Parish Summary: Kenninghall

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

Kenninghall is a large parish in the south of Norfolk in the Breckland district. Land in the parish has been held by the King since before the Norman invasion. The Domesday Book records the land as being the King’s manor. Later the manor was held by the Duke of Norfolk who built East Hall (NHER 1049) and later Kenninghall Palace or Place (NHER 10846). The name of the village derives from Old English and means ‘nook of land of the family or followers of Cena of Cyna’. An alternative derivation for the first part of the name is 'Cyning' Old English for king. If so this would indicate the settlement was a Middle Saxon royal centre. It was certainly a royal vill at the Norman Conquest. The archaeological record for the parish contains objects dating from the Palaeolithic period to the 20th century.

The earliest finds recorded are a Palaeolithic core and scraper (NHER 11484). A Mesolithic flint axehead (NHER 10885) and several Mesolithic to Early Neolithic flint flakes (NHER 32254) have also been recovered. Several Neolithic flint axeheads (NHER 12890, 14287 and 21984) have also been found. One of these (NHER 21984) is a magnificent example that looks as though it has never been used. This may have been a votive deposit, a gift to the gods, placed in Kenninghall Fen. Unusually one of the Neolithic flint axeheads (NHER 12890) was recovered by pigs rooting around in a field. 

Drawing of an Iron Age copper alloy cast vessel mount in the form of a bull's head from Kenninghall.

An Iron Age copper alloy cast vessel mount in the form of a bull's head from Kenninghall. (© NCC.)

Several ‘Bronze Age hearths’ (NHER 10814 and 10815) have been recorded. These are probably scatters of prehistoric burnt flints. Others finds are more closely dated to the Bronze Age. These include a Middle Bronze Age axehead (NHER 35688), a spearhead (NHER 32008) and a Late Bronze Age axehead (NHER 32862). A possible Bronze Age axehead hoard (NHER 10797) was discovered by a metal detectorist. This contains around twelve copper alloy axeheads. A Late Bronze Age hoard (NHER 32005) is more completely recorded. This includes one palstave and nine axeheads. One of the axeheads is missing its blade. Several Iron Age coins have been discovered (NHER 35167). These include a gold East Anglian coin made by the Iceni tribe (NHER 32765). Unusually the wolf depicted on this coin faces right instead of left. An Iron Age brooch (NHER 32254) and a mini terret (NHER 34946) were also recovered. Mini terrets seem to be locally produced in southern Norfolk.

Fieldwalking and metal detecting have recovered a large number of Roman finds. These have enabled archaeologists to identify the location of a Roman settlement (NHER 24269) and possible building (NHER 24270) to the northeast of Trench Farm. Roman finds are fairly prolific, however, over the entire area. Several other scatters (NHER 10858 and 32755) have been identified. Coins (NHER 28775, 32008 and 32110) have been found on many sites. One of these is a Roman Republican denarius (NHER 35732). Brooches (NHER 24268, 34597, 19146 and 32254), a bracelet (NHER 32006), a seal box lid (NHER 19545) and a cosmetic spoon (NHER 35167) have also been recorded. These objects date from the 1st to the 4th century AD suggesting there was activity in the area throughout this period. Finds also include a rare military belt stiffener (NHER 34593) dated to the 4th or 5th century AD. An unusual mount in the form of a goat’s head (NHER 35131) has also been found.

An Early Saxon cremation cemetery (NHER 10845) may have been found in the 16th century. Old documents record the discovery of a number of pottery vessels containing cremated human bone. The excavation of an Early Saxon inhumation cemetery (NHER 1048) in 1869 is recorded in rather more detail. Bodies were buried with grave goods including shields, spears, swords, amber and glass beads, buckles and brooches. The cemetery seems to have been in use between 520 and the early 7th century AD. Other evidence for Saxon activity is limited to the many metal detected finds. These include Early Saxon cruciform brooches (NHER 19146, 32254 and 43127), small-long brooches (NHER 32018) and a gilded great square-headed brooch (NHER 34595). An Early Saxon cosmetic implement (NHER 39262) has also been recovered. A gold thrymsa coin (NHER 19545) may date to the late Early Saxon or Middle Saxon period.

