Parish Summary: East Ruston

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

East Ruston is a fairly large parish in the northeast of Norfolk, just west of the coastal parish of Happisburgh. Ruston comes from the Old English for ‘Brushwood enclosure’. The parish has a long history, and was certainly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest, its population, land ownership and productive resources being extensively detailed in the Domesday Book.

The archaeological record for the parish has quite a large number of records, but it should be noted that most of these come from interpretation of cropmarks seen on aerial photographs. The amount of objects of interest recovered on the ground is limited, and the parish has not yet been extensively surveyed by metal detector.

The earliest evidence of human activity comes in the form of flint tools, and nearly all of these have been recovered from observation of spoil from trenches being dug for gas pipe laying in the 1990s (see for example NHER 33967, 33968, 33969, 33970 and 33971). They have been classified only as prehistoric, meaning they could be anything from Palaeolithic to Bronze Age in date. The earliest dateable flint tools are Neolithic (NHER 8181 and 8182, and 14157).

The transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age is often blurred in terms of interpreting cropmarks, as is the case with NHER 38717, a mark visible on aerial photographs that is thought to be either a late Neolithic henge, or a Bronze Age ring ditch (a ploughed out burial mound). However, other circular cropmarks have been more positively identified on aerial photographs as Bronze Age ring ditches (NHER 38597, 38598, 38703, 38704, 38706 and 38715). The only actual Bronze Age find is a decorated copper alloy axehead found in 1956 (NHER 8183).

There are currently no finds from the Iron Age, and the evidence we have for this period is all from aerial photographs. Features identified so far are a Bronze or Iron Age alignment of pits (NHER 38713), an Iron Age or Roman farmstead (NHER 38707), trackway (NHER 38716) and field boundaries (NHER 38723).

There are as yet no Roman finds in the parish either, although work by the Norfolk National Mapping Programme (Broads Zone) in 2006/7 has recorded the cropmarks of two probable temporary military camps, with characteristic rounded ‘playing card’ corners (NHER 45242, 45243). Cropmarks of Roman field boundaries (NHER 38608), an enclosure (NHER 38609) and a farmstead and field system (NHER 38730) have also been noted.

Saxon East Ruston is so far much the same, although some fragments of pottery were found during gas pipe laying (NHER 33970 and 33971). Traces of possible Saxon buildings have been noted on aerial photographs (NHER 36758 and 38600). 

Photograph of the tower of St Mary's Church, East Ruston.

The tower of St Mary's Church, East Ruston. (© NCC.)

The medieval period following the Norman Conquest has left the parish with its oldest surviving building, St Mary’s Church (NHER 8249). This is an isolated church, with a west tower, nave, chancel, south aisle and south porch. The north aisle was removed in 1778 and the north nave wall replaced with brick. The tower once had a spire, an almost unique feature in east Norfolk at the time. The church was altered in the 19th century, but was redundant by 1980. However, the Redundant Churches Trust has carried out some restoration work in recent years. Inside is a 15th century decorated font, much restored in the 19th century, and a fine rood screen. The only other building in the parish with medieval origins is Whittleton’s Farmhouse (NHER 22839), which was a late 15th century hall house when first built, but has since been much altered.

On what is now East Ruston Common, 18th century maps show lakes that were water filled medieval peat cuttings (NHER 22943), and various cropmarks of field systems and ditches noted on aerial photographs, although undated, may have been medieval field systems (NHER 21774 and 21775). Medieval small finds in the parish to date include pottery fragments (NHER 33970), a coin (NHER 16764), a lead weight (NHER 33974) and part of a copper alloy figure of Christ (NHER 16503).

Several post medieval buildings are worthy of mention. Manor House Farm (NHER 13450) is a 16th century farmhouse, extended in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was enlarged and altered in 1933, when the roof was thatched. The farmhouse is flanked by two 17th century thatched brick barns. Church Farm Barn (NHER 22838) is a late 17th century thatched brick barn, extended to the south in the early 18th century, with an owl hole in its south gable. There were also several windmills, notably the two run by John Rudd Turner. The earlier of these was an 18th century post mill (NHER 15441), of which only the unroofed brick roundhouse survives. The other was New Mill (NHER 8243), a brick tower mill which was built for Mr Turner in 1868 and stayed in his family until it stopped working in 1946. Derelict by 1949, with its machinery removed in 1962, it is now thought to have been converted to residential use. Aerial photographs have shown the cropmarks of two other post medieval windmills at NHER 38452 and 38616, but nothing can be seen on the ground today.

Other post medieval features include the cropmarks of the channel and drains of water meadows (NHER 38353, 38446, 38449 and 38451). These were designed to give a managed flow of water over meadows, which encouraged early grass growth for spring fodder. There was also an 18th century brick kiln in the parish (NHER 8238), the remains of which were found in 1950. However, nothing remains today.

Lastly, although nothing can be seen today, 1946 aerial photographs show evidence of World War Two military activity in the parish. A possible road block is visible on School Road (NHER 38457), and East Ruston Allotments were used for training (NHER 38516).

Piet Aldridge (NLA), 23 January 2006.

David Gurney (NLA), 28 March 2008.


Further Reading

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

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

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