Brampton Roman Settlement

Minor Settlement and Pottery

An Iron-Age Settlement

Iron-age coins and terrets have been found on the site, though this is not supported by any certain evidence of a pre-Roman native settlement. The settlement was certainly inhabited by the end of the first century AD when potteries to the south-west of the road junction were known to have been in operation. Occupation continued into the fourth century, the latest coins being issues of Theodosius.

The original name (Welsh/Gaelic) for Brampton, if indeed a late Iron-Age settlement existed here, is unknown, so too is the name of the Roman settlement. The modern name dates back at least to the time of the Domesday Book of 1086, where the entry reads Brantuna: William de Warenne; Ralph de Beaufour. The name probably stems from the Old English brom-tun, a fairly common place-name meaning ‘the farmstead where broom grows’.

The Roman Town

A Roman settlement of at least thirty hectares developed about a road junction in agricultural land at Brampton in Norfolk. The occupied area lies between the River Mermaid to the north and an unnamed stream to the south, just west of both streams respective confluences with the River Bure. Aerial photographs have shown that a hexagonal area of around six hectares was enclosed by defences. Trenching across these defences revealed a non-uniform ditch varying between seven and five metres in width and two to two-and-a-half metres deep. No trace of an interior bank was found, though one probably existed when the defences were first cut sometime between the late second to early third centuries.

A bath house has been identified by excavation within the towns defences, measuring a little over seventeen by seven metres with concrete floors and walls of flint and mortar, the interior was plastered and painted red, orange, white, black, yellow and grey. It yielded no reliable dating evidence.

Roman altar stone found near Brampton

RIB 2066 - Altar dedicated to Brigantia

This offering to the goddess-nymph Brigantia, which he had vowed for the welfare and safety of our Lord the Invincible Emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus and of his whole Divine House, Marcus Cocceius Nigrinus, procurator of our Emperor and most devoted to his divinity and majesty, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled.

[...]VS NVM[...]
[...]TATIQVE EIVS V [...] L L M

Caracalla ruled as sole emperor A.D. 212-17.Norah Jolliffe (Arch. J. xcviii (1941) 58) connected this text with the offerings for health ordered by Caracalla in A.D. 213. Birley (Cumb. Westm. AAST 2nd Ser. liii (1953) 61), with more probability, considers that this ‘was presumably dedicated in 212 as soon as the news had come to hand of the emperor’s escape from his brother Geta’.The Rev. N. Cowpland wrote his letter from ‘Brampton Church’, now Brampton Old Church, which lay 1.6 km. west-north-west of Brampton. As he is giving additional details, he had clearly given the main details of the discovery in a previous letter.Holland in his translation of Camden (p. 785) says ‘Neerer unto the wall beyond the river Irthinge was lately found this … altare’.

  1. This goddess was worshipped primarily among the peoples of north-east Britain, the Brigantes.
  2. Emperor 198-217AD.
  3. The dedicator may possibly be linked with the six year-old M. Cocceius Nonnus, whose tombstone (RIB 932) was found at Old Penrith. The presence of the imperial procurator in the north-west may be connected with the re-manning of the fortifications on Hadrian’s Wall during the Scottish campaigns of the emperor Severus at the turn of the third century. Nigrinus would have been numbered among those in daily personal contact with both Severus and his successor Caracalla, who accompanied the ageing emperor to Britain. A long stint in the north of England serving among the imperial retinue would also account for Nigrinus’ association with the goddess Brigantia. The association with Brampton is not understood. Nigrinus may possibly have chosen Brampton as his place of retirement, though it is more likely that he was granted land in the area for his services as imperial procurator, or had some interest in the pottery trade here.

Local Roman Industries

The site of two Roman iron-smiths were discovered by excavation lying along the road west c.350 metres from the junction with the road south. The buildings were probably contemporary and made of timber with clay floors, both measuring 8.8 by 5.8 metres.

The remains of over one hundred and forty pottery kilns have also been uncovered in the area, the greater majority of which lie to the west of the town’s defences. The potter Aesuminus had kilns here at Brampton. His stamps have been found on pottery at several other sites including Corbridge, Lincoln and Caistor-by-Norwich. There were other potteries nearby at Hevingham (TG1822) along the line of the road westwards, and a substantial Roman building a little to the north-west at Bolwick Hall (TG2024).

Roman Roads in the Area

Brampton lies at the eastern end of a known Roman road running east from Durobrivae (Water Newton) towards the Norfolk coast. It is very likely that the road eastward was continued beyond the Roman settlement all the way to the coast, with “Anchor Street” between Brampton and Smallburgh possibly constituting much of the western portion of this road. The Bartholomew map of Norfolk (GB sheet 26; 1956) shows a “Roman Camp” near Weyford Bridge a mile to the east of Smallburgh, quite close to the line of the suspected road.¹ It is likely that this camp was to guard a crossing over the River Ant, and lends credence to the supposition that there was a Roman road nearby. The road apparently forded the Ant at Wayford east of Smallburgh, and continued ENE to the North Sea coast somewhere between Happisburgh and Sea Palling. There is a small place on the coast here called Eccles, which name is Romano-British in origin, and indicates the presence of an early Christian church. If there was a Roman settlement or military camp on the coast near Eccles, it has since been lost to the effects of coastal erosion.

  1. Interestingly, this camp is not indicated on the modern OS map of Roman Britain.

Another Roman road ran south from Brampton towards Venta Icenorum (Caistor by Norwich), the ancient capital of the Iceni tribe. The northern portion of this road ran through Stratton Strawless and passed just two miles to the west of the known Roman marching camp at Horstead (TG2519). Situated about three miles to the south-east of Brampton, the Horstead camp overlooked the Bure from the west, and was probably set to guard a ford across the river. The course of the road south beyond this point is uncertain, but it probably crossed the River Yare near Carrow Abbey, just a few miles north of Venta.

Excavations at Brampton in 1969

… a total of 140 potters’ kilns have so far been located, of which 132 lie in a distinct industrial quarter at the west end of this roadside settlement and 8 lie in the central sector now being investigated. Pottery production began in the late-1st or early-2nd century and continued to at least the mid-3rd century. There is also evidence for iron-working, includinmg a shaft-furnace, and bronze-working, together with associated buildings, in the 3rd century.” (Britannia, 1970)

Bath-House Discovered in 1970

TG223236 – A small detached bath-house was uncovered during excavations conducted by Dr. A.K. Knowles in the centre of the settlement in 1970. Pottery, coins and other dateable materials point to a period of use spanning from c.80AD until c.350.

References for Brampton

  • Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
  • The Domesday Book – A Complete Translation eds. Dr. Ann Williams & Prof. G.H. Martin (Penguin, London, 1992);
  • Roadside Settlements of Lowland Roman Britain by Roger Finch Smith (B.A.R. British Series #157, 1987);
  • Roman Britain – A Sourcebook by S. Ireland (Routlege, New York, 1986);
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.270;
  • Britannia i (1970) p.290;
  • Map of Norfolk (Bartholomew, London, 1956, Great Britain revised half-inch series #26).

Roman Roads near Brampton

W (14) to Billingford (Norfolk) Possible road: S (14) to Venta Icenorum (Caistor St. Edmund, Norfolk)

Sites near Brampton Roman Settlement