Gaywood Valley Archaeological & Historical Project


The Gaywood River is situated due east of the historic market town and port of King's Lynn, West Norfolk (Figure 1). The Gaywood Valley runs from the chalk upland to the east, to its outflow at the Fleet, part of the modern port of King's Lynn on the River Great Ouse. The river cuts across rich arable downland, ancient common land, pasture and nature reserves, such as Norfolk Willdlife Trust's Roydon Common, into suburban residential estates, as at Fairstead, Springwood and Reffley, via Gaywood into the townscape of King's Lynn. Sources and tributaries of the river lie in the modern parishes of Grimston and Gayton, but the contour of the landscape indicates that the source and eastern watershed of the valley would extend to include the large chalk downland parish of Great Massingham. The Valley covers approximately 8, by 18 kilometers.

Figure 1. Study Area: the Gaywood Valley and 10 modern parish/administrative communities, including the area of King's Lynn, nested within the valley.
Key: grey - 10m contour OD; blue - rivers; black, with dot dash - modern parish/administrative boundaries. Digital data source: an Ordnance Survey/Edina supplied Service.

The study area for the project (Figure 1) is defined as 10 modern parish/administrative areas from King's Lynn to Great Massingham in the River Gaywood catchment:

  • King's Lynn
  • Hillington
  • Grimston
  • Roydon
  • Congham
  • Bawsey
  • Leziate
  • Gayton
  • Little Massingham
  • Great Massingham

Whilst these administrative areas are slightly changed from their medieval parish areas, they do overlap broadly the topography and drainage system of the Gaywood Valley and reflect the modern settlement parish communities, the focus for community engagement. Working with Parish Councils and Community Groups, is key to the success of raising awareness of the project, public participation in fieldwork and contributing to the success of the project.

Figure 2. Study area: the Gaywood Valley and the Norfolk Historic Environment Record mapped across the 10 parish/administrative areas.
Key: black infilled circle and grey infilled parcel - site (after Norfolk Historic Environment Service 2013); grey - 10m contour OD; blue - rivers; black, with dot dash - modern parish/administrative boundaries. Digital data source: an Ordnance Survey/Edina supplied Service.

The Gaywood Valley covers, different communities: rural, suburban and urban, in villages, hamlets, residential estates and the town of King's Lynn. Other rivers have been studied on the Norfolk fen-edge, but only individual sites have been surveyed and excavated in the Gaywood Valley, for example, St James' Church, Bawsey, part of the September 1998 Time Team Big Dig. This and other sites, for example, medieval kiln sites and Roman villas in Grimston and Gayton have been surveyed and excavated over many years by local people, including Society members. As Figure 2 shows, the mapping of Norfolk Historic Environment Records (NHER), demonstrate a rich archaeological and historic landscape. Across 10 parishes there are 1,596 records. These records include: listed buildings; scheduled monuments; earthworks; artefacts scatters and chance finds; aerial photographic sites, 'crop marks'; locations where surveys, evaluations and excavations have occurred (commercial archaeology).

Therefore, this under studied landscape was a natural choice to pick as a single study area. The diversity of archaeological and historical sites had not previously been studied as one valley landscape. Little was known about the earliest settlement in villages and parishes and this rich historic landscape could easily be explored by local people, near to their homes as a community archaeology and history project.

Project Aims

The project aims are to:

  • To facilitate communities linked by the river, to explore, share and celebrate knowledge about the historic landscape, buildings and places where people live
  • To organize and deliver at least 6 outreach archaeological and historical activity weekends over 2013, enabling local people to get involved in learning about their historic villages, hamlets and landscape
  • To enable through archaeological/historical training, fieldwork, the study of artefacts, documentary research, survey of buildings, a better knowledge of the earliest settlement and development of the prehistoric and historic settlement pattern in the Gaywood Valley
  • To celebrate and share new knowledge about this important historic community and landscape using new social media and to present a travelling exhibition at the end of 2013 that will showcase the Gaywood Valley Story.

Project Objectives:

The project objectives are to:

  • Increase participation by local people in enjoying, learning and recording archaeological and historical sites in the Gaywood Valley
  • Increase learning of archaeological and historical skills in the local communities, so people can participate actively in recording and preserving archaeological sites, collecting and studying artefacts and historic buildings
  • Increase knowledge, understanding and awareness of artefacts, sites and this unique historic landscape, as one historic and present-day valley community.


A range of project methods may be deployed to enable Society members and community volunteers to better understand this unique historic landscape and explore settlement origins in the Gaywood Valley:

  • Fieldwalking and survey of archaeological sites, including, where appropriate, metal detecting
  • Standing building survey (e.g. churches and/or vernacular buildings)
  • Test pitting and shovel test pitting in villages and other areas
  • Artefact identification and museum studies
  • Historical documentary analysis, for example the study and transcription of old maps, plans and drawings of parishes
  • Analyse aerial photographs and the use of other photographic recording, to study artefacts, sites and historic buildings
  • Information Technology - to map using Geographical Information Systems, sites and new distributions of artefacts
  • Information Technology - to use social media to share knowledge about the historic landscape and project.

Project Professional Archaeological Advisors

Throughout the drafting of the project proposal the advisory group, the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Community Heritage, have supported this project. During 2013 researchers from this Cambridge team will be helping with delivering activity weekends across the Gaywood Valley. The project's designated advisor is Dr. Mary Chester-Kadwell (WWW LINK). Other regional colleagues may also join in, supporting the activity weekends and training, such as archaeologists from the Historic Environment Service, Norfolk County Council.

Student Placements

As part of activity weekends a selection of student placements will be available for able, experienced and keen archaeology and/or history undergraduate or postgraduate students. The placements will cover practical fieldwork, artifact analyses, or other historical methods, to support the delivery of community archaeology and history days in parish communities. In the first instance, such opportunities are open to students at the University of Winchester and University of Cambridge. Later such opportunities will be available to students of other institutions. The placements will include a contribution towards travel costs to and from King's Lynn.

2013 Activity Weekend Dates and Locations

After initial contact with community groups and advice the following locations for Activity Weekends and dates have been confirmed:

  1. Fairstead, Sat.-Sun. 23rd-24th March 2013
  2. Gayton, Sat.-Sun. 27th-28th April 2013
  3. Gaywood, Wed.-Thurs. 15th-16th May (Higher Education Field Academy, Access Cambridge Archaeology (WWW LINK), Sat.-Sun. 18th-19th May 2013
  4. Grimston, Sat.-Sun. 15th-16th June 2013
  5. Great Massingham, Sat.-Sun. 27th-28th July 2013
  6. Congham, Sat.-Sun. 21st-22nd September 2013

An additional weekend may also include the area of a residential estate at Reffley, King's Lynn.

Project Contact
Dr. Clive Jonathon Bond
Gaywood Valley Archaeological and Historical Project,
2 Pine Road, South Wootton, King's Lynn, Norfolk PE30 3JP
Tel. 01553 671239
Project E-mail.

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