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Heacham Church.JPG
Heacham Church
Heacham is located in Norfolk
Location within Norfolk
Area17.66 km2 (6.82 sq mi)
Population4,750 (2011 census[1]
• Density269/km2 (700/sq mi)
OS grid referenceTF675372
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townKING'S LYNN
Postcode districtPE31
AmbulanceEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
52°54′25″N 00°29′24″E / 52.90694°N 0.49000°E / 52.90694; 0.49000Coordinates: 52°54′25″N 00°29′24″E / 52.90694°N 0.49000°E / 52.90694; 0.49000

Heacham is a large village in West Norfolk, England, overlooking The Wash. It lies between King's Lynn, 14 miles (23 km) to the south, and Hunstanton, about 3 miles (4.8 km) to the north. It has been a seaside resort for over a century and a half.


There is evidence of settlement in the Heacham area over the last 5,000 years, with numerous Neolithic and later Bronze Age finds within the parish. This is presumably because the local geology consists of primarily cretaceous sands and underlying chalk, meaning that there is very little surface water for miles in any direction. This can also be seen along the banks of the Caudle Carr outside Dersingham, where numerous archaeological finds have been made. Running water along with fertile surrounding lands made Heacham an ideal place for settlement by early man. Evidence of habitation continues through the Iron Age into the Romano-British era.[2]

However, the present village probably did not appear until the 5th century, with the Anglo-Saxon invasion and the beginnings of present-day East Anglia.

The name of the village is said to derive from a 12th-century Norman lord, Geoffrey de Hecham.[3] This is possible, but unlikely, as the name "de Hecham" literally means "of Hecham", implying that the place name already existed. The name Hecham was noted in the Little Domesday Book, written around 1086 as part of the Smithdon hundred (Smetheduna). Before the Norman Conquest, Heacham was held by two Saxons, Alnoth, and Toki the king's thegn, whose estates centred around a hall in Castle Acre.[4][5] After the Norman Conquest, the lands passed to William de Warenne and his brother-in-law Frederick de Warenne, who was later killed by Hereward the Wake.

Smethden HUNDRED. Of the fief of Frederick. Hecham was held by Toki, a free man, TRE (Tempore Regis Eduardi). There have always been 7 ploughs in demesne and 70 bordars and 6 slaves, and 12 acres of meadow and 7 ploughs belonging to the men; woodland for 100 pigs, and 3½ mills; 1 fishery; always 1 horse, 30 head of cattle, 60 pigs, 600 sheep. Here belong 35 sokemen, 1½ carucates of land; always 6 ploughs, 4 acres of meadow. Then it was worth £12, now 15. In the same place William de Warenne holds 2 carucates of land which Alnoth, a free man, held TRE. There have always been 26 bordars and 2 slaves and 6 acres of meadow, and 2 ploughs in demesne, and 1½ ploughs belonging to the men, and half a mill, and 1 salt-pan and 1 fishery, and 4 sokemen [with] 2 acres (0.81 ha). Then [there were] 12 head of cattle, now 16. Then [there were] 30 pigs, now 40. Then [there were] 80 sheep, now 60.

The name Heacham is more likely to derive from the local river, the Hitch, in conjunction with the Old English place-word "ham",[6] which meant either "homestead, village, manor, estate" or "enclosure, land hemmed by water or marsh or higher ground, land in a river bend, river meadow, promontory".[7]

In 1085 Heacham manor was given by William de Warenne to a cell of Cluniac monks from the Priory of St Pancras of Lewes, to pray for the soul of his late wife Gundreda. After the dissolution, about 1541, the manor passed to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.

Medieval economy[edit]

In 1272 Heacham was granted by royal charter a weekly market on Wednesdays and 3 days[8] during the mid-August Fairs on 14, 15 and 16 August.

By 1300 the population of Heacham was estimated at 1200 to 1500, making Heacham a small town.

