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Dereham market place.JPG
The market place on High Street
Dereham is located in Norfolk
Location within Norfolk
Area21.51 km2 (8.31 sq mi)
Population18,609 (2011 census)
• Density865/km2 (2,240/sq mi)
OS grid referenceTF988132
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townDEREHAM
Postcode districtNR19, NR20
Dialling code01362
AmbulanceEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
52°40′52″N 0°56′24″E / 52.681°N 0.940°E / 52.681; 0.940Coordinates: 52°40′52″N 0°56′24″E / 52.681°N 0.940°E / 52.681; 0.940

Dereham (/ˈdɪərəm/), also known as East Dereham, is a town and civil parish in the Breckland District of the English county of Norfolk. It is situated on the A47 road, about 15 miles (25 km) west of the city of Norwich and 25 miles (40 km) east of King's Lynn.

The civil parish has an area of 21.51 km2 (8.31 sq mi) and, in the 2001 census, had a population of 15,659 in 6,941 households; the population at the 2011 census increased to 18,609.[1] Dereham falls within, and is the centre of administration for, Breckland District Council.[2] The town should not be confused with the Norfolk village of West Dereham, which lies about 25 miles (40 km) away.

Since 1983, Dereham has been twinned with the town of Rüthen in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is also twinned with Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf, France. In spite of the reunification of Germany in 1990, the sign on the A47 at the entrance to Dereham from the Swaffham direction still refers to Rüthen being in West Germany; this sparks periodic comment in the local press.[3]


A map of Dereham from 1946

Early history[edit]

It is believed that Dereham's name derives from a deer park that existed in the area, in perhaps the 7th century, since a rough translation of the name is 'enclosure for deer'. That is quite recent however, since it is known that the town pre-dates the Saxon era.[4][5]

According to local tradition, Saint Wihtburh (aka Withburga), the youngest daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles, founded a monastery and a convent there in the seventh century after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary, although the Venerable Bede does not mention her in his writings.[6] The monastery is mentioned by Bede, but little further is known of it and no evidence survives today.[7][8]

An archeological report by Norfolk County Council indicates that the first "documentary evidence" of a settlement in this area was not until AD 798, however. The Domesday Book states that in the 11th Century, "St Etheldreda held Dereham that was already an important market centre with three mills". The report adds that the growing community was centred around St. Nicholas Church, from the Norman era; the structure was altered during the 1200s, 1300s and 1400s. Because numerous medieval buildings were destroyed in fires during 1581 and 1679, the town appeared to have a Georgian aspect.[9]

A Neolithic polished greenstone axe head was found near the town in 1986, with a Neolithic axe head, flint scraper and other tools and worked flints also found in local fields during the 1980s. There is evidence that the area was occupied during the Bronze Age, with burnt flints from a pot boiler site being found in 1976 and another burnt mound site located in 1987.

In 2000, an enamelled bridle bit dating from the Iron Age was discovered, with pottery sherds also being found by field walkers in 1983. The town is believed to be on the Roman Road linking the Brampton with the major east-west Roman Road of the Fen Causeway. Some pottery and furniture remains have been found in local fields.[10]

In 2004, the largest number of Roman coins found in Norfolk was discovered in Dereham, over 1000 from the third century. A dig provided no evidence of Roman occupation, however.[9]

Edmund Bonner, later to become the infamous 'burning bishop', was the Rector for Dereham from 1534 to 1538.[11] Many of the town's ancient buildings were destroyed in the serious fires that took place in 1581 and 1659. Notable buildings that survived the fire include the Church of Saint Nicholas' and the nearby Bishop Bonner's cottage. Dereham was administered by the Abbots, then the Bishops of Ely, until the parish was taken from the church by Queen Elizabeth I.[12]

Napoleonic Conflict[edit]

In the late 1700s, Dereham church's bell tower was used as a prison for French prisoners of war being transferred from Great Yarmouth to Norman Cross under the charge of the East Norfolk Militia. On 6 October 1799, a French officer, Jean de Narde, managed to escape from the tower and, being unable to escape from the church yard due to guards being present, hid in a tree. The Frenchman was spotted and shot when he refused to come down and surrender.[13] Jean is buried in the church yard and his grave is marked by a memorial stone erected in 1858, which includes the following statement: "Once our foes but now our allies and brethren."[14] This story is told in the documentary, "The shooting of Jean DeNarde". Jean de Narde's link with Dereham is commemorated by a road named for him just off the B1146 as one approaches the town from the north.

