Record Details

NHER Number:1776
Type of record:Monument
Name:Holkham Iron Age fort and possible Mesolithic to Neolithic occupation site

Summary

Holkham Camp is an irregular oval earthwork enclosure. It is located at the southern end of a sand and gravel spit which extends southwards from the coastal dunes known as Holkham Meals and is surrounded on three sides by a former tidal salt marsh). Although the site remains unexcavated, the morphology of the earthworks indicates that they were most likely constructed in the Late Bronze Age or Iron Age. Such enclosures, often called hillforts even when located in low-lying areas, are distinctive of this period in much of central and southern England and the Welsh Marshes but very few have been identified in Norfolk. Holkham Camp is one of three Iron Age enclosures in northwest Norfolk, only 8.5km north of a similar structure at South Creake (NHER 1910) and 7.75km northwest of a smaller multivallate enclosure at Wareham (NHER 1828). It is also one of two known forts which correspond to the description by the Roman historian Tacitus of a site where a Roman force, under the command of Ostorius Scapula, defeated a rebellious faction of the local tribe, the Iceni, in AD 47 (S10).
The earthworks at Holkham Camp enclose an area of approximately 2.5ha. On the west, the area is defined by a steep natural scarp above the marsh while on the north, east and south it is surrounded by an earthen bank and outer ditch. On the west and south there is also a smaller counterscarp bank. A gap in the banks on the south side is thought to mark an original entrance, and beyond the gap, to the south and east, are slight earthworks which probably represent the remains of an outwork protecting this entrance. Three other gaps through the inner bank on the east side are associated with overflow channels from three roughly circular, shallow ponds on the eastern side of the interior and are thought not to be original features. The three ponds, together with a fourth situated to the west of them, in the southern half of the interior, are also considered to be of later date.
Finds recovered from the surface of the site include Mesolithic flint blades; a number of potentially Neolithic worked flints; pottery sherds of possible Iron Age date and a single medieval pottery sherd. It has been suggested that the sandspit may have already been an upstanding feature during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and as this area has not been ploughed the worked flint of this date recovered from the interior of the camp may be in a primary context. This site, along with a slight mound yielding Mesolithic flint objects (NHER 1775) located to the south-west and other small 'islands' in the coastal marshes which may have been the focus of seasonal activity or occupation during these periods.

Images - none

Location

Grid Reference:TF 8743 4472
Map Sheet:TF84SE
Parish:HOLKHAM, NORTH NORFOLK, NORFOLK

Full description

HOLKHAM CAMP

Holkham Camp is an irregular oval earthwork enclosure. It is located at the southern end of a sand and gravel spit which extends southwards from the coastal dunes known as Holkham Meals and is surrounded on three sides by a former tidal salt marsh (S10). First described in 1698 (S1), the earthworks were visited by antiquarians who speculated that it was constructed to defend against the Danes (S10) or that it was a Roman camp (S3, S4). Although the site remains unexcavated, the morphology of the earthworks indicates that they were most likely constructed in the Late Bronze Age or Iron Age. These structures, often called hillforts even when located in low-lying areas, are distinctive of this period in much of central and southern England and the Welsh Marshes but very few have been identified in Norfolk. Holkham Camp is one of three Iron Age enclosures located in northwest Norfolk, only 8.5km north of a similar structure at South Creake (NHER 1910) and 7.75km northwest of a smaller multivallate enclosure at Wareham (NHER 1828). It is also one of two known forts which correspond to the description by the Roman historian Tacitus of a site where a Roman force, under the command of Ostorius Scapula, defeated a rebellious faction of the local tribe, the Iceni, in AD 47 (S10).
The earthworks at Holkham Camp enclose an area of approximately 2.5ha. On the west, the area is defined by a steep natural scarp above the marsh while on the north, east and south it is surrounded by an earthen bank and outer ditch. On the west and south there is also a smaller counterscarp bank. A gap in the banks on the south side is thought to mark an original entrance, and beyond the gap, to the south and east, are slight earthworks which probably represent the remains of an outwork protecting this entrance. Three other gaps through the inner bank on the east side are associated with overflow channels from three roughly circular, shallow ponds on the eastern side of the interior and are thought not to be original features. The three ponds, together with a fourth situated to the west of them, in the southern half of the interior, are also considered to be of later date (S10).
Finds recovered from the surface of the site include pottery sherds of possible Iron Age date, medieval pottery, and a variety of worked flint implements including Mesolithic and Neolithic tools. It has been suggested that the sandspit may have already been an upstanding feature during the Mesolithic and Neolithic period, and as this area has not been ploughed the worked flint of this date recovered from the interior of the camp may be in a primary context (S16, p 56). This site, along with a slight mound yielding Mesolithic flint objects (NHER 1775) located to the southwest and other small 'islands' in the coastal marshes which may have been used during this period, may therefore be of particular significance for research on the Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 09 February 2009.

