Study asks: 'What makes this town special?'

The Town Clock, or Market Cross, in North Walsham's town centre. 

The Town Clock, or Market Cross, in North Walsham's town centre. - Credit: Supplied by Historic England

A new partnership seeks to peel back the layers of North Walsham's past and take a peek inside.

Historic England has joined forces with North Norfolk District Council on the project, which they say will be the first in-depth survey of the market town's rich heritage. 

And Historic England's architectural investigators have called on the community to get involved by sharing any historic photos or information they have, in particular relating to the buildings in and around the Market Place and Market Street.

Dr Emily Cole.

Dr Emily Cole. - Credit: Victoria Cookson

Dr Emily Cole, Historic England's senior architectural investigator, said the research would "inform and inspire" North Walsham's £2m High Street Heritage Action Zone project to revitalise the town centre.

Dr Cole said: "We’re excited about the possibility of uncovering knowledge, memories, photographs and documents that will tell us more about North Walsham’s buildings and reveal the town’s fascinating past.

"We’re really hoping this will give us a great opportunity to engage with and chat to residents and locals about the town’s history.

"This in depth survey, the first of its kind for North Walsham, will help the High Street Heritage Action Zone to revitalise the heart of the town and will increase appreciation of its unique character.”

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North Walsham is thought to have been settled in the 500s and for centuries it was ruled by the Viking Norse and Danes.

North Walsham's town centre from above, with the ruined tower at St Nicholas Church in focus. 

North Walsham's town centre from above, with the ruined tower at St Nicholas Church in focus. - Credit: Supplied by Historic England

But it was not until the town became a hub of the textiles industry from the 12th century that North Walsham - along with the neighbouring village of Worstead - really started to prosper. 

Despite the town’s significance, its buildings have not been the subject of detailed historic study until now.

Excepts from Richard Harbord's book about North Walsham. A drawing of Paston School drawn by archite

North Walsham's historic Paston School, and St Nichola's church tower in the background, as drawn by architect John Adey Repton in 1781. Picture: JOHN ADEY REPTON/MARK BULLIMORE - Credit: JOHN ADEY REPTON/MARK BULLIMORE

Architectural investigators will explore the historic buildings and architectural development of North Walsham and delve into archives to produce a historic area assessment, creating a greater understanding of the town centre and a firm evidence base for future planning and improvement decisions.

Councillor Richard Kershaw, the district council's portfolio holder for sustainable growth, said everyone with an interest in North Walsham could play a role in helping uncover its past.

Richard Kershaw North Norfolk District Councillor. Picture: Richard Kershaw

Councillor Richard Kershaw, the North Norfolk District Council's portfolio holder for sustainable growth. Picture: Richard Kershaw - Credit: Archant

Mr Kershaw said: “The council is so pleased to be working with Historic England on this exciting project and I encourage residents to contribute by submitting items of interest and help put North Walsham on the map as the vibrant, fascinating town it is.”

To contribute, contact Jenni Jordan, the Heritage Action Zone project manager, via email at        

Set in stone - Four historic North Walsham buildings

Paston College


A scene from when the Queen Mother - then Queen Elizabeth - visited Paston School in 1950. Her school is departing the school's Griffons sit, which was where the young Horatio Nelson got an education. - Credit: Archant Library

North Walsham's most famous centre of learning was established as an all-boys boarding grammar school in 1606 by a local magistrate and landowner, Sir William Paston.

The current building on Grammar School Road dates from 1766, and among the earliest pupils to walk through its halls was one Horatio Nelson, who was a pupil there from 1768 to 1771.

Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott

A portrait of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott. Nelson was a pupil at North Walsham's Paston School. - Credit: Archant

The school merged with the North Walsham High School for Girls in 1984 and became Paston College. In 2017, it merged with Norwich City College.

Other notable students have included BBC television journalist Carole Walker, former education secretary Baroness Shepherd and author and entertainer Stephen Fry. 

Stephen Fry has backed the appeal and is urging others to do the same. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Stephen Fry, another of Paston School's past pupils . Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

St Nicholas Church

Construction of the town's famous church started in 1330, making Saint Nicholas the oldest surviving building in the parish.  

Quiet pathways around St Nicholas Church during the Coronavirus lockdown in North Walsham. Picture:

St Nicholas Church, with its famous ruined tower, in the centre of North Walsham. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

St Nicholas and St Mary at Worstead were known as the 'wool churches' as a testament to the prosperity of the local mill owners who produced the heavy 'Worstead' cloth for winter clothing and lighter 'Walsham' cloth for warmer weather. 

Its ruined West Tower has collapsed not once, but twice, first in 1724 and again in 1836. The first collapse may have been due to an excessive ringing of the church bell at a fair the day before, which resonated through the structure. The second collapse was due to heavy gales, and caused a quake-like tremor through the town.

Town clock

Possibly North Walsham's most famous landmark, the Town Clock is also known as the Market Cross, and was built in the place of a previous market place that dated from 1550.

That structure burned down in the Great Fire of North Walsham in 1600. The octagonal, timber-framed cross that stands there now is a focal point for the town and has hosted everything from live music to a 24-hour charity pool marathon.  

Most of the rest of the buildings in the Market Place date from the 19th century.

The Town Clock, or Market Cross, in North Walsham's town centre. 

The Town Clock, or Market Cross, in North Walsham's town centre. - Credit: Supplied by Historic England

The Cedars

The former North Walsham Town Council office in New Road, earmarked for a wetherspoons pub, is the p

The former North Walsham Town Council office in New Road. Picture: GOOGLE STREETVIEW - Credit: Archant

Situated at the meeting point of Market Place, New Road and Yarmouth Road, this grand building was built in the late 18th century and features a slate roof.

The grey brick wing was added in the 19th century, and the building served at the town council headquarters for many years. 

Plans to turn it into a Wetherspoon pub are yet to come off and the building now sits vacant, but its 'restoration and repurposing' is a key part of the Heritage Action Zone project.

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