In the market women in the upper layer of Heacham tenant families were prominent the Heacham ale and bread market. Even in the baking sector where men had a large share in the production of bread, women dominated the market by their numbers. The market involved women from all of the community, top to bottom, with 531 women belonging to 231 families. Between 1276 and 1324, around the time of the great European famine, the Leet Court sessions listed many women selling ale or bread who were not able to pay the licensing tax and were declared by the aletasters and the steward presiding the court condonatae causa paupertatis (pardoned for the sake of poverty).

The participation of women in the market gave them opportunity to build economic and public roles in the community. As examples Matilda Peper was elected aletaster in 1314. Alice de Redham, Alice Genever1307; Alice, Isolda and Sabina Elnot, 1310; Isabel Rocelin, 1315 and again 1320; Agnes le Notere, 1324) were elected collectores.

The survey Inquisitio Navium of 1337 mentions 12 Heacham tenants owning fishing ships. The richest, Simon Lambriht , had 7 ships ranging from 5 tons to 32 tons.

There was some long-distance trade, wood from Scandinavia or woollen cloth from Flanders, stone from Normandy. The bulk of the Heacham traffic was with other Norfolk ports, and especially Bishop’s Lynn where Heacham sent fish, salt, corn in bulk or flour sacks , and sacks of wool. Heacham was the maritime outlet for a number of land-locked manors in North West Norfolk. The Heacham demesne accounts mentions its horse-drawn carts often transporting a harvest surplus as far as Fakenham.

The port of Heacham imported from Lynn goods for everyday life, particularly for the building trades. It imported mill-stones and iron manufactured goods, nails, horseshoes, iron parts for the ploughs and tools, the carts and the mills, leather and wool manufactured goods for clothing and the farming economy.

The ships that enabled this trade would be Cogs, flat bottomed boats widely used from the North Sea to the Baltic.[9]


The Church of St Mary the Virgin is the oldest functioning building. Norman in style, it dates from 1230. The earliest record of the church, covenant for building a chapel to the Blessed Virgin Mary being 1248.[10] In the cupola on the tower hangs a bell dating from about 1100, making it the oldest in East Anglia and seventh oldest in the country. The transepts 12 feet (3.7 m) from the east end have been lost and the roof has been lowered.

John Rolf[edit]

In about 1619 John Rolfe, a native of this village, wrote from Jamestown, Virginia, to Sir Edwin Sandys, treasurer of the Virginia Company of London, with the first record of African slaves arriving in North America<ref:Rolfe, John (1919). "Twenty and odd Negroes". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 7 December 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)</ref> "About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunnes arrived at Point-Comfort, the Comandors name Capt Jope, his Pilott for the West Indies one Mr Marmaduke an Englishman. They mett with the Treasurer in the West Indyes, and determined to hold consort shipp hetherward, but in their passage lost one the other. He brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualls (whereof he was in greate need as he pretended) at the best and easyest rates they could."


Village sign depicting Lady Rebecca Rolfe (Pocahontas)

Heacham has historic ties to Matoaka (better known as Pocahontas), who married John Rolf (sic) on 5 April 1614 at a church in Jamestown, Virginia. Rolfe took his wife, Rebecca (Pocahontas), and their two-year-old son, Thomas, to visit his family at Heacham Hall in 1616, but settled in Brentford. A year later, Rebecca died in Gravesend, when John was going to return her to Virginia. She was laid to rest at St George's parish churchyard. After that, John returned to Virginia with Tomocomo. Samuel Argall commanded the ship. Thomas was guarded by Lewis Stukley and later adopted by John's brother Henry. John married Jane Pierce two years later. They soon had a daughter named Elizabeth. Perhaps John lost his life in the 1622 Native American massacre near Jamestown. The Rolfe family residence, Heacham Hall, burned down in 1941.


Sunset at Heacham beach

Heacham became popular as a seaside resort with the Victorians, when the railway between King's Lynn and Hunstanton opened in the early 1860s. This culminated in the building of the Jubilee Bridge in 1887 to replace an old wooden bridge, using unspent subscriptions from parishioners to the celebrations for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Heacham is still popular as a seaside resort. Both the North Beach (Jubilee) Road and South Beach Road are lined with caravan parks.

