Dating from Saxon times, Fakenham is an old market town on the River Wensum. Its name is thought to be derived from the ham or settlement of a Saxon named Facca. In the Domesday Book of 1086 the number of residents was numbered at about 150. Hempton with its priory was larger until the dissolution of the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII. Both competed for the Walsingham pilgrim trade. Fakenham was granted a charter market in 1250 and was visited by Edward 1st in 1301. John of Gaunt, the 1st Duke of Lancaster was the son of Edward 3rd and a younger brother of the Black Prince. He was the founder of the House of Lancaster, which ruled England until the War of the Roses. He was the largest landowner in England and was given the Manor of Fakenham in 1377 when he lost lands in France. Thus, Fakenham’s full name is Fakenham Lancaster.
There was a devastating fire in 1660, and, as ever, history repeated itself and there were further major fires in 1718 and 1738 so many of the major buildings in town are 18th century or later. Not to be outdone by the Georgian era, the 21st century also had a major conflagration with the Aldiss building overlooking the Market Place being razed to the ground by fire in 2014.
The roads out of Fakenham were some of the last to be turnpiked, the Toll Bar was near the Shell Garage on Wells Road. The town was revolutionised when the railway arrived in 1849.
Fakenham was an important agricultural centre and featured a Corn Exchange built in 1855 and the cattle market followed in 1857; for some years there was a separate pig market. Malting was also an important industry.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the town moved on and developed its biggest industry – the printing of books. The Miller family built up a substantial business, which, under Thomas, ended up supplying titles to many major London publishers. It closed in 1976 in the form of Cox & Wyman when modern printing methods made it obsolete; it had employed over 600 people. The old printing works buildings have now gone to be replaced by car parks and Argos but the newer printing buildings survive as Aldiss’s Superstore and Kinnerton’s Chocolate Factory. The town suffered from the consequent large number of lost jobs and this loss was further aggravated by the closure of the huge USAF base at Sculthorpe.
However, Fakenham is now thriving again, the Aldiss terrace has been rebuilt and is now open again, a number of new industries have arrived, in particular food manufacturers, and there is considerable employment on the Industrial Estates so the future is promising. The open air and covered markets are thriving, the monthly Farmer’s Market and Craft Sale goes from strength to strength and despite some shop closures (possibly under the adverse influence of internet shopping), the town has a large and diverse retail offer. It is fortunate to have many banks and building societies, banking has always been an important activity here starting with the Peckovers who merged with others to form Barclays Bank.