Town History

View from the churchyard

Dereham is at the heart of Norfolk and is Breckland District’s second largest town with a population of approximately 19,000 and services surrounding villages and countryside with its shopping facilities, schools and leisure amenities.  The town’s business has historically been linked with agriculture; being in the middle of one of Britain’s most important farming regions, some businesses still maintain this link. The town has encouraged, and continues to encourage, businesses from small to large and is an excellent centre for commercial activity.

Dereham’s communications are improving all the time with the A47 being extensively improved, making links with Norwich, Great Yamouth, King’s Lynn and the Midlands easier.  It is also growing as a centre of tourism with most of Norfolk’s attractive coastal resorts and numerous other attractions, including the Broads and many National Trust properties, within easy driving distance.  The town is also served by a regular bus service to all of these places.

The origins of the town date back to before the Saxon era.  Its own Saxon Saint Withburga founded a monastery and she is commemorated most visibly in the town sign which straddles the Market Place entrance to the High Street, and at her original grave, now marked by a spring, which can be found in the Churchyard.  Many of the town’s ancient buildings were destroyed in a fire in the 17th century.  However, the magnificent church of St Nicholas with its unusual campanile tower and the nearby Bishop Bonner’s cottage (which is now a museum) are places of interest which survived the fires of 1581 and 1679.  Several imposing Georgian buildings grace the middle of the town.  The town centre is a bustling place, with the weekly Tuesday and Friday markets on Market Place.

Dereham Town Council offices can be found on the corner of Ruthen Place and the Market Place in the Assembly Rooms (opposite the War Memorial).  This building was built in 1756 on the site of the old Market Cross and Prison.  It is one of the oldest buildings in the town, mainly due to the great fires of 1581 and 1670 which destroyed most of the old wattle and daub thatched houses.

Dereham provides a very wide range of organisations and leisure facilities for locals and vistiors.  There are sports clubs, venues for larger functions, clubs, parks, pubs and hotels.  An ideal place for a family to live!


Bishop’s Bonner Cottage

This delightful early 16th century, timber framed, thatched building was once three cottages.  It is the oldest domestic building in Dereham and is now used as a Museum.  It was named after Bishop Edmund Bonner, who was a Rector of Dereham from 1534 – 1540.  He then became Bishop of London in 1540 and was nicknamed ‘Bloody Bonner’ for his persecution of Protestants during the reign of Queen Mary.

The cottages were later owned by numerous interesting characters such as the Victorian antiquarian Walter Rye in the 18th century.  In the 1950’s  they were occupied by the much loved local character ‘One Armed Jack’. And in the 1960’s the cottages  became the property of the Urban District Council.

Today, as you may have read, it has become the Town Museum which celebrates the history of Dereham.  It has been leased from the Town Council by the Antiquarian Society who allow the public in between the hours of 11am – 2pm, Tuesdays & Thursdays and 11am – 4pm on Saturdays between May to September.


Dereham Town Monument

Positioned in the centre of the Town directly opposite the Council Assembly Rooms, this monument was erected on 22nd October 1922 to honour all of the East Dereham heroes who died in the Great War 1914-1918.  The memorial was unveiled by His Royal Highness Prince Henry (Duke of Gloucester from 1928), the third son of His Majesty King George V. After the Second World War, the names of the fallen from both Wars were cast in three bronze plaques and fixed to the War Memorial covering the original granite Great War panels.  They remain there today for all to see and are celebrated every year with a march through the town on Remembrance Sunday. The Memorial now also has two flag poles and flags fly on special occasions.  The Memorial will continue to be updated with the names of the fallen from all wars since the Second World War.


The Crest of East Dereham comprises of a golden stag between three gold coronets as on a red background.  It is in part derived from the arms of the Bishop of Ely (gules three ducal coronets, two and one or) the three gold coronets allude to three of the daughters of Anna, King of East Angles, the princesses, Withburga, Sexburga and Etheldreda.  They all became Saints and are buried in Ely Cathedral, although Withburga was originally buried at East Dereham and her grave, in the Churchyard at St Nicholas Church, is clearly marked by a spring and well.  The deer on the crest is the animal from which the town takes its name.  Today we use the crest as our logo at the Town Council.


Comments are closed.