EARLY DESCRIPTIONS AND SOURCES

The first known published reference to the earthworks is Sir Henry Spelman's Icenia (S1), which was published in 1698, a century after it was written. This work includes a description of the earthworks in Holkham Marshes, and it suggests that both Holkham Camp and the nearby earthworks at South Creake were erected against the Danes. According to (S2) the site "…is apparently referred to as Holkham Burghhall in the Court Rolls of 1470 and in the 1536 Valor Ecclesiasticus while the name Burgmersch appears in a 1228 Feet of Fine".

Holkham Camp appears on Bryant's 1826 map of Norfolk (S3), labelled as a Roman camp. It was subsequently described in (S4) as a Roman camp "situate upon the beach, near the 'Rabbit Farm', and about three-fourths of a mile from the church" and of "smaller dimensions" than that at Brancaster. The Victoria County History for Norfolk (S5) includes Holkham camp in its list of Roman remains - based on (S4) - but states that the earthworks are likely not Roman.

During the early years of the 20th century the site was visited a number of times by B. Lowerison (the headmaster of the Ruskin School, Heacham and an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist) and he published a short note on camp and a rough plan in 1909 (S8). The camp was said to be located on an alluvial marsh, approximately three quarters of a mile from the sea and raised about eight feet above the surrounding level. The banks were seen to be composed primarily of broken flints and sub-angular chalk fragments. No ditch or bank was observed on the west side, where a natural bluff drops sharply to the sea marsh. A ditch was observed on the south side, but this was thought to have been dug later in order to drain a marshy wood. A double bank was identified on the north side, enclosing a ditch which was dry at the time of the survey, and a single rampart and foss was observed on the east face. The eastern rampart was seen to be broken in the centre and this was thought to represent the entrance. A drainage gutter believed to have formed naturally was observed in the northeast angle of the rampart while a similar but more irregular natural depression was noted in the northwest angle. The latter cuts through both ramparts and joins a more recent, straight drain. A dew pond was identified in the southeast angle of the interior. Several other nearly circular impressions were also observed in the interior, interpreted as the remains of possible Neolithic pit dwellings at the time (S8).

A number of years later R. R. Clarke published a short report on Holkham Camp (S2), in which he notes that it was not "…unreasonable to surmise that the earthwork was constructed in the Early Iron Age". The Holkham Camp site was also subsequently mentioned by Clarke in both (S17) and (S18).
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.


SURVEYS AND OTHER SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

December 1924. Scheduled.
In 1924, the monument was described as follows:
'There are the remains of a large camp and a tumulus in which human bones and iron armour have been found. It is situated upon an alluvial marsh about three-quarters of a mile from the sea and is raised about 8 feet above the surrounding level. On the west there is no ditch or bank; on the south a modern ditch; on the north a double bank; and on the east a single rampart and foss. The distance round the crest of the inner rampart, which is broken near the northeast angle is about 700 yards.'
See (S10) for further details.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009.

1934. Plane-table Survey.
A plane-table survey of the earthworks was carried out by the Cambridge School of Geography. The fact that this survey was carried out is noted in (S11), although no other details are given.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.