Middle Saxon finds include a gilded silver flat-headed pin depicting two intertwined animals (NHER 35735), a very classy ansate brooch (NHER 32018) and a hooked tag (NHER 32006). Late Saxon finds are more prolific. These include a penny of King Cnut (NHER 29890) – the monarch famed for trying to stop the tide coming in. A gold strap end (NHER 19026) and two disc brooches (NHER 19545 and 39262) depicting backwards-biting beasts have also been recovered by metal detectorists. A more unusual find is a cockerel-shaped Late Saxon brooch (NHER 32862). An unparalleled strap fitting (NHER 32255) has also been discovered. A finger ring (NHER 32006) and a gilt horse harness fitting (NHER 32254) have been recorded. An unusual and intriguing triangular strap end (NHER 32007) may be Late Saxon or medieval.

In the medieval period Kenninghall was the manor of the Duke of Norfolk. He built East Hall (NHER 1049) the site of which is at Candle Yards. The surviving earthworks of the moated enclosure and associated fishponds show that this was the highest status secular moat in Norfolk. Around the park belonging to the manor the Duke erected a medieval pale (NHER 19689). St Mary’s Church (NHER 10827) was probably built during the Norman period. Only a single Norman doorway survives. Most of the structure dates to around 1300, although it was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th century in a rather grand and ornate style. Several other medieval buildings survive – Church Farmhouse (NHER 20147) and Heath Farmhouse (NHER 20146) are both good examples of 16th century timber framed hall houses.

Medieval pilgrim badge of the matyrdom of St Edmund.

A medieval pilgrim badge depicting the martyrdom of St Edmund. (© NCC.)

Metal detecting in the parish has recovered a number of interesting medieval finds. These include a horse harness pendant of the de Warenne family and others depicting a crude coat of arms of England (NHER 19545) and a dragon (NHER 34494). Several ornate buckles have also been recorded. A buckle frame depicting a knight fighting a lion (NHER 35131) has been found and another with the pin rest in the form of an animal head (NHER 31412) has been metal detected. A belt mount in the form of a lion (NHER 35407) has also been found. More religious finds include a copper alloy figure of a knight (NHER 30735). This would originally have been part of a set that would have included soldiers and the figure of Christ stepping from his tomb. These would have been used to decorate an Easter sepulchre or altar. A rather gruesome medieval pilgrim badge (NHER 32254) depicts the martyrdom of St Edmund who was tied to a tree and had arrows fired at him until he died. A pilgrim’s ampulla (NHER 32018) from Walsingham has also been found.

Before East Hall was demolished in 1530 Kenninghall Palace or Place (NHER 10846) was built to replace it. This large H-shaped building was mostly demolished in 1650 although the service wing of the fancy Tudor mansion still survives. Many other post medieval buildings also survive. These include the interesting Guiltcross Union Workhouse (NHER 20143). The workhouse was built in 1836 and housed 200 families. In 1916 it became an Institution for Mentally Defective Boys and it was used as a prisoner of war camp during World War Two. Most of the buildings were demolished in 1953. Other post medieval buildings have also been destroyed. These include at least four windmills. The sites of these are still recorded in old documents, photographs and in people’s memories (NHER 10821, 10879, 13537, 13538 and 16409). A tragic accident happened at the postmill (NHER 13538) in 1875 when the seven-year-old granddaughter of the miller was swept up from the mill yard by the sails of the mill before falling to her death. The site of a post medieval house (NHER 19026) that is recorded on old maps has also been identified by the presence of a concentration of post medieval building material and pottery.

The most recent archaeological records are for a World War Two airfield (NHER 10860) and the phone box in the village (NHER 44252). Several hangars and other buildings survive on the airfield. The phone box dates to 1936 and was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

Megan Dennis (NLA), 3 May 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)

Neville, J., 2004. ‘Norfolk Mills - Kenninghall post windmill’. Available: Accessed: 3 May 2006.

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




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