The oldest things in Norfolk

Bluebells flourishing in the beautiful quiet surroundings of the Rosary Cemetery

Bluebells in Rosary Cemetery, Norwich - the oldest non denominational cemetery in the country - Credit: Denise Bradley

From a football grandstand to a picture of wheelbarrow and from a tower to a urinal we find Norfolk landmarks which are the oldest in the county, country or even the world


The grandstand at Great Yarmouth Town Football Club is the oldest surviving football stand in the world. The stand, opened in 1892 is a grand 129 years old. 

However, the first sport to be viewed from the stand was not football but athletics and cycling. The grade-II listed Wellesley Road ground was opened in 1888, with cycle races on a cinder track, watched by a crowd of 3,000. The first football match came two years later and Great Yarmouth Town moved in exactly 120 years ago. Record attendance was back in 1953 when almost 9,000 people watched the Bloaters win 1-0 against Crystal Palace in the first round of the FA Cup. Extra terracing was provided in the form of fish boxes behind one of the goals. 

The oldest surviving wooden grandstand at the Wellesley Sports Ground, Great Yarmouth

The oldest surviving wooden grandstand at the Wellesley Sports Ground, Great Yarmouth - Credit: Denise Bradley


Thetford Grammar School is one of the oldest schools in the country, tracing its origins back to 631. when it is likely that Sigbert, King of the East Angles, provided a school for his court in Thetford. Documentary evidence goes back to 1114 when Herbert Losinga the first Bishop of Norwich and founder of Norwich Cathedral, who had previously been the Bishop of Thetford, wrote about the school. The earliest existing parts of the school are on the site of the Norman Thetford Cathedral. 

Thetford Grammar School pupils were taking part in a school 'dab' to raise awareness of diabetes. Pi

Thetford Grammar School - Credit: Archant


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The Maids Head in Norwich claims to be the oldest hotel in the country. Bishop of Norwich Herbert de Losinga had his original palace here back in the 1090s – and the site has been used for hospitality ever since. Hotel guests include the eldest son of King Edward III, who stayed here after a jousting competition in the city in 1359, and Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon in 1520.  

Thomas Anguish plaque at the Maids Head Hotel, Tombland

Maids Head Hotel, Tombland, Norwich - Credit: Antony Kelly


The dining hall is the only part of the Norman priory of St Faith, just outside Norwich, which survived Henry VIII’s destruction. Now part of a private home its 13th century wall paintings run like a comic strip across the wall of a room where monks once ate. They show a man and his wife being captured by bandits as they return from a pilgrimage to Rome. They pray to St Faith and are released and build a monastery to the saint when they return to Norfolk. They also show a wheelbarrow – the earliest known depiction of a wheeled barrow in Europe. 


A brass memorial in Lynn Minster, dating back to 1349, includes the earliest known picture of a windmill in England. 

The earliest picture of a windmill in England is on a memorial brass in Lynn Minster (left in detail above) 

The earliest picture of a windmill in England is on a memorial brass in Lynn Minster (left in detail above) - Credit: Rowan Mantell


Britain’s first holiday camp was launched in Caister-on-Sea near Yarmouth in 1906. The original idea was to give people living in London slums the chance to enjoy a seaside holiday. Facilities included beds of straw and entertainment included sing-songs around a camp fire and political talks. Chores were shared and no alcohol was allowed. Within a few years tents were replaced by huts and old trams were converted into chalets. Today the site is part of Haven’s  Caister-on-Sea holiday park with an indoor swimming pool and adventure village.  


The round tower of the church at East Lexham, between Swaffham and Fakenham , is thought to be the oldest in England. Built more than 1,100 years ago it was already almost two centuries old at the Norman Conquest. The raised mound it stands on, is older still and possibly a site of pagan worship. Of the 180-plus round-towered churches in England, almost all are in Norfolk and Suffolk, with more than 120 in Norfolk – but this beautiful little church is the oldest of them all.  

St Andrews Church in East Lexham

St Andrews Church in East Lexham - Credit: Denise Bradley


The bridge across the Waveney from Alburgh and Wortwell in Norfolk to Homersfield in Suffolk is thought to be the oldest surviving concrete bridge in Britain.   Made in 1870, and now Grade II-listed, the bridge was the result of an early experiment combining iron with concrete.  

River Waveney and Valley

Homersfield Bridge across the Waveney - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto


Europe’s oldest pre-cast concrete urinal stands close to St Crispin’s roundabout on Norwich’s inner ring-road.  

The 10 sided urinal, designed by Norwich’s city engineer with glazed panels and floral decorations was once one of a several identical public conveniences set up across the city in the 1880s. The last remaining one was moved to its present site in 1919 after the rest were demolished.  

The old ten-sided toilet on Norwich's St Crispins Road

The old ten-sided toilet on Norwich's St Crispins Road - Credit: Archant


Exactly 200 years ago the first burial took place in Norwich’s Rosary Cemetery. It is England’s oldest non-denominational cemetery, founded by nonconformist church minister Thomas Drummond. For the first time families could choose the service and minister of their choice for the funeral of their loved ones. It is still used for burials – and is full of life despite its purpose. It is one of the most important wildlife sites in the city as well as being  of great historical importance with beautiful memorials and the graves of some of Norwich’s foremost citizens. 


In July 1967 London Street, Norwich was closed to motor vehicles, becoming the first shopping street in the UK to be pedestrianised. It started a revolution that saw people given priority over traffic in city centres across the country. But it was only because of a sewer collapse that London Street led the way. While it was shut for emergency repairs shopkeepers found their customers enjoyed the safer, calmer street and when it reopened to traffic, a referendum among traders voted in favour of pedestrianisation.  

The Lord Mayor Cecil Sutton and his wife the Lady Mayoress at the London Street pedestrianisation

The Lord Mayor Cecil Sutton and his wife the Lady Mayoress at the London Street pedestrianisation ceremony in 1967 - Credit: Archant

To celebrate the anniversary of the pedestrianisation of London Street 50 years ago

London Street blue plaque - Credit: Sonya Duncan


The 700-year-old hawthorn, known as Hethel Old Thorn, is not only East Anglia’s oldest hawthorn tree but also the smallest nature reserve in the UK - reached by a public footpath from ancient Hethel church, in the village south of Norwich. 

Hethel Old Thorn nature reserve is a single thorn tree

Hethel Old Thorn is a Norfolk Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve - the smallest in the UK - Credit: Rowan Mantell


The protractor, that stalwart of school stationery sets, was invented by 16th century Newton Flotman mathematician and landowner Thomas Blundeville. As well as his brilliance at maths he was renowned for his scholarship, writing about logic, astronomy, education and horsemanship. Although devices for measuring angles were known as far back as ancient Egyptian times, the modern protactor was first described by the Newton Flotman man and used by him to make maps and navigational charts.  


A shaped flint hand-axe found in Happisburgh revolutionised our knowledge of early humans. The axe was discovered at in 2000 and dated to have been used between 550,000 and 700,000 years ago - at least 100,000 years earlier than humans were believed to have lived here. Thirteen years later 800,000-year-old footprints were discovered on the same stretch of Happisburgh beach - the oldest human footprints ever discovered outside Africa.  


The oldest and largest fossilised mammoth skeleton ever found in the UK and the most complete Steppe mammoth found anywhere in the world was excavated from the cliffs at West Runton, near Sheringham . It would have stood four metres high at the shoulder 700,000 years ago. Its remains are looked after by Norfolk Museums Service at Norwich Castle and Cromer museums.