Parish Summary: Brampton

This Parish Summary is an overview of the large amount of information held for the parish, and only selected examples of sites and finds in each period are given. It has been beyond the scope of the project to carry out detailed research into the historical background, documents, maps or other sources, but we hope that the Parish Summaries will encourage users to refer to the detailed records, and to consult the bibliographical sources referred to below. Feedback and any corrections are welcomed by email to heritage@norfolk.gov.uk

Brampton is a tiny parish in the northeast of the county, and is an amalgamation of the two parishes of Brampton and Oxnead. The two hamlets are now tiny, and seem far removed from the noise and bustle of the Roman town that dominates the archaeological history of the parish.

There is evidence that the parish, which is at an important river crossing, has always been a focus for settlement. Several pits dating to the Neolithic period (NHER 16143) have been excavated, and the Neolithic pottery and flint implements that were found suggests that domestic activity was taking place nearby, although no definite settlement site can be identified. A number of prehistoric flints have been found scattered through the parish, including Neolithic axeheads (NHER 7592 and 7593), a scraper (NHER 17289) and a chisel (NHER 19929). During the Bronze Age, a hoard of copper alloy objects (NHER 24343), including axeheads, knives and spearheads was buried in the parish, and a Bronze Age socketed axehead (NHER 11585) was found close to the site of a ring ditch, which is probably the remains of a Bronze Age barrow (NHER 11585). Other Bronze Age metalwork (NHER 1914334283 and 34609) and pottery (NHER 7594) has been found in the parish, suggesting that settlement continued to develop here throughout the prehistoric period.

A gold Iron Age coin (NHER 7597) and harness fittings (NHER 24522 and 24653) have been found in the parish, but it was during the Roman period that Brampton reached its peak of importance and prosperity. 

Photograph of a hypocaust underneath a bath house in Brampton Roman town during excavation.

A hypocaust underneath a bath house in Brampton Roman town during excavation.

Roman artefacts have been found in the parish since the 17th century, when the Paston family, who lived at Oxnead Hall (NHER 3552), were keen collectors of antiquities and curiosities. Annual excavations and metal detecting have revealed the remains of a fortified Roman small town (NHER 1124), surrounded by a polygonal ditch. Many buildings have been excavated, including a bathhouse and metal working shops, as well as kilns, inhumations, a wharf and ritual shafts. Situated on an important crossing of the River Bure, and along the line of two Roman roads, the town grew into an important industrial centre, and the remains of an industrial suburb (NHER 1006) have also been excavated, revealing a large number of pottery kilns. The town produced pottery for the local area, and for places further afield, with production reaching its peak in the 2nd century. The town extended onto both sides of the River Bure (NHER 35055), and the sites of several Roman buildings (NHER 760422457 and 22611), and a substantial amount of Roman finds, such as coins (NHER 35055), pottery (NHER 35055) and more personal items such as leather sandals (NHER 7609), have been recorded. Occupation of the town continued until the 4th century, but Brampton never developed into an urban centre in the post Roman period, and is now a tiny agricultural community.

An Early Saxon sunken-featured building (NHER 1006) has been excavated in the industrial suburb (NHER 1006) of the Roman town (NHER 1124), which suggests that the site continued to hold its importance in the immediate post Roman period. An Early Saxon brooch (NHER 24885) and pendant (NHER 34284), Middle Saxon pottery (NHER 7590 and 7601), and Late Saxon metalwork (NHER 24451, 35055) have been found in the parish. Brampton comes from the Old English meaning ‘the farm where broom grows’, and was described in Domesday Book as a small settlement. Oxnead, meaning ‘pasture for oxen’, was recorded as a larger and more valuable settlement, with beehives and a church. St Michael’s Church (NHER 7611) in Oxnead dates back to the 13th century, and contains the tombs of the Paston family. St Peter’s Church (NHER 7658) in Brampton dates back to the 12th century, and both churches contain a large amount of Roman brick and tile taken from the remains of the Roman town (NHER 1124), which was a useful source of building materials. The reuse of Roman building materials has also been linked to efforts to associate the authority of the Roman church with that of the ancient Roman empire.

During the medieval and post medieval periods, Brampton and Oxnead remained small and largely agricultural settlements. Brampton Hall (NHER 7591) is a 17th century house built on the site of an earlier medieval hall. Oxnead Hall (NHER 3552) was one of the largest and most impressive houses in Norfolk in the 17th century, after it was rebuilt by Sir Clement Paston in the late 16th century. Charles II is reputed to have been entertained in the Hall by Sir Robert Paston, and he may have walked through the formal gardens, the substantial earthworks of which are still visible. Oxnead Mill (NHER 7660) is a mid 19th century mill, but a mill is recorded here in the 18th century. The Oxnead Lock Cut (NHER 29855) was constructed in the late 18th or 19th century to bypass the mill.

Sarah Spooner (NLA), 7 October 2005.

 

Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. Domesday Book: Norfolk (Chichester, Phillimore)

Mills, A.D., 1998. Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford, Oxford University Press) 

Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names (Dereham, Larks Press) 

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