Archaeological evidence of people living in the Chedgrave area has been found dating back as far as the bronze age. Roman occupation is also evident from the aerial photographs of crop marks, as well as many discoveries of coins and jewellery.
The earliest church, sited on a sandy knoll near the River Chet was built by the Saxons and later and enhanced by the Normans after 1066. The village derives its name from Ceatta an early settler, and various changes in pronunciation of its name over time are recorded on the village sign.
The Domesday book completed in 1086 lists Chedgrave as being owned by Thored and Leofric with the church, two mills and 200 sheep. For many years the main route through the village used by travellers from Norwich to the coast was along what is now Pitts Lane and over the river via a ford to Pyes Mill on Loddon side.
The village remained small with the population still numbering only a few hundred during the first half of the 20th century. Major expansion came with the housing boom in the 1960s when the main village spread north beyond Hardley Road and Rectory Lane, thus more than doubling the population. Most of the village buildings therefore date from the 20th century, notable exceptions being the old Rectory, believed to have been built around a mediaeval hall house, Crossways farmhouse bearing the date 1669, which ceased to act as a farmhouse when the farm was closed shortly after the loss of the dairy herd to foot and mouth disease in 1952, and the bay window house next door to the White Horse, the oldest part of which is to be believed to date from the 16th century.
Chedgrave, like so many other villages, was largely self-sufficient until recent times. People remained close to home and many craftsmen traded from their own homes or workshops, many of which were rented or tied cottages belonging to the two major local landowners, the Beauchamp – Proctor family, who lived at Langley Hall, and the Gilberts of Chedgrave Manor. Until well into the 20th century most of the wealth and employment in the village came from farming and related industries. This included the growing and marketing of seeds by the Cannell family, whose headquarters was the complex of buildings between Norwich Road and Langley Road from 1904 until the business closed in 1969.
The river, once the life blood of the village and vital for the prosperity of the area, has over time changed its course. At the end of the 19th century it was dredged to enable wherries, the main carriers of the day on Norfolk Rivers, to bring coal, wood and other commodities into the wharves on each bank. They then went out with grain and seeds to Yarmouth and Norwich for distribution. After the demise of the wherry as a form of goods transport, the river opened to the holiday trade, and the growth of the tourist industry, now so important to the village, began.