About Harleston

harleston ancient market town

Welcome to Norfolk Heritage Explorations – Harleston

Harleston is an ancient market town situated at the southern tip of Norfolk. The town was originally established near an important bridging point on the river Waveney, which separates Harleston from the neighbouring county of Suffolk. Much of what we refer to as Harleston is in fact, for civil and parochial purposes, Redenhall. The parish church is in Redenhall.

The Domesday Book recorded the town as Heroluestuna, probably derived from Herolf’s town. Herolf was a Danish soldier who came to the area with King Sweyn of Denmark when Vikings successfully invaded the area. In its earliest days, Harleston was nothing more than a collection of market stalls and traders in a small area which is now enclosed by the market place, Thoroughfare and Broad Street. The market prospered, houses replaced the stalls, and the town grew. As lords of the manor of Harleston, the earls of Norfolk realised the potential of its location, and in 1259 obtained the right to hold a fair and a chartered market. By 1800, the Wednesday cattle market was said to be the biggest in Norfolk.

The town has always benefited from its geographical location, which in the past enabled it to take advantage of coaching companies and cattle drovers. During two world wars, the influx of thousands of servicemen also contributed greatly to the town’s economy – especially the publicans’! However, the commercial base of Harleston has always been, and still is, provided by the town traders.

In a vibrant community, nothing ever stays the same, and Harleston is no exception. Shops cease trading and always new shopkeepers arrive ready to take up the challenge, bringing with them interesting and different merchandise, keeping up the tradition that Harleston is able to provide a wide variety of goods and services.

Much has been done, both by the council and the now very active Development Partnership, to bring new ideas, improved facilities and generally to create interest in, and for, the town. An annual festival (www.harlestonandwaveneyfestival.co.uk) is in its fourth year and going strong, the theme for 2005 is heritage. The farmer’s market is also increasing in popularity and has established itself in the commercial calendar of the town. A Tourist and Information centre opened in Exchange Street in 2004 and the Corn Exchange has recently reopened commercially. There is also a small museum.

Thanks to the Development Partnership, broadband internet access has arrived for the computer users of the area. Additionally, there is a new Audio Heritage Trail; Harleston is the first Norfolk town to have this visitor amenity. Plans are afoot to build more new homes, and although this may well increase the proportion of newcomers in Harleston, it will hopefully ensure a sufficiently large customer base to support local commerce.

The council, Development Partnership and other interested groups, are all striving to ensure that Harleston continues to be the lovely old market town that its residents, old and new, have come to love. We hope that through this web page you will learn something of the heritage of our town.


Harleston – Coaching Inns

This section looks at a significant building in the area owned by John Munnings: the Syleham Mill, which manufactured drabbet. This mill burned down, causing the death of fireman Robert Pipe. His life and heroism are the subject of a separate article in the file gallery.
• Syleham
• John Munnings