Parish Summary: Ryburgh

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

The parish of Ryburgh is situated in mid north Norfolk, south of Fakenham. Its name comes from the Old English for something approximating ‘Old encampment used for growing rye’. The parish has a long history of human occupation, and was certainly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest, its population, land ownership and productive resources being recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.  The modern parish unites the two medieval parishes of Great Ryburgh and Little Ryburgh, interestingly divided by the River Wensum and in two different Domesday Hundreds.

The earliest evidence of human activity in the parish comes in the form of flint tools. Some of these are dateable only as prehistoric (NHER 11369, 11370 and 11371), but the earliest one to which a date can be ascribed is a Palaeolithic flint handaxe (NHER 12906). Some Mesolithic flints have been found on a site in the middle of the parish (NHER 7154), which appears to have been occupied from that time almost continually until post medieval times (see below). Just a few more Neolithic flint tools have been found, including a chisel (NHER 7129), chipped axeheads (NHER 11361), a polished axehead (NHER 11359) and part of an arrowhead (NHER 39546). The only Bronze Age evidence to date is a copper alloy spearhead (NHER 23396) and a possible ring ditch visible on aerial photographs (NHER 12177). The Iron Age is currently represented by a few coins (NHER 30861).

The earliest known buildings in the parish may date to the Roman period.  Of course, nothing at all remains of these structures, but concentrations of Roman pottery, building materials and other finds in an area indicate their former presence. A concentrated scatter of finds has been recovered from NHER 11360, and the site has been interpreted as once having had several buildings, on the evidence of cropmarks of possible building outlines on aerial photographs.  Apart from the many Roman finds from this site, which include coins and brooches, there have been other discoveries of Roman material elsewhere in the parish. More pottery has been located at NHER 11370 and 12344, more coins at NHER 23395, 23823, 25591, 30861 and 35751, and more brooches at NHER 30861. Also a puddingstone quern was found at NHER 23396.

Evidence of Saxon activity is relatively sparse. Finds include pottery fragments (NHER 7154, 11784 and 12344), brooches (NHER 25590, 25591 and 30861), a coin (NHER 43929) and strap ends (NHER 35751 and 36692). 

Photograph of St Andrew's Church, Great Ryburgh, an interesting church with very early origins. A round west tower, nave, chancel, north and south transepts and a south porch.

St Andrew's Church, Great Ryburgh, an interesting church with very early origins. (© NCC)

The medieval period has left the parish with its oldest surviving buildings, St Andrew’s Church (NHER 7132) and All Saints’ Church, Little Ryburgh (NHER 7155). St Andrew’s is an interesting round - towered church with quite a number of phases of development. The building has early origins, the carstone in the base of the tower and on the northwest nave wall indicating an 11th century date. The nave doors are 13th century, and the transepts were added in the 14th century, after which the present chancel was built. The nave was rebuilt in the late 15th century, probably at the same time the tower was given its attractive octagonal top. The latter of two major 19th century restorations saw the addition of the south porch. High quality 17th and 18th century tomb slabs can be seen inside, and there is a very fine World War One memorial screen in the south transept. All Saints’ church, a 12th century and later building, fell into disuse after Great and Little Ryburgh were consolidated in 1750, and is now in ruins and overgrown.

A medieval moated monastic manor stood towards the east of the parish (NHER 7154). The buildings of the manor disappeared, probably after the dissolution of the monasteries, but part of the moat and associated fishponds can still be seen. Interestingly, although unsurprisingly, large quantities of medieval material have been found and other finds indicate human activity on the site during every period from the Mesolithic to post medieval times. Other moated sites can now only be seen from the air as cropmarks, an example being NHER 11382. Wood Hall, a medieval or post medieval manor house in the southeast of the parish (NHER 11383), is marked on a map of 1680, but nothing of it remains today.

Other medieval small finds in the parish include pottery fragments (NHER 11784, 12344 and 23824), coins (NHER 12344, 23691, 23963 and 23965), a buckle (NHER 43929) and a seal matrix (NHER 20350).

Just a couple of residential post medieval houses are worth mentioning, both built in the 17th century. 21 Fakenham Road (NHER 16892) is a two storey timber framed house with original beams and a large fireplace inside. 25, 27 and 29 Station Road (NHER 25245) is a row of three timber framed cottages, possibly once a large dwelling with an attached workroom, but now much altered. A disused oven in number 27 was found to contain a 19th century ritual coin hoard.

There was once a watermill (NHER 7156) in the parish on the River Wensum, marked on a late 18th century map, but this was demolished in 1951, and nothing remains today.

A later building, north of Station Road, is a 19th century maltings (NHER 12551), still in use today. They were used as a barracks during World War One, and were damaged by incendiary bombs in World War Two.

Piet Aldridge (NLA), 7 April 2006.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

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

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