Parish Summary: Barton Turf

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

Barton Turf is a small village, perched on the edge of Barton Broad, whilst to the south of the parish lies Irstead, which is a much smaller hamlet. Barton Turf comes from the Old English word for a ‘barley farm’. ‘Turf’ alludes to the high quality of the turf, or peat, that was extracted from the marshes around Barton, a practice that eventually formed the Broads, which are the flooded remains of medieval peat turbaries. 

Neolithic polished axehead from Barton Turf.

A Neolithic polished axehead from Barton Turf. (©NCC)

There is scant evidence for early occupation in Barton Turf, several Neolithic axeheads (NHER 8285, 13056 and 24526) have been found on the higher ground above the marshes, and the site of possible Bronze Age burial mounds are visible as cropmarks on higher ground, near the parish boundary. 

Photograph of 15th century painted rood screen at Barton Turf Church.

15th century painted rood screen from St Michael's Church, Barton Turf. (©NCC) 

There is also little evidence for Saxon settlement in the parish, a solitary Late Saxon harness fitting (NHER 33130) has been found in the south of the parish. Although the settlement at Barton Turf appears to have been small two churches are mentioned in the Domesday Book. The site of one church (NHER 32913) is unknown, and St Michael’s Church (NHER 8340) stands in Irstead, on a ridge overlooking the River Ant, a typical position for an early church. The present church dates mainly to the 14th century, but surviving Norman carving suggests the presence of an earlier, and much more impressive building on this site. The medieval church in Barton Turf itself is also dedicated to St Michael, and has a remarkable painted rood screen dating from the mid 15th century, which is of extremely high quality craftsmanship.

The parish is dominated by Barton and Sutton Broads (NHER 13510) and Alderfen Broad (NHER 13512), which attract thousands of visitors every year. In the 19th century Barton Broad was held up as an example of the artificial nature of the Broads. The medieval inhabitants of Barton Turf and Irstead toiled away digging peat, which may have given rise to the wealth which allowed the employment of the artist who painted their magnificent rood screen, whilst their descendants used the Broads for more leisurely activities, Pleasure Island on Barton Broad was even provided with a bandstand in the 19th century.

Irstead Old Hall (NHER 8324) is a 17th century timber framed house, with walled gardens, Berry Hall (NHER 23027) is also a 17th century house, possibly on the site of the medieval manor house of Bury Manor, mentioned in documentary sources from the early 15th century, and Barton Hall (NHER 23028) is a large 18th century house. Wherry Arch (NHER 14922) is an unusual early 19th century barn built as an arch over a dyke, allowing boats to pass underneath. The marshes in the parish began to be drained with more sophisticated techniques in the post medieval period. Several mills (NHER 5238) survive in the parish, including Turf Fen Mill (NHER 5240), dating from the late 19th century, which has its original machinery still intact.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 9 August 2005.


Further Reading

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

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

Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B., 1999. Norfolk 1. Norwich and Northeast (London, Penguin Books)

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



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