Between 1933 and 1936.
Oval fort on island in tidal marsh only embanked 1660, 1722, enclosing about five and a half acres. Roughly oval, steep natural scarps protect west side; water on south side. Single bank and ditch on northeast. Two banks with ditch between on south and southeast. Original entrance on south marked G on map. Probably an Iron Age coastal trading station but no direct evidence for date. On map, H = pond, probably modern, S = natural scarp. Decoy Wood was probably main salt creek when camp was made.
Description compiled by R. R. Clarke.
See (S12) and (S13) for further details.
See also (S2) and two photographs labelled ca. 1935 in Secondary File.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009.

1973. Photography.
Four photographs of the hillfort were taken by A. Lawson (NAU).
See (S14) for further details.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009.

1976. Earthwork Survey.
A sub-rectangular fort of ca. 2.4 ha with a single bank and ditch on three sides of a natural low promontory isolated from the mainland by tidal salt-marsh until 1722. A slight second bank is seen on the south. There appears to have been only one entrance on the south side. The site is unexcavated and the only surface finds have been Mesolithic flakes and two possible Iron Age sherds.
The site was visited with the permission of the Earl of Leicester.
See (S15) for further details.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009.

1982. Field observation.
A slump was observed in the north bank. No finds were recovered.
See note on (S15).
H. Hamilton (NLA), 05 February 2009.

June 1998. Scheduling Revised.
The monument includes an irregularly oval earthwork enclosure, occupying the southern end of a sand and gravel spit which extends southwards from the coastal dunes known as Holkham Meals and is surrounded on three sides by a former tidal salt marsh.
The enclosure, which is identified as an Iron Age fort, has maximum overall dimensions of approximately 375m north-south by 255m east-west, with an internal area of approximately 2.5ha. It is bounded on the west side by a steep natural scarp approximately 3m high above the level of the marsh, and on the north, east and south sides by an earthen bank and outer ditch. On the west and south sides, where the natural slope of the ground is more gentle, there is also an outer counterscarp bank. The inner bank stands between 1m and 2m in height and the counterscarp bank between 0.4m and 1.4m. The ditch, which has become partly infilled but remains open to a depth of up to 1m, is between 10m and 17m in width. A gap approximately 9m wide in the banks on the south side is thought to mark an original entrance, and beyond the gap, to the south and east, are slight earthworks which probably represent the remains of an outwork protecting this entrance. Three other gaps through the inner bank on the east side are associated with overflow channels from three roughly circular, shallow ponds on the eastern side of the interior and are thought not to be original features. The three ponds, together with a fourth situated to the west of them, in the southern half of the interior, are also considered to be of later date.
Finds recovered from the surface of the enclosure include two sherds of pottery of Iron Age type.
The monument is one of two known forts which correspond to the description by the Roman historian, Tacitus, of a site where a Roman force, under the command of Ostorius Scapula, defeated a rebellious faction of the local tribe, the Iceni, in AD 47. (Another possible site is Stonea Camp in Cambridgeshire, occupying what was then an island in the fens.)
See (S10) for further details.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009.

2000. Holkham Estate Survey.
A monument condition survey was carried out during the creation of a Heritage Landscape Management Plan for Holkham Estate. Photographs and slides were taken.
It is believed that erosion has likely destroyed part of the defences on the west side. On the northwest, a steep drop now exists from the interior to the pasture below. The outer bank on the south and east is less prominent and is only described as 'possible.' The inner bank is described as irregular in both width and height, and as noted above it is broken in places by overflow channels from the dewponds in the interior.
It is thought that the access to the fort was along the sandspit on which it was situated, which formed a narrow causeway on its north side and that the west, south and east sides of the site were surrounded by open water, mud, and tidal creeks.
It has been suggested that the sandspit may have already been an upstanding feature during the Mesolithic and Neolithic period, and as this area has not been ploughed the worked flint of this date recovered from the interior may be in a primary context (S16, p 56). This site, along with a slight mound yielding Mesolithic flint objects (NHER 1775) located to the southwest and other small 'islands' in the coastal marshes which may have been used during this period, may therefore be of particular significance for research on the Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods.
See (S16) for further details.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 05 February 2009.

