Parish Summary: Hempnall

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 large parish of Hempnall is situated about ten miles south of Norwich, Its name comes from the Old English for ‘Hemma’s nook’. The parish has a long history and was certainly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest, its population, land ownership and productive resources being detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The parish has benefited from extensive fieldwalking, metal detecting and research, as a result of which there is a rich body of archaeological evidence representing human activity in every period from the Palaeolithic onwards. The sheer volume of finds and architecturally interesting buildings means that for the purposes of this summary, only selected examples will be given, and those wishing to dig a little deeper will have to consult the detailed records.

The earliest dateable find is a Palaeolithic flint axe (NHER 15909). Three other flint axes have also been found, one Mesolithic (NHER 29409) and two Neolithic (NHER 10170 and 25621). A perforated stone macehead (NHER 10171) may be Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The Bronze Age may have left fragmentary traces of the parish’s earliest structure. Aerial photographs show the cropmark of a ring ditch (NHER 10184) north of Fairstead Lane. This is probably the surrounding ditch of a long since flattened burial mound. Bronze Age finds include a copper alloy axehead (NHER 30189) and a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead (NHER 29172). Iron Age evidence is at the moment confined to pottery fragments (NHER 25182 and 28811).

Roman finds consist of a fairly large quantity of pottery fragments (e.g. NHER 19225, 19361 and 22240), tile fragments (NHER 19361), coins (NHER 19362 and 25182) and a finger ring (NHER 29683). Possible evidence of a Roman structure on Lundy Green can also be inferred. Pottery fragments, glass, quern fragments and tiles have been found in the area of a rectangular enclosure visible on aerial photographs, and this could very well mark the site of a building (NHER 29408). A Roman road (NHER 13652) ran through the parish, but its exact course is not known. 19th century sources also report the discovery of a Roman cremation cemetery (NHER 10172) to the east of Hempnall village, but no evidence survives, and more recent investigation of the area has yielded prehistoric, medieval and post medieval finds but no Roman material.

Near to the river is evidence of a very long term occupation site. NHER 15909, from where the Palaeolithic flint axe (see above) was recovered, also produced large quantities of pottery, building materials and other objects from  Roman to post medieval times. The site could have been important because of its proximity to the river, once much wider, and there have been suggestions of a bridge or quay there in medieval times.

 Saxon finds include pottery fragments (e.g. NHER 16113, 19361 and 22234), a brooch (NHER 19364) and a coin (NHER 25182).  

Photograph of St Margaret's Church, Hempnall.

St Margaret's Church, Hempnall. (© NCC.)

Although St Margaret's Church (NHER 10185) today is essentially the work of restorers, it has very early origins, the nave and the remains of the chancel being Saxon or Saxo Norman. The north aisle and the tower were built in about 1300 and the south aisle and porch in the 14th century. The 15th century saw the aisles and chancel extended. However, several reported fires in the church led to its extensive restoration in 1857, when the ruined chancel was largely demolished. Less extensive work was carried out at intervals throughout the 20th century. Today, the interior of the church is light and airy, with modern chairs and the altar brought forward into the nave. The very fine 15th century font has an octagonal bowl decorated with lions and angels with shields. 

Photograph of Chesnut Farm, Hempnall. A well-preserved late medieval hall house with an added chimney stack and a three storey brick western extension dating to about 1700.

Chesnut Farm, Hempnall. A well-preserved late medieval hall house with an added chimneystack. (© NCC.)

Some medieval buildings are contained within later structures. For example, The Chestnuts on Lundy Green (NHER 14700), Wodehouse Farm (NHER 17801), Chestnut Tree Farm (NHER 17803) and The Firs (NHER 41227) all started life as medieval hall houses.

Other medieval buildings have not survived, but have left a footprint in the form of their surrounding moat. A tree- covered but still visible example can be seen at NHER 10117. Still other buildings have entirely disappeared, like the Chapel of St Andrew at Fairstead (NHER 10116), on the site of which a chicken house now stands.

There are quite a number of medieval finds, including pottery fragments (e.g. NHER 10172 and 15037), a silver seal matrix (NHER 25183) and an extremely rare coin from the reign of Henry I (NHER 25677).

A few examples of the many post medieval buildings of interest in the parish, a lot of which are timber framed, include:-

- Kron’s Manor (NHER 14693), a large and elaborate timber framed house dating to about 1610 with a separate kitchen wing of about the same date. Its nearby barn, now converted, is 16th century.

- Thatched Cottage (NHER 14695), a 17th century thatched timber framed cottage, heavily restored in 1939.

- Forge Cottage and Smithy (NHER 14697), a 17th century cottage, restored in the Tudor style in the 19th century, standing in front of a group of red and yellow brick smithy buildings.

- Hempnall Windmill (NHER 10181), a tarred brick tower mill of 1814. The tower remains, now incorporated into a day care centre. Field Lane Mill (NHER 15976), another 19th century mill, was dismantled in about 1930 after being struck by lightning, and no trace of it remains today. A 19th century workhouse (NHER 15977) has also gone.

- The Old Village Hall (NHER 39669), an early 20th century hall in the Arts and Crafts style, now used as a garage workshop.

The most historically recent entry for the parish dates from World War Two, and is the site of a night time decoy airfield (NHER 32723). This would have consisted of rows of electric lighting made to look like flightpaths, and was designed to divert attention away from the real airfield at Hardwick.

Piet Aldridge (NLA), 1 June 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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