Remains of St James' Church and surrounding Saxon and medieval settlement


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019667

Date first listed: 02-May-1946

Date of most recent amendment: 09-Mar-2001


Ordnance survey map of Remains of St James' Church and surrounding Saxon and medieval settlement
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Norfolk

District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)

Parish: Bawsey

National Grid Reference: TF 66210 20675


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A parish church is a building, usually of roughly rectangular outline and containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate to its use for Christian worship by a secular community, whose members gather in it on Sundays and on the occasion of religious festivals. Children are initiated into the Christian religion at the church's font and the dead are buried in its churchyard. Parish churches were designed for congregational worship and are generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provides accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which is the main domain of the priest and contains the principal altar. Either or both parts are sometimes provided with aisles, giving additional accommodation or spaces for additional altars. Most parish churches also possess towers, generally at the west end, but central towers at the crossing of nave and chancel are not uncommon and some churches have a free-standing or irregularly sited tower. Many parish churches also possess transepts at the crossing of chancel and nave, and south or north porches are also common. The main periods of parish church foundation were in the 10th to 11th and 19th centuries. Most medieval churches were rebuilt and modified on a number of occasions and hence the visible fabric of the church will be of several different dates, with in some cases little fabric of the first church being still easily visible. Parish churches are found throughout England. Their distribution reflects the density of population at the time they were founded. In regions of dispersed settlement parishes were often large and churches less numerous. The densest clusters of parish churches were found in thriving medieval towns. A survey of 1625 reported the existence of nearly 9000 parish churches in England. New churches built in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries increased numbers to around 18,000 of which 17,000 remain in ecclesiastical use. Parish churches have always been major features of the landscape and a major focus of life for their parishioners. They provide important insights into medieval and later population levels or economic cycles, religious activity, artistic endeavour and technical achievement. A significant number of surviving examples are identified to be nationally important.

St James' Church is not known to have undergone any significant post-medieval alteration and the standing remains retain many architectural features characteristic of the early to mid-12th century as well as evidence for the extension of the chancel in the later medieval period. The central tower with its elaborate architectural detail, though a typical feature of monastic churches, is unusual in a parish church, where the tower is normally situated to the west of the nave, and suggests that the church may have been regarded originally as having some kind of special status. The limited excavations carried out on the church have revealed evidence of the original form of the chancel and confirmed the survival of a buried floor, and these and other buried remains will retain archaeological information concerning the construction of the post-Conquest church and its use throughout the medieval period. The evidence for an earlier, Saxon church on or near the site of the standing remains is of particular interest. Further remains of this are also likely to be preserved below ground. Information relating to the Saxon and medieval population of the associated settlements will also be preserved in the surrounding churchyard.

The Saxon settlement associated with the earlier church is also of great interest, not only for the information which it contains relating to domestic and industrial activity but also because of the evidence which it provides that the church was a minster. Saxon minsters were often royal or episcopal foundations of early date, endowed or associated with substantial estates. They were served by a community of secular priests or monks and ministered to large areas, overseeing subsiduary churches founded at a later date and forming the basis of local ecclesiastical administration in the period before the parochial system was fully developed. The finds from the site are consistent with high status and include an unusual number of writing implements, indicative of a literate community which at this date is likely to have consisted of priests or monks. Examples of minsters with known surviving remains are rare, and the monument is therefore of particular importance for the study of ecclesiastical organisation during the period before the Conquest.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the standing and buried remains of St James's Church and the buried remains of a Saxon settlement around it. The church occupies the highest point of a hill which would in the past have been effectively an island, surrounded by water or marsh. The settlement was centred on a large oval enclosure bounded by a ditch which survives as a buried feature around the lower slope of the hill and has produced crop marks (lines of differential crop growth) recorded on aerial photographs. Other buried features within the enclosure and adjoining it on the north and east sides have also been revealed by crop marks and by a geophysical survey.

Parts of the church were in poor repair by 1679 and, although it remained in use until 1773, when the last burial was recorded, it was roofless and in ruins by the early 19th century.

The ruined church, which is a Listed Building Grade I, has an overall length of approximately 26m and is built chiefly of roughly coursed carstone and ferruginous conglomerate rubble with some flint and with limestone dressings. In plan it consists of an aisleless nave, a central, axial tower and rectangular chancel, the tower and chancel being narrower in width than the nave. The north west and south west corners of the nave are reinforced with angle buttresses added at a later date, and there are two more buttresses at the junctions between the walls of the nave and the tower. The walls of the nave stand to varying heights up to about 3.5m and towards the western end of the south wall is a door opening, with remains of the limestone jamb and the cushion capital of a now vanished column surviving on the east side. A corresponding gap opposite this in the north wall probably contained another doorway. The eastern end of the south wall has fallen, but is recorded in a lithograph of 1831, which shows the Romanesque arch and jambs of the doorway at the west end intact, a smaller door opening at the east end, and an inserted window opening of later date between the two.

