Roman nude male figurine unearthed in Burgh. (Copyright Norfolk County Council. Illustration by S. White). Norfolk Heritage Explorer
About 1,800 years ago, it is likely that the southerly summer breeze in the morning would push a pall of smoke up the valley towards Burgh – hopefully this would have been a somewhat rare event.
The Roman settlement at Brampton – a small town site within a defensive ditch, which today is a gently rolling arable field, was a centre of industry. About 140 pottery kilns were located in sporadic archaeological digs from the1960s to the 1980s. It is thought that there are many more which have yet to be located.
The town was located near an important junction of Roman roads, an estuary with coastal access and a source of the clay raw material – all the constituent requirements for trade and industry. If you know where to look, shards of the utilitarian, rough grey, pottery can still be found. In one area, the probable location of a loading wharf for the flat-bottomed trading ships that plied their trade, the whole surface is scattered with the stuff.
Examples of the pottery have been found at sites in Hadrian’s Wall and along the east coast. Not surprisingly, quantities were unearthed at the recent excavations at Woodgate near Aylsham.
As with many settlements the larger houses were to be found upwind of the industrial site – farmsteads, the Roman “Manors” dotted the ridge of higher ground upon which modern Brampton sits today. It is likely that the pattern continued in Burgh – at least one villa site has been identified nearer the village. There have also been some artefacts found at Burgh; a nude male figurine, combs, razors, nails and the inevitable pottery sherds.
We can speculate that Roman life in Burgh was agrarian, domestic and settled. A boat could export grain from the farms to the coast along the same route that was used by the exporters of Brampton pottery – not a narrow river at that time, but a wide shallow estuary.
It is all difficult to imagine now, but the landforms have not really changed and even though the waters have been tamed, Roman Burgh and Brampton can be traced. The evidence is all around us.
Mark Little 2017