Medieval beacon on Bircham Common


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020825

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 12-Mar-2003


Ordnance survey map of Medieval beacon on Bircham Common
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Norfolk

District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)

Parish: Bircham

National Grid Reference: TF 78160 31430


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Beacons were fires deliberately lit to give a warning, by means of smoke by day and flame by night, of the approach of hostile forces. They were always sited in prominent positions, usually as part of a group, chain or line which together made up a comprehensive early warning system covering most of the country. Beacons were extensively used during the medieval period. Their use was formalised by 1325 and although some were used later, for example at the time of Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685 or during the Napoleonic wars, the system was in decay by the mid-17th century. Beacons were initially bonfires of wood or furze, but later barrels of pitch or iron fire baskets mounted on poles were used. The poles were occasionally set on earthen mounds. Access to the fire basket was by way of rungs set in the pole, or by a stone ladder set against the beacon. More unusual beacon types include stone enclosures and towers, mainly found in the north and south west of England. Some beacon sites utilised existing buildings such as church towers. Beacons were built throughout England, with the greatest density along the south coast and the border with Scotland. Although approximately 500 are recorded nationally, few survive in the form of visible remains. Many sites are only known from place-name evidence. Given the rarity of recorded examples, all positively identified beacons with significant surviving archaeological remains are considered to be of national importance.

The remains of the medieval beacon on Bircham Common provide a good example of the structure and ground plan of one of the more substantial types of beacon from this period. A position on high ground, still clearly visible from the surrounding countryside, illustrates its function as a signalling device. The monument will retain archaeological information on the date of the construction of the beacon and details of its structure, whilst the historical record which enables its identification as Tauft's Beacon, gives it additional interest.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument, which is prominently sited on former common land, commanding a good view of the surrounding countryside, includes the remains of a circular building identified as a medieval beacon. It is visible as a roughly circular bank approximately 0.5m high, surrounding a circular central depression with a diameter of about 4.85m.

The foundations of the building, which was formerly believed to be a Roman watch tower, were cleared in the 19th century to a depth of 2ft (0.61m) and are described in `Houghton and the Walpoles' by the Rev'd H J Broome, published in 1865. According to this description the foundations, constructed of flint masonry with evidence for an entrance on the south side, covered a paved area measuring 17ft (5.18m) across. Modern records, which include a plan give the overall diameter as 4.88m, and note that the walls are 0.51m thick. The earlier record mentions bricks having been excavated from the site, and these bricks have subsequently been identified as being of late medieval type. The structure is now thought to have been a beacon, known as Tauft's Beacon, which is referred to in state papers of 1625 relating to musters and beacons. The masonry structure probably supported a platform on which a firebox would have been mounted, although it may also have served as a shelter for the beacon watch or a store for fuel.

Modern fence posts around the monument are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

Legacy System number: 30619

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Broome, H J, Houghton and the Walpoles, (1865)
Copy in Norfolk SMR, Circular Foundation - Bircham Common,
Paterson, H, SAM NF 274; Ancient Monuments Record Form, (1985)
Quoted in NMR and Norfolk SMR, Clarke, R R, Notes, (1950)

End of official listing