Day Trip to Grimes Graves, Norfolk

Dog-sitting duties yesterday for this old fellah:

12 years old, and with a large out of control tumour on his back, it was awesome to take him into the forest again, even though he ran away - just like he would as a young dog.  He had me running around this monument looking for him:

Thetford Warren Lodge, the handsome ruin of a medieval rabbit warrener's fortified house.  Possibly commissioned by the nearby Prior of Thetford Cluniac Priory.

After our little adventure, I dropped the dogs off to keep cool during the mid day, and then took the opportunity to revisit an awesome prehistoric site in the Thetford Forest area, the Neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves.  It use to be a regular haunt of mine.

This is an aerial view of the site.  An almost Martian landscape of craters and earthworks.  Surveys have recorded a total of at least 430 shafts sunk into the ground.  Each reaches down to a seam of black flint known as floor-stone, about 10 meters down from the surface.  Shallow galleries then radiate along this layer of floor-stone flint in all directions.

Until excavations revealed the nature of these craters during the 19th Century AD, no one knew what this landscape represented.  The Anglo-Saxons named it Grimes Graves, after the god Woden (Grim). They set all of the local parish boundaries to meet at the site, where they erected a moot hill, a meeting place for the hundred.  Later antiquarians suggested that it was the site of Danish encampments.

We now know that these craters are the scars of a remarkable flint mine complex, that was in use during the Neolithic period between 4,675 and 4,200 years ago.  Each year, an average of one shaft was mined.  The tools that they used appear to have consisted largely of picks made from red deer antlers, stone axes, and tools made from wood and basketry.  So many red deer antlers appear to have been used, that it has been estimated that they will have needed to manage a population of 120 red deer in order to supply them!

One shaft is presently open to the general public, but there are plans to reopen another shaft later this year.  The English Heritage site has a small museum and presentation on the site:

From there, you can walk over to Pit 1, the shaft open to the public.

Descent to the floorstone level is via a sturdy 30 feet ladder.

The galleries themselves are not open to public access, for reasons of safety.  However, you can enter some of them a short distance before reaching barriers.

It is a little bit of a mystery as to why they were going to such dramatic and exhaustive efforts to mine this flint over a 475 year period.  There is plenty of good flint much closer to the surface, even on the surface.  However, the floor-stone flint has a particular fresh looking, black colour and quality.  It may have even had a ritual value, for coming so far deep out of the earth, and even for being so difficult to mine.  Here's a reconstructed Neolithic axe that I could play with, made of local black flint.

I got a little dirty crawling through the galleries.  Notice the exposed chalky spoil on the surface.  Moved there thousands of years ago by the Neolithic miners.

It's a beautiful place, the Martian looking craters, spoil heaps, often grazed by sheep, and nested on by larks.

I thought it was also recording that Anglo-Saxon moot-hill on the edge of the site.

Discussion - Population Genetics

Okay, so where does this site sit in with the latest news in population genetics?  The population that mined this site for so many years, was most likely (based on ancient DNA from other British Neolithic sites) largely descended from farming immigrants from the South, that arrived in Britain some 6,100 years ago.  The men most likely had I2a Y-DNA haplogroups, and the population today that most resembles them today are the Sardinians.  Their ancestors may have migrated from Iberia, but ultimately, some of their ancestors at earlier dates, had moved along the Mediterranean from an origin in Anatolia and the Levant.  They brought with them, the technologies, livestock, and seeds of the Neolithic Revolution, that had exploded in the Fertile Crescent of the Levant, and the Tigris / Euphrates valleys some 10,000 years ago.

The mining stops around 2,800 years ago.  This corresponds well with what we now believe to be the arrival of a new people - the Bell Beaker People, that had crossed the North Sea from the Lower Rhine area around what is now the Netherlands.  They most likely brought with them, the first horses, and the first metallurgy of copper, bronze, and gold.  What happened to the Neolithic community that had mined for so many years here?  There is some evidence that their economy was falling into trouble, and that forest was returning to many farmed areas.  They may have had their population and social structure depleted by a suspect plague that had reached Western Europe from Asia.  The latest evidence, as presented in my last post, The Beaker phenomenon and genetic transformation of Northwest Europe 2017suggests an almost complete displacement of the British Neolithic farmers by this new population of Bell Beaker.

Thetford Forest Archaeology

The value of the floor-stone flint appears to have fell.  However, it is a fallacy to believe that people stopped using flint.  The new metals were precious, but flint continued to have an importance through the Beaker, and into the Bronze and even Iron Ages.  It has been speculated that the majority of struck flint in the district actually dates to the Beaker and Bronze Ages, rather than to the Neolithic.  Thousands of tonnes of flakes, hammer-stones, piercers, awls, scrapers, notched flakes, and waste cores can be found in the soils to the south and west of Grimes Graves - down to the northern banks of the Little Ouse, and across the Brecks district, and the Fen Edge.  Many years ago, I found a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead very, very close to the Grimes Graves site.  This class of arrowhead belongs to Bell Beaker assemblage.  They were here, salvaging the tonnes of discarded flint on or close to the surface of the site.  They carried it down to the river valley, where I can say from my old surface collection surveys, that they struck and worked that flint like never before nor since.

Link to a post about my old Thetford Forest Archaeology Survey.

Some of the worked flint that I recorded in the area.

Indeed, the excavation of one of the shafts at Grimes Graves revealed that the site was being used during the Middle Bronze Age, where a nearby settlement were depositing their rubbish into a midden in a disused shaft.  The archaeology of the midden suggested that the people living there then were most likely dairy cattle farmers.

That's Grimes Graves done.

Warham Camp


Another day off today, another local photo trip. I hope no-one here thinks that my photo tours in East Anglia are some sort of narcissistic attempt at educating others. Far from it. I'm so bloody lucky to have been born into a land of ancestors, that I want to share my time travel accounts with cousins here that today, live far away.

Warham Camp screamed out at me this morning. Never visited this one. An Iron Age site in North Norfolk. We call these monuments "hillforts" because in other parts of the British Isles they are often built on top of hills. Here in the lowlands of Norfolk, we don't have much in the way of hills. That doesn't mean that we didn't have an Iron Age. Iron Age Britain - is often referred to as Celtic Britain. I'm really not sure what Celtic is - I can see very clearly that it's different to different people. But, for myself, I understood Celtic as as the collection of loosely related Iron Age cultures of the British Isles and the Atlantic Seaboard of Western Europe.

The Romans went to lengths to describe and record the Late Iron Age "tribe" or nation of Norfolk as the Iceni (Ick-ean-ee). Local archaeologists have suggested that this was a Late Iron age confederation of smaller tribes, with at least three centres within what is now Norfolk. The Roman records mark the end of innocence, or prehistory.

Some of my earlier photo tours have emphasised that there were serious power shifts in Iron Age / Celtic Britain before the Claudian Invasion. Elites were shifting, and warring for access to Romano-Gallic trade across the Channel. However, this site, predates this flurry of politics, and is dated to construction around 200 BC or so. However, it's use, appears to have continued through to the Roman period.

On the way, I saw so many towers of so many medieval Norfolk churches. There are 700 parish churches in Norfolk, most of them medieval. You can't walk far before you see a tower. Often you see two or three. I did once read that Norfolk has more medieval church buildings than any comparable chunk of earth anywhere else. I don't doubt it. It is a monument to the agricultural success and national importance of Norfolk to Medieval England. Norwich was the second city only to London until the 18th Century.

I couldn't resist this beautiful round tower example at Little Snoring:



Google Earth took me through miles of beautiful May single carriageway roads to this:



The local information board was good:



I enter the site:







A site needs to be seen in it's landscape:





I can't resist a little molehill archaeology:





Looks like prehistoric ceramic, but maybe Bronze Age. I put it back. One last look:



Then I drove a few miles north to Wells-Next-To-Sea in order to eat whelks. I love the sea air:


Another time travel.


Our Norfolk wherrymen ancestors of Reedham


Image above by Snapshots Of The Past (Wherry leaving Wroxham England) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I've long wondered about some of the ancestors of my great grandmother Flo Curtis, on my mother's side.  She was born at Freethorpe, Norfolk in 1884, as Florence Key.  She is standing in the below photo, on crutches, behind my grandfather who is holding his daughter:


Florence's father, George Key, was a local carpenter of Freethorpe, and her mother was born as Sarah Goffen at the nearby riverside village of Reedham in 1853.  Here is Sarah, standing behind my grandparents wedding in 1932:


Sarah most likely met young George Key through trade links from her late father, Richard Goffen, who is recorded on census as a master carpenter of Reedham.  He was also recorded as an inn keeper or publican at a pub that was called the Brick Kiln at Reedham, close to the river.  Reedham was an important river side parish along the River Yare.  The river connected the medieval City of Norwich to the North Sea via Great Yarmouth. Rich pastures lay to the east of the village on the marshes of the Halvergate Triangle, which with Breydon water, once formed a great sea estuary.  A ferry crossed the strong tidal waters of Reedham.


Now, I have indeed found the evidence that the Goffens of Reedham were involved with the Wherry trade.  Until the late 18th Century, most cargo and passengers along the Broadland waterways of East Norfolk were carried by the old square mast long boats known as the Norfolk Keel:


Then from the early 18th Century, a newer series of vessel designs started to take over on the lowland waterways of the Norfolk Broads, that featured a high-peaked sail with the mast stepped well forward.  They corresponded with a great age of Norfolk windmills and wind pumps.  The classic Norfolk wherry.


Nancy at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The men that sailed them were often regarded as a particular breed.  They lived on the waterways, in small cabins fitted with a stove.  Moving cargoes and in some cases, passengers, between Norwich and the port of Great Yarmouth.  In 1833, a new canal named the Haddiscoe Cut, was opened up near to Reedham, that also allowed vessels to trade to Lowestoft in Suffolk.  The watermen carried cargoes of coal, timber, lime, chalk, cement, ale, grain, and other goods up and down the waterways of East Norfolk.

My ancestor, Richard Goffen was a riverside carpenter and inn keeper at Reedham, and almost certainly was involved with this trade.  I've suspected that for a while, but now I can see just how deeply his family were involved.  A census records that two of his brothers, Edward Goffen born at Reedham in 1793, and John Goffen born there ten years later were both indeed, watermen, with John specifically recorded as a Wherryman.  Brother Edward Goffen was also an inn keeper at another riverside Reedham pub, the Lord Nelson.  The whole family appear to have been involved with river trade, with a fourth brother, James Goffen born at Reedham in 1806 being recorded as a lime burner and coal merchant