The Old Main Road

The old main road through Scarning has seen many changes over the years, and many different names. It has been a main route through central Norfolk for hundreds of years, once being called the Turnpike Road. In more recent years it was the A47 before Dereham and Scarning were bypassed in 1977. Then, f-for a few years, it was classified as a C road – the C470. A spate of accidents, due to the road not being gritted in icy weather, caused the road to be upgraded. It is the B1146 from Dereham, and along Draytonhall Lane to the A47. The remainder of the road westwards towards Wendling is “Dereham Road”, though many people still refer to the Old A47. Regardless of its name, the entire length of the road gets gritted fortunately though in icy weather.

During the late 1950s the A47 beside the church was deemed to be too narrow, so in 1957 the road was widened and straightened slightly. This involved rebuilding the retaining wall around the graveyard, but that also involved exhuming some of the graves to new locations in the churchyard. Imagine the uproar if such a scheme was suggested today, merely to widen a road!

The four photos below were taken by Eric Wright, showing the wall before and after the alterations in 1957, and are included by the kind permission of Ben Hewson, Eric’s grandson.

Turnpike Road

The following is an extract from DerehamHistory.Com

“… To mitigate this injustice the turnpike system was evolved.  Trusts were set up and appointed with powers to levy tolls from road users to be used for financing repairs. This required an Act of Parliament which, in respect of the Norwich-Swaffham turnpike, was passed in 1770.

Tollgates were set up at Etling Green, to the east of the town, and near the old gravel pit in Scarning to the west. There is an excellent chapter on the working of this system in Boston and Purdy’s “History of Dereham” and the following items augment their account.

Pikekeepers were initially appointed by the Trustees to collect the tolls, but human nature being what it is, before long some of the money was finding its way into the pikekeepers’ pockets. This led to the practice of ‘Letting the Gate’ or ‘Farming the Tolls’ for a fixed sum over a certain period, usually one or three years. This was regularised in an Act of 1773.  The Etling Gate was let in 1781 for £137 and the Scarning Gate for £166.

Turnpike Trustees in some cases provided milestones. The massive and uniform stones along the old A47 from Norwich to Swaffham come from this source, but only two remain in the Parish of Dereham, and these, and the tollgate cottage at Etling Green, are the only visual reminders of the Turnpike.

The Tollage at Etling Green has windows at either side, giving views of the road in both directions.  There is a gravestone in Dereham churchyard in memory of John Clarke, died 1827 aged 56, ‘many years the keeper of the Scarning Toll’.

Though the Scarning Gate stood less than a quarter mile, as the crow flies, from Dereham Parish Church, such are the peculiarities of the parish boundaries, that it actually was in Scarning. It stood near the bottom of Swaffham Hill.”

Map - 1797
Map - 1899


Norfolk has about 300 milestones and Scarning, being the largest village within Breckland, has not one, not two, but three milestones! – all at intervals along the Dereham Road.

From 1767, mileposts or milestones were compulsory on all turnpikes, not only to inform travellers of direction and distances but to help coaches keep to schedule and for charging when changing horses as coaching inns. The distances were also used to calculate postal charges before the uniform postal rate was introduced in 1804.

Scarning’s three milestones are located at the Spring Cottage layby, outside the former Black Horse pub and in the Beacon layby. All three milestones were lovingly restored in 2012 by Nigel Ford from Hardingham and his team of helpers, in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Pupils from Scarning School helped by painting the milestone in the Beacon layby.

You can read more about Nigel Ford’s hard work in the book “Moving Miles” by Nigel & Jennifer Ford, or emailing him –

The Shell petrol station, one of JJ Wright’s businesses, on Dereham Road, which became Euroview coach garage, and finally Kestrel Close.

Demolition of the Old Railway Bridge

Eric Wright used his cine camera to film the demolition of the old railway bridge to create the A47 bridge. There are two videos – Part One and Part Two

The first frames show Walter Wiggett, the crossing keeper opening the gates at Cordy’s Crossing (No.39 at 23m 37¼ch) in the 1960s. We then see a train passing over Scarning Arch on the last day of passenger services before scenes taken of demolishing the bridge in the 1970s. The bridge was No.2386 and was described as follows in the bridge register: Brick abutments, cast iron segmental arch, girders and cast iron plate floor with running timbers and open cast iron parapets. 29ft 10in span, 55ft 9in skew, 27ft 3in wide, 21ft 8in high.

The railway passed over the A47 trunk road. The arch was removed first on 11th April 1970, following impact from a lorry. The brick abutments remained in place until removed to make way for the Dereham A47 bypass in 1976. It is quite surprising that such an iconic bridge was so rarely photographed. The ornate cast-iron arches were replaced by a very dull concrete bridge. I doubt that many motorists will appreciate what used to exist here as they fly past.

The Health and Safety of the day is quite shocking compared to today’s standards with no protective equipment, working at height with no safety gear and dynamiting a bridge with the road beneath still open to traffic!

The current A47 bridge

“SCARNING BRIDGE BASHING  – As the last vehicles dash beneath, workmen prepare to knock down the cast-iron Railway bridge over the A47 at Scarning.

A Round-The-Clock bashing operation on Scarning Arch railway bridge began at about ten o’clock last night under floodlights. The demolition of the bridge, which has not carried rail traffic since the closure of the Dereham-to Lynn line, has been made urgent by the damage to the ironwork caused by a lorry. The A47 has been closed at this point until 6.30 a.m. on Tuesday so that the work can be carried out. The flow of traffic under the bridge slowly dried up as the diversions were brought into force at 6.30 last night. Two cranes, each carrying a 30-cwt. weight for bashing, were moved into position on the embankment at either side of the bridge and this involved getting one across the structure. Railway sleepers were used as a base for the tracks of the crane that crossed. Next, sleepers were spread over the road under the bridge and for about 12 feet on either side to protect the road surface from the falling debris. Erected in 1847, the bridge is of cast iron and was made at the Phoenix Foundry, Derby. It is something of a rarity, but there is another almost 1dcntical just outside Derby, British. Rail are doing the demolition with their own staff and they do not propose to take down the massive brickwork abutments on which the ironwork rests at this time. This is a disappointment to the people in the Podmore area of Scarning who thought that the obstruction that this brickwork makes to their view as they enter the A47 was to disappear.”

EDP 11th April 1970