Parish Summary: Dunton

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

Dunton is a large, but sparsely populated parish in northwest Norfolk, including the hamlets of Dunton, Shereford and Toftrees.

Several prehistoric flint implements have been found within the parish, including a Mesolithic axehead (NHER 2349), a Neolithic axehead (NHER 2350) and hoe (NHER 2352), and prehistoric flint flakes (NHER 2351 and 32801).

Toftrees is in the south of the parish; the name comes from the Old English ‘toft’ meaning ‘homestead’. The cropmark of a ring ditch (NHER 30859), visible on aerial photographs, is the only evidence of prehistoric activity in Toftrees. A Roman road (NHER 1791) runs through the parish, and close to the road is the site of a Roman settlement (NHER 7112). A large number of Roman coins, pottery fragments and building material has been recovered from the site since the early 20th century, and Roman pottery (NHER 2371) have been found in the fields around Toftrees. The course of another possible Roman road (NHER 17451) is visible as a soilmark on aerial photographs, close to the Roman settlement (NHER 7112).

The site of an Early Saxon inhumation cemetery (NHER 32608) in the west of the parish has been discovered by metal detecting, and a number of Early Saxon brooches and other metalwork have been found. Toftrees is mentioned as a fairly small, but valuable settlement, with a church, in the Domesday Book, in the possession of William of Warenne. All Saints’ Church (NHER 2355) is a substantial Late Saxon church, which contains reused Roman tiles in the walls, perhaps taken from the site of the Roman settlement (NHER 7112). The church was partially rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries. A large medieval moated site (NHER 2370) is close to the church, and Late Saxon and medieval pottery has been found on the site. Alternatively, the site may be the remains of medieval tofts and hollow ways from the shrunken settlement of Toftrees, rather than a moated site. The remains of medieval tofts are also visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs, as is a large ditched enclosure which is probably the remains of a medieval manorial site. Two other medieval moated sites are known within the hamlet, one (NHER 36105) is visible as a cropmark on aerial photographs, and the other (NHER 10761) has survived as ditches, and medieval brick and pottery has been found on the site. The village of Toftrees was clearly much larger in the medieval period, and the exact causes of its decline in the late medieval and early post medieval period are unclear. Toftrees Hall (NHER 2374) was a large Elizabethan house, which was demolished in 1958. Today Toftrees is a small collection of houses and farms, including the Manor House (NHER 11754), a 17th century brick house, with decorative gables, and Cannister Hall Farm (NHER 13740), an early 19th century Raynham Estate farm.

Shereford is located fairly centrally within the parish. The name comes from the Old English meaning ‘clear or bright ford’, and indeed Shereford is located on the banks of the River Wensum, which runs through the parish. No prehistoric finds are known from the area around the hamlet, the earliest evidence of any occupation in Shereford is a scatter of Roman pottery (NHER 10762) just outside the present hamlet and a Roman finger ring, made of silver (NHER 30670), found by metal detecting close to the parish boundary. Shereford is listed in Domesday Book as a tiny settlement, which also has a church. St Nicholas’ Church (NHER 2354) in Shereford is a Late Saxon parish church, with a round tower. Late Saxon pottery (NHER 34882) has also been found in the hamlet, suggesting that the present day hamlet is in the same position as the Saxon settlement. The church (NHER 2354) was partially rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries, and has an unusual south porch with a 19th century canopy. A medieval moated site (NHER 17447) lies close to the church, and it is likely that this was a manorial site, or a medieval rectory.  

View of St Peter's Church from the southeast, showing the tower and the south porch.

St Peter's Church in Dunton. (© NCC)

Dunton itself is the most northerly hamlet in the parish, and is recorded as a tiny settlement in Domesday Book. Dunton comes from the Old English meaning ‘farmstead on a hill’. St Peter’s Church (NHER 2004) dates mainly from the 13th and 15th centuries, and is surrounded by the earthworks of the deserted medieval village of Dunton (NHER 17329). The earthworks represent medieval tofts, garden boundaries and hollow ways, as well as a medieval moated site.

The village of Doughton has now totally disappeared. Doughton comes from the Old English meaning ‘duck farmstead’, and may always have been a very small settlement. Doughton had a parish church, which was probably dedicated to St Mary; it is recorded in the early 14th century as a chapel, which suggests that the settlement was already in decline. The foundations of a large building (NHER 21724), ploughed up in the 1970s, could be the remains of this church, but the foundations could also be those of a substantial farmhouse.

The north of the parish is dominated by part of Sculthorpe Airfield (NHER 2007). Built during World War Two, the airfield became one of the biggest United States Army Air Force bases in the country, until the airfield was closed in 1992.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 1 November 2005.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book: Suffolk (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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