Today Brampton is one of the smallest communities in Norfolk but it’s modern size hides a fascinating past.
There is some evidence of pre-Roman settlement but we shall start our story a little later. On the site of the village lay a Romano-British industrial centre of some size producing mainly pottery for export to other parts of the empire. Transport was by water as at this time Brampton was much closer to the sea and the Bure was clearly navigable to sea going vessels. Port facilities have been found in Brampton (see the reconstruction below) along with over 140 kilns and a bath house. It was purely an artisan centre with no evidence of high status or military use. (see http://www.roman-britain.org/places/brampton.htm ).
Archaeological digs in the 1960’s and 70’s uncovered much although there are still unexplored areas. Many of the finds are on display in the City Museum, Norwich including a double headed Dolphin brooch which is reproduced on the village sign. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council it is also worth looking up Brampton on their database of archaeological sites and historic buildings which can be found here www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk
There is then a gap in our knowledge but there is clearly a settlement here at the time of the Norman invasion as it is recorded in the Doomsday book as Brantuna. The church is also of 10th or 11th century origin; the round tower base certainly dates from the 11th Century and at the time of the churches construction Roman remains must have been in evidence as they have been incorporated into the fabric of the walls. There is also an intact Roman funeral urn within the church. The church has some fine early brasses including the 14th Century Isabel of Brampton. There is an unusual 15th Century octagonal top to the otherwise round tower. Internally much of the church was “modernised” in Victorian times although most of the brasses are intact in their original locations.
From Norman times onwards the village has always been what it is now, namely, a quiet rural backwater. Most of the village men worked on the land and some had small holdings of their own in keeping with the medieval system.
We have already seen how the navigable Upper Bure was important to the Roman Empire. Many centuries later, at the start of modern times, it’s importance came to the fore again. Economic activity was on the rise in the late 18th Century and there had been an agrarian revolution. Goods needed to be moved, the railways were still some years away and the roads were slow and poor. Water was the answer so in 1773 an Act of Parliament gave birth to the Aylsham or Upper Bure Navigation. Between Coltishall and Gt Yarmouth the Bure was already navigable without locks but to continue in the Aylsham direction a total of 5 locks were required and a mile long canal cut into Aylsham Mill itself. The work was finished and the Navigation opened in 1779.
There were 5 locks located at Aylsham itself, Burgh, Oxnead, Buxton and Coltishall. By the mid 19th Century there was a regular service between Aylsham and the sea at Gt Yarmouth. It was agricultural produce out and coal or other household goods in. There are properties in Brampton today that still have furniture brought to the village by Wherry. Brampton had its own staithe (landing place) and at least one boat was based here. At the height there was a total of 26 Wherries serving Aylsham. The coming of the railways however hit the trade hard and by the start of the 20th Century the navigation was in what rapidly turned out to be a terminal decline.
On August 26th 1912 there was a torrential rain storm in Norfolk. Norwich suffered loss of life and many dwellings were inundated. Every lock on the Aylsham Navigation was washed out, the trade had to stop. Economic conditions were such that the railways now took the vast majority of the traffic and the first stirrings of motor transport could be seen. The decision was taken not to repair the locks and navigation ceased completely.
Until relatively recent times the only means of transport other than by river and leg power was by horse and cart. A common form of cart hereabouts was the tumbril. In recent years Messrs Spinks (father and son) have restored a tumbril which they believe may originally been constructed locally by their forebears in the Seaman family.
The above before and after shots give an indication of the amount of work required in this restoration. The tumbril had lain in the Howards’s garden for very many years getting steadily derelict until it was rescued. The great grandfather of Jonathan (pictured above) was George William Seaman known as Billy and he had many and varied occupations including wheelwright, carpenter, slaughterer and publican. It may have been Billy who originally built the tumbril.