The Roman Road from Brampton to Smallburgh

Margary Number: 38

Distance: 6.5 miles

There was no doubt about the existence of the road - just its destination. Brampton was a a major pottery production centre so a connection with the sea for transport would have been highly desirable and it seems likely that Smallburgh at that time was at the head of an estuary.

The alternative is that this road had Caister-on-Sea as its destination but I have so far been unable to locate any evidence for the road continuing on to there. English Heritage's Roman coastline map and the wide field Lidar image (see later for both) would indicate there was not a dry land route to Caister in Roman times.

Norfolk HER: 2796 (regarded as part of the Fen Causeway)



Historic Counties: Norfolk

Current Counties: Norfolk

HER: Norfolk


route map

mini map

Lidar Image - full route

This Lidar image perhaps explains the logic behind this road - was it a connection to a sea estuary in Roman times? The name Anchor Street is perhaps a clue.




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lidar route

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Brampton Options

The evidence for the line of the Roman road is intermittant with two options visible. The feature martked with a red arrow does look like a surviving short length of agger but the right hand (southern) option does have more lidar evidence.

2024 Update: Aerial Archaeology Mapping adds more information and does show features on both lines.

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River Bure Crossing 1

Brampton is on the left and Smallburgh to the right so our road crossed left to right hereabouts. Interpolation places the crossing of the River Bure most likely near or just beyond the line of trees.


Image: DR

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bure 1

River Bure Crossing 2 - Looking East

The river was made navigable in the 1790s and is now much higher than the surrounding marshes. It is no surprise therefore that nothing Roman is visible today. Lovely spot to see nothing though!.

Image: DR

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bure 1

Lidar Image and Route Map 1 - Brampton to Scottow

Lidar indicates that the route to the River Bure and Scottow is almost certainly further south than previously believed. This new alignment does actually also follow higher ground as far as the River Bure - a common Roman trait and a sensible course to have chosen.

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lidar map

Anchor Street

Anchor Street today is relatively narrow compared to what it must have been in Roman times. The name is perhaps suggestive the road went to a harbour.

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anchor street

Lidar Image and Map 2 - Scottow to Smallburgh

This stretch is mostly overlaid by the modern Anchor Street but the lidar data peters out beyond Smallburgh.

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lidar map

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Smallburgh

The 3D lidar image doesn't really solve the puzzle of it destination. The name Smallburgh is perhaps a clue - could there have been a small fort/fortlet here? The road does seem to aiming towards the feature marked with an arrow, north of the church. It is a local high spot and looks to have the remains a square buildling/bank(?). There is nothing listed in the Norfolk HER for this spot.


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OS 1-inch First Edition Map c.1898

The old OS maps show a Roman Camp across Wayford Bridge. However, this has disappeared off modern maps and HER 7446 states no Roman features have been found there but it is perhaps how Smallburgh got its name rather than a Roman fort/port existing here.

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OS 1 inch

Lidar Images - Possible Destination

There are further signs of the agger continuing and this probably is the most likely continuation onwards of the road. The name Low Street (see above map) does lend some support for this. A Roman harbour would be nothing more than a safe beaching site so there could be nothing surviving to indicate its presence.

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lidar possible

English Heritage Roman Coastline Map - road network overlaid

This English Heritage map of the Roman coastline has had our Roman roads overlaid. This would indicate that a harbour at Smallburgh was the most logical destination. An over-land route onwards to Caister on Sea would have been impractical - see below also.

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Lidar Image - Smallburgh to the Coast

When you look at the wider picture then there is surely no doubt that somewhere near Smallburgh was a Roman harbour/port. Could rising sea levels make this a worrying future possibility too?

The small "island" at the bottom is St Benet's Abbey.

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Last update: January 2024

© David Ratledge