From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Burgh Castle

52° 34′ 57.36″ N 1° 39′ 5.4″ E
3rd Century

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Burgh Castle is a Roman shore fort, located to the west of the village of Burgh Castle, Norfolk. It is situated on the eastern bank of the southernmost part of Breydon Water, formed at the mouths of the Rivers Ant, Bure, Yare, and Waveney.

The shore fort is one of several s constructed in England around the 3rd century AD, to hold cavalry as a defence against Saxon raids up the rivers of the east and south coasts of southern Britain. It is located on the summit of ground sloping steeply towards the estuary.

This fort was possibly known as Gariannonum, although the single record that describes it as such may also mean the Roman site at Caister-on-Sea. Between the mid-7th and 9th centuries the site was possibly occupied by a monastic settlement, in the 11th and 12th centuries a Norman motte and bailey castle was constructed.

Burgh Castle is roughly rectangular, 673ft by 330ft. The walls on the north, east, and much of the south side are largely intact, standing at a height of approximately 15ft and measuring up to 9.8ft thick at the base. They have a core of mortared flint rubble and an external and internal facing of prepared flint and red tile or brick in alternating bands.

Against the outer face of the walls there are six solid bastions of pear-shaped plan spaced symmetrically, two on the south wall, one each at the north-east and south-east angles, one slipped from position on the north wall, and one below the south wall where it has fallen. The west wall has at some time in the distant past collapsed down the underlying hillside and into what was once an estuary but is now a marsh, and nothing of it is now visible. Breydon Water is all that is left of the estuary this fort once overlooked.

Coin and pottery evidence on the site indicates that the occupation of the fort dates from the mid-3rd century AD, with Roman occupation continuing up to the early 5th century when the integration of Roman and Saxon traditions appear.

The site was excavated by the archaeologist Charles Green between 1958 and 1961, where he revealed the remains of a timber monastic church in the southwest corner of the fort, with a cemetery just to the north of it, containing 144 interments as well as pits containing re-interred bones. A cluster of oval huts towards the north-east angle of the fort may be interpreted as cells or workshops. Coins and Ipswich ware carry the occupation well into the 8th and possibly 9th century.

In the 11th and 12th centuries a motte was constructed in the south-west corner, using the Roman fort as a bailey. The motte was partly removed in around 1770, in 1839 it was completely levelled. The ditch was in-filled in the same year. Archaeological excavations identified a timber tower on the motte, with the bailey, of the castle located to the northeast of the motte.

The fort lies close to the medieval church of Burgh Castle St Peter and St Paul, which incorporates Roman brick, presumably taken from the fort site, in its fabric.

The site is owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, with the walls in the care of English Heritage. The site is freely open to the public.