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Rotunda Swaffham.jpg
The Buttercross, Swaffham market place
Grid reference: TF815095
Location: 52°39’10"N, 0°41’3"E
Population: 6,935  (2001)
Post town: Swaffham
Postcode: PE37
Dialling code: 01760
Local Government
Council: Breckland
South West Norfolk
Website: Town council

Swaffham is a market town and in Norfolk, 12 miles east of King's Lynn and some 30 miles west of the county town, Norwich.

Name of the town

The town has a "foundation name", from the early days of the coming of the ancestral English into Britain. The name is from the Old English Swæfan ham meaning "the home of the Swabians", a Germanic tribe famous from antiquity for their matchless courage and ferocity and who seem to have supplied the bulk of the Saxon nation.


In the Domesday Book three lords were associated with Swaffham: Walter Giffard, with the largest manor; his tenant Hugh Bolebec, who held all of the Giffard land there; and Aubrey de Vere I, who held a smaller manor at Swaffham which the Domesday jurors said Aubrey had seized without the king's permission.[1]

About 5 miles to the north of Swaffham can be found the ruins of the formerly important Castle Acre Priory and Castle Acre Castle.

By the 14th and 15th centuries Swaffham had a flourishing sheep and wool industry. As a result of this prosperity, the town has a large market place. The Market Cross here was built by George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford and presented to the town in 1783.[2] On the top is the statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest to represent the fertility of the fields.

On the west side of Swaffham Market Place are several old buildings which for many years housed the historic Hamond's Grammar School, as a plaque on the wall of the main building explains. The Hamond's Grammar School building latterly came to serve as the sixth form for the Hamond's High School, but that use has since ceased. Harry Carter, the Grammar School's art teacher of the 1960s, was responsible for a great number of the carved village signs that are now found in many of Norfolk's towns and villages, most notably perhaps Swaffham's own sign commemorating the legendary Pedlar of Swaffham,[3][4][5] which is in the corner of the market place just opposite the old school's gates.[6] Carter was a distant cousin of the archaeologist and egyptologist Howard Carter, who spent much of his childhood in the town.[7]

Until 1968 the town had a railway station on the Great Eastern Railway line from King's Lynn. Just after Swaffham, the line split into two, one branch heading south to Thetford, and the other west towards East Dereham. The railways were closed as part of the Beeching Axe, through the possibility of rebuilding a direct rail link from Norwich to King's Lynn by way of Swaffham is occasionally raised.

The Swaffham Museum contains an exhibition on local history and local geology as well as an egyptology room charting the life of Howard Carter.[8]

Ecotech Centre

The Ecotech Centre

Today the town is known for the presence of two large Enercon E-66 wind turbines, and the associated Ecotech Centre.[9] The turbines are owned and operated by Ecotricity, and together generate more than three megawatts.[10] One wind turbine, an Enercon E66/1500 with 1.5 MW generation capacity, 67 metres nacelle height and 66 metres rotor diameter, which was built in 1999,[11] has an observation deck just below the nacelle. These have now been joined now by a further eight turbines at North Pickenham.

The centre hosted the 2008 British BASE jumping championships; contestants jumped from the roof of the observation deck.[12]

Appearance in film and television

In the summer of 2006, location filming was done in the town for the ITV1 series Kingdom, starring Stephen Fry. In Kingdom the town is called Market Shipborough. The pub The Startled Duck in the TV series is better known as The Greyhound Inn in which the Earl of Orford created the first hare coursing club open to the public in 1776.[13] Kingdom's office is filmed in Oakleigh House, near the town square (formerly the house of the Head Master of Hamond's Grammar School), with the coastal scenes filmed at Wells-next-the-Sea on the north Norfolk coast.


The east-west A47 Birmingham to Great Yarmouth road now avoids the centre of Swaffham, using a northerly bypass opened in 1981. The A1065 Mildenhall to Fakenham road still passes through the centre of the town on its north-south route, intersecting with the A47 north of the town.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Swaffham)


  1. Inquisitio Comitatus Cantabrigiensis, Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, vol. I, p. 403.
  2. Ripper, B. (1979) Ribbons from the Pedlar's Pack p126 ISBN 0-9506728-0-7
  3. The Pedlar of Swaffham. More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (1894). Retrieved on 2007-03-27
  4. The Pedlar of Swaffham. Old City – Names and Legends. Retrieved on 2007-03-27
  5. Animation
  6. Literary Norfolk Retrieved 22 July 2011
  7. Howard Carter Retrieved 22 July 2011
  8. Swaffham Museum Retrieved 22 July 2011
  9. Ecotech Centre
  10. Ecotricity. Swaffham-I and Swaffham-II. Retrieved February 10, 2006.
  11. The Windpower.net
  12. "Turbine hosts base jumping". BBC News. 29 September 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7643085.stm. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  13. History of Greyhounds: 18th and 19th Centuries