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Burgh Castle Roman fort, vicus, pre-Conquest monastery and Norman motte and bailey castle

A Scheduled Monument in Burgh Castle, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.5827 / 52°34'57"N

Longitude: 1.6538 / 1°39'13"E

OS Eastings: 647625.067082

OS Northings: 304592.907637

OS Grid: TG476045

Mapcode National: GBR YRF.4XW

Mapcode Global: WHNW4.CBRW

Entry Name: Burgh Castle Roman fort, vicus, pre-Conquest monastery and Norman motte and bailey castle

Scheduled Date: 25 October 1921

Last Amended: 26 April 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013094

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21388

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Burgh Castle

Built-Up Area: Belton

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Burgh Castle St Peter and St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


Burgh Castle Roman fort is located at the north western edge of the
Lothingland peninsula, on a low cliff above the east bank of the estuary of
the River Waveney which, during the Roman period, was part of a much greater
estuary extending northwards as far as Caister-on-Sea and up to 12km inland
from the modern coastline. The monument includes the fort, still defined on
three sides by standing walls, the remains of a vicus (an extramural civilian
settlement) which are known to survive below the ground surface to the north,
south and east of the fort, and a Roman and pagan Saxon cemetery adjacent to
the fort on the east side. Burgh Castle has also been identified as the
probable site of a pre-Conquest monastery founded in the seventh century AD,
and subsequent occupation is represented by the remains of a late 11th century
or early 12th century motte and bailey castle which was constructed within the
surviving walls of the fort.
The Roman fort is generally identified as Gariannonum, listed in the Notitia
Dignitatum (an official list of government appointments compiled originally in
the late fourth century AD) as one of the garrisons under the overall command
of the Count of the Saxon Shore. Limited excavations carried out by Harrod in
the 1850s and by Charles Green in 1958-61 have clarified some details of the
standing structures and shown that evidence relating to the occupation of the
interior survives below the ground surface in deposits up to c.0.8m deep.
The fort is trapezoidal in plan with rounded angles, and has maximum internal
dimensions of c.205m NNW-SSE by 100m WNW-ESE. The original walls on the
north and east sides and along much of the south side remain largely intact,
standing to a height of c.4.6m and measuring up to 3m thick at the base,
although the inner faces of all three are stepped so as to give a tapering
profile. They are constructed with a core of mortared flint rubble and an
external and internal facing of knapped flint and tile or brick in alternating
bands, generally of four and three courses respectively. Much of this facing
has gone and very little of it, apart from the remains of the tile courses, is
visible on the interior side, although investigations of parts of the north
wall have shown that it is preserved there below the present ground level.
Against the outer face of the walls there are six solid bastions of
pear-shaped plan spaced symmetrically, two on the south wall, one each at the
north east and south east angles, one slipped from position on the north wall,
and one below the south wall where it has fallen, although it was recorded as
still standing in the later 18th century. All are or were bonded into the
walls at a height of 2.2m and above, although below this level they
abutted the wall with a straight joint. In the upper surface of each bastion
there is a socket c.0.6m in diameter, and the same in depth, which probably
held a support for a timber superstructure or fighting platform. There is a
central gate opening in the east wall, and excavations in 1850 and 1961 to
investigate a breach in the north wall confirmed that there are remains of a
postern gate immediately to the west of the bastion there. The west wall, is
believed to have stood parallel to the wall on the east side, along the edge
of a scarp c.6m above the level of the estuary marsh. Some or all of it had
collapsed before the Norman castle was constructed within the fort and nothing
of it is now visible, although fallen rubble, including masonry which was
probably part of the north west corner turret, has been observed in the sides
of a dyke below the scarp. Excavations at the western end of the north wall
uncovered a deep undercut where the fall of the corner turret had carried with
it a massive fragment of the adjoining masonry, and parts of the foundation of
the west wall were observed towards the northern end of the upper edge of the
scarp. At the base of the scarp are deeply buried wall footings and the
remains of timber piles, preserved in water-logged ground and thought to
be, perhaps, the remains of harbour works, which were recorded in a
series of small excavation trenches dug by Harrod.
Excavations in the interior of the fort, although restricted in scope and
confined to the north east and south west quadrants of the area, have
demonstrated that there are remains of buildings, probably relating to more
than one episode of construction, together with evidence for associated
intensive occupation. The recorded structures in the south western area
include the footings of a masonry building c.5m square abutting the inner face
of the south curtain wall of the fort towards its western end, with traces of
adjacent walls to the north east and slots for the uprights of a timber
building cut into the curtain wall immediately to the east. In the north
eastern area, part of another masonry structure, possibly an internal corner
turret, was observed in the angle of the curtain wall, and evidence recorded
for other buildings of timber and wattle and daub, both against the inner face
of the eastern wall and aligned parallel to it. Most of the material relating
to the associated occupation of the fort is dated to the fourth century AD,
but a hoard of glass vessels dated to the early fifth century, which were
found buried with the remains of a bronze bowl and an iron bound wooden
bucket, are evidence for activity continuing to the very end of the Roman
military occupation and after.
The field immediately to the east of the fort is identified as the site of a
Roman military cemetery attached to the fort, and the field remained in use as
a cremation cemetery during the subsequent early Saxon period. It is recorded
that in 1756 several urns were excavated at a depth of c.0.6m in this area, in
addition to many other finds of Roman and Saxon pottery and artefacts
discovered during ploughing. Most of the urns illustrated in the records are
identifiable as having been of pagan Saxon type.
