Parish Summary: Horningtoft

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

The modern parish of Horningtoft is located in Breckland, northeast of Dereham and south of Fakenham. The village is spread out along several roads in the west and centre, with a number of farms and houses scattered elsewhere. The B1146 Dereham to Fakenham road passes through the east.

Horningtoft has seen a reasonable amount of archaeological work. Plenty of sites visits have been carried out and many stray finds are recorded. Some metal detecting and a limited amount of fieldwalking have taken place. In 1998 a geophysical survey was conducted in the southwest ahead of gas pipe laying. Sites have been identified in most parts of the parish, although there are a few places were none have been recorded.

Only a few prehistoric flint artefacts have been discovered and these include two Neolithic polished axeheads, a Neolithic serrated implement (NHER 42698), a Beaker arrowhead and pot boilers. Pot boilers recorded at two sites in the east could indicate the locations of burnt mounds. A reasonable number of Bronze Age metal objects have also been found, with three palstaves, a socketed axehead and a rapier (NHER 7166) reported. An Iron Age coin (NHER 40425) minted in the 1st century BC has been collected from a site north of the village. It was produced by the Durotriges tribe who were based in the Dorset area.

The route of the Roman road (NHER 11358) from Billingford to Toftrees runs southeast to northwest through the parish. Roman artefacts have been discovered at sites throughout the parish and they include pieces of pottery, coins, brooches, a harness mount and a steelyard weight. Early Saxon objects include a brooch, fragments from two brooches and part of a wrist clasp.

Part of a Middle Saxon pin has been discovered in the west. Middle and Late Saxon pottery (NHER 7177), a Late Saxon box mount, a 10th century bell and a Late Saxon necklace or harness pendant have been found close to St Edmund’s Church (NHER 7183). This suggests that there has been settlement in vicinity of the church site from at least the Middle Saxon period (although the church itself may not have been present so far back).

Horningtoft appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Horninghetoft’. This Old English/Old Norse hybrid name means the ‘area of land belonging to the people of Horna’ or ‘the land of people living at the horn-shaped hill’. In 1086 William I held land in the parish and freemen, villagers, smallholders, slaves, meadow, ploughs, woodland, pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and half a fishery were recorded. 

St Edmunds Church showing west end. The tower collapsed in 1796.

St Edmund's Church in Horningtoft. (© NCC.)

The chancel of St Edmund’s Church (NHER 7183) was built during the 13th century and two probable phases of work are visible. The date of the nave is uncertain, although it was probably constructed before the chancel. There was a tower until it collapsed in 1796. The whole church was restored between 1865 and 1870.

Earthworks of medieval manorial site including circular moat.

The earthworks of a medieval manorial site in Horningtoft. (© NCC.)

To the east is a medieval manorial site (NHER 7168). It survives as earthworks and includes a circular moat, enclosures, linear features and a boundary bank. The moat has been previously interpreted as a ringwork castle and was formerly known as 'Danish Camp'. An undated circular enclosure (NHER 18908) located north of the manorial site may have been associated. Medieval artefacts have been found throughout and include pottery fragments, coins, quillons from two daggers, a sword pommel and an ampulla.

The site of a post medieval brick kiln (NHER 15165) is marked on Faden's map of 1797. Home Farm (NHER 18609) is an 18th century house with an attached barn. The house is built of red brick and is two storeys tall. It appears to have been originally constructed with a single storey, with an upper floor and façade added later. Post medieval artefacts include a 16th century silver dress fastener, a quillon from a sword, a coin weight and pottery. Undated features were recorded during a geophysical survey in the southeast (NHER 34108 and 34109).

David Robertson (NLA), 23 March 2006.


Further Reading

Ashwin, T. & Davison, A., 2005. An Historical Atlas of Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

Barringer, C., 1989. Faden’s Map of Norfolk (Dereham, Larks Press)

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

Horningtoft Heritage Society, 2002. 'Horningtoft'. Available: Accessed: 23 March 2006.

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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