Parish History


About Us

Crimplesham is a village which lies two and half miles east of Downham Market, in the county of Norfolk. The cathedral city of Ely is 15 miles to the South, with the market towns of Swaffham ten miles East, and King’s Lynn ten miles North.

According to the census of 2001, the population of the village is 221 in 94 households. Historical population records document 358 “souls” living in the village in 1845, and 293 by 1883.

This website is run by Crimplesham Parish Council, please click on the links in the menu bar above for more information about the activities of the Council.

The Name

Watercolour by Janet Watkins

Watercolour by Janet Watkins

There is much speculation about the origins of the name “Crimplesham”; it is perhaps a nickname originally meaning “Crympel’s Homestead”, the Old English word “crimp” meaning crooked. However, the Domesday Book describes the village stream as “a creeping run of water- The Crimple”. The stream rises at the Moated Manor, which is now known as ‘Hillfield’, and flows away to West Dereham.

Another suggestion is that Crimplesham is a compound of the suffix “ham” meaning “abode of”, and “crimpel” or “crepel” being the name of the occupant – in this case probably an Anglo Saxon invader.

The Sign

The current village sign was put up in 2006 and stands on the village green, originally the site of the pond; it is made of fibreglass, and was painted by Janet Watkins. The previous sign was wooden and was carved by Mr Harry Carter of Swaffham. It was unveiled on 7th May 1976, by the oldest member of the village at the time: Mr Arthur Oakley aged 95 years.

The base for the sign was made by three generations of the Lane family; six plaques celebrating winning the “Best Kept Village” competition have since been attached to it.

The sign depicts the steam running through the meadow, a fishpond, around which sheep graze, while behind a yoke of oxen pull a plough across the brown soil. Two figures stand at either end of the sign’s image; the Lady on the right, painted in red, is “Ailed”, a freewoman who lived in the village in the time of Edward the Confessor; the man on the left, painted in blue, is “Rainald”, a Norman adventurer linked with the village.

History of St. Mary’s Church

st marys photo

The village of Crimplesham has been witness to the Christian faith since before AD 1066 and down through the centuries. At the current site of St. Mary’s, it is probable that a church stood as far back as pre-Norman times, though no exact historical details are known about this. Below is what is known of the religious history of the parish.

According to Blomefield’s History of Norfolk (vol. VII, 1807) a freewoman known as Ailed (a saxon) was deprived of the lordship by William the Conquerer, which included Crimplesham with Toimere. The lordship was instead granted to Rainald, a Norman baron who attended William in his invasion of England in 1066, by way of a reward for his services.

After Rainald, the lordship was handed on to the Earls of Clare in Suffolk. In 1090 the first Earl, Gilbert de Clare, directed that the church at Clare should become part of a network of the great Benedictine Abbey of Bec in Normandy; and with Clare went many other churches within the Earl’s estate, including the one at Crimplesham. Thus began a long association of Crimplesham with the Benedictines, who had the pastoral care of the parish until the Reformation.

The following extract from Blomefield’s History of Norfolk describes the appearance of the ancient church, prior to it’s restoration in 1897.

In this church was the guild of St. Mary.  It is a single pile, with a chancel covered with reed, and built of coarse stone found in the neighbourhood.  It has a square tower, embattled, with five large bells.  On the pavement of the church lie some old marble gravestones deprived of their brasses, in remembrance probably of the DEREHAMS, BALDWIN DEREHAM, GENT. of Crimplesham, by his will in Feb. 1527, requires to be buried in the church near the south door; and in the reign of Henry VI, there was a chantry founded here for ELIZABETH, wife of THOMAS DEREHAM Esq., ROBERT DE VERE of ADDINGTON in NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, Esq., THOMAS DEREHAM buried here in Ao 13th Edward IV.

st mary single

Watercolour of St. Mary’s by Janet Watkins

To learn more about the history of the church, please click on the links below to view information leaflets that have previously been compiled on the subject of St. Mary’s.

“A Brief History” booklet
Church Tours 2013 leaftlet – compiled by ‘Lyn Stilgoe


The School

The School and Teacher’s House were erected in 1871 by Sir William Bagge, Bart. In 1871 the Education Act was passed, making schooling compulsory, but not free! Children were expected to pay a penny a day towards their education. To us this is a meagre sum, but for many labourers and unskilled workers (or those with numerous progeny), a considerably percentage of their income.

Adjacent to the school itself, stands a house. This was built to house the teacher of the village school (and continued as such until the 1960s). Later it was used for storage. Now, it is once again used as a home.

Originally the school has no access to running water, so the resident of what is now Ruby Cottage (previously a row of three small cottages, now two) would fill a bucket from their well, so that the school children (and teachers) could drink or wash. The toilets were outside, at the back of the school building.

A former pupil of the school recalls that when there was a funeral taking place at the church, pupils and teachers lined up in the playground (heads bowed) to pay their respects as the funeral procession travelled past.

Across the road from the school stood the school playing field. When the school was closed, this site was intended for sale, however following a fierce village campaign, the field was saved, and is now maintained by the playing field committee as an amenity for the children of the village.

Although the school was not built until 1871, there is a reference to school rooms in Crimplesham as far back as 1854 (in the diary of Elizabeth Doyle) and references in the 1861 census to School Lane. Local knowledge of any previous school appears, unfortunately, to have died out.

Numbers at the school appear to have varied greatly, in general being between thirty and forty. World War Two saw a peak, helped by the influx of evacuees, with numbers being sixty to seventy. After this however, numbers declined, in the early 1980s numbers were in the low twenties.

School Closure

Despite opposition and protests from the community, in July 1984 Crimplesham School, which had by that point been in use for 113 years, closed its doors for the final time. The end of an historic era was marked with a reunion of pupils and staff, and a sports and entertainments programme. Former pupils who attended included: Sir John Bagge, chairman of the school managers, whose great-grandfather built the school, and his grandfather extended it; along with pupils from as far back as the beginning of the twentieth century. One former pupil brought with him his ‘Good Attendance’ medals from 1910 and 1911; another reminisced about the long walk to school from Stradsett, and how he had always hoped to encounter a pong and cart which would give him a lift! In all over one hundred and fifty pupils (past and present) attended the reunion.

To mark the occasion commemorative mugs were presented to the pupils. The mugs were made by Mr Tom Shortland, who lives in the former “Nags Head” near the village green. The picture of the school on the mug, was drawn by his daughter. The old school building is now a Jehovah Witness Hall.