Record Details

NHER Number:43495
Type of record:Monument
Name:The cropmarks of a planned Roman field system and possible settlement, Hopton-on-Sea


The cropmarks of a planned and co-axial Roman field system and trackway are visible on aerial photographs in Hopton-on-Sea. It is possible that some of the enclosures were used for domestic purposes, as well as agricultural use, and a number of possible round houses were visible. The western edge of field system is defined by a trackway, which may have earlier origins, see NHER 43501 for details. These fields and possible settlement overlie an earlier settlement (NHER 43494) of probable late prehistoric or Iron Age date.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TG 52430 01170
Map Sheet:TG50SW

Full description

These cropmarks were originally recorded under NHER 11788.

April 2006. Norfolk NMP.
The cropmarks of a planned and co-axial Roman field system and trackway are visible on aerial photographs in Hopton-on-Sea (S1-S14). It is possible that some of the enclosures were used for domestic purposes, as well as agricultural use, and a number of possible round houses were visible. The western edge of field system is defined by a trackway, which may have earlier origins, see NHER 43501 for details. The site is centred on TG 5243 0117 and covers almost 1.5km². These fields and possible settlement overlie an earlier settlement (NHER 43494) of probable late prehistoric to Iron Age date. Although recorded as being essentially Roman in date the field system may be of two phases, with a potentially earlier or later phase being identified to the southwest of the site. The alignment of the fields is also followed by a post medieval boundary marked on the 1813 Gorleston Enclosure map (S15) and the edge of the Hopton Common on the 1783 Hodskinson map (S16) also mirrors that of the Roman fields, see NHER 45159 for details. This indicates that the elements of the Roman landscape persist in the historic and modern landscape.

These cropmarks were originally recorded under NHER 11788, which encompasses a vast area of approximately 2km², and includes information derived from metal detecting, fieldwalking and developer-funded archaeological evaluations and excavations. This varied archaeological work has produced artefacts ranging from Neolithic through to post medieval period. Roman coins, a small amount of Roman pottery, a first century AD brooch and a figurine of Apollo have been found within the general vicinity of the field system. This area has seen much fieldwalking and metal detecting and therefore the relatively low number of Roman finds, other than those listed under NHER 36627, could support the interpretation as most of these enclosures representing fields and not settlement areas.

It is not immediately clear from the cropmarks which parts of the site are domestic spaces. Unlike the late prehistoric settlement in the same location (NHER 43494) it does not have an obvious focus with regards the enclosures. A number of the enclosures do have noticeably wider ditches, in particular the enclosure centred on TG 5245 0125, which is 80m square and has an entrance to the west. This is conjoined to another three well-defined enclosures. To the north, centred on TG 5233 0137, is an area of highly subdivided space and a number of ring ditches, which as discussed below, are likely to relate to domestic or agricultural structures. Although these features are not located within an obviously demarcated enclosure, rather they are just within the main body of conjoined fields and enclosures. It is possible that the location of the Mason’s Farm buildings are covering the northeastern corner of an enclosure ditch. The subdivision of the internal space would suggest that this area is being used for something more specialised than agriculture and probably represents a domestic area. To the south, centred on TG 5234 0070, is another group of slightly broader ditched enclosures, including two possible internal enclosures, both approximately 20m across. To the north of this is a partially visible polygonal enclosure located next to Valley Farm. This has nominally been interpreted as being post medieval in date as it follows the same alignment as the post medieval fields (NHER 45159) and may represent an earlier boundary associated with the farm. However it is also possible this may be part of the Roman site. The alignment of the Roman system at this point is mirrored by the seemingly post medieval layout. Excavation would be required to establish the chronological relationships in this area. It may however further indicate the continuing influence of Roman land divisions in the historic landscape.

Several ring ditches are located within the enclosures and fields; at TG 5282 0046, 6.6m in diameter, TG 5228 0117, TG 5227 0128 and TG 5235 0136, all 4-4.5m diameters. At TG 5255 0088 there is a semi-circular ditch, 8.5m across, which may also represent part of a ring ditch. Towards the northern end of the site is a cluster of three ring ditches, centred on TG 5232 0169. Two of the ring ditches are oval in plan and the central ring, which measures 9m by 7m, has a noticeably wider ditch than the other ring ditches. The more circular ring is 5m in diameter. The ring ditches are quite dispersed and are located within enclosures that may be fields rather than domestic spaces. These are quite small for the eavesdrip gullies of round houses and they may be the remains of a agricultural structures, such as stackstands and is it also possible that as stackstands that they are associated with agricultural activities that post-date the site. Although given the location within this Roman settlement or farmstead context, a contemporary date and function seems most likely. Ring ditches of a comparable size are recorded within the main enclosure of the earlier settlement located on the same site (NHER 43494). These are more securely located within a domestic context and are likely to the remains of round houses, suggesting that the small size of the ring ditches may not necessarily mean that they are not domestic roundhouses.

The fields and enclosures are bordered to the west by a trackway, which may represent an older feature that has been incorporated into the field system. The entire trackway runs from TG 5189 0200 to TG 5224 0087, although the clearest section runs from TG 5193 0176 to TG 5198 0148 and is approximately 11m wide and runs in a straight line (S4). This may have a continuation to the north (S6), which widens out to 25m across and then terminates at the possible corner of an enclosure. To the south of TG 5198 0148 the trackway becomes noticeably less straight and curves around to the east following a sinuous course. Although the feature appears to be continuous, this curvilinear section of the trackway has been recorded under NHER 43501, as it is felt that this trackway forms part of a series of probable prehistoric trackways, see record for details. It seems most likely that part of an earlier trackway is incorporated into the Roman fields and enclosures and the straight northern section may represent a later addition of reworking of the trackway. This trackway appears to form the division between the enclosed and unenclosed landscape during this period. It could be argued that this distinction persists until the post medieval period as the line of this curvilinear trackway may form part of the later edge of the Gorleston common in the late eighteenth century, as depicted by the 1783 Hodskinson map (S16).

The northern part of the site is all aligned using the straighter part of this western trackway and a main boundary, running perpendicular to this from TG 5194 0177 to TG 5267 0207, as the significant axes. Very few traces of the fields can be identified to the north of this boundary and it appears to define the edge of this planned field system. The fields and enclosures within this northern area are extremely regular. Once the trackway (NHER 43501) starts to curve away from this dominant western axis, then the alignment of the enclosures alters to follow the trackway. At this point the northern boundary is still providing the one section of the alignment reference. To the south of this at TG 5224 0088 the trackway appears to curve back to the west slightly and then cannot be traced after this point. After which the fields start to become less rectangular and no longer follow the main northern alignment. The fields appear to curve around to the southwest and become much more curvilinear and irregular in layout. This gives the impression that the fields are following a continuation of the earlier curvilinear trackway, although this cannot be proved on the current aerial photographic evidence. It is also possible that this curving arrangement of fields and enclosures represents an earlier phase of the site. However it shows no obvious relationship with the fields around it that have been interpreted as being late prehistoric or Iron Age in date (NHER 43494). Although one of the possible late prehistoric boundaries, running TG 5306 0081 to TG 5294 0046 and recorded under NHER 43496 to the southeast of the site, possibly forms a shared boundary between both field systems. This again could suggest that the southern part of the ‘Roman’ system is referring more to existing landscape features or is perhaps an earlier phase. Although early Roman material has been found within the area of these more irregular fields (NHER 36627).

It is also it is worth noting that the change in style in the field layout also coincides with a dry valley which runs through the centre of the site SW-NE towards the coast. Valley Farm now lies in the base of this valley. To the south of this valley some of the main boundaries start to follow an alignment more akin to the earlier Iron Age and late prehistoric fields (NHER 43494, 43496), but more noticeably they start to line up with a series of large regular fields to the west of this trackway (NHER 43559). The date of site is not known; it shares common traits with components of both the prehistoric and historic sites, although the regularity and size of the fields could indicate a historic date.

This southwestern edge of the field system definitely appears to be a different phase to the small enclosure or farmstead recorded at TG 5229 0027 (NHER 43525), which is thought to date to the Iron Age or early Roman period. Although it is not completely possible to establish the chronology of these ditches from the cropmarks, the enclosure could to be the later of the two, as the fields do not continue over it, as with the 43494 to the north. Although there are several overlapping cropmark sites at this location and therefore it is hard to decipher the true relationships. Excavation would be needed to establish this.

The cropmarks of this area of Hopton would indicate that a high level of replanning of the landscape took place during the Roman period. Although at least some of these fields, in particular those to the south, may have been earlier in date or at least made reference to earlier landscape features, such as prehistoric trackways. The fields to the north of the site continue straight over and make no reference to the underlying enclosures and fields and this would indicate that either these boundaries are significantly older and have gone completely out of use before the new fields and enclosures are laid out, or that this represents a rapid and dramatic replanning phase of the landscape during the Roman period. Only excavation of both sets of enclosures and boundary ditches would elucidate this matter. If this field system was part of a Roman phase of replanning then it could be postulated that it is associated with the establishment of a large estate, possibly associated directly or indirectly with the Roman fort at Burgh Castle, 1.6 km to the northwest, or with a potential coastal settlement or harbour in the vicinity of Yarmouth. One possibly associated landscape feature has been mapped to the northwest (NHER 43591). This consists of a long, straight linear feature that is visible on the aerial photographs for 1.6km and appears to underlie many of the medieval and post medieval landscape. It is therefore possible that this feature represents a Roman Road, although the possibility of it being a medieval or early post medieval road cannot entirely be ruled out. One interesting link between the possible Road and the northern boundary of the planned fields is that they follow an extremely similar alignment. This could indicate that they represent two acts of part of a much wider reorganisation of the landscape during the Roman period. The angle of some of the fields to the north of the site is also roughly consistent with a hypothetical centuriation system suggested for South Norfolk, in particular the Scole/Dickleburgh area, which is oriented at approximately 11 degrees west of north (S17).
S. Massey (NMP), 24 April 2006.

March 2011. Desk-based Assessment.
An archaeological desk-based assessment was carried out by Chris Birks Archaeological Services to characterise the archaeological potential within a proposed development at Gorleston Golf Club. The potential for Iron Age to Roman sub-surface archaeological remains to survive was considered to be high.
See (S18) for details.
E. Bales (HES), 23 July 2012.

Monument Types

  • BANK (EARTHWORK) (Unknown date)
  • BOUNDARY DITCH (Unknown date)
  • FIELD BOUNDARY (Unknown date)
  • FIELD SYSTEM (Unknown date)
  • RING DITCH (Unknown date)
  • SETTLEMENT? (Unknown date)
  • SQUARE ENCLOSURE (Unknown date)
  • TRACKWAY (Unknown date)
  • BANK (EARTHWORK) (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • BOUNDARY DITCH (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • DITCH (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • FIELD BOUNDARY (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • FIELD SYSTEM (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • RECTILINEAR ENCLOSURE (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • RING DITCH (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • ROUND HOUSE (DOMESTIC) (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • SETTLEMENT? (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • SQUARE ENCLOSURE (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • TRACKWAY (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)

Associated Finds - none

Protected Status


Sources and further reading

<S1>Vertical Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1944. RAF 106G/LA/38 4022-3 11-SEP-1944 (NMR).
<S2>Vertical Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1944. RAF 106G/LA/27 3057-9 05-AUG-1944 (NMR).
<S3>Vertical Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1964. RAF 58/6402 (F21) 0064-6 06-JUL-1964 (NMR).
<S4>Vertical Aerial Photograph: cucap. 1976. CUCAP K17AM 44-48 29-JUN-1976 (NHER TG 5200M-P, TG 5201L-M).
<S5>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1976. NHER TG 5201K (NLA 31/AFR21) 08-JUL-1976.
<S6>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1976. NHER TG 5202B-C (NLA 31/AFQ23-4) 08-JUL-1976.
<S7>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1976. NHER TG 5201C (NLA 32/AGB11) 13-JUL-1976.
<S8>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1977. NHER TG 5200Z-AA (NLA 44/AHT3-4) 06-JUL-1977.
<S9>Vertical Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1977. NHER TG 5200Y (NLA 45/AHZ10) 19-JUL-1977.
<S10>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1977. NHER TG 5200T (NLA 45/AHZ8) 19-JUL-1977.
<S11>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1977. NHER TG 5200Q (NLA 55/AKX17) 01-AUG-1977.
<S12>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1983. NHER TG 5200AH (NLA 135/ATD) 21-JUL-1983.
<S13>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1979. NMR TG5201/17 (SFU JN19) 24-JUL-1979.
<S14>Oblique Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1989. NHER TG 5201W (NLA 233/DPH9) 04-JUL-1989.
<S15>Map: Unattributed. 1813. Gorleston Enclosure Map 1813.
<S16>Map: Hodskinson. 1783. Map of Suffolk.
<S17>Website: Peterson, J.. 1997. 'Local parcelling in the South Norfolk A cadestre', Web Journal Evolutions..
<S18>Unpublished document: Birks, C.. 2012. Chris Birks Archaeological Services Report No. CB247R Report on an Archaeological Desk-based Assessment at Gorleston Golf Club, Hopton on Sea.

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