One of the windmills built during this era, the Grade II Listed East Dereham Windmill (built in 1836) was known as the Norwich Road Mill or Fendick's Mill; it was constructed by James Hardy for Michael Hardy who owned a smock mill at Bittering.[15] The windmill continued to use wind power until 1922 when it was converted to use engine power. The facility closed in 1937.[16] It was restored and reopened as an exhibition centre in 2013.[17][18]

Dereham Rifle Volunteer Corps[edit]

In June 1859, a public meeting was held ar the Corn Hall for the formation of a Dereham Rifle Volunteer Corps. The Reverend Armstrong made a short speech urging people to join; around thirty men did, the eldest was an elderly fat banker of 70 years and the youngest a seventeen-year-old. They were kitted out in a grey uniform. The Corps met regularly for drill and exercise. When the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Queen of Denmark arrived at the town's railway station, the Dereham Rifles attended to form a guard of honour.[19]

Wm. Earle G. Lytton Bulwer, formerly a lieutenant and captain in the Scots Fusilier Guards, was commanding the Dereham Corps in 1861. In June 1867, the Corps, recorded as the 15th Corps, attended a volunteer encampment at Hunstanton. The unit was, at that time, still under the command of Captain Bulwer and formed the tenth tent line. Dereham was the headquarters of 5th, 6th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 23rd and 24th Corps. The Right Hon. Lord Suffield was appointed Honorary Colonel on 18 May 1866.[20] The Quebec Street drill hall opened in 1866.[21]

First World War[edit]

Dereham suffered damage during a Zeppelin air raid during the night of 8 September 1915. Damaged buildings included the headquarters of the 5th Territorial Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment at their premises on the corner of Church Street and Quebec Street.[22] The raid also hit The White Lion public house on Church Street, seriously injuring two customers. The roof was destroyed and The White Lion never reopened as a public house. The old Vicarage was used as a Red Cross hospital.[22]

At the outbreak of war, the 5th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, kept their HQ in Quebec Street but were based in the Corn Hall, and used the Masonic Hall on Norwich Road as a store, with the Assembly Rooms being used for medical inspections.[23]

World Wars[edit]

East Dereham in the Breckland District of Norfolk. 2017

During World War I, a zeppelin struck the Guild Hall.

Dereham was declared a Nodal Point during the Second World War and was partially fortified to slow down any German invasion of the country. Several defensive structures were built.[9] One surviving pill box, in the railway station yard, is preserved as a memorial by the Royal British Legion; several others were built but are no longer visible.[24] Additional Air Ministry sidings were laid in the town 1943.[25]

A bunker from the Cold War era was discovered underground near of the Guild Hall.[9]


The railway arrived in Dereham in 1847, when a single track line to Wymondham opened. A second line was opened, in 1848, to King's Lynn. A line from Dereham to Fakenham was opened in 1849; this line being extended to the coastal town of Wells-on-Sea by 1857. The town's railways became part of the Great Eastern Railway in 1862. Dereham had its own railway depot and a large complex of sidings, serving local industry. The line between Dereham and Wymondham was doubled, in 1882, to allow for the increasing levels of traffic.

Class 37 East Dereham Station, Norfolk

Passenger services between Dereham and Wells were withdrawn in 1964 and the track between Fakenham and Wells was lifted soon after. The line from Dereham to Wymondham was returned to single track in 1965, with a passing loop at Hardingham. The line to King's Lynn was closed in 1968 and the last passenger train on the Dereham-to-Wymondham line ran in 1969, although the railway remained open for freight until 1989. Dereham labels itself "The Heart of Norfolk" owing to its central location in the county, the Tesco car park being cited as the exact centre.[26] In the spring of 1978, the "Heart" was given the seven-mile £5m part-dual-carriageway A47 bypass. A section of this road, between Scarning and Wendling, was built along the former railway line towards Swaffham and King's Lynn. This section of railway had been used as a location for the filming of Dad's Army, where Captain Mainwaring is left dangling from a railway bridge after a flight on a barrage balloon. Dereham railway station was also a filming location for the opening scene of the BBC’s 2018 The Bodyguard (British TV series).



The railway between Dereham and Wymondham, described earlier in the History section, has been preserved and is now operated as a tourist line by the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust. This charitable company also owns the line north towards County School railway station; it has started to gradually reopen the line towards North Elmham and aims to eventually relay the line to Fakenham. As well as running heritage trains, the MNR also runs special attractions such as the Polar Express ride every winter and operate non-passenger services in support of main line companies.

