Parish Summary: Burnham Thorpe

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

Burnham Thorpe is a small parish near the north Norfolk coast. It nestles south of Burnham Overy and north of North Creake. The village is famous for being the birthplace of Lord Admiral Nelson, and although the Rectory where he was born no longer stands there are various bits of memorabilia in the church and the Lord Nelson pub. The village has earlier origins however and is mentioned in the Domesday Book when a church is recorded here. The village name relates to the River Burn that runs through the parish towards the sea, and the Thorpe element is Scandinavian in origin and could be translated as outlying farmstead. Later in the medieval period the importance of the Burnham villages is recorded in the nursery rhyme: “London, York and Coventry; And the seven Burnhams by the sea”. There is archaeological evidence from the parish, however, for human activity here from the earliest periods including a significant Roman presence and prehistoric activity.

The earliest activity dates to the Neolithic period. Several Neolithic flint axeheads (NHER 1785 and NHER 1786) have been recovered from the parish and a possible Late Neolithic henge type monument (NHER 1020) has been identified from aerial photographs. An odd shaped barrow (NHER 26977) may also be Neolithic. There is also evidence from the Bronze Age including a possible Late Bronze Age hoard (NHER 19368) consisting of a copper alloy axe with a fragment of a spearhead hidden within it. A single Bronze Age axehead (NHER 21906) has also been recovered. Several ring ditches (NHER 33699) identified in the parish probably also date to this period. By the Late Iron Age it appears that the area was extensively farmed and several possible Late Iron Age field systems (NHER 12985 and 27785) and a possible Late Iron Age rectangular enclosure (NHER 26979) can be seen on aerial photographs. There are also reports of an Iron Age silver coin hoard (NHER 1787) that was found around 1900 near Scarboro Wood, and a second possible Iron Age hoard (NHER 32950) containing a brooch, a coin and an earring was recovered by a metal detectorist in 1997. 

Drawing of a small Roman single-handled pottery flagon in a fine sandy fabric from  Burnham Thorpe.

A small Roman single-handled pottery flagon from Burnham Thorpe. (©NCC)

There is also evidence for Roman activity in the parish. Metal detecting has recovered many Roman metal finds including Roman coins (NHER 16521, 16522 and 35232) and fragments of Roman pottery (NHER 13943, 17114 and 31904) have also been recorded. At some sites the concentrations of these finds are so great that they must derive from an area of Roman settlement (NHER 13771 and 28279). The field systems (NHER 12985, 26979 and 27785) seen on aerial photographs may be Roman in date. An unusual earthwork mound surrounded by a triple ditched rectangular enclosure was excavated in 1862 and reports suggest a Roman structure (NHER 1788) was found within it.

Metal detecting has also been of use to identify Saxon activity in the parish. An Early Saxon inhumation cemetery (NHER 32340) was identified by the presence of a large number of Early Saxon brooches and personal ornaments found there. Other single finds of Saxon objects include an Early Saxon and a Middle Saxon strap end (NHER 41919), a Middle Saxon caterpillar brooch (NHER 21446) and a rare imported piece of Middle Saxon Bornheim Waldorf pottery (NHER 27741). The collection of Saxon objects (NHER 28127) recovered on the boundary of the parish with Burnham Market is part of a much larger important market place and Saxon settlement here. The proximity of this Saxon international trading centre probably explains the presence of imported pottery in Burnham Thorpe.

During the medieval period Burnham Thorpe had two churches – the small two celled St Peter’s (NHER 1757) that was re-discovered when skeletons were found there whilst ploughing and All Saints’ (NHER 1798), the oldest bits of which date to the Norman period. Medieval field boundaries (NHER 26978, 27823 and 38427) and a possible stock enclosure (NHER 27817) can be seen on aerial photographs, as can two medieval moated sites (NHER 1797 and 26984). A 17th century manor house (NHER 1797) still stands within one of these and this suggests that there may have been an earlier medieval manor at this site.

There are several post medieval buildings still standing in the parish including an impressive Elizabethan barn (NHER 12657) at Ivy Farm and the 17th or 18th century buildings at Whitehall Farm (NHER 12658). Illustrating the continued importance of agriculture in this area post medieval field boundaries (NHER 26978 and 26980) can still be seen on aerial photographs as well as a water meadow (NHER 27816) close to the River Burn. More industrial remains include the Peterstone brickworks (NHER 12465), which produced bricks and tiles for the Holkham Estate. The Lord Nelson pub (NHER 41852) is an 18th century building. A late 19th century pistol and an 18th century kettle were found up the chimney here during renovations. A more elusive post medieval building is the 19th century underground structure (NHER 31753) that may be a greenhouse stove. The most modern archaeological site identified is the anti aircraft battery and searchlight (NHER 33698) used during World War Two.

Megan Dennis (NLA), 12th October 2005.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I and Part II (Chichester, Philimore)

Knott, S., 2005. ‘All Saints Burnham Thorpe’. Available: Accessed: 16 February 2006.

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

National Maritime Museum, unknown. ‘The Rectory, Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk’. Available: Accessed: 16 February 2006.

Rye, J., 2000. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

Thorley, D. and Thorley, P., unknown. ‘The Lord Nelson, Burnham Thorpe’. Available: Accessed: 16 February 2006.


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