Ancient Monuments

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Medieval beacon on Bircham Common

A Scheduled Monument in Bircham, Norfolk

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.8509 / 52°51'3"N

Longitude: 0.6444 / 0°38'39"E

OS Eastings: 578159.779931

OS Northings: 331430.300001

OS Grid: TF781314

Mapcode National: GBR Q5K.7Q9

Mapcode Global: WHKPW.WL0S

Entry Name: Medieval beacon on Bircham Common

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 12 March 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020825

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30619

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Bircham

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: The Birchams and Bagthorpe

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

Details

The monument, which is prominently sited on former common land, commanding a
good view of the surrounding countryside, includes the remains of a circular
building identified as a medieval beacon. It is visible as a roughly circular
bank approximately 0.5m high, surrounding a circular central depression with a
diameter of about 4.85m.

The foundations of the building, which was formerly believed to be a Roman
watch tower, were cleared in the 19th century to a depth of 2ft (0.61m) and
are described in `Houghton and the Walpoles' by the Rev'd H J Broome,
published in 1865. According to this description the foundations, constructed
of flint masonry with evidence for an entrance on the south side, covered a
paved area measuring 17ft (5.18m) across. Modern records, which include a plan
give the overall diameter as 4.88m, and note that the walls are 0.51m thick.
The earlier record mentions bricks having been excavated from the site, and
these bricks have subsequently been identified as being of late medieval type.
The structure is now thought to have been a beacon, known as Tauft's Beacon,
which is referred to in state papers of 1625 relating to musters and beacons.
The masonry structure probably supported a platform on which a firebox would
have been mounted, although it may also have served as a shelter for the
beacon watch or a store for fuel.

Modern fence posts around the monument are excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Beacons were fires deliberately lit to give a warning, by means of smoke by
day and flame by night, of the approach of hostile forces. They were always
sited in prominent positions, usually as part of a group, chain or line which
together made up a comprehensive early warning system covering most of the
country.
Beacons were extensively used during the medieval period. Their use was
formalised by 1325 and although some were used later, for example at the time
of Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685 or during the Napoleonic wars, the system was
in decay by the mid-17th century.
Beacons were initially bonfires of wood or furze, but later barrels of pitch
or iron fire baskets mounted on poles were used. The poles were occasionally
set on earthen mounds. Access to the fire basket was by way of rungs set in
the pole, or by a stone ladder set against the beacon. More unusual beacon
types include stone enclosures and towers, mainly found in the north and south
west of England. Some beacon sites utilised existing buildings such as church
towers.
Beacons were built throughout England, with the greatest density along the
south coast and the border with Scotland. Although approximately 500 are
recorded nationally, few survive in the form of visible remains. Many sites
are only known from place-name evidence. Given the rarity of recorded
examples, all positively identified beacons with significant surviving
archaeological remains are considered to be of national importance.

The remains of the medieval beacon on Bircham Common provide a good example of
the structure and ground plan of one of the more substantial types of beacon
from this period. A position on high ground, still clearly visible from the
surrounding countryside, illustrates its function as a signalling device. The
monument will retain archaeological information on the date of the
construction of the beacon and details of its structure, whilst the historical
record which enables its identification as Tauft's Beacon, gives it additional
interest.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Broome, H J, Houghton and the Walpoles, (1865)
Other
Copy in Norfolk SMR, Circular Foundation - Bircham Common,
Paterson, H, SAM NF 274; Ancient Monuments Record Form, (1985)
Quoted in NMR and Norfolk SMR, Clarke, R R, Notes, (1950)

Source: Historic England

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