Parish Summary: Holme Hale

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

Holme Hale is a parish in the Breckland district of Norfolk. It is situated south of Necton and north of Ashill. The unusual name of the village is actually two village names joined together. There used to be two villages, Holme and Hale, in the parish. The village of Holme was deserted some time after 1352 (perhaps as a result of the Black Death). The Domesday Book records that Godric held land in Holme for the king. The name Holme Hale is first recorded in 1267 as ‘Holmhel’. The names of both villages derive from Old Norse. Holme means ‘small island or river meadow’. Hale can be translated as ‘nook or corner of land’. This evidence suggests that the village were first settled in the Saxon period. The archaeology recorded in the parish suggests there was activity much earlier than that however. The area is particularly rich in Late Iron Age and Roman finds. 

Illustration of an Iron Age Celtic-style head.

A miniature Celtic-style head that dates from the Iron Age. (© NCC.)

The earliest finds are two Lower Palaeolithic flint handaxes (NHER 4607 and 41891). Neolithic worked flint axeheads (NHER 4608, 4609, 4610 and 4611) have also been recorded. Cropmarks of a possible Neolithic cursus (NHER 28855) can be seen on an aerial photograph. A Beaker period barbed and tanged flint arrowhead (NHER 22649) has also been recovered. A Bronze Age copper alloy chisel (NHER 34478) and the tip of a Bronze Age copper alloy spearhead (NHER 28573) are evidence for activity in this period. The area is especially rich in Late Iron Age archaeological finds and sites. Gold and silver Iron Age coins have been recovered (NHER 16285, 30259 and 24554). An intriguing tiny copper alloy Celtic-style head (NHER 25783) and several Iron Age brooches (NHER 25783, 28126 and 28572) have been found. Part of a Late Iron Age and Roman settlement site (NHER 37105) was excavated at Hill Farm before a new water pipe was laid. The Panworth ditch (NHER 1082), a boundary bank and ditch, may be Iron Age, Roman or Early Saxon in date.

In addition to a possible enclosure around some of the Roman settlement (NHER 37105) uncovered at Hill Farm, a second Late Iron Age or Roman rectangular enclosure (NHER 8712) was excavated when the railway was built in the 19th century. Several vertical shafts were excavated here. These may be wells or have been used for ritual deposition. The enclosure contained two timber-lined wells containing large amounts of 1st century AD pottery. Foundations of a possible Roman building (NHER 4613) were ploughed up in the 1940s. There has also been some interesting Roman finds including a hoard of at least thirty nine late 3rd century Roman coins (NHER 8709), a double Dolphin brooch (NHER 25783), pieces of iron chain mail (NHER 16285) and a fragment of high status samian pottery bowl depicting the figure of Hercules (NHER 28589).

There is less evidence for Saxon Holme Hale although some interesting finds have been made. Several Early Saxon brooches (NHER 24554, 28126 and 28852) have been recovered. Two brooches were found together with a wrist clasp (NHER 24213). Another brooch (NHER 35597) may come from a burial. An Early Saxon finger ring (NHER 29029) has also been recovered. Pottery (NHER 8712) and a strap fitting (NHER 28852) are the only Middle Saxon finds. Several Late Saxon coins (NHER 22649, 34938 and 22649), a Late Saxon stirrup mount fragment (NHER 42880) and parts of a 9th to 10th century Scandinavian style brooch (NHER 34357) have also been recovered.

There are records of three possible medieval moats (NHER 4640, 4641 and 29759). Areas of medieval settlement at Holme (NHER 33817) and Cotes (NHER 13495) and two other unnamed sites (NHER 22440 and 25783) have been recorded. The deserted medieval village of Holme includes the site of St Andrew’s Church (NHER 8713) that was consolidated with St Andrew’s, Holme Hale (NHER 4643) sometime after 1352. St Andrew’s Church, Holme Hale (NHER 4643) was mostly built in the 14th and 15th century. Inside is a restored 15th century hammerbeam roof. The Old Nag’s Head (NHER 43195) is an early 16th century building. The eastern part of the building used to be a medieval open hall house.

There are several post medieval buildings surviving in the village. Bury’s Hall (NHER 4641) is a 16th century building that is surrounded by parts of an earlier medieval moat. The Old Thatched House (NHER 33501) was built in the 17th century. Pondhouse Farm was built in the early 19th century in rustic style. Holme Hale Hall (NHER 23015) was also built in the early 19th century. Documentary records aren’t clear but it is thought that Robert Farrand rebuilt the house and set out a landscape park (NHER 44023) around it in about 1820 or 1833. The park contains an iron bridge (NHER 44022) over a possible reused moat (NHER 4640) and a dovecot (NHER 8727). There is a lodge (NHER 44024) and gates (NHER 44025) at the entrance to the park. There are also some records of post medieval buildings that no longer survive. The site of the workhouse (NHER 4629) and an old post mill (NHER 15956) are recorded in the database.

The most recent archaeological site is a World War Two pillbox (NHER 19457). This stands on the site of an anti aircraft battery that can be seen on aerial photographs taken in the 1940s.

Megan Dennis (NLA), 16 March 2006.


Further Reading

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

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

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

Unknown, unknown. ‘St Andrew’s Holme Hale profile’. Available: Accessed: 15 March 2006 

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