Record Details

NHER Number:1460
Type of record:Monument
Name:Medieval to post medieval oyster beds


Earthworks of medieval to post medieval oyster beds visible on RAF aerial photographs from 1953 and NLA aerial photographs from 1992. The site consists of clusters of oblong pits surrounded by low banks, fed by a series of feeder channels.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TF 6673 3896
Map Sheet:TF63NE

Full description

7 June 1946.
Group of rectangular basins in this area were visible on Air Photograph.
Probably saltpans.
R.R. Clarke (NCM)
E. Rose (NAU)

See (S1).
R.J. Rickett (NAU) 2 February 1990

3 February 1992. NLA Air Photography.
Earthworks of rectangular depressions noted.
Possible salterns.
See (S2) in file.
D. A. Edwards (NLA) February 1992

January 1998. Field Visit.
Visit confirmed a series of sub-rectangular banked depressions varying in size from about 12m x 6m to about 18m x 6m. Some have leats into a boundary drain to south, others have linking channels to leats serving as feeder drains to several of the depressions. Depth of depressions varies from 0.4m to near 1m. The whole site probably enclosed by drain, now seen to south and east and part of northern boundary. West boundary mostly destroyed by post World War Two extraction.
Fine example of salt pans, earthwork survey to be undertaken.
B. Cushion (NLA) 7 January 1998.

March 1998. Earthwork Survey.
Survey indicates these features are actually a set of shellfish ponds.
See published article (S10) and reports (S3) and (S4) for plan and further details. Amongst the earthwork sites included in (S9).
B. Cushion (NLA) 14 April 1998. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 9 February 2014.

March 2002. Norfolk NMP.
Earthworks of medieval to post medieval oyster beds visible on RAF aerial photographs from 1953 (S5) and NLA oblique aerial photographs from 1992 (S6) to (S7). The site consists of a complex series of eight groups of oyster pits and interconnecting channels. The site is situated to the immediate west of a former tidal creek, which fed the pits through a series of leats, and are in an area of former salt marsh turned over to rough grazing. To the west is a sea bank, recorded as 'new' on the 1781 Enclosure Award map, (S8). The site covers an area 260m long and 160m wide and consists of at least 67 separate pits or beds.
There are three main dendritic arrangements of beds and channels. The largest of which is located at TF 6668 3895 and another two at TF 6671 3899 and TF 6675 3897. Two smaller dendritic groups are visible at TF 6676 3892 and TF 6678 3907. At least three of these groups are fed by leats coming off the tidal creek. There are also two linear arrangements of pits. The most well defined of these run from TF 6666 3886 to TF 6677 3890 and are connected to a drainage ditch by individual leats. The drain defines the southern extent of the earthworks. There is another linear group, which defines the western edge of the site, running from TF 6666 3898. These are much less well defined and are only visible on the 1953 RAF photographs of the flooded coast. The beds can just be seen as areas of slightly deeper standing water. These slight earthworks are not visible on any other photography. In fact it seems likely that they have since been destroyed, possibly by the extraction of material for the maintenance of the sea bank to the immediate west, as this area appears as a shallow water-filled scoop on later photography. Another cluster of pits can be located as distinct areas of standing water on the 1953 Floodlight photographs. These are located at TF 6673 3908, no detail of interconnecting leats can be made out.
The beds themselves are oblong to rectangular in shape, varying from 8m to 21m long and between 3.5m and 7.5m wide. In the southern and central area of the site the pits of extremely well preserved and they can be seen to be surrounded by low banks, up to 4m wide. These are likely to be upcast from the construction of the site. Two of the pits are larger than the rest and are L-shaped, located at TF 6673 3889. It appears that these are in fact two sets of two interlinked beds.
These groups of oblong pits and interlinking leats have been identified as oyster beds. The possibility of them being salt pans has been dismissed as there is no associated salterns. It seems likely that these features are post medieval in date. Documentary research by Brian Cushion (NLA) has revealed references to oyster fattening grounds at Heacham Harbour in 1872. The southern drainage channel appears on an 1820 estate map, suggesting that they are at least that date. This drain is not depicted on the Enclosure Award map of 1781 (S8), which may indicate it a date of between 1781 and 1820. Although the itself is likely to be much earlier. The dendritic spread of the site may indicate a gradual expansion of the beds, possibly with the linear arrangements being later additions to the site. However the leat of the larger, central dendritic group appears to be connected to one of the beds of the southern row and therefore the main drain. At TF 6665 3895 one of the oyster beds can be seen to cut into an earlier bed. This does suggest that there is some degree of development and change over time.
Also the sea bank that separates the site from the coast appears to have been built around 1781. It seems likely that the oyster beds pre-dates the construction of this bank as it would necessitate the channelling of sea water into the oyster beds. The meandering course of the feeder channels does suggest a natural movement of water rather than purposefully constructed leats.
S. Massey (NMP), 14 March 2002.

Monument Types

  • FISHPOND (Undated)
  • SALT WORKS (Undated)
  • SITE (Undated)
  • OYSTER BEDS (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • SALT WORKS (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • DRAINAGE DITCH (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • OYSTER BEDS (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SALT WORKS (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Finds - none

Protected Status


Sources and further reading

---Aerial Photograph: TF6638 S-X.
---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Miscellaneous. Heacham.
<S1>Record Card: Ordnance Survey Staff. 1933-1979?. Ordnance Survey Record Cards. TF 63 NE 2.
<S2>Illustration: Edwards, D.A.. 1998. Cropmark Plot.
<S3>Unpublished Report: Cushion, B. 1998. Heacham SMR1460. Earthwork Survey Report.
<S4>Unpublished Report: Cushion, B. 1999. HEACHAM, Earthwork Vestiges of Norfolks Oyster Industry?.
<S5>Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1953. RAF 540/1007 0120-1 03-FEB-1953 (Norfolk SMR TF 6638D-E).
<S6>Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.. 1992. SMR TF 6638T (NLA 299/UV2) 03-FEB-1992.
<S7>Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.. 1992. SMR TF 6638V (NLA 299/UV4) 03-FEB-1992.
<S8>Map: 1781. Heacham Enclosure Award Map.
<S9>Monograph: Cushion, B. and Davison, A. 2003. Earthworks of Norfolk. East Anglian Archaeology. No 104. p 194.
<S10>Article in Serial: Cushion, B. 1999. Heacham: earthwork vestiges of Norfolk's oyster industry?. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XLIII Pt II pp 346-350.

Related records - none

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