Heacham's beaches are on the east banks of The Wash. They are among the few in eastern England where the sun sets over the sea, not the land.

On 29 July 1929, Mercedes Gleitze became the first woman to swim The Wash, completing the crossing on a third attempt. Originally aiming for Hunstanton, she came ashore at Heacham after battling strong tides for over 13 hours.[11] Heacham was badly affected by the North Sea flood of 1953: nine people died when the sea broke through. In early 2013, an exhibition of the North Sea Flood was held at St Mary's Church, with contributions from Heacham's infant and junior schools and from other villagers.

Norfolk lavender[edit]

Lavender fields

Norfolk Lavender Ltd was founded in 1932. Linn Chilvers supplied the plants and the labour and Francis Dusgate of Fring Hall the land. The first lavender beds were planted on Dusgate's land at Fring; in 1936 Dusgate acquired Caley Mill on the River Heacham and the ground around it, not for building but for the land. Lavender has been grown there ever since. A kiosk was erected, from which bunches of lavender were sold to passing pre-war traffic.

By 1936 Caley Mill was disused. No major repairs were carried out until 1953–1954, after a new A149 road with a lay-by and kiosk had been built, which cut across the lavender field. Further repairs and restoration were carried out at the mill in 1977–1978 and in the late 1980s. Since the early 1990s its output has widened to include other typical English floral fragrances. These are sold at home and abroad.[12]


Frequent bus services via Heacham are run by Lynx between King's Lynn and Hunstanton.[13] The village railway station was open from 1862 to 1969.

Notable people[edit]

In birth order:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ward/Parish population 2011". Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  2. ^ "Aerial photo showing Iron Age or Romano British enclosures in Heacham". English Heritage. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  3. ^ "About Heacham". Heacham On-line. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  4. ^ Wareham, Andrew (2005). Lords and Communities in Early Medieval East Anglia. Boydell & Brewer. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-84383-155-6.
  5. ^ Harper-Bill, Christopher (1999). Anglo-Norman Studies. Boydell & Brewer. p. 318. ISBN 978-0-85115-796-2.
  6. ^ Rye, James (1991). A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names. Lark Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-948400-15-5.
  7. ^ Mills, Anthony David (1998). A Dictionary of English Place-names. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280074-9.
  8. ^ Beauroy, Jacques (2011). "Social Roles and Status of Women in a Norfolk small market Town Heacham 1276-1324". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 12 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ Chakra, Hayden (2020). "The Medieval Cog Ship and Its Use in History". About History. Retrieved 21 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ H. K. F. (1963). The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. Heacham Parochial Church Council.
  11. ^ "13 Hours' Battle with the Currents". Nottingham Evening Post. British Newspaper Archive. 21 June 1929. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  12. ^ Norfolk lavender Archived 25 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 26 October 2011.
  13. ^ "Bus times from King's Lynn to Hunstanton from Lynxbus". Lynx. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  14. ^ The Domesday Book: England's Heritage Then and Now, ed. Thomas Hinde (UK: Coombe Books, 1996).
  15. ^ Robert S. Tilton, "Rolfe, John (1585–1622)". In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004). Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  16. ^ John A. Vickers, "Atmore, Charles (1759–1826)". In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004). Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  17. ^ Roger Hutchins, "Gunther, Robert William Theodore (1869–1940)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004) Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  18. ^ Brian Stableford: "Metcalfe, John". In: David Pringle: St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers (London: St. James Press, 1998), pp. 405–6. ISBN 1558622063
  19. ^ Eric Wetherell, "Hadley, Patrick Arthur Sheldon (1899–1973)". In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004). Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  20. ^ Goodman, Geoffrey (14 January 2002). "MEO". The Guardian. London.
  21. ^ Author site. [1]; blog site. [2]. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  22. ^ Place of residence mentioned Retrieved 18 February 2016.

External links[edit]