Category Archives: November 2010

Roman times

Brampton is now one of Norfolk’s smaller villages but it has a rich history particularly in the Roman period. Now, as I said, a small village it was then a medium sized industrial town with over 100 kilns and a public bath-house for the workers to wash in after their labours. More importantly from our perspective the Roman’s are known to have used the Bure to transport away the produce of the town. At that time the Bure was on a slightly different course but archaeological work in the 1970’s established beyond doubt that docks (or staithes if you prefer) existed here. Their location is known and the image below is an artists attempt at reconstructing how they must have looked.

An interesting but impossible historical meeting would have been between the captain of a Roman cargo ship from the 3rd century and a wherryman of the 19th. Seperated by 1,600 years there would be more in common between them than that which divided them. I’ve no doubt they would have got on very well.


More Oxnead Jottings

I am not really a child of the internet era as I have come to it a bit later in life (although not that late) and I don’t aimlessly wander around in cyberspace  I am however constantly suprised by what is out there. An example came this week when I found an academic piece about paper making. I’ve no idea how I reached it but there before me was a piece of research which included some of the history, previously unknown to me, of paper making at Oxnead Mill. The academic in question is a man called David Stoker from Aberystwyth University and he has given permission for his piece to be incorporated here. Interestingly one of the names quoted is Seaman which is a family name with strong connections to the Spinks family who still reside in Brampton. The photograph which follows the article is one of my own.

The article is headed Oxnead -:

There was a paper-mill at Oxnead several years before 1716; in that year one of the early paper-makers, William Seaman, died. It is not known whether or not Seaman was the first occupant, or if this mill pre-dates either of those already mentioned. An inventory of the goods of Seaman survives in the Norwich Archdeaconry series, but this had been badly damaged, and that section reading ‘in the mill’ has been almost totally destroyed.The only lines legible being; ‘All the paper – – – work House wad – – – . . .£12 00 00.’ and ‘All the paper s – – – zing in the loft . . .£9 00 00.’ It appears that the mill passed to Seaman’s son because Shorter notes that in 1717 William Seamen of Oxnead, paper-maker, took an apprentice named James Dey.

It is not clear who owned the mill until 1748, when John Pollings the papermaker buried his daughter, and 1762 when he died. If Pollings was the master, he must have retired in 1758 when Oxnead mills were advertised to be let in the Norwich Mercury of 9th December. The terms of the advertisement throw some light on how the mill obtained its raw materials and transported the finished product.

‘Oxnead Mills, are now to be Let for any Term of Years not exceeding Fifty, (the Tenant to do all Repairs and have Liberty to Assign) being an old established and well accustomed Paperwork, commodiously situate on a constant regular stream. Nine miles from Norwich, five from Northwalsham, three from Aylsham, and four from Coltishall, to which last Place, Junk and Materials may be brought up by Water from Yarmouth, and Manufactured Goods carried down at the very least Expense; and from whence they may also be conveyed by Navigable Rivers to Norwich, Beccles, Bungay and several Places of Note . . .’

Transportation costs of both goods and raw materials were an important consideration to anyone contemplating opening a manufacturing business in the countryside at this time.

The next references to paper-making at Oxnead are in 1779 when the mill was insured by Joseph and Daniel Ames, and William Parkinson, a partnership who also operated the mill at Hellesdon. In 1802 a man named John Threadwell is listed on a Norwich poll as a paper-maker at Oxnead, and around 1822 the mill was converted to the manufacture of ‘duffield blankets’.


The importance of maps

Photographs, particularly in the digital age are easy come and easy go. They are very helpful in capturing memories and moments in time but maps on the other hand are like time itself, they don’t just capture an image they can recreate an entire landscape for the whole of remaining time. I love maps and have many of them; I read them as others read a book and can spend hours pouring over them if I’m going somewhere new.

There is a history of illustrated maps that goes back to the earliest examples of the map makers art. A good illustrated map, in my opinion, is the best kind of map. Recently whilst trawling through the internet I came across the following example which I think is very fine and totally suited to our cause. It was first published in the Journal of the Norfolk Wherry Trust and it is them that we thank for permission to reproduce it here. It dates from the mid 1980’s.

