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Dereham facts for kids

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Dereham market place.JPG
The market place on High Street
Dereham is located in Norfolk
Area 21.51 km2 (8.31 sq mi)
Population 18,609 (2011 census)
• Density 865/km2 (2,240/sq mi)
OS grid reference TF988132
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town DEREHAM
Postcode district NR19, NR20
Dialling code 01362
Police Norfolk
Fire Norfolk
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament
  • Mid Norfolk
List of places
52°40′52″N 0°56′24″E / 52.681°N 0.940°E / 52.681; 0.940

Dereham, also known as East Dereham, is a town and civil parish in the Breckland District of the English county of Norfolk. It is situated on the A47 road, about 15 miles (25 km) west of the city of Norwich and 25 miles (40 km) east of King's Lynn.

The civil parish has an area of 21.51 km2 (8.31 sq mi) and, in the 2001 census, had a population of 15,659 in 6,941 households; the population at the 2011 census increased to 18,609. Dereham falls within, and is the centre of administration for, Breckland District Council. The town should not be confused with the Norfolk village of West Dereham, which lies about 25 miles (40 km) away.

Since 1983, Dereham has been twinned with the town of Rüthen in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is also twinned with Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf, France. In spite of the reunification of Germany in 1990, the sign on the A47 at the entrance to Dereham from the Swaffham direction still refers to Rüthen being in West Germany; this sparks periodic comment in the local press.


East Derehammap 1946
A map of Dereham from 1946

Early history

A Neolithic polished greenstone axe head was found near the town in 1986, with a Neolithic axe head, flint scraper and other tools and worked flints also found in local fields during the 1980s. There is evidence that the area was occupied during the Bronze Age, with burnt flints from a pot boiler site being found in 1976 and another burnt mound site located in 1987.

In 2000, an enamelled bridle bit dating from the Iron Age was discovered, with pottery sherds also being found by field walkers in 1983. The town is believed to be on the Roman Road linking the Brampton with the major east-west Roman Road of the Fen Causeway. Some pottery and furniture remains have been found in local fields.

It is believed that Dereham's name derives from a deer park that existed in the area, although it is known that the town pre-dates the Saxon era. Saint Wihtburh, the youngest daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles, founded a monastery there in the seventh century after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary; the monastery is mentioned by Bede, but little further is known of it.

Edmund Bonner, later to become the infamous "burning bishop", was the Rector for Dereham from 1534 to 1538. Many of the town's ancient buildings were destroyed in the serious fires that took place in 1581 and 1659. Notable buildings that survived the fire include the Church of Saint Nicholas' and the nearby Bishop Bonner's cottage. Dereham was administered by the Abbots, then the Bishops of Ely, until the parish was taken from the church by Queen Elizabeth I.

Napoleonic Conflict

In the late 1700s Dereham church's bell tower was used as a prison for French prisoners of war being transferred from Great Yarmouth to Norman Cross under the charge of the East Norfolk Militia. On 6 October 1799 a French officer, Jean de Narde, managed to escape from the tower and, being unable to escape from the church yard due to guards being present, hid in a tree. The Frenchman was spotted and shot when he refused to come down and surrender. Jean is buried in the church yard, and his grave is marked by a memorial stone erected in 1858, which includes the following statement: "Once our foes but now our allies and brethren."

Dereham Rifle Volunteer Corps

In June 1859 a public meeting was held in the Corn Hall, Dereham, for the formation of a Dereham Rifle Volunteer Corps. The Reverend Armstrong made a short speech urging people to join. About thirty men did, the eldest an elderly fat banker of 70 years, and the youngest a seventeen-year-old. They were kitted out in a grey uniform. The Corps met regularly for drill and exercise. When the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Queen of Denmark arrived at the town's railway station, the Dereham Rifles attended to form a guard of honour.

Wm. Earle G. Lytton Bulwer, formerly a Lieutenant and Captain in the Scots Fusilier Guards was commanding the Dereham Corps in 1861. In June 1867 the Corps, recorded as the 15th Corps, attended a Volunteer encampment at Hunstanton. The unit was at that time still under the command of Captain Bulwer and formed the tenth tent line. Dereham was the headquarters of 5th, 6th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 23rd and 24th Corps. The Right Hon. Lord Suffield was appointed Honorary Colonel on 18 May 1866.

First World War

Dereham suffered damage during a Zeppelin air raid during the night of 8 September 1915. Damaged buildings included the headquarters of the 5th Territorial Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment on the corner of Church Street and Quebec Street. The old Vicarage was used as a Red Cross hospital.

World War Two

During the Second World War Dereham was declared a Nodal Point and was partially fortified to slow down any German invasion of the country. One surviving pill box, in the railway station yard, is preserved as a memorial by the Royal British Legion. Additional Air Ministry sidings were laid in the town 1943.


The railway arrived in Dereham when a single track line to Wymondham opened in 1847. In 1848 a second line, to King's Lynn was opened. In 1849 a line from Dereham to Fakenham was opened, this line being extended to the coastal town of Wells-On-Sea by 1857. In 1862 the town's railways became part of the Great Eastern Railway. The town had its own railway depot and a large complex of sidings, serving local industry. In 1882 the line between Dereham and Wymondham was doubled, to allow for the increasing levels of traffic.

In 1964 passenger services between Dereham and Wells were withdrawn, and the track between Fakenham and Wells was lifted soon after. In 1965 the line from Dereham to Wymondham was returned to single track, with a passing loop at Hardingham. The line to King's Lynn was closed in 1968, and the last passenger train on the Dereham to Wymondham line ran in 1969 although the railway remained open for freight until 1989.

Dereham labels itself "The Heart of Norfolk" due to its central location in the county, the Tesco car park being cited as the exact centre. In the spring of 1978, the "Heart" was given the seven-mile £5m part-dual-carriageway A47 bypass. A section of this road, between Scarning and Wendling was built along the former railway line towards Swaffham and King's Lynn. This section of railway had been used as a location for the filming of Dad's Army, where Captain Mainwaring is left dangling from a railway bridge after a flight on a barrage balloon.

The railway between Dereham and Wymondham has been preserved, and is now operated as a tourist line by the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust. This charitable company also owns the line north towards County School railway station, it has started to gradually reopen the line towards North Elmham and aims to eventually relay the line to Fakenham.

Saint Withburga

The town lies on the site of a monastery founded by Saint Withburga in the seventh century. A holy well at the western end of St Nicholas' Church supposedly began to flow when her body was stolen from the town by monks from Ely, who took the remains back to their town.

In the 18th century an attempt was made to turn Dereham into a new Buxton or Bath by building a bath house over Withburga's Well. It was described at the time as a hideous building of brick and plaster and was never popular. In 1880 the local vicar, Reverend Benjamin Armstrong obtained permission to pull the building down. The spring was then protected by iron railings, but fell out of use and became choked with weeds. Since 1950, however, it has been kept clear of weeds—although the railings still prevent access to the waters.

Despite the presence of the well and the former monastery, examination of the Withburga story has cast doubt on Dereham being the location of the Saint's abode and resting place. The legend states that monks from Ely came 'up the river' at night and stole her body, taking it back to Ely to rest with her sisters, who were already considered saints. A look at a map will prove this to be an impossibility as there is no river connecting Ely with East Dereham, although it is possible to navigate a river from Ely to West Dereham. Until proved otherwise, Dereham continues to be considered the site of Withburga's home and violated grave.

Sport and leisure

An area of former railway and industrial land close to the town's station now serves as the location for a number of sports and leisure facilities. The Dereham Leisure Centre, built on the old railway locomotive depot, has a swimming pool, gym, dance and sports facilities. Open air tennis courts, children's play equipment and a skate park are provided on the nearby Dereham recreation Ground. Strikes also operate a 10-pin bowling alley on the site.

Dereham has a Non-League football club Dereham Town F.C. who play at Aldiss Park. The club currently plays in the Isthmian League North Division.

Dereham Town FC is home to Dereham Education and Soccer Academy (DESA), a partnership between Northgate High School, Dereham Sixth Form College and Dereham Town Football Club. The programme allows students to follow a Level 3 BTEC in Sport alongside A levels and/or GCSE Maths and English retakes while also being part of a football academy. Graduates of DESA include Cambridge United midfielder Luke Hannant and Peterborough United left-back Frazer Blake-Tracy.

Dereham Rugby Club, based on Moorgate Road, play in the Woodfordes League.

Dereham Cricket Club was formed in 1856. It plays home games at its ground on Norwich Road. Dereham Hockey Club is based nearby on Greenfield Road.

East Dereham, UK
East Dereham, showing the two towers of St Nicholas's Church. The left tower is the belltower.

In August each year, Dereham hosts a 5K race on a 2-lap course around the town. The race is organised by Dereham Runners. The first race was held in 2011.

Dereham featured on the 2012 Tour of Britain cycle race route during the first stage from Ipswich to the Norfolk Showground. The race entered the town from the Swanton Morley direction passing along Theatre Street, the Market Place and Norwich Street before leaving town via Norwich Road and heading towards Mattishall.

Neatherd Moor is an Urban Greenspace to the north east of the town. It was designated as a County Wildlife Site in 2013. Historically, the moor was used for grazing and sourcing raw materials until the early 1800s. Today it is used by walkers and joggers and has a modern children's play area.

A further large open space is Dereham Rush Meadow, a 22.2-hectare (55-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest to the north-west of the town.

In 2005 Dereham gained a new £2,000,000 library. The building is spread over two floors and features a sedum roof over a single storey area of the ground floor. The library is the second most used in Norfolk, after the Millennium Library in Norwich.

Dereham has a three-screen cinema housed in the former Corn Exchange building. The building also hosts a nightclub called Metro. The building has had many incarnations including as a music venue in the 1960s when a range of top bands played there. These included Small Faces, Cream, Pink Floyd, The Jeff Beck Group and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Youth and community provision


Nursery and pre-school

  • Magic Tree Day Nursery
  • Scarning Pre-School
  • Toftwood Nursery Pre-School

Infant and junior schools

  • Dereham CE VA Infant School and Nursery
  • Dereham St. Nicholas Junior School
  • Grove House Nursery and Infant Community School
  • King's Park Infant School
  • Scarning Primary school
  • Toftwood Infant School

Secondary schools

  • Neatherd High School
  • Northgate High School

Sixth form college

  • Dereham Sixth Form College

Special School

Fred Nicholson School


Dereham has two active Scout Groups, both of which are part of The Scout Association. 1st Dereham is notable as one of the earliest Groups set up in the world, having been formed in 1908. In the past there was also a 3rd Dereham Scout Group.

Air Training Corps

The town is the home of 1249 Squadron, Air Training Corps, who parade at the Cadet Centre on Norwich Road.

Army Cadet Force

The Army Cadets also parade at the Cadet Centre on Norwich Road.


Notable buildings in the town include the pargetted Bishop Bonner's Cottage, built in 1502, the Norman parish church, a windmill which was extensively renovated in 2013 and a large mushroom-shaped water tower. The Gressenhall Museum of Rural Life is nearby. The town also hosts the headquarters of the Mid-Norfolk Railway, which runs trains over an 11.5-mile railway south to Wymondham, as well as owning the line 6 miles north to North Elmham and County School Station.

Twin towns

  • France Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf, France
  • Germany Rüthen, Germany


Dereham is a busy market town serving local residents and a wide rural area. The town has a market on Tuesdays and Fridays selling a range of food and household items. The town's shops are a mixture of local independent businesses and national chains. The Market Place and the High Street were the traditional shopping areas but in 2005 a new shopping area was created called Wright's Walk which is mainly occupied by national chains.

A second phase of development at Wright's Walk was envisaged but this has never been started. Instead the land earmarked for this development will now be used to create a pocket park offering a tranquil public meeting space, a community garden and a performance area. Funding for the park will come from a £15,000 grant from the Pocket Park Fund - part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and an equal sum from Breckland Council and the work is due to go ahead in 2020.


Roads and paths

The A47 road from Lowestoft to Birmingham once ran through the centre of the town. The 7 mile (11.3 km) £5 million part-dual-carriageway East Dereham Bypass was built on part of the disused railway line to King's Lynn, opening in spring 1978. The single-track B1135 runs southwards toward Wymondham, the B1146 connects it northwards to Fakenham, and the A1075 connects the town to Watton and Thetford.

A footpath from the town links with the Wensum Way at Gressenhall. This links to the Marriott's Way long-distance path to Norwich and Wroxham, and the Nar Valley Way to King's Lynn.

National Cycle Route 13 runs through Dereham, joining with National Cycle Route 1 north of the town.


Frequent bus services operate from Dereham to Norwich, Peterborough, and less frequent services are provided for several local villages. Dereham doesn't have a bus station, with most services operating through the marketplace. National Express operate a direct coach service between Dereham and London's Victoria Coach Station.


Flying Scotsman at Dereham
The Flying Scotsman at Dereham station on the Mid-Norfolk Railway

There is presently no regular service between Dereham and Norwich, but the section of railway between Wymondham, Dereham and County School, described earlier in the History section, has been preserved and is now operated between Wymondham and Worthing as a tourist line by the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust. This charitable company is gradually reopening the line through North Elmham and supports the restoration of the line to Fakenham. As well as running heritage trains, the MNR also runs special attractions such as the Polar Express Train Ride every winter and operate non-passenger services in support of mainline companies.

Although no scheduled services operate between Dereham and the rest of the national network, in June 2009 the Association of Train Operating Companies published a document (Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network) calling for the restoration of services on a variety of former branch lines, including the Dereham branch. This £30m proposal would see regular services restored between Dereham and Norwich, operated subject to agreement with the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust.

In 2020, the railway announced that they had, in association with partner organisations including Greater Anglia, Norfolk County Council, Breckland District Council and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, bid for funding for a feasibility study into reopening the line for regular commuter services over their route. The plans to restore the line, and potentially extend it to Fakenham in time, have been backed by the George Freeman, MP for Mid-Norfolk. In June 2021, an unsuccessful funding bid was submitted as part of the second round of the Restoring Your Railway fund. A bid was re-submitted for the third round

Notable people

Cowper Church Sunday School, East Dereham - - 528937
Cowper Church Sunday School, Dereham.

Notable people born in or associated with the town include:

  • Thomas Eastoe Abbott poet,
  • Brian Aldiss novelist,
  • Chris Baker (high jumper),
  • Michael Barton (cricketer),
  • George Borrow author,
  • Bruce Bursford cyclist,
  • Todd Cantwell footballer,
  • Frederick Codd architect,
  • Harry Cripps footballer,
  • Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe priest and entertainer,
  • Sir John Fenn, antiquarian
  • Lady Ellenor Fenn, author,
  • David Nicholls (cricketer), cricketer
  • Beth Orton, singer,
  • James Phillippo, abolitionist,
  • George Skipper, architect,
  • Freddie Steward, Rugby Union player
  • Ken Thorne, composer
  • Matthew Vassar American brewer, merchant and philanthropist,
  • William Hyde Wollaston scientist.
  • Henri Chopin avant-garde poet and musician lived out his later years and died in Dereham,
  • William Cowper poet, died in Dereham, and is buried in St Nicholas's Church, where there is a commemorative stained glass window,
  • David Fisher (writer), Dr Who scriptwriter lived in Dereham from 2001.
  • Stephen Fry Comedian and Actor married his partner Elliot Spencer in the town on 17 January 2015.
  • Mick Gault English sport shooter and multi medal winner at the Commonwealth Games lives in Dereham,
  • Jim Mortram Social documentary photographer and writer is based in Dereham,
  • The Oldhall family held the manor in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: notable members of the family included Sir William Oldhall, Speaker of the House of Commons and his brother Edmund Oldhall, Bishop of Meath.
  • Jo Pitt, para-equestrian.
  • Chris Rankin actor, attended Northgate High School, Dereham.

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