July 2000. NMP.
The earthworks were plotted from aerial photographs by A. Miller of the National Mapping Program.
See plot in file.
D. Gurney (NLA), 13 February 2002.

FINDS RECOVERED WITHIN HOLKHAM CAMP

July 1890. Stray Find.
According to (S9) the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology hold a Mesolithic flint blade that was found at "Holkham Camp" (Z 30903). This object is listed in the museum's records as being marked "H. W. F. 25.7.90". This is most likely a reference to a Colonel H. W. Feilden, who collected a number of prehistoric objects in Norfolk during the late 19th century.
Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.

Pre 1906.
In 1906 Mr Lowerison visited the site and exhibited to the Viking Club a number of worked flints that he had found near rabbit burrows (S7). Lowerison's finds are described in (S2) as comprising 20 flakes and a 'saw' (S2). This slightly contradicts the account given by Lowerison himself, who described having found "…during one visit twenty undoubted implements, some 'cores' and more flakes and 'wasters'" (S8). These were seen as evidence for Neolithic activity. These finds are almost certainly the Neolithic "Sandy Site Type" flints from Holkham that are listed in (S6); these being recorded as held at the Ruskin School-Home. It is not known what became of these finds, although in (S2) Clarke states that they appear to have been lost. Information from (S20).
Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.

1952. Stray Find.
Recovered from the north-west slope by R. R. Clarke (Context 1):
2 sherds of handmade pottery, likely Iron Age.
Recorded as having been donated to the Norwich Castle Museum, although they do not appear in the current accession records.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.

1957. Stray Find.
Found by P. L. K. Schwabe (Context 2):
Neolithic flint flakes and calcinated flints. Donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 1957.259).
See also two photographs taken by the finder in 1957, in Secondary File.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.

May 1978. Stray Find.
Recovered from the north face of the northern rampart (near Context 1) during a Prehistoric Society outing:
3 prehistoric flint blades and other flint fragments. Donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 1978.351).
Identified by A. Lawson (NAU). Described as Neolithic in museum records.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.

May 1979. Stray Find.
Found in the interior:
1 Neolithic 'nosed' flake tool.
See photograph in secondary file.
H. Hamilton (NLA), 04 February 2009.

February 1984. Stray Find.
Found in hollow several metres in diameter on the outer scarp of the defences on the northwest side of the fort:
1 Mesolithic flint blade. Punch-struck Mesolithic type, very fresh and lightly patinated. The hollow in which it found was described as fairly fresh, and several such hollows are thought to be the result of poaching. Donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 1998.165). Identified by J. J. Wymer (NAU).
According to the museum's records this collections also includes:
1 Neolithic flint blade.
1 medieval pottery sherd (glazed Grimston).
H. Hamilton (NLA), 05 February 2009. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.

February 1988. Stray Find.
Found near the west bank of the fort:
2 prehistoric worked flints.
1 medieval pottery sherd (base sherd of 13th-14th century glazed Grimston ware).
It is likely that two of these objects are now held by the Norwich Castle Museum - probably the additional items given the same accession number as the blade found in 1984 (see above).
E. Rose (NLA), 14 November 1990. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 7 July 2014.

Monument Types

  • FINDSPOT (Mesolithic - 10000 BC to 4001 BC)
  • OCCUPATION SITE? (Mesolithic - 10000 BC to 4001 BC)
  • FINDSPOT (Neolithic - 4000 BC? to 2351 BC?)
  • OCCUPATION SITE? (Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2351 BC)
  • FINDSPOT (Iron Age - 800 BC? to 42 AD?)
  • HILLFORT (Iron Age - 800 BC to 42 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Associated Finds

  • BLADE (Prehistoric - 500000 BC to 42 AD)
  • BURNT FLINT (Prehistoric - 500000 BC? to 42 AD?)
  • LITHIC IMPLEMENT (Prehistoric - 500000 BC to 42 AD)
  • BLADE (Mesolithic - 10000 BC to 4001 BC)
  • BLADE (Mesolithic - 10000 BC to 4001 BC)
  • BLADE (Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2351 BC)
  • BORER (Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2351 BC)
  • CORE? (Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2351 BC)
  • DEBITAGE (Neolithic - 4000 BC? to 2351 BC?)
  • FLAKE (Neolithic - 4000 BC? to 2351 BC?)
  • FLAKE (Neolithic - 4000 BC? to 2351 BC?)
  • SAW (Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2351 BC)
  • POT (Iron Age - 800 BC? to 42 AD?)
  • POT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument

Sources and further reading

---Aerial Photograph: TF8744 A,AV-AZ.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1995. TF8744/ABA - ABP.
---Archive: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Correspondence: Various. 1978-1982. Letters.
---Archive: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Iron Age. Hockwold.
---Secondary File: Secondary file.
---Slide: Various. Slide.
<S1>Article in monograph: Spelman, H.. 1698. Icenia.. Reliquiae Spelmannianae: The Posthumous Works of Sir Henry Spelman, Kt.. p 149.
<S2>Article in serial: Clarke, R. R. 1936. Holkham Camp, Norfolk. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. Vol II Pt 2 pp 231-233.
<S3>Map: Bryant, A.. 1826. Bryant's Map of Norfolk.
<S4>Article in serial: Woodward, S. 1831. A descriptive Outline of the Roman remains in Norfolk, by Samuel Woodward, Esq., in a Letter to Hudson Gurney, esq. V.P., F.R.S., accompanied by a Map of the County. Archaeologia. Vol XXIII pp 358-373. p 361.
<S5>Monograph: 1901. The Victoria History of Norfolk. The Victoria History of the Counties of England. Vol 1. p 318.
<S6>Article in serial: Clarke, W. G. 1907. The Distribution of Flint and Bronze Implements in Norfolk. Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society. Vol VIII Pt III (for 1906-1907) pp 393-409. p 401.
<S7>Serial: Society for Northern Research. 1907. Saga-Book of the Viking Club. Vol V. p 29.
<S8>Monograph: Lowerison, B. 1909. The Sites of Three Danish Camps and an Anglian Burying Ground in East Anglia. The Saga Book of the Viking Club. Vol VI, pp 1-8.
<S9>Monograph: Wymer, J. J. and Bonsall, C. J. (eds). 1977. Gazetteer of Mesolithic Sites in England and Wales with a Gazetteer of Upper Palaeolithic Sites in England and Wales. Council for British Archaeology Research Report. No. 20. p 207.
<S10>Scheduling record: English Heritage. Scheduling Report.
<S11>Article in serial: Steers, J. A. 1935. Scolt Head Island Report. Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society. Vol XIII pp 418-421. p 421.
<S12>Archive: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
<S13>Map: NCM. NCM Record Map.
<S14>Photograph: Lawson, A.. 1973. HU 27-30. View of Holkham Camp, Iron Age hillfort..
<S15>Illustration: Gregory, T. and Lawson, A.. 1976. Holkham Fort Earthwork Survey.
<S16>Unpublished document: NAU. 2000. NAU Report No. 532. Holkham Estate Survey.. pp 21, 23, 37, 38-9, 56, 63, 67, 70; appendix 1 pp 2-3; appendix 2 pp 2-3.
<S17>Article in serial: Clarke, R. R.. 1939. The Iron Age in Norfolk and Suffolk. Archaeological Journal. Vol XCVI pp 1-113. pp 48-51, fig 8, plate IX.
<S18>Article in serial: Sainty, J. E. and Clarke, R. R. 1946. A Century of Norfolk Prehistory. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XXIX pp 8-40. p 33, pl VII.
<S19>Article in monograph: Rickett, R. 1992. The Other Forts of Norfolk. The Iron Age Forts of Norfolk. East Anglian Archaeology. Davies, J. et al. No 54 pp 59-68. pp 64-65.
<S20>Archive: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Neolithic. Holkham.

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