Record Details

NHER Number:5684
Type of record:Monument
Name:Site of St Helen's Church, Santon


The remains of St Helen's Church and associated earthworks date to at least the early 12th century. The church may be earlier and certainly contains reused Roman material. A 10th or 11th century grave marker has been found nearby. Pieces of Roman pottery have also been recovered. The earthworks covering and surrounding the church are visible on aerial photographs and imagery from a lidar survey flown in 2015.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TL 8394 8736
Map Sheet:TL88NW

Full description

Remains of church and associated earthworks, early 12th century and perhaps older with reused Roman material, cut in half by parish boundary until recent times. A 10th/11th century grave marker was found nearby, under an elder bush.

Domesday Book lists "one church of St Helen with one ploughland". St Helen's church is not mentioned in the taxation of Pope Nicholas of 1291, but many parish churches were omitted from this. A roll of fair belonging to the Borough of Thetford lists a fair at St Helen's, and a document of 1347 lists a market or fair at Santon, which may also refer to this site. In the Archdeacon's visitation of 1368 there was no mention of St Helen's, and as this was a very comprehensive survey it is likely that the church had gone by this date.
(S1) states that foundations may still be seen in the railway cuttings, together with detached pieces of the walls and that freestone appears to have been liberally used.

1927. Trial excavation on site of chancel.
The excavation revealed Roman mortar and brick embedded into the chancel wall at a depth of approximately 0.3m (1 foot) below the turf.
R.R. Clarke (NCM).

1961 to 1962. Full excavation.
Excavations carried out by Clarke for the Norfolk Research Committee revealed part of the apsidal plan of the church which measured approximately 30 metres (90 feet) long. There may be a western tower. The walls in the chancel stand up to 1 metre (3 feet) high. The chancel arch has been robbed of ashlar and the nave walls have been robbed to their foundations. The feet of a skeleton were found just outside the north wall of the church. Roman tiles have been built into the wall at the east end, and into the foundations of the north wall. Medieval pottery sherds and nails were also found. The church is dated by A B Whittingham to the 12th century. Parts of an earlier church may have been incorporated into the north wall.
The chancel was found to measure approximately 7 metres (23 feet) wide and 7.6 metres (25 feet) long, while the nave is 8.2 metres (27 feet) wide and 19.5 metres (64 feet) long, bringing the total length of the church to 27.1 metres (89 feet).
Further excavation work by the Norfolk Research Committee in 1962 found further additions to the north wall of the nave, increasing the length of the church to 27.4 metres (90 feet). The footings for the north wall were over 2 metres (6 feet) wide in places, and there seems to be evidence for two phases, perhaps early 12th and 11th centuries.
See (S4) and (S5) for further information, also see excavation notes in file.
R.R. Clarke (NCM).

July 1977. Visit.
Site is a number of mounds on a natural knoll, covered in long grass and bushes.
E. Rose (NAU), 27 July 1977.

April 1979. Visit.
Site has been cleared of bushes. Several banks about 1 metre high were visible, but they do not form any obvious plan.
E. Rose (NAU), 15 April 1979.

March 2000. Visit.
Rim sherd of ?Roman pottery (S6) found on south facing slope in 'scraped' soil by [1] during field visit.
Bead 'n flange bowl in burnished oxidised ware, with reduced core, similar to Hadham ware.
Identified by A. Rogerson (NLA).
H. Paterson (A&E) 12 April 2000.

Scheduled Ancient Monument Management Plan March 2002 to March 2007.
See (S2).
D. Gurney (NLA) 24 April 2002.

November 2002. Correspondence.
A limestone Late Saxon to Early Norman (10th-11th century) grave-marker was sent to Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service by Forestry Commission woodland officer P. Dewey. The grave-marker was found 18-20 years ago under an elder bush on the edge of a narrow cereal field near the old church site at St Helens Oratory near Santon in Thetford (see above). It is likely to have been found at around TL83868736 or TL 84118739. The grave-marker is of the same type as the Hunston cross discussed in East Anglian Archaeology volume 84.
See (S3) and photographs.
S. Howard (HES), 8 September 2011.

March 2017. 'Brecks from Above' and Breckland National Mapping Programme.
Earthworks relating to the site of the medieval church of St Helen's, Santon, are visible on aerial photographs (S7) and imagery from a recent lidar survey (S8). Mapping from these sources has enabled the extents of the site to be defined within the HER mapping, altering the central grid reference of the site from TL 8394 8736 to TL 8391 8738. As mapped, the site incorporates an irregular, very uneven, sub-rectangular mound (mapped by extent), which may wholly or in part be of natural origin, and a pair of ditches to its north. The ditches are described in the National Heritage List entry (S9), and included within the designated area. However, it is difficult in some cases to correlate the written descriptions of the site and its associated earthworks with the features mapped from the aerial sources. The ditches lie within a larger network of broadly east-west oriented braided trackways, recorded as NHER 62066.
S. Tremlett (Norfolk Historic Environment Service), 30th March 2017.

Monument Types

  • BANK (EARTHWORK) (Unknown date)
  • DITCH (Unknown date)
  • INHUMATION (Unknown date)
  • CHURCH (Late Saxon - 851 AD? to 1065 AD?)
  • CROSS (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • GRAVESTONE (Late Saxon to Medieval - 900 AD to 1099 AD)
  • DITCH (Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1539 AD?)
  • FAIR (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • CHURCH (Medieval to 14th Century - 1100 AD? to 1368 AD?)
  • CHALK PIT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Finds

  • HUMAN REMAINS (Unknown date)
  • POT (Bronze Age - 2350 BC to 701 BC)
  • ARCHITECTURAL FRAGMENT (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • FLUE TILE (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • POT (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • TILE (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • POT (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • ARCHITECTURAL FRAGMENT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • NAIL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • POT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument

Sources and further reading

---Designation: [unknown]. Ancient Monuments Form. SAM Record. DNF194.
---Monograph: Batcock, N. 1991. The Ruined and Disused Churches of Norfolk. East Anglian Archaeology. No 51. Microfiche 5:G12. No 229; p 54.
---Designation: English Heritage. Scheduling Report.
---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Newspaper Article: Thetford and Watton Times. 1961. Excavations at Santon. 29 September.
---Newspaper Article: Thetford and Watton Times. 1961. Excavating site of St. Helen's Church, Santon. 22 September.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1961. Digging for site of church at Santon. 22 September.
---Monograph: Martin, T.. 1779. History of Thetford.. pp 12, 13. pp 29, 89.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Late Saxon. Thetford.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Medieval. Thetford [6].
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Collection: Norfolk Historic Environment Record Staff. 1975-[2000]. HER Record Notes. Norfolk Historic Environment Service.
---Designation: English Heritage. 1990-2013. English Heritage Scheduling Notification. Notification. DNF194.
---Designation: English Heritage. 1994? -2011?. English Heritage Digital Designation Record. Record.
<S1>Monograph: Leigh Hunt, A.. 1870. The capital of the ancient kingdom of East Anglia: being a complete and authentic history of the ancient borough town of Thetford.. pp 95-6. pp 95-96.
<S2>Unpublished Document: English Heritage. 2002. English Heritage Management Agreement.
<S3>Correspondence: Pendleton, C. (SCCAS). 2002. Letter regarding Late Saxon/Early Norman sculpture from St Helens (near Santon), Thetford.. 26 November.
<S4>Article in Serial: Wilson, D. M. and Hurst, D. G. 1964. Medieval Britain in 1961. Medieval Archaeology. Vol VI-VII (for 1962 and 1963) pp 306-349. p 320.
<S5>Article in Serial: Wilson, D. M. and Hurst, D. G. 1965. Medieval Britain in 1962 and 1963. Medieval Archaeology. Vol VIII (for 1964) pp 231-299. p 249.
<S6>Illustration: Unknown. 2000. Drawing of a Roman bowl fragment.. Film. 1:1.
<S7>Vertical Aerial Photograph: Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RAF/3G/TUD/UK/59 V 5148-9 05-FEB-1946 (HEA Original Print).
<S8>LIDAR Airborne Survey: Various. LIDAR Airborne Survey. LIDAR Santon Forest Research 0.5m DTM 15-JUL-2015 (BNG Project, FC England, Fugro Geospatial).
<S9>Designation: English Heritage. National Heritage List for England. List Entry 1015257.

Related records

62066Related to: Boundaries and trackways of possible medieval to post medieval date (Monument)

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