Parish Summary: Cawston

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

Cawston is a very large parish about ten miles north of the city of Norwich and immediately east of the neighbouring parish of Reepham. The origins of its name are a little complicated, but seem to be a hybrid of Old Norse ‘Kalfr’ (a name), and Old English ‘tun’, an enclosure, settlement or farm. So we end up with something close to Kalfr’s enclosure, or his farm. The parish has a long history as an important area of settlement and was certainly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest. Its productive resources, population and various land ownerships are listed extensively in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The archaeological record for the parish is substantial, and this summary provides just an overview. Selected finds and sites are given, but those wishing to dig a little deeper should refer to the full NHER records.

There is fragmentary evidence of human activity in the parish from the very earliest times, in the form of a Palaeolithic flint hand axe (NHER 11395), and a few Mesolithic flint tools, for example an axe head (NHER 7355) and a scraper (NHER 7332). During the Neolithic, however, there seems to have been a marked increase in activity, if this can be measured against the number of finds from the period. Large numbers of Neolithic flint tools have been found, including polished axeheads (NHER 7335), chipped axeheads (NHER 7336), adzes (NHER 7337) and scrapers (NHER 11396). There is unsurprisingly no evidence of any structures from the Neolithic, but aerial photographs have identified the cropmark of a possible long barrow (NHER 36421).

It is clear that this level of activity continued into the Bronze Age, and again aerial photography has been useful in identifying the remains of round barrows that characterised the burial practices of the time. Although flattened by centuries of cultivation, the barrow’s surrounding ditch is often visible from the air as a darker cropmark or ring ditch (NHER 21848). Remains of the people themselves have also been found at NHER 7424.

Stone tools continued to be used into the Bronze Age (NHER 7346), but as new technologies were absorbed there was an increase in the use of copper alloy as a tool material. A good number of Bronze Age copper alloy axeheads (for example NHER 7423) and palstaves (for example NHER 7345) have been found in the parish.

It is not uncommon for the Iron Age to leave little or no trace of its passing, and this period in Cawston is no exception. So far, Iron Age finds consist of a gold coin (NHER 7426), a copper alloy coin and pottery fragments (NHER 19522), a harness fitting (NHER 7480) and a couple of brooches (NHER 31860 and 35691). 

Aerial photograph of Cawston Roman fort.

Aerial photograph of Cawston Roman fort. (© NCC)

All this changes during the Roman occupation, and it is clear that the parish was an important area of activity in that period. The Fen Causeway Roman road (NHER 2796), running east to west from Upwell to Denver passed through, and is still visible on aerial photographs. Another as yet undiscovered road supposedly ran from Cawston to Mundesley (NHER 41037).

There is evidence of a Roman settlement in the parish (NHER 19522), and aerial photography has identified a probable triple ditched fort and its related settlement as well (NHER 21849).

Individual Roman finds are numerous, and include coins (for example NHER 7428), brooches (for example NHER 31860), pottery fragments (for example NHER 7347 and 7429) and a statuette of a dog (NHER 21681).

The Saxon period that followed the departure of the Romans is by comparison archaeologically quiet. Finds include an Early Saxon buckle (NHER 30455) and brooch (NHER 30948), a Mid Saxon hooked tag and strap end (NHER 32599) and a Late Saxon box mount (NHER 29813) and pendant (NHER 32599). A few fragments of pottery have also been recovered (NHER 32895). 

The late 14th or early 15th century west tower of St Agnes' Church, Cawston.

The tower of St Agnes' Church, Cawston. (© NCC)

The medieval period following the Norman Conquest has left the parish with its oldest surviving building, St Agnes’ church (NHER 7468). A whole book could be written about this impressive church. It was built in the early 15th century by Sir Michael De La Pole, first Earl of Suffolk, and has an unusually tall freestone clad tower, together with many other features of architectural interest. Inside are many treasures, including a collection of medieval glass, arguably one of the finest angel roofs in Norfolk, a 15th century pulpit and painted rood screen, and much more.

No other buildings remain from the medieval period, and indeed two whole medieval villages in the parish have vanished. Alvington deserted village (NHER 7643) is known to have existed, but its location remains unclear, and the same applies to Southgate, or Sythgate deserted village (NHER 14398), although this may have been recently located from aerial photographs. 

Photograph of a medieval horse harness pendant from Cawston depicting a hunting dog running past a tree with a partridge type bird sitting in the branches.

A medieval horse harness pendant from Cawston depicting a hunting dog running past a tree with a partridge type bird sitting in the branches. (© NCC)

There are a large number of post medieval sites of archaeological interest on the NHER record, too many to list here, but a chronological sample could include:

- The site of Haveringland Old Hall (NHER 7519), built in about 1580, probably to replace a previous medieval hall (NHER 7521). The Old Hall was demolished in 1840 and replaced with Haveringland Hall (NHER 7518), itself demolished in 1946.

- Church Farmhouse (NHER 35183), a 16th century timber framed building.

- The Duel Stone (NHER 12384), a stone commemorating a duel fought in 1689 by Sir Henry Hobart of Blickling Hall, and Oliver Le Neve of Great Witchingham Hall. Hobart was killed.

- The Bell (NHER 12371), an 18th century pub, refronted in the 19th century.

- Southgate Mills (NHER 7460), two post mills, built in 1853. White Mill was a corn mill, Black Mill a sawmill. Only the stump of White Mill remains.

- Cawston College (NHER 39764), a late 19th century red brick and stone manor house in the Tudor style. It was converted to a public school in 1964.

- Cawston water tower (NHER 40097), a tower of 1897, built by the same people who built the College, and now converted to residential use.

- Oulton Airfield (NHER 7364), a World War Two bomber station. It was closed after the war, and the concrete runways used as a base for battery farm sheds, Some buildings remain, including the control tower, but a large portion of the runways were removed in 1979 and used as hardcore for the Aylsham bypass.

Piet Aldridge (NLA), 24 November 2005.


Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. The Domesday Book. 33 Norfolk  (Chichester, Phillimore & Co.)

Fairhead, H., and Tuffen, R., 1987. Norfolk and Suffolk Airfields (Flixton, Norfolk And Suffolk Aviation Museum Publications)

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



Norfolk County Council logo Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Powered by HBSMR-web and the HBSMR Gateway from exeGesIS SDM Ltd, and mojoPortal CMS
© 2007 - 2024 Norfolk Historic Environment Service