The fort beside the port
Burgh-next-Aylsham was once part of a thriving industrial centre beside a port with maritime links.
The village name comes from the Old English word “Burh”, meaning a fort. It is known there was a Roman settlement at neighbouring Brampton – a small town sited within a defensive ditch, which today is a gently rolling arable field but was then a bustling industrial centre and port with maritime links to the rest of the empire. It is thought that St Mary’s church stands near where the Roman fort guarded the route between Caister on the coast to the Norfolk Fens.
The area has been occupied since at least the Stone Age and, apart from the Roman occupation, there is evidence of an eighth century Saxon settlement on the field between Church Lane and The Street. It was held by a freewoman called Merwynn before 1066 and by the King after the Conquest. And a mile upstream was the moated site of Round Hill, a royal manor held from 1281 by Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward 1.
A walk round the village would retrace steps once taken by peasants who, in the 1381 revolt, attacked the manor house of William Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, in protest at Parliament capping wages to what they had been before the Black Death of 1348. By the mid-19th century, this walk would have taken you past the homes of the school mistress, a shoemaker, two shopkeepers (one who doubled as another shoemaker), a victualler who kept the Fighting Cocks pub, a blacksmith, who also sold beer, a wheelwright, a miller and, of course, a farmer.
All these services are no more thanks to the advent of the motor car. But the buildings remain.
Today, you can sense the ghosts of the old villagers as you walk around their old homes.
The Street – or the “spine” of the village – which runs in a straight line east of the river crossing, is lined with traditional red brick, Flemish gables, and flint houses as well as more modern additions.
The historic and listed buildings dotted about the village along with the site of the Saxon settlement make the place a natural conservation area.
Reminders of a grimmer past are also visible. The four second world war anti-tank concrete blocks on the west bank by the bridge; the granite war memorial at the cross roads; and the modern Reading Room (village hall ) which replaced the old wooden hut built after the first world war for the use of returning servicemen.
But it is the river that defines Burgh. In its time, the Bure was navigable from Aylsham to Great Yarmouth 31 miles away but it silted up over the years. In 1779, the Aylsham Navigation was opened between Coltishall and Aylsham. It came into its own during the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the late 18th and 19th centuries. The main traffic was agricultural produce and flour along with coal, timber, bricks and marl. At one time, up to 26 wherries traded along this section of the River Bure.
But it fell into decline after the arrival of the railways in Aylsham in the 19th century. It was still navigable through Burgh until 1912 when wherries would sail to the mill at Aylsham. Brampton itself had a staithe (landing place) and at least one wherry was based here. But it all ended after the disastrous great flood of August 1912.
Today, it is thriving once again. Downstream, it is probably the busiest river in Britain, as thousands of visitors on leisure boats each year discover the delights of the Broads.
Meanwhile, at Burgh, it laps lazily along, past the giant, evenly-spaced willow trees, and across the meadows nudging the swans up and down as it meanders gently to the faraway sea.