Remains of the vicus associated with the fort have been identified in fields
to the north east and south east of the fort and include a series of ditches
which survive as buried features beneath the ploughsoil, defining systems of
streets, lanes or trackways and enclosures. To the east and south east, these
features have produced crop marks recorded in air photographs, and to the
north their survival has been demonstrated by small scale excavations.
Opposite the east wall of the fort and c.200m from it, the crop marks, which
cover an area of c.4.5ha, show parts of a rectilinear pattern of ditched
streets and lanes laid out on approximately the same alignment as the fort and
defining large rectangular enclosures. Within this larger grid are smaller
ditched enclosures which are considered to be house plots and yards bordering
the streets. The largest east-west street is aligned roughly on the
eastern gate of the fort and forms part of an access road. The second group of
crop marks, which is c.2.5ha in extent and located c.125m south east of the
fort, shows a somewhat different pattern of settlement. A roughly triangular
area measuring c.115m north-south by 112m east-west is defined by ditched
trackways c.5m-6m wide. Within the central area and around it, are groups
of small rectangular and sub-rectangular enclosures laid out in a regular
fashion along either side of the trackways. In both areas there is some
overlapping of the lines of the ditches, which suggests alterations in the
layout over a period of time, or else separate episodes of occupation. Small
scale excavations carried out c.260m north east of the fort, in the area of an
extension to the churchyard adjoining the Church of St Peter and St Paul, have
confirmed that settlement remains, dated to the late third and fourth
centuries AD, extend at least to the northern boundary of the field on that
side, preserved beneath c.1m of topsoil. Large numbers of finds of Roman
artefacts, dating from the late third and the fourth centuries AD, have been
recorded from the ploughsoil in all three fields.
The location of Burgh Castle fort corresponds to that in the description by
Bede of the `castle' within which the Irish St Fursey founded a monastery in
AD 633, on land given by King Sighebert of the East Angles, and the
excavations within the area of the fort discovered evidence, including
pottery, which confirms that it was occupied during a period between the mid
seventh and the ninth centuries AD. In the south western part of the fort an
inhumation cemetery was found, radiocarbon dated to between the sixth and the
tenth centuries, and traces of a large timber building with a clay floor
immediately to the south of the cemetery were identified as possibly the
remains of part of a church. Evidence for occupation of a similar date in the
north east corner included traces of several irregularly oval timber
structures with maximum dimensions of between 5m and 8m, as well as finds of
middle Saxon pottery.
The Norman motte occupied the south west quadrant of the fort, where it was
visible at one time as a large earthen mound encircled by a ditch. The mound
was partly removed c.1770 and completely levelled in 1839, and the ditch was
infilled, although it survives as a buried feature and has been recorded as a
crop mark enclosing an oval area measuring c.72m north-south by 53m east-west.
A section excavated across the ditch on the east side established that it is
c.4m deep and that the lowest levels of fill are waterlogged. On the south
east side a breach c.18m wide in the south curtain wall marks where the ditch
cuts through, and traces of the southern edge of the mound above the scarp of
the inner edge of the ditch remain visible against the outer side of the wall
to the west of the breach. Approximately a quarter of the area formerly
covered by the mound was also excavated and found to contain several large,
clay-filled pits, identified as foundations for part of a timber sub-structure
to support the tower, also of timber, which stood on top of the mound.
The remainder of the fort, to the north and east of the motte, was adapted
for use as the bailey of the castle. A north-south bank, remains of
which were observed in the excavations at the north west corner, is thought
to have been constructed at this time to block the gap on the western side
of the fort left by the collapse of the north end of the original Roman
wall on that side. The broken western end of the north wall was reinforced
by a large earthen mound heaped against its outer face up to 6m high above
the falling ground level to the north. Post-Conquest occupation of the
fort is confirmed by finds of 11th/12th century pottery.
Burgh Castle Roman fort is Listed Grade I and is in the care of the Secretary
of State.
All modern fences and gates are excluded from the scheduling, together with
information boards and their supports on the south side of the fort and the
surfaces of Church Loke to the east of the fort and the footpath at the
foot of the scarp to the west, although the ground beneath all these
features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Saxon Shore forts were heavily defended later Roman military installations
located exclusively in south east England. They were all constructed during
the third century AD, probably between c.AD 225 and AD 285. They were built to
provide protection against the sea-borne Saxon raiders who began to threaten
the coast towards the end of the second century AD, and all Saxon Shore forts
are situated on or very close to river estuaries or on the coast, between
the Wash and the Isle of Wight. Saxon Shore forts are also found on the
coasts of France and Belgium.
The most distinctive feature of Saxon Shore forts are their defences which
comprised massive stone walls, normally backed by an inner earth mound, and
wholly or partially surrounded by one or two ditches. Wall walks and parapets
originally crowned all walls, and the straight walls of all sites were
punctuated by corner and interval towers and/or projecting bastions. Unlike
other Roman military sites there is a lack of standardisation among Saxon
Shore forts in respect of size and design of component features, and they vary
in shape from square to polygonal or oval.
Recognition of this class of monument was partially due to the survival of a
fourth century AD Roman manuscript, the Notitia Dignitatum, which is a
handbook of the civil and military organisation of the Roman Empire. This
lists nine forts which were commanded by an officer who bore the title
'Officer of the Saxon Shore of Britain' (COMES LITORIS SAXONICI PER
Saxon Shore forts are rare nationally with a limited distribution. As one of a
small group of Roman military monuments which are important in representing
army strategy and government policy, Saxon Shore forts are of particular
significance to our understanding of the period and all examples are
considered to be of national importance.

