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Norfolk's Roman Roads

A Lidar Re-appraisal

This is the first version of Norfolk's Roman Roads web pages and has been compiled by David Ratledge. As such I will probably have made several errors and missed some important information - please let me know. I will not be offended! With your help we can make this the best available resource for Norfolk.

The road numbering system is based on that devised by Ivan Margary over 60 years ago. Although long out of date it is still the best we have. However, several roads in Norfolk were unknown to Margary and therefore have no numbers.

Lidar, both 2D and 3D virtual reality models have been used extensively in appraising the alignment of the roads. This technique has proved an extremely efficient way of detecting linear feature such as Roman roads. Imagery derived from this data is often able to show clearly the surviving remains of the road agger, terraces, side ditches and cuttings, often where they cannot be identified easily on the ground through traditional fieldwork. In addition, the Norfolk HER records and other written sources have been consulted. The thesis by James Albone is deserving of special mention and my thanks.

 

norfolk roads

Road numbers are those allocated by Ivan Margary

Introduction

Although our route map, on the face of it, looks very familiar several gaps and refinements to the course of the roads have taken place.

The Roman road map is dominated by four settlements: Brampton, Caistor St Edmund, Saham Toney and Toftrees. Caistor St Edmund was obviously the most important by far and it was of course the walled capital of the Iceni Tribe.

The north-east of the County is suspiciously empty - perhaps more work is required here. It should also be pointed out the Romans would have exploited river transport so the east of the county - what we now call the Broads - was better served by boat and we should perhaps not expect a road network in that part of the county.

Norfolk's Roman Roads

For all the known routes in detail choose the appropriate page:-

The Roman Roads around Brampton (in clockwise order)

Brampton to Smallburgh, Margary 38 Initially probably not on the line shown on OS maps but no clues as to where precisely its destination was.

Brampton to Caistor St Edmund, Route Discovered. The road south from Brampton didn't go to Thorpe St Andrew as previously believed but it went to Caistor St Edmund.

Brampton to Billingford, Margary 38 A well known road with just the first first mile or so needing Lidar assistance.

The Roman Roads around Caistor St Edmund (in clockwise order)

Caistor to Wainford, Margary 36 A well-established Roman road with just a few updates, at the beginning and at Ditchingham.

Caistor to Scole, Margary 3d A Roman road still much in use today.

Caistor to Saham Toney, Route Discovered. Not two roads but a through route finally connected up and it comes with a huge surprise!

Roman Roads around Toftrees (in clockwise order)

Toftrees to Billingford, Another well-established road.

Toftrees to Peddars Way (North Pickenham) Lidar shows this road spectacularly well and yet virtually none it has survived as a modern road.

Toftrees to Overy Marshes (North Coast), Margary 39 Norfolk's other road to a north coast port - this time at Burnham Overy, near Holkham.

Peddars Way (north to south)

Section 1 - Holme to Great Massingham, Margary 33b Now a long distance footpath with generally a well=established route. Lidar has filled in a few gaps.

Section 2 - Great Massingham to Saham Toney, Margary 33b On this section we reach the important Roman Settlement/sites at Saham Toney.

Section 3 - Saham Toney to Brettenham, Margary 33b At last this road changes direction at Galley Hill.

Other Roman Roads

The Fen Causeway, Margary 38 An amazing road(s) across the fens and its probable extension onwards to the Icknield Way.

The Icknield Way, Margary 333 Most likely a pre-historic trackway that was adopted and improved by the Romans where they deemed necessary.

Gasthorpe to Wymondham(?), Margary 331 An obvious road in the south of the county but tracing it north has proved problematical.

Possible Roman Roads

Brancaster East-West Road Brancaster was not located on the known Roman road network but there are some indications of a connecting coastal road.

Ashill-Saham Toney The (probable) Roman enclosure at Ashill just north of Saham Toney was perhaps connected into the road network with perhaps 2 or 3 roads.

 

Acknowledgements

Top of the list for thanks must be to Norfolk Historic Environment Recod (HER) and Heather Hamilton, Historic Environment Team Leader (Records) for Norfolk County Council (Gressenhall Archaeology). Thanks are due to Mike Aerts for developing his bespoke "MAGIC" Lidar software that turns numbers into 3D virtual reality models

Raw (ascii) Lidar is copyright The Environment Agency. The processed Lidar data shown here is copyright David Ratledge. Having said that, you are welcome to use any of the Lidar images providing a source reference is given.

Mapping used is generally Ordnance Survey Opendata supplemented by Bing Mapping and Aerial Photography for selected areas. Google imagery has also been utilised.

 

References:

Below are general references. Specific ones pertaining to a particular road are included on the appropriate web page.

 

Faden’s Map of Norfolk, c.1790-4, digital online version by Andrew Macnair. The earliest large-scale map of all of Norfolk.

Roman Roads in Britain, Codrington, 1903/1918. (Bill Thayer's online version).

Roman Roads in Britain, I.D. Margary, 1957. Way out of date but still the first "go to" source book. The Margary road numbers used here are from this book.

East Anglian Archaeology Report No.5 Norfolk, Norfolk Archaeological Unit, 1977. Toftrees to Billingford road and Brisley to Terrington St. Clement road (unlikely).

Venta Icenorum - Caistor St Edmund Roman Town, John A. Davies, 2001. Includes the roads immediately adjacent to the town.

Roman Routeways across the Fens, Heather Wallis, EAA Occasional Paper 10 (2002). The central section around Nordelph is covered in detail.

Norfolk Origins 3 - Celtic Fire and Roman Rule, Bruce Robinson & Tony Gregory, 2003. Good general description of Roman Norfolk..

Norfolk Origins 2 - Roads and Tracks, Bruce Robinson & Edwin J. Rose, 2008. Has a map and short description of each of Norfolk's Roman roads.

Roman roads in the changing landscape of eastern England c.AD410 – 1850, James Albone, 2016. PhD thesis (University of East Anglia) - the Roman roads through time.

Norfolk Heritage Explorer The primary site for all Norfolk's Historic Environment Records (HER).

 

Contacts:

To contact David Ratledge regarding the Norfolk web pages, please email me.

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Last update: January 2020

© David Ratledge