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Today Coltishall is one of the nicest villages on the Norfolk Broads – but not even its greatest fan would call it a town. However, visitors in Victorian times had no hesitation in describing it as such. "A small town on the high road between Norwich and North Walsham," as one trade directory put it.

Coltishall's growth in the 19th century certainly owed something to its position on a main road. Rather more important was its place on the River Bure, an important trade route between Aylsham and Great Yarmouth. The arrival of the railway in 1879 was another boost. Coltishall found itself well connected at a time when demand for the goods and services it produced was rising.

The brewing industry was very important to the village. Coltishall had a medium sized brewery but it mostly specialised in malting - the process of turning barley into malt. It was, according to a history of the national brewing industry, "a famed malting centre" supplying leading brewers such as Truman's and Guinness. Sailing barges called wherries brought barley to more than a dozen malthouses in the village. The largest were in Anchor Street, White Lion Road, next to the Rising Sun and near the Salvation Army meeting hall. The finished malt was then taken by wherry or railway to breweries as far afield as London. 
This cluster of malthouses created plenty of employment and stimulated other industries, most notably boat building. Coltishall is reputed to have been the birthplace of the wherry. Norfolk keels - the forerunner of the wherry - are believed to have been built in Anchor Street, and it is there that the yards established themselves. From the 1860s an average of one new wherry each year was launched in Coltishall. The leading yard was that run by the Allen family. Coltishall wherries were built for the narrower waters of the rivers Ant and Bure, so they were smaller and faster than those made elsewhere for the larger rivers. The last trading wherry built in Norfolk was launched in Coltishall in 1912.

Supporting these industries were plenty of craftsmen. In the 1880s Coltishall had four blacksmiths as well as shoemakers, thatchers, basketmakers, wheelwrights, malt shovel makers and harness-makers. There were nine pubs, a cottage hospital, four churches, even a volunteer fire brigade. Cattle markets were held once a week beside the railway station.

Coltishall's involvement in commerce goes back a long way. The Romans had a settlement here in the area now known as Church Close. They used the river to trade between larger settlements at Burgh-next-Aylsham and Burgh Castle. The Anglo-Saxons lived here. The Anglo-Saxon family names of Coc and Coker have been linked to the village which appeared as Cokereshala and Coketeshala in the Domesday Book. The village was later known as Cowteshale, Coltsale, Coultsale, Couteshall and Coulteshall before settling down to its present spelling in the 17th Century.

In 1231 Henry III granted a charter to Coltishall, conferring certain privileges on its inhabitants. It effectively released villagers from the bonds of serfdom. The historian Blomefield regarded the charter as a great honour, but was at a loss to explain why Coltishall should have been singled out for such special attention. 


The Parish Council wish to thank the author Richard Bond for this article, originally published in the 2010 Parish Plan. Richard’s Book  'Coltishall - Heyday of a Broadland Village’ (out of print) by Poppyland Publishing has much more information on Coltishall and Great Hautbois

St John the Baptist Church in Coltishall
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