Burgh Castle Roman fort, vicus, pre-Conquest monastery and Norman motte and bailey castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Great Yarmouth (District Authority)
Burgh Castle
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
TG 47618 04567

Reasons for Designation

Saxon Shore forts were heavily defended later Roman military installations located exclusively in south east England. They were all constructed during the third century AD, probably between c.AD 225 and AD 285. They were built to provide protection against the sea-borne Saxon raiders who began to threaten the coast towards the end of the second century AD, and all Saxon Shore forts are situated on or very close to river estuaries or on the coast, between the Wash and the Isle of Wight. Saxon Shore forts are also found on the coasts of France and Belgium. The most distinctive feature of Saxon Shore forts are their defences which comprised massive stone walls, normally backed by an inner earth mound, and wholly or partially surrounded by one or two ditches. Wall walks and parapets originally crowned all walls, and the straight walls of all sites were punctuated by corner and interval towers and/or projecting bastions. Unlike other Roman military sites there is a lack of standardisation among Saxon Shore forts in respect of size and design of component features, and they vary in shape from square to polygonal or oval. Recognition of this class of monument was partially due to the survival of a fourth century AD Roman manuscript, the Notitia Dignitatum, which is a handbook of the civil and military organisation of the Roman Empire. This lists nine forts which were commanded by an officer who bore the title 'Officer of the Saxon Shore of Britain' (COMES LITORIS SAXONICI PER BRITANNIAM). Saxon Shore forts are rare nationally with a limited distribution. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments which are important in representing army strategy and government policy, Saxon Shore forts are of particular significance to our understanding of the period and all examples are considered to be of national importance.

The fort at Burgh Castle includes the best preserved and most impressive standing Roman remains in Norfolk and is a very good example of a Saxon Shore fort with an extensive associated vicus and cemetery. Excavations in the interior of the fort, although limited in extent and scope, have demonstrated that below the modern ploughsoil the monument retains a considerable depth of undisturbed deposits containing archaeological evidence for a variety of features, including buildings, relating to the occupation of the interior during the Roman period. The survival in good condition of a large number of features accompanied by contemporary artefacts relating to the vicus beyond the walls of the fort has also been demonstrated by both crop marks and small scale excavation. Such extramural remains associated with Saxon Shore forts are rare survivals nationally, and will permit an understanding of the function and character of these late Roman sites through a study of the dependant communities which surrounded them. The evidence for subsequent occupation of the site during the middle Saxon period, and the association of that occupation with the historically documented monastery founded by St Fursey, gives the monument much additional interest, as does the documented and surviving evidence for the adaptation of the fort for use as a motte and bailey castle in the period following the Norman Conquest.


Burgh Castle Roman fort is located at the north western edge of the Lothingland peninsula, on a low cliff above the east bank of the estuary of the River Waveney which, during the Roman period, was part of a much greater estuary extending northwards as far as Caister-on-Sea and up to 12km inland from the modern coastline. The monument includes the fort, still defined on three sides by standing walls, the remains of a vicus (an extramural civilian settlement) which are known to survive below the ground surface to the north, south and east of the fort, and a Roman and pagan Saxon cemetery adjacent to the fort on the east side. Burgh Castle has also been identified as the probable site of a pre-Conquest monastery founded in the seventh century AD, and subsequent occupation is represented by the remains of a late 11th century or early 12th century motte and bailey castle which was constructed within the surviving walls of the fort. The Roman fort is generally identified as Gariannonum, listed in the Notitia Dignitatum (an official list of government appointments compiled originally in the late fourth century AD) as one of the garrisons under the overall command of the Count of the Saxon Shore. Limited excavations carried out by Harrod in the 1850s and by Charles Green in 1958-61 have clarified some details of the standing structures and shown that evidence relating to the occupation of the interior survives below the ground surface in deposits up to c.0.8m deep. The fort is trapezoidal in plan with rounded angles, and has maximum internal dimensions of c.205m NNW-SSE by 100m WNW-ESE. The original walls on the north and east sides and along much of the south side remain largely intact, standing to a height of c.4.6m and measuring up to 3m thick at the base, although the inner faces of all three are stepped so as to give a tapering profile. They are constructed with a core of mortared flint rubble and an external and internal facing of knapped flint and tile or brick in alternating bands, generally of four and three courses respectively. Much of this facing has gone and very little of it, apart from the remains of the tile courses, is visible on the interior side, although investigations of parts of the north wall have shown that it is preserved there below the present ground level. 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, although it was recorded as still standing in the later 18th century. All are or were bonded into the walls at a height of 2.2m and above, although below this level they abutted the wall with a straight joint. In the upper surface of each bastion there is a socket c.0.6m in diameter, and the same in depth, which probably held a support for a timber superstructure or fighting platform. There is a central gate opening in the east wall, and excavations in 1850 and 1961 to investigate a breach in the north wall confirmed that there are remains of a postern gate immediately to the west of the bastion there. The west wall, is believed to have stood parallel to the wall on the east side, along the edge of a scarp c.6m above the level of the estuary marsh. Some or all of it had collapsed before the Norman castle was constructed within the fort and nothing of it is now visible, although fallen rubble, including masonry which was probably part of the north west corner turret, has been observed in the sides of a dyke below the scarp. Excavations at the western end of the north wall uncovered a deep undercut where the fall of the corner turret had carried with it a massive fragment of the adjoining masonry, and parts of the foundation of the west wall were observed towards the northern end of the upper edge of the scarp. At the base of the scarp are deeply buried wall footings and the remains of timber piles, preserved in water-logged ground and thought to be, perhaps, the remains of harbour works, which were recorded in a series of small excavation trenches dug by Harrod. Excavations in the interior of the fort, although restricted in scope and confined to the north east and south west quadrants of the area, have demonstrated that there are remains of buildings, probably relating to more than one episode of construction, together with evidence for associated intensive occupation. The recorded structures in the south western area include the footings of a masonry building c.5m square abutting the inner face of the south curtain wall of the fort towards its western end, with traces of adjacent walls to the north east and slots for the uprights of a timber building cut into the curtain wall immediately to the east. In the north eastern area, part of another masonry structure, possibly an internal corner turret, was observed in the angle of the curtain wall, and evidence recorded for other buildings of timber and wattle and daub, both against the inner face of the eastern wall and aligned parallel to it. Most of the material relating to the associated occupation of the fort is dated to the fourth century AD, but a hoard of glass vessels dated to the early fifth century, which were found buried with the remains of a bronze bowl and an iron bound wooden bucket, are evidence for activity continuing to the very end of the Roman military occupation and after. The field immediately to the east of the fort is identified as the site of a Roman military cemetery attached to the fort, and the field remained in use as a cremation cemetery during the subsequent early Saxon period. It is recorded that in 1756 several urns were excavated at a depth of c.0.6m in this area, in addition to many other finds of Roman and Saxon pottery and artefacts discovered during ploughing. Most of the urns illustrated in the records are identifiable as having been of pagan Saxon type. Remains of the vicus associated with the fort have been identified in fields to the north east and south east of the fort and include a series of ditches which survive as buried features beneath the ploughsoil, defining systems of streets, lanes or trackways and enclosures. To the east and south east, these features have produced crop marks recorded in air photographs, and to the north their survival has been demonstrated by small scale excavations. Opposite the east wall of the fort and c.200m from it, the crop marks, which cover an area of c.4.5ha, show parts of a rectilinear pattern of ditched streets and lanes laid out on approximately the same alignment as the fort and defining large rectangular enclosures. Within this larger grid are smaller ditched enclosures which are considered to be house plots and yards bordering the streets. The largest east-west street is aligned roughly on the eastern gate of the fort and forms part of an access road. The second group of crop marks, which is c.2.5ha in extent and located c.125m south east of the fort, shows a somewhat different pattern of settlement. A roughly triangular area measuring c.115m north-south by 112m east-west is defined by ditched trackways c.5m-6m wide. Within the central area and around it, are groups of small rectangular and sub-rectangular enclosures laid out in a regular fashion along either side of the trackways. In both areas there is some overlapping of the lines of the ditches, which suggests alterations in the layout over a period of time, or else separate episodes of occupation. Small scale excavations carried out c.260m north east of the fort, in the area of an extension to the churchyard adjoining the Church of St Peter and St Paul, have confirmed that settlement remains, dated to the late third and fourth centuries AD, extend at least to the northern boundary of the field on that side, preserved beneath c.1m of topsoil. Large numbers of finds of Roman artefacts, dating from the late third and the fourth centuries AD, have been recorded from the ploughsoil in all three fields. The location of Burgh Castle fort corresponds to that in the description by Bede of the `castle' within which the Irish St Fursey founded a monastery in AD 633, on land given by King Sighebert of the East Angles, and the excavations within the area of the fort discovered evidence, including pottery, which confirms that it was occupied during a period between the mid seventh and the ninth centuries AD. In the south western part of the fort an inhumation cemetery was found, radiocarbon dated to between the sixth and the tenth centuries, and traces of a large timber building with a clay floor immediately to the south of the cemetery were identified as possibly the remains of part of a church. Evidence for occupation of a similar date in the north east corner included traces of several irregularly oval timber structures with maximum dimensions of between 5m and 8m, as well as finds of middle Saxon pottery. The Norman motte occupied the south west quadrant of the fort, where it was visible at one time as a large earthen mound encircled by a ditch. The mound was partly removed c.1770 and completely levelled in 1839, and the ditch was infilled, although it survives as a buried feature and has been recorded as a crop mark enclosing an oval area measuring c.72m north-south by 53m east-west. A section excavated across the ditch on the east side established that it is c.4m deep and that the lowest levels of fill are waterlogged. On the south east side a breach c.18m wide in the south curtain wall marks where the ditch cuts through, and traces of the southern edge of the mound above the scarp of the inner edge of the ditch remain visible against the outer side of the wall to the west of the breach. Approximately a quarter of the area formerly covered by the mound was also excavated and found to contain several large, clay-filled pits, identified as foundations for part of a timber sub-structure to support the tower, also of timber, which stood on top of the mound. The remainder of the fort, to the north and east of the motte, was adapted for use as the bailey of the castle. A north-south bank, remains of which were observed in the excavations at the north west corner, is thought to have been constructed at this time to block the gap on the western side of the fort left by the collapse of the north end of the original Roman wall on that side. The broken western end of the north wall was reinforced by a large earthen mound heaped against its outer face up to 6m high above the falling ground level to the north. Post-Conquest occupation of the fort is confirmed by finds of 11th/12th century pottery. Burgh Castle Roman fort is Listed Grade I and is in the care of the Secretary of State. All modern fences and gates are excluded from the scheduling, together with information boards and their supports on the south side of the fort and the surfaces of Church Loke to the east of the fort and the footpath at the foot of the scarp to the west, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Bede, V, The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation
Frere, S S, St Joseph, J K S, Roman Britain from the Air, (1983), 81-83
Ives, J, Remarks upon Garianonum of the Romans, (1774)
Johnson, S, The Roman Forts of the Saxon Shore, (1976), 36-37
Johnson, S, The Roman Forts of the Saxon Shore, (1979)
Clarke, R R, 'Archaeol J' in Romano-Saxon pottery in East Anglia, , Vol. 106, (1949), 69-71
Harrod, H, 'Norfolk Archaeol' in Notice of excavations made at Burgh Castle, Suffolk, , Vol. 5, (1859), 146-60
Johnson, S, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in Burgh Castle: Excavations by Charles Green, 1958-61, (1983), 55-60
Johnson, S, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in Burgh Castle: Excavations by Charles Green, 1958-61, (1983)
Morris, A J, Hawkes, C F C, 'Archaeol J' in The Fort of the Saxon Shore at Burgh Castle, Suffolk, , Vol. 106, (1949), 66-9
Morris, A J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in The Saxon Shore Fort at Burgh Castle, , Vol. 24, (1947), 119
Morris, A J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in The Saxon Shore Fort at Burgh Castle, , Vol. 24, (1947), 118
Morris, A J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in The Saxon Shore Fort at Burgh Castle, , Vol. 24, (1947), 100-120
Raven, J J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Garianonum and the Count of the Saxon Shore, , Vol. 6, (1888), 345-60
10486, 13227, 17261: Great Yarmouth, Burgh Castle,
Aerial Archaeology Foundation, TG 4704/AER/-, (1982)
Edwards, D, TG 4704/ACP/AHU13; TG 4704/ABQ/AKX6, (1977)
Edwards, D, TG 4704/ADU/ARM11, (1981)
Edwards, D, TG 4704/AY/AFS 16, (1976)
Gurney, D, (1994)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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