Norfolk signs: A ‘potted’ history of a Roman hub
PUBLISHED: 08:00 02 March 2020
The village sign at Brampton in Norfolk’s Broadland district pays tribute to its heritage as pottery producer in Roman Britain. DR ANDREW TULLETT recounts the story behind the sign.
Two signs represent Brampton. They stand either side of a road to the south of the small village. One is a painted, plate metal design, erected in the mid-1980s.
It depicts two local buildings, the village church and Oxnead mill.
The second was erected more recently, in 1991, but features an ornament that is considerably older than either of the structures on the original.
The newer sign owes its design to Dan Chambers.
It features two giant fish-like creatures facing each other on the top.
They are actually dolphins, and are based on an artefact discovered in Brampton during an excavation in 1974. Made of copper alloy, they are thought to have formed a decorative handle for an item of Roman furniture. When in use the dolphins would usually be seen the other way up.
The item is now in the collection of Norfolk Museums Service.
An example can be seen on display at the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth.
The actual object is far smaller than the giant on the sign, measuring a mere 12.5 cm by 5 cm.
The excavation in 1974 was one of many that have taken place in an around Brampton over the years.
The area was in its heyday in the during the Roman period.
During the 2nd century it is known that it was a centre for the production of pottery.
Around 140 kilns have been discovered so far, and examples of pottery produced in Brampton have been found as far away as Scotland.
The supporting post of the village sign features a carving of a number of pots to represent this.
On another face of the supporting post a Roman galleon is shown. This represents that fact that the River Bure was navigable to large ships here during the Roman period. After considerable improvements, including the addition of several locks, the Aylsham Navigation opened in 1779.
This allowed trading craft, such as Norfolk wherries, to ply their trade further upstream.
It remained open until around 1912 when floods caused considerable damage along its length which was uneconomical to repair.
The Bure is represented on the sign by the blue colour under the two dolphins.
The dolphin-topped sign is double-sided. The name, Bramtuna, features on one side. This is the name that Brampton, by that time a much smaller settlement, was recorded in the Domesday Book.
The parish church, dedicated to St Peter, is represented by a carving of two crossed keys on another face of the supporting post.
The Cross Keys was also the name of a former public house in the village, which closed around 1891. A fourth carving, apparently of the Virgin Mary, may also be an allusion to a second former public house, the Maid's Head, which closed more recently, in 1962.
St. Peter's Church is one of Norfolk's famous round-towered churches. An octagonal top was added in the 1500s.
It is now a Grade II* listed building, notable for containing a number of fine brasses to the Brampton family.
The shield on the side of the sign under the name 'Brampton' features the family coat of arms.
The coat of arms on the other side of the sign are said to represent intermarriage between the Brampton family and the Marsham family, who lived in the village of the same name. White's Directory of 1845 lists Rev Henry P. Marsham, rector of Brampton, as living at The Hall in Marsham.
St Peter's Church is also represented on the original sign beside Oxnead Mill.
The settlement of Oxnead stands on the other side of the River Bure. The two parishes are now amalgamated. The current mill building, which dates from around 1851, probably occupies the site of an older water mill. Water power has been used to produce different products here.
It is known that paper making occurred early on and corn was ground during later periods.
-Dr Tullett, from Lakenham, researched just about all of Norfolk's 500-plus town and village signs as part of his Signs of a Norfolk Summer project. He now gives presentations on the topic, and anyone looking for a speaker can contact him at email@example.com. For more details of that and Norfolk's other signs, visit the Signs of a Norfolk Summer page on Facebook, or search for "Norfolk on a stick" on www.edp24.co.uk.