This so beautifully captures the atmosphere and images, some still here and others long gone. The industrial nature of the navigation in such a rural setting is so well documented here. I hope you like it as much as I do.

When I first saw this I could see it in colour as a piece of tapestry – now wouldn’t that be something. Anybody volunteering?



Oxnead is a really interesting place, formerly home to the Paston family it oozes history from its very soul. It is very close to the old roman remains at Brampton and there is archaeological evidence that the river was navigable to hereabouts in those times as the goods from the industrial town were carried by water. Of course in those days the river was on a slightly different course. Those with an eye for such things can still perceive the old route of the river here.

Oxnead remains a small settlement and never really developed beyond the hall and mill. Stand on Oxnead bridge and look towards the mill and you will see the lock cut off to the right, the mill staithe to the left. Now turn around and look in the opposite direction, there’s Brampton Common to the left of the river often populated by the Hafflinger horses. The village of Brampton lies beyond nestling in the valley as it has since the aforementioned roman times. This is a lovely spot and should rightfully be savoured; it is not a place to rush by.

More recent history is also evident. As you stand on the bridge facing the mill look to your right and see the WW11 pill box still protecting the bridge from attack. In 1940 the threat of invasion along the Norfolk coast was very real and this spot is only a dozen or so miles from the possible landing grounds. This was only one of a chain of similar defences by river Bure crossings between Ingworth and Great Yarmouth. It was defensive but in the event of a succesful invasion the troops inside were under instructions to blow the bridge. Thankfully it was never required to do what it was built for however it is now a listed building and part of the rich variety that marks this landscape.


Crossing the Bridge

In the past week or so for one reason or another I must have crossed the Upper Bure a dozen times using Burgh, Oxnead and Horstead/Coltishall bridges. It is no mistake that they all appear to be of similar age and certainly the bridges at Burgh and Oxnead are restrictive in size for any vessel passing underneath. The reason for the similar age and the disregard for navigation is that the flood in 1912 also washed out these bridges. In the case of the Horstead to Coltishall bridge it actually took three years to replace and this must have been very disruptive to traffic even then. I don’t know if any temporary foot bridge was put in place until the road bridge was rebuilt but if it wasn’t Horstead and Coltishall might just as well have been on different planets to each other.

The photograph above is from the Norfolk County Council collection and is just one of several taken, I suspect, at the same time. We don’t know the date but it must be some days after the event as the flood waters have fully subsided. You can see just how completely the flood destroyed the bridge.

The flood had effects greater than just the ruination of the navigation and we shouldn’t lose sight of that as the economic and social cost was considerable. If you have any photographs of the bridges before they were swept away or during rebuilding please let us know (

Buxton Lock

I’ll get the plug out of the way first; the next co-ordination meeting is at 7.30pm  in the Lounge, Coltishall Village Hall, Rectory Road, Coltishall on November 30th and you would be very welcome but please tell us you’re coming (just so we know the numbers). This should be the first true business meeting and will hopefully set the pattern and direction for the next 12 months which will be crucial to the project.

One of my favourite places on the navigation is Buxton, by the mill where the lock used to be. Although now filled in it is easy to see where the lock was and even easier to imagine how it must have been. The imagination is helped by some surviving photographs and one of my favourites is reproduced here.

This photograph is thought to date from around 1910. The mill is clearly identifiable as Buxton and the race is still there today and is often used by the village youths for swimming in the hot balmy summer days. The lock cut is largely filled in and levelled now following the construction of the road in the 1930’s although it has left its mark on the landscape. In this photograph the lock itself at the head of the right hand channel looks resplendant and well maintained. It was quite an imposing structure although the rise cannot have been much more than 12 to 15 feet.

The other thing I like about this photograph is the story it tells of the day it was taken. It was clearly windy, the water shows that and I would guess that it had recently rained quite heavily as the water level is high. I would guess it was taken around this time of year as it has an autumnal feel to it. There’s no sign of any people – they are probably staying sensibly in the warm.

The wooden box like structure in the left foreground is a bit of a mystery but our friends at the Museum of the Broads suggest that it is likely to belong to the local Eel catcher. I wonder how many Eels are in the river today?