Keith Knowles (1928-2010)

One of the most important Roman towns in Norfolk, Brampton (NHER1124) was unearthed by a Norwich GP, Keith Knowles, who has died aged 82.

His life-long passion for archaeology has left a valuable collection in the Castle Museum, Norwich, which has provided remarkable insight into 250 years of economic life during the Roman era.

Dr Knowles, who was the first medical officer at the University of East Anglia, spent 25 years excavating the Roman town of Brampton, near Aylsham. A family affair, it also involved volunteers as a large area of the 80-acre site was investigated between 1965 and 1989. His youngest son, Peter, found the double-headed fish or dolphin decorations of a military helmet, now featured as part of the village sign of Bramtuna.
Born in Cheshire, he went to Rydal School in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, where as a teenage member of the Home Guard he was issued with a Sten gun, kept under his bed. He went up to Cambridge, where he read medicine at St John's College, and then qualified at the Middlesex. He then did a short service commission with the RAF and took part in the Berlin airlift.
After serving as medical officer at RAF Watton, in 1955 he became a general practitioner in Norwich. Later, he started a solo practice in Larkman Lane and became the UEA's medical officer, when it was established in November 1963.
As the university expanded, he joined Geoff Clayton and Sheila Jackson, who later opened a new surgery at Clover Hill, Bowthorpe, in October 1977, to serve students and staff.
In his 31-year career as a GP, he was also Remploy's factory doctor and was a great supporter of efforts to employ disabled people.
Fascinated by tracing Roman roads across Norfolk, he discovered that several converged near Aylsham. He was given permission by landowners, including Dr Charles Briscoe, of Dudwick, and Tom Crane, of Oxnead, to undertake trial digs. His efforts and finds revealed the extent of Brampton's importance as an industrial centre between 80AD and 350AD. It was a massive centre of pottery production, with 144 kilns (NHER 1006), and pottery has even been traced to Hadrian's Wall and the Rhine in Germany.
He also discovered a Roman bath house by the Bure in 1970 and numerous other structures. He also found evidence of skilled metal and leather working in one of the most defended settlements in Roman times. The entire site has since been scheduled and given protection from unauthorised excavations. His early findings were published in the 1970s.
He also excavated a Roman road (NHER 15768) and cemetery (NHER 9288) at Bawburgh . He was a former president of the Norfolk Archaeological Research Group and the Norwich Medico-Chirurgical Society.
He was made an MBE and, accompanied by his late wife, Vivienne, he was invested with his decoration by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Dr Knowles, who also lectured on Roman medicine, spread surplus Roman pottery shards to make paths at his former Norwich home.
Michael Pollitt

Eastern Daily Press

19 February 2010

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