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Dereham, also known historically as East Dereham, is a town and civil parish in the Englishmarker county of Norfolk. It is situated on the A47 road, some 15 miles (25 km) west of the city of Norwichmarker and 25 miles (40 km) east of King's Lynnmarker. The civil parish has an area of and in the 2001 census had a population of 15,659 in 6,941 households. For the purposes of local government, Dereham falls within, and is the centre of administration for, the district of Brecklandmarker.

Since 1983 Dereham has been twinned with the town of Rüthenmarker in North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, Germanymarker. It is also twinned with Caudebec-lès-Elbeufmarker - Francemarker


A map of Dereham from 1946

Early history

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 Withburga 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.

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.



The railway arrived in Dereham when a single track line to Wymondhammarker opened in 1847. In 1848 a second line, to King's Lynnmarker was opened. In 1849 a line from Dereham to Fakenhammarker was opened, this line being extended to the coastal town of Wells-On-Seamarker 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In 1964 passenger services between Dereham and Wells were withdrawn, and the track between Fakenham and Wells was lifted soon after.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 Hardinghammarker. 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 Tescomarker 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 Swaffhammarker and King's Lynnmarker. 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 Trustmarker. This charitable company also owns the line north towards County School railway stationmarker and aims to eventually relay the line to Fakenhammarker.

Name confusion

There is some confusion caused by the use or non use of the East in the town name, especially to "newcomers" to the town, who find the signs that mostly still state "East Dereham" rather misleading. The town should not be confused with the Norfolk village of West Derehammarker, which lies about 25 miles (40 km) away.

Famous people from Dereham

Cowper Church Sunday School, Dereham.
Famous people from the town include novelist Brian Aldiss, author George Borrow, footballer Harry Cripps, the antiquarian Sir John Fenn, Lady Ellenor Fenn, electronic musician Paul Madsen, Beth Orton and William Hyde Wollaston. It is also known as the place where William Cowper, the poet, died. Cowper is buried in St. Nicholas Church, where there is a commemorative stained glass window.

Saint Withburga

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

In the 18th century an attempt was made to turn Dereham into a new Buxtonmarker or Bathmarker 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.

Close examination of the Withburga story will 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 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.

Industry and employment

Dereham was the home to the "Jentique" Furniture Factory which made boxes for both instruments and bombs during the 2nd world war. Dereham was also the home to the "Metamec" clock factory. "Hobbies of Dereham" produced wooden fretwork models and toys which were popular in the days before moulded plastic. The Fruehauf trailer company was a major employer in the town for many decades. The town also boasted several large maltings. Almost all this large scale industry has drifted away since the 1980s.

Youth and community provision


Nursery & Pre-School

  • Toftwood Nursery Pre-School[62048]

Infant & Junior Schools

  • Scarning Primary school []
  • Grove House Nursery and Infant Community School [62049]
  • Dereham CE VA Infant School & Nursery [62050]
  • Dereham St. Nicholas Junior School [62051]
  • King's Park Infant School [62052]
  • Toftwood Infant School [62053]

Secondary Schools

Sixth Form College

  • Dereham Sixth Form College [62056]


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 Norfolk. 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 Bonners Cottage, built in 1502, the Norman parish church, a windmill and a large mushroom-shaped water tower. The Gressenhallmarker Museum of Rural Life is nearby. The town also hosts the headquarters of the Mid-Norfolk Railwaymarker, which runs trains over an 11.5 mile railway to Wymondham, as well as owning the line 6 miles north to North Elmhammarker and County School Stationmarker.


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