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A pagan, Viking gargoyle, St. Andrews Church, which may have a significant association with the early naming of Thursford.


































































Thursford and the river ‘Thur’

Approach anyone in the street and ask about the origins of a place name ending in ‘–ford’ and the answer is bound to be “Oh, it must be a place with a ford over a river”; and so it is for many places in Britain. Rivers were and still are obstacles to get over or get around. Rivers and river crossings were significant enough to be

  1. of military importance historically,
  2. part of a transport network,
  3. a source of energy for civil engineering projects,
  4. a source of water for drinking and irrigation,
  5. places for communal washing,
  6. for grinding corn, etc.

.... to name but a few of the more obvious ones.

I moved to Thursford in July 2007 and was immediately directed to a book by “Steam at Thursford” by George Cushing, as a book I should read to learn about the recent history of Thursford. True enough, George was very knowledgeable about the Thursford Hall Estate and its demise and eventual sale in 1918. George was by trade a driver of steam engines and many of the lanes around Thursford were kept in good condition for horse-drawn carts and early vehicles using solid rubber tyres. He describes with great passion how  steam-rollers worked the lanes, pounding in aggregate to prepare a surface. The narrow width of 9 feet still reflects the width of the steam-roller’s roller as it created a slightly ridged surface to allow water to run off.

In addition to details of his memories of life in Thursford between the Wars and his historical notes about the Hall, from Kettle to Chad, George describes how the name of this village evolved. He refers to it once being called Tursford and then more recently Thursford. It is easy to imagine then a river Tur or Thur. Whilst describing how as a boy he often swam in the local river, he gives no location details. It was here that I started my quest. Where was this river Tur or Thur? Ordinance Survey maps, right back to the first of the County in the early 1900’s did not identify it. The rivers Stiffkey and Wensum are shown, of course. George and even earlier authors (Rye,1923, White 1845 and even Blomefield 1808) refer to the fact that Thursford is on a river, but I could not identify it. It could, of course, have been a minor tributary of the Stiffkey, a river we now know as the main drainage river from the area. There is a stream running behind Thursford Hall and a stream running across the Walsingham Road, but I found no names for these.

Whilst the one across the Walsingham road looked a promising ‘ford’, the village of Thursford was once located close to St. Andrews Church. So the stream running through Icehouse Plantation is a possible candidate too.
The Domesday book has the village named as Turesfort, which might have come from the old English Thyrs-ford, which was possibly a Norman name. Before then Norfolk had been invaded by various tribes including Angles, Saxons, Romans, Vikings and then Normans (essentially all Vikings) there is no escaping the Viking origin for many villages in Norfolk. Turesfort or Thyrs-ford implied association with a Giant or demon. Now, there have been recorded stories about giants or demons under a river bridge and St. Andrews does bear several pagan creatures, copied by the Victorians when the church was altered by the Chad family (previous owners of Thursford Hall). Whilst modern looking, there is every reason to suspect that they were faithfully copied by the Victorian architects from images on an older wall.
After much searching, the name Turesfort does establish a Viking/Norman origin. However, keep the prefix Thyrs- in your head for a moment. It was to Walter Rye that I next turned for reasoned explanation. In the early 1900’s he wrote many papers on the origins of Norfolk names. He prepared lists of hundreds of villages and places with a Scandinavian origin. Even my earlier interest in the name Balls, turns out to be a Viking name. In 1923 Rye acknowledged that many rivers were named after villages or towns at the point where they entered the sea. He lists the Stiffkey as one of those. He also suggests that the Thur was on the river Stiffkey as a small tributary. He presented evidence that village names were adapted from names back in Scandinavia, and the Romans later adapted these by keeping the first part of the name and changing the second part. So, -forth, -borg or –holme (Viking endings) became –ford, or -brig or –ham (In Roman Norfolk). So, the village might have been Thursforth in Viking times. Then the Romans changed it to Thursford. In 1086 it returned to Turesfort after the Norman Invasion. George Cushing proposed the original name of Tursford from antiquity. Tursford become Thursford again.