The walls of the tower to the east of the nave still stand to almost their full original height on the north and east sides, and although the south west corner has now gone it is, like the south wall of the nave, recorded in the 19th century lithograph. In the lithograph a high, arched opening is shown in the south wall at ground level, and this, if accurately depicted, suggests that there may originally have been a porticus (lateral chapel) on that side, although nothing of this survives above ground. The Romanesque arch between the tower and the nave to the west is of two orders on the west face, supported on attached columns with scalloped capitals, of which one column and three capitals remain. The inner order of the arch is decorated with chevron ornament and the outer with roll moulding. The eastern face of the arch is simpler, of a single order with roll moulding, also supported on attached columns with scalloped capitals. The western face of the chancel arch resembles the face of the nave arch opposite, but with cushion capitals on the columns, and the eastern face is plain. On the east face of the tower above the chancel arch is a scar left by the removal of a barrel vault, and above that the scar of a pitched roof. Between the two are remains of a triangular headed doorway which opened into the roof space above the chancel, and the 19th century lithograph shows a corresponding pair of round headed door openings in the west face, overlooking the nave. In the lower parts of the north wall of the tower the jambs and splayed reveals of two narrow window openings are partially preserved, one above the other. Above this level is the bell stage, divided from the lower part of the tower by a string course and retaining parts of a bell opening in each of the four walls. The opening in the north wall is the best preserved, with nook shafts (attached columns in the angles of the jambs) and remains of a hood mould over the arch. Photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century, when it was more complete, show that below the arch there were two openings separated by a central column. The other three bell openings appear to have been identical.

All that remains visible of the chancel is a section of the south wall, containing part of the jamb and sill of a window of late medieval date, the stub of the adjoining east wall and an angle buttress. The 19th century lithograph shows a priests door to the west of the window. Limited excavations carried out in 1930 established that the chancel was originally apsidal, and evidence that it had a barrel vault is provided by the scar on the east face of the tower. The roof was subsequently raised, probably when the chancel was extended and altered in the late medieval period, and the weathering course of this later roof can also be seen on the east face of the tower, cutting across the bell opening.

Evidence that there was an earlier, pre-Conquest church on or near the same site is provided by fragments of Anglo-Saxon grave slabs with interlace decoration which were found reused in the fabric of the church, and by a burial dated to the 8th or 9th century which was excavated near to the standing remains.

The boundary of the churchyard is no longer marked above ground but is recorded on the tithe map of 1839, and the lines of buried ditches roughly corresponding to this recorded boundary have been traced in crop marks and as a result of the geophysical survey. The area defined by these ditches is sub- rectangular and measures approximately 90m north-south by 58m, the church being located slightly to the north of centre.

The settlement enclosure surrounding the church, as revealed by crop marks and by the results of geophysical survey, is roughly oval in plan, measuring approximately 345m WNW-ESE by 187m. Abutting this on the north side, towards the eastern end, is a much smaller, D-shaped or sub-circular enclosure, and other adjoining enclosures are partially defined by ditches to the north and south. Limited excavations carried out in 1998 confirmed the survival of buried features within and immediately around the main enclosure and produced evidence of industrial activity in the area to the east of the church and churchyard. According to the evidence of finds from the excavation and from the overlying surface the settlement was of Middle and Late Saxon date, and the character of the finds suggests that it was a settlement of high status, probably associated with a minster.

Finds of later medieval date have also been recorded from the site, although none of the features identified has been dated to this period. A settlement is, however, recorded at Bawsey in the Domesday survey of 1086, and is documented up to the mid-15th century. It is thought to have been evacuated in the early 16th century to make way for sheep pasture.

Wooden steps up the western side of the mound on which the church stands are excluded from the scheduling, together with an information board, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 30591

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Allison, K J, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in The Lost Villages of Norfolk, , Vol. 31, (1955), 143
Batcock, N, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in The Ruined and Disused Churches of Norfolk, , Vol. 51, (1991), 114-116
Fairweather, F H, 'Antiq J' in Antiq J, , Vol. 11, (1931), 169
Edwards, D, NAU TF 6620 A-F, H-AL ..., (1984)
Typescript, Haywood, S, The Ruined Church of St Mary, Bawsey St James, (1996)

End of official listing