Parish Summary: Erpingham with Calthorpe

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

Erpingham, from the Old English meaning the 'homestead of the family or followers of a man called Eorp', is a small parish in the northeast of the county. In 1935 the parish was amalgamated with the neighbouring parish of Calthorpe, which comes from the Old Scandinavian meaning the 'outlying farm or hamlet of a man named Kali'.

There is intriguing evidence for prehistoric occupation, on either side of the Scarrow Beck, a tributary of the River Bure. Several prehistoric burnt mounds and hearths (NHER 15070, 19709, 2869528897 and 29463) have been found. An unusual large causewayed ring ditch or hengiform monument (NHER 12772) is visible as a cropmark on aerial photographs, and may date to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. Excavations on the site in the 1970s revealed prehistoric pits and ditches. A number of Neolithic flint implements (NHER 28948289042889328524, 12992 and 12991) have been found scattered throughout the parish, including Neolithic axeheads (NHER 6704 and 28249), Neolithic blades or flakes (NHER 28249 and 28250) and a Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age flint scraper (NHER 41935). Prehistoric pottery (NHER 25875, 25880 and 28251) has also been found. A Bronze Age palstave (NHER 6706) was found in World War Two during the construction of a gun emplacement (NHER 6706), and a Bronze Age rapier (NHER 6704), a Bronze Age axehead (NHER 28524) and fragments of Bronze Age casting waste (NHER 28524) have also been found. During the construction of the Aylsham Bypass in the late 1970s, an extensive area of settlement (NHER 14940) was discovered, dating from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, close to the possible hengiform monument (NHER 12772). Bronze Age and Iron Age pottery were found on the site of the settlement, and Iron Age pottery has been found scattered throughout the parish (NHER 12772, 12992, 19709, 19710, 2587525880285242852828701 and 28947), as well as an Iron Age toggle, made of copper alloy (NHER 40246).

Settlement continued to develop in the Roman period, and extensive fieldwalking and metal detecting has revealed the sites of two Roman settlements (NHER 28524 and 28700). An enclosure (NHER 12992), visible as a cropmark on aerial photographs, is potentially of Roman date. Roman pottery has been found on the site, and the enclosure has expansive views over the surrounding landscape, which may suggest a military or religious function (NHER 12992). Roman pottery has been found throughout the parish, as well as Roman coins (NHER 11761, 19162 and 39534), brooches (NHER 12772 and 38151) and a quern (NHER 6707).

An Early Saxon brooch (NHER 28524), an Early Saxon girdle hanger (NHER 28699) and Middle Saxon pottery (NHER 2423124329 and 29463) have been found. Calthorpe is first mentioned in 1047, when Edward the Confessor confirmed St Benet's Abbey in the possession of the church, and the fragment of Middle Saxon pottery (NHER 29463) found in the hamlet suggests that a settlement in Calthorpe existed in the Middle Saxon period. In Domesday Book Calthorpe was a relatively small settlement, and some of the land was held by St Benet's Abbey. Erpingham was a slightly bigger settlement in 1086, divided between several different manors. Late Saxon pottery (NHER 11761, 12991, 2870028890 and 28898), and Late Saxon metalwork including a harness mount (NHER 11761), a box mount (NHER 12991), and a stirrup terminal (NHER 28524) has also been found around the villages of Erpingham and Calthorpe. Both settlements are recorded as having a church during the Late Saxon period. No architectural evidence from the Late Saxon period is visible in the present building of St Mary's Church in Erpingham (NHER 6720). Middle and Late Saxon pottery have been found in the churchyard, suggesting that St Mary's may be on the site of an earlier building. 

Photograph of St Mary's Church, Erpingham. Decorated style. Viewed from south-west.

St Mary's Church, Erpingham. The building is mostly in Decorated style. (© NCC.)

St Mary's Church (NHER 6720) dates mainly from between the 13th and 15th centuries, and has a large 15th century west tower, decorated with the name 'Erpingham' on the battlements. The remains of the moated hall (NHER 6713) of the Erpingham family survives in the village, close to the remains of another medieval moat (NHER 14709), possibly a predecessor of the hall. The most famous member of the Erpingham family is Sir Thomas Erpingham, who fought at the battle of Agincourt with Henry V. St Mary's (NHER 6720) is some distance to the south of the present village of Erpingham, that developed along the edge of Erpingham Common, drifting away from its original focus closer to the church. The cropmark of another medieval moat (NHER 12994) is visible close to the church on aerial photographs. Erpingham Common is shown on Faden's map of 1797 as a long, linear common, which has since been enclosed. In Calthorpe there were several medieval manors, and Calthorpe Hall and Hook Hall are referred to in medieval documents, although their locations are unknown. St Margaret's Church (NHER 6721) in Calthorpe dates mainly from between the 13th and 15th centuries, and contains medieval wall paintings of consecration crosses.

Extensive fieldwalking in the parish has revealed several areas of former medieval settlement (NHER 28893288942889528896 and 28524), especially in the south of the parish, close to the possible site of Calthorpe Watermill (NHER 28582) on the River Bure. The mill is referred to in medieval documents, but was in ruins by the 15th century. The parish was focused on agriculture throughout the medieval period, and an area of medieval ridge and furrow (NHER 14710) has survived as earthworks, close to the edge of the former common. Aerial photographs taken around Calthorpe have revealed the cropmarks of medieval and post medieval enclosures and field boundaries (NHER 2870028899 and 28947), which were part of the agricultural landscape in the parish in the medieval and early post medieval periods. Metal detecting has recovered many medieval finds from the parish, including coins and pottery, and a medieval seal matrix showing a hawk attacking a duck, and bearing the legend 'Alas I am caught' (NHER 42646).

During the post medieval period the parish retained its agricultural character, and several new farmhouses were built. Wolsey's Farm (NHER 19895) and Ashtree Farm (NHER 19896) are both early post medieval timber framed houses, whilst Scarrow Beck House (NHER 16131) dates from the 17th century, and The Limes (NHER 23741) and Erpingham House (NHER 23740) date from the 18th century. Lower Farm (NHER 12870) was built in 1860, and has decorative chequered brickwork. Calthorpe Pound (NHER 12353) has survived, although it is now in ruins, and several post medieval mills (NHER 6722, 15877 and 15878) have also vanished.

During World War Two a gun emplacement (NHER 6706) and a pillbox used by the Home Guard (NHER 16127) were built in the parish.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), November 2005.


Further Reading

Brown, P., 1984. Domesday Book: Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

Davison, A., 1995. 'The Field Archaeology of the Mannington and Wolterton Estates', Norfolk Archaeology 42

Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes, 1990. The Norfolk Village Book (Newbury, Countryside Books)

Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names (Fakenham, Larks Press)

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