Finally, after being unable to find further confirmation, I went to Norfolk Record Office and asked to see some ancestral maps of this area. I was hoping to find the river Thur of course. Instead, what I found excited me.
The following ideas are mine and must be carefully looked at by someone more knowledgeable than I. Hopefully, one day, this will all become clear. The earliest o.s. map is early 20th. Century. However, there are maps of Norfolk dating back to the 16th. Century. I discovered a book, ‘Printed Maps of Norfolk 1574-1840’ by Raymund Frostick. It was immediately obvious that the book was highly prized as I was being supervised during my search. Maps of this age are very expensive to purchase and much prized. Priced in their thousands of pounds, they are difficult to access. This book had copies of these maps but only A5 size. I went to the earliest, dated 1574, a map drawn up by Christopher Saxton. I then worked my way through to Fadens map of 1797 (a copy of which I have) and then to the 19th. Century maps.
What I discovered was a history of Norfolk topographical discovery. Gradually, each map showed improvements over the previous one, as river systems were better understood and towns and villages discovered. What was clear, was that the River Stiffkey was largely unsurveyed in the 16th. Century. It wasn’t shown coming down to Thursford. But what was exciting was the river we know as the Bure; named by the Celts as the Ber, and drawn reaching over north of Fakenham. This river was drawn in addition to the river we now know as the Wensum. However, it was the name of the river that made my leap from my seat. In 1574 it was called the ‘Thyrn’ or ‘Thyrn flu’. In 1622 the river was called the Thrin or Thrin flu (map by Michael Drayton) The Yare and the Wensum also had earlier names, before being called the Wensum.

This proved to me that rivers had changed their names and that it could be argued that before 1574 people might have thought that the river through here was called the Thyrn. This might also tie up somewhere with the origins of Turesfort and the old English Thyrnsfort. As I continued through the book, it was a map dated 1840 that finally provided the evidence I needed. The Bure was labelled as the ‘Bure or Thyrn’. In modern maps, the Bure now runs more to the North of the County and the Thyrn is a tributary of it, but nowhere near Thursford. Clearly, names for rivers changed as freely as did those of places as conquerers renamed their possessions and river systems improved as people surveyed them more accurately. The river Stiffkey was well drawn by 1784 and clearly flows from Thursford. Is it possible that people earlier than the 11 th. Century called their local “stream” the Thyrn. Were they also unaware that it flowed out to the sea at Stiffkey and not Great Yarmouth. I feel this is as close as I am going to get to the truth. Having frightened the librarian in the NRO library by leaping out of my seat, I will now seek verification of these latest facts. It doesn’t, of course, change the ideas about Thursford being a village on the river Thur, as we know it, but it does explain a lot about how village names are derived through time. What do you think? Still to be argued is the Viking mystery about Giants and Demons, but then Vikings loved their Mythology. Many “Thor’s hammers” have been discovered in the area in archaeological digs and Thursford still hasn’t escaped from the possible name of Thorsforth either, in honour of one of their gods.

Note: As with so much research discovering the definive answer to the origins of the name Thursford is still work in progress. If you have information or your own views, contact Nigel and we'll keep the issue live and updated.

The river Yare was once called the river Winsder between Fakenham and Norwich(1747).
In 1744 the Yare named from Yarmouth right back to Fakenham.
In 1748 the Bure is the river Thyrn.
In 1776 the Bure is the river Thurn. In 1753 and 1763 the Bure is the river Thrin.
In 1830 the Bure was called the ‘Bure or the Thyrn’.
River names change with time and old names like the Thryn, Thrin or Thurn keep re-appearing even through the 19th. Century. It has been put to me that these might be errors created by the map makers. Could it be that these names were used by people on the ground? Today, we know the Stiffkey drains water from this area. Is it possible in the past that people thought the water drained out to Great Yarmouth? Yarmouth was a Viking Stronghold. Does that have any bearing on the naming of river systems draining in to that area?

Author: Nigel Jenkinson
Thursford Village Archive.