Parish Summary: Great Massingham

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

Great Massingham is a large parish in the west of the county. Massingham comes from the Old English meaning ‘the homestead of the family or followers of a man named Maessa’. The parish stands on an area of former heath, which was enclosed from the late 18th century. The village of Great Massingham is in the north of the parish, close to the neighbouring village of Little Massingham. 

There is ample evidence for early occupation, and a large number of prehistoric flints have been found. On Massingham Heath, in the southwest of the parish, there is evidence that flint mining was taking place in the Neolithic period. The presence of mine shafts (NHER 2302), and large amounts of worked flint and antler picks, was first noted in the 19th century. Some of the mineshafts have survived as circular earthwork pits and hollows (NHER 2310 and 2318). Other Neolithic flint implements found include a flint pick (NHER 2294), an arrowhead (NHER 2295), and a number of axeheads (NHER 2297148101481214813 and 16993). Neolithic pottery (NHER 14809) and Beaker pottery (NHER 22892292, 23001480914815 and 30802) have been found throughout the parish, suggesting that settlement developed through the Neolithic period into the Bronze Age. Bronze Age palstaves (NHER 2311) and axeheads (NHER 2312) and a barbed and tanged arrowhead (NHER 34455) have been found. A number of Bronze Age barrows (NHER 22922303, 23052307230823093666366736683779 and 3780) have survived as earthworks on areas of former heath, and on either side of the Peddar’s Way (NHER 1289) Roman road. One round barrow (NHER 2301) was excavated in the 1930s, and a Middle Bronze Age human cremation was discovered. Another human cremation was found in a Bronze Age urn in the 19th century (NHER 3665).

A square enclosure (NHER 13018) is visible as a cropmark on aerial photographs. The enclosure probably dates to the Late Iron Age or Roman period, and is one of a series of similar defensive enclosures in northwest Norfolk. Iron Age pottery (NHER 2303) and a fragment of an Iron Age terret (NHER 28961) have been found.

In 1964 the remains of a Roman villa (NHER 3669) were discovered in the northwest of the parish. The villa had a hypocaust and painted wall plaster. Roman pottery (NHER 23152316 and 2317), Roman coins (NHER 289603162131844 and 36683) and Roman metalwork included brooches (NHER 31621), seal box lids (NHER 31621 and 32616), a fragment of a bracelet or terret (NHER 31844), and a mount (NHER 31621) have been found scattered throughout the area.

An Early Saxon cruciform brooch (NHER 31621) and a Middle Saxon silver strap fitting (NHER 28960) have been found. Fragments of Late Saxon pottery (NHER 234519408 and 21121) have been found around the village of Great Massingham, and in the churchyard, suggesting that the Late Saxon settlement recorded in the Domesday Book grew up on the site of the present village. No distinction is made between Great and Little Massingham in the Domesday Book, which records a fairly wealthy and substantial settlement. 

An Augustinian Priory was founded in the parish before 1260, and was dedicated to St Mary and St Nicholas (NHER 2319). The Priory was dissolved in 1538, and some elements of the medieval buildings have been incorporated into Abbey Farmhouse, an 18th century house which now stands on the site. St Mary’s Church (NHER 2345) dates mainly from the 13th and 15th centuries, and contains Early English arcading and a 13th century font. Great Massingham had two parish churches during the medieval period; the other was All Saints’ Church (NHER 14479), which stood to the south of St Mary’s. The two churches were united in the mid 15th century, and All Saints’ had fallen into ruins by the 16th century. Medieval human remains (NHER 30806) were discovered at the Old Reading Room in 1994, and an evaluation carried out by the Norfolk Archaeological Unit revealed a flint wall. The wall and the burials are probably part of the medieval churchyard of All Saints’.

Kennel Farmhouse (NHER 24276) is an early 17th century house, which contains reused fragments of medieval masonry, probably taken from the site of the Priory. Barrack House (NHER 29656) and 49 Castle Acre Road (NHER 41758) also contain reused medieval masonry.

In the north of the parish is a former airfield (NHER 15168), constructed during World War Two. The parish also has a World War Two anti aircraft battery (NHER 30790) that is unique in Norfolk, as well as another World War Two battery (NHER 32405), and a pillbox (NHER 30801).

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 17th January 2006.


Further Reading

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

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

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

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