Yaxham Road, East Dereham. Level crossing

Saint Withburga[edit]

The town lies on the site of a monastery said by local tradition to have been founded by Saint Withburga in the seventh century. The saint died in 743AD. A holy well, at the western end of St Nicholas' Church yard, supposedly began to flow when her body was stolen from the town by monks from Ely, who took the remains back to their town.[27]

An attempt was made in 1752 century to turn Dereham into a new Buxton or Bath by building a bath house over Withburga's Well. It was described at the time as a hideous building of brick and plaster, and was never popular. The building was extensively modified in 1793 according to a book published in 1856.[28]

The local vicar, Reverend Benjamin Armstrong, obtained permission in 1880 to pull the building down. The spring was then protected by iron railings, but fell out of use and became choked with weeds. Since 1950, however, it has been kept clear of weeds, although the railings still prevent access to the waters. In a 2006 report on the church, Simon Knott indicated that by then, the "well" was actually a "sunken spring".[29]

Despite the presence of the well and the former monastery, examination of the Withburga story has cast doubt on Dereham being the location of the Saint's abode and resting place. The legend states that monks from Ely came "up the river" at night and stole her body, taking it back to Ely to rest with her sisters, who were already considered saints. A look at a map will prove this to be an impossibility as there is no river connecting Ely with East Dereham, although it is possible to navigate a river from Ely to West Dereham. Until proved otherwise, Dereham continues to be considered the site of Withburga's home and violated grave among many.[a]

Today, the Church of England refers to St Nicholas Church as "Founded by St Withburga AD654", presumably because it may be on the same site as the monastery and convent she was said to have founded.[30] The church has been a Grade I listed structure since 1951 (Entry #1077067.[31]


Dereham has a Town Council made up of 12 members. It is the third tier of local government after Norfolk County Council and Breckland District Council and is responsible for matters such as play areas, allotments, cemeteries and markets.  Its assets include Dereham Memorial Hall, Neatherd Moor, Bishop Bonners Cottage, two cemeteries and six allotment sites. The Town Council meets at the Assembly Rooms on Rüthen Place.

Breckland Council is also based in Dereham and has responsibility for services such as planning, housing, licensing and rubbish collection.

Industry and employment[edit]

The maltings complex beside the railway, closed in 2000.

Dereham was the home to the "Jentique" furniture factory which made boxes for both instruments and bombs during the Second World War. The town was also the home to the Metamec clock factory.

Hobbies of Dereham produced plans, kits and tools—including their famous treadle fretwork saws—for making wooden models and toys, which were popular in the days before moulded plastic. At one point Hobbies owned ten shops in prestige locations all over the UK. In the early 1960s the firm was taken over by Great Universal Stores, who sold the shops and closed the business. However, due to a shrewd management purchase of the "old traditional" parts of the firm, Hobbies rose again, limiting itself to the role of specialist model-makers shop. After nearly 40 years of its new lease of life, Hobbies moved out of Dereham to new premises in Raveningham, Norfolk, where it still trades today.

Cranes of Dereham, and its successor the Fruehauf trailer company, was a major employer in the town for many decades. Cranes built nearly all the giant trailers (100 tons plus) that carried equipment such as transformers at slow speeds across the UK, usually in the livery of Wynns or Pickfords. The launch of a new trailer was treated rather like that of a ship with many people coming out to see the leviathan move through the narrow streets of the town towards the A47. The town also had several large maltings. Almost all this large-scale industry has drifted away since the 1980s.

In March 2015 Crisp Maltings announced that they intended to restore the maltings complex beside the station to operational condition, producing malt for craft beer, as part of a planning application for a major housing development. The restoration was expected to cost £1 million.[32] In 2017 the plan to restore the Maltings was dropped, although the housing development was allowed to continue. As of 2020 the Maltings buildings have been made weathertight but they remain empty.[33]


Dereham is a busy market town serving local residents and a wide rural area. The town has a market on Tuesdays and Fridays selling a range of food and household items. The town's shops are a mixture of local independent businesses and national chains. The Market Place and the High Street were the traditional shopping areas but in 2005 a new shopping area was created called Wright's Walk which is mainly occupied by national chains.

A second phase of development at Wright's Walk was envisaged but this has never been started. Instead the land earmarked for this development will now be used to create a pocket park offering a tranquil public meeting space, a community garden and a performance area. Funding for the park will come from a £15,000 grant from the Pocket Park Fund - part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and an equal sum from Breckland Council and the work is due to go ahead in 2020. [34]

Sport and leisure[edit]

An area of former railway and industrial land close to the town's station now serves as the location for a number of sports and leisure facilities. The Dereham Leisure Centre, built on the old railway locomotive depot, has a swimming pool, gym, dance and sports facilities.[35] Open air tennis courts, children's play equipment and a skate park are provided on the nearby Dereham recreation Ground.[36] Strikes also operate a 10 pin bowling alley on the site.[37]

Dereham has a Non-League football club Dereham Town F.C. who play at Aldiss Park.[38] The club currently plays in the Isthmian League North Division.

Dereham Town FC is home to Dereham Education and Soccer Academy (DESA) a partnership between Northgate High School, Dereham Sixth Form College and Dereham Town Football Club. The programme allows students to follow a Level 3 BTEC in Sport alongside A levels and/or GCSE Maths and English retakes while also being part of a football academy.Graduates of DESA include Cambridge United midfielder Luke Hannant and Peterborough United left-back Frazer Blake-Tracy.

Dereham Rugby Club, based on Moorgate Road, play in the Woodfordes League.[39]

Dereham Cricket Club[40] was formed in 1856. It plays home games at its ground on Norwich Road. Dereham Hockey Club[41] is based nearby on Greenfield Road.

East Dereham

In August each year, Dereham hosts a 5K race on a 2-lap course around the town. The race is organised by Dereham Runners. The first race was held in 2011.[42]

Dereham featured on the 2012 Tour of Britain cycle race route during the first stage from Ipswich to the Norfolk Showground. The race entered the town from the Swanton Morley direction passing along Theatre Street, the Market Place and Norwich Street before leaving town via Norwich Road and heading towards Mattishall.

Neatherd Moor is an Urban Greenspace to the north east of the town. It was designated as a County Wildlife Site in 2013. Historically, the moor was used for grazing and sourcing raw materials until the early 1800s. Today it is used by walkers and joggers and has a modern children's play area.[43]

A further large open space is Dereham Rush Meadow, a 22.2-hectare (55-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest to the north-west of the town.

In 2005 Dereham gained a new £2,000,000 library. The building is spread over two floors and features a sedum roof over a single storey area of the ground floor. The library is the second most used in Norfolk, after the Millennium Library in Norwich.

Dereham has a three screen cinema housed in the former Corn Exchange building. The building also hosts a nightclub called Metro. The building has had many incarnations including as a music venue in the 1960s when a range of top bands played there. These included Small Faces, Cream,[44] Pink Floyd,[45] The Jeff Beck Group[46] and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. [47][48]

Youth and community provision[edit]


Nursery and pre-school[edit]

  • Magic Tree Day Nursery
  • Scarning Pre-School
  • Toftwood Nursery Pre-School

Infant and junior schools[edit]

  • Dereham CE VA Infant School and Nursery
  • Dereham Church of England Junior Academy
  • Grove House Nursery and Infant Community School
  • King's Park Infant School
  • Scarning Primary school
  • Toftwood Infant School
  • Toftwood Junior School

Secondary schools[edit]

Sixth form college[edit]

Special School[edit]

Fred Nicholson School

Youth groups[edit]

Dereham has two active Scout Groups, both of which are part of The Scout Association. 1st Dereham was one of the earliest Groups in the world, having been formed in 1908. In the past there was a 3rd Dereham Scout Group.

The town is the home of 1249 Squadron, Air Training Corps, who parade at the Cadet Centre on Norwich Road. The Army Cadets also parade at the same place.

Dereham is home to the youth theatre group DOSYTCo, which works with children to put on shows at the Dereham Memorial Hall, shows such as a 2015 production of Hairspray (musical).


Notable buildings in the town include the pargetted Bishop Bonner's Cottage, built in 1502, the Norman parish church, the East Dereham Windmill which was extensively renovated in 2013 and a large mushroom-shaped water tower. The Gressenhall Museum of Rural Life is nearby. The town also hosts the headquarters of the Mid-Norfolk Railway, which runs trains over an 11.5-mile railway south to Wymondham, as well as owning the line 6 miles north to North Elmham and County School Station. In spring 2020, that secondary line was being restored, but the railway (like other attractions) was closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom.[49]

Dereham is also home to the Dereham Carnival, which takes place during the summer. This involves a parade, live music and several other events.

A guide to attractions in and near Dereham, intended to promote tourism, was scheduled to be published in late March 2020.[50]

Dereham Blues Festival[edit]

Since 2013 Dereham has hosted an annual Blues Festival organised by The Norfolk Blues Society. The 2019 Festival saw 50 acts playing in 13 different venues which included pubs, clubs and unusual venues such as Dereham Cricket Club and the station at the Mid Norfolk Railway. All of the performances are free apart from the opening headline concert at Dereham Memorial Hall. Headline acts to date have been : 2013 Ron Sayer Jnr & the Dave Thomas Band, 2014 Paul Jones (singer), 2015 Mud Morganfield, 2016 Dr. Feelgood, 2017 Andy Fairweather Low & The Low Riders, 2018 Georgie Fame, 2019 Hamilton Loomis. The 2020 Festival was due to run from 8 to 12 July with the headline act being Mike Sanchez performing with his band The Portions.[51]

However the Festival was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It is hoped the Festival will resume in 2021.[52]

Notable people[edit]

Cowper Church Sunday School, Dereham.

Notable people born in or associated with the town include:

Twin towns[edit]


  1. ^ In legend, St Withburga was taken by monks and chased as far as Brandon when they took to the water. This is perfectly possible as Brandon and Ely are connected by water.


  1. ^ "Town population 2011". Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  2. ^ Office for National Statistics & Norfolk County Council (2001). Census population and household counts for unparished urban areas and all parishes. Retrieved 2 December 2005.
  3. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Dereham Times, About Dereham
  5. ^ Town History
  6. ^ Yorke, Barbara (2002). Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. Routledge. ISBN 041516639X.
  7. ^ Norton, Ben (1994). The Story of East Dereham. Chapter 1 654 and all that – Reference to Saxon Saint Withburga. Phillimore & co. p. 1. ISBN 9780850339086.
  8. ^ Love, Rosalynd (1994). Goscelin of Saint-Bertin: The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely. Introduction. Clarendon Press. p. xiii. ISBN 0198208154.
  9. ^ a b c d Parish Summary: Dereham
  11. ^ Bishop Bonner of East Dereham
  12. ^ Welcome to East Dereham
  13. ^ Jean de Narde
  14. ^ "Once Our Foe:" The Grave of Jean de Narde, Dereham
  15. ^ East Dereham Windmill
  16. ^ Windmills of Norfolk By John Ling
  17. ^ Dereham Windmill
  18. ^ Dereham windmill
  19. ^ Norfolk Militia
  20. ^ Fiddaman's Lynn: King's Lynn Rifle Corps Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Dereham". The drill halls project. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  22. ^ a b "Wartime Dereham". Eastern Daily Press. 13 February 2014. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  23. ^ "Defending Norfolk", Mike Osborne, page 98
  25. ^ Jenkins, S. (1993). The Lynn and Dereham Railway. Middleton Press. p. 87. ISBN 0-85361-443-1.
  26. ^ Eastern Daily Press, Postcard from Dereham Archived 21 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Rouse, Michael (2014). Norfolk Through Time. High Street Dereham. Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-1445636252.
  28. ^ Knight, Charles (1856). The land we live in, a pictorial and literary sketch-book of the British empire. ISBN 9781445636535.
  29. ^ Norfolk Churches, St Nicholas, Dereham
  30. ^ St Nicholas Church -The Building Founded by St Withburga AD654
  32. ^ Dereham Times: £1m vision for Dereham Maltings
  33. ^ Not enough money in malt to reopen maltings, but 127 homes given go-ahead
  34. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  35. ^ Dereham Leisure Centre
  36. ^ Recreation Ground
  37. ^ "Strikes Dereham".
  38. ^ Dereham Town Football Club Archived 30 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  39. ^ Dereham Rugby Club
  40. ^ Dereham Crisket Club Archived 28 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  41. ^ "Dereham Hockey Club".
  42. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  43. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  44. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  45. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  46. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  47. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  48. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  49. ^ Mid-Norfolk Railway
  50. ^ New guide set to ‘increase footfall’ released in town
  51. ^ Dates revealed for popular Norfolk festival
  52. ^ Dereham Blues Festival
  53. ^ NATALIE WALKER Published on 04/05/2013 00:42. "Scots paralympian Jo Pitt dies after lung condition – Top stories". Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  54. ^ "Elliott Spencer addresses disapproval over the 30-year age gap between him and new husband Stephen Fry". Telegraph. Retrieved 16 December 2016

External links[edit]