

Barely 700m away, St Peter’s Church (NHER 2229) is perhaps the most visible expression of the area’s wealth during the medieval period. It stands on the site of an earlier church which was washed away in the flood of 1337, and the visible structure dates to the late Decorated and early Perpendicular periods. It was probably built between the mid 14th and mid 15th centuries, and  at almost 50m long is one of the largest parish churches in the county.

A late medieval two-storey building (NHER 14609) also survives, though for many years it lay ruinous. It has a brick extension of 1638, and is an early example of a storied medieval building. The site of a medieval moated enclosure (NHER 18507) and two possible medieval saltern mounds (NHER 19693 and 19694) have also been recorded. 

A small number of post medieval buildings have also survived, and these include Dovecot (NHER 13280), which is thought to date to 1598, and Princess Victoria public house (NHER 14608), which is of local brown brick and thought to date to 1651. Also of interest is St Peter’s Lodge (NHER 20529), a house originally built in 1705 and extended in 1813, and contains a round-headed door with re-used Norman masonry.

Ruth Fillery-Travis (NLA), 9 July 2007


Further Reading

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: Northwest and South (London, Penguin Books)

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

Silvester, R. J., 1988. The Fenland Project Number 3: Marshland and the Nar Valley, Norfolk (Gressenhall, Norfolk Archaeological Unit)

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