The fort at Burgh Castle includes the best preserved and most impressive
standing Roman remains in Norfolk and is a very good example of a Saxon Shore
fort with an extensive associated vicus and cemetery. Excavations in the
interior of the fort, although limited in extent and scope, have demonstrated
that below the modern ploughsoil the monument retains a considerable depth of
undisturbed deposits containing archaeological evidence for a variety of
features, including buildings, relating to the occupation of the interior
during the Roman period. The survival in good condition of a large number of
features accompanied by contemporary artefacts relating to the vicus beyond
the walls of the fort has also been demonstrated by both crop marks and small
scale excavation. Such extramural remains associated with Saxon Shore forts
are rare survivals nationally, and will permit an understanding of the
function and character of these late Roman sites through a study of the
dependant communities which surrounded them. The evidence for subsequent
occupation of the site during the middle Saxon period, and the association of
that occupation with the historically documented monastery founded by St
Fursey, gives the monument much additional interest, as does the documented
and surviving evidence for the adaptation of the fort for use as a motte and
bailey castle in the period following the Norman Conquest.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bede, V, The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation
Frere, S S, St Joseph, J K S, Roman Britain from the Air, (1983), 81-83
Ives, J, Remarks upon Garianonum of the Romans, (1774)
Johnson, S, The Roman Forts of the Saxon Shore, (1976), 36-37
Johnson, S, The Roman Forts of the Saxon Shore, (1979)
Clarke, R R, 'Archaeol J' in Romano-Saxon pottery in East Anglia, , Vol. 106, (1949), 69-71
Harrod, H, 'Norfolk Archaeol' in Notice of excavations made at Burgh Castle, Suffolk, , Vol. 5, (1859), 146-60
Johnson, S, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in Burgh Castle: Excavations by Charles Green, 1958-61, (1983), 55-60
Johnson, S, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in Burgh Castle: Excavations by Charles Green, 1958-61, (1983)
Morris, A J, Hawkes, C F C, 'Archaeol J' in The Fort of the Saxon Shore at Burgh Castle, Suffolk, , Vol. 106, (1949), 66-9
Morris, A J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in The Saxon Shore Fort at Burgh Castle, , Vol. 24, (1947), 119
Morris, A J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in The Saxon Shore Fort at Burgh Castle, , Vol. 24, (1947), 118
Morris, A J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in The Saxon Shore Fort at Burgh Castle, , Vol. 24, (1947), 100-120
Raven, J J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Garianonum and the Count of the Saxon Shore, , Vol. 6, (1888), 345-60
10486, 13227, 17261: Great Yarmouth, Burgh Castle,
Aerial Archaeology Foundation, TG 4704/AER/-, (1982)
Edwards, D, TG 4704/ACP/AHU13; TG 4704/ABQ/AKX6, (1977)
Edwards, D, TG 4704/ADU/ARM11, (1981)
Edwards, D, TG 4704/AY/AFS 16, (1976)
Gurney, D, (1994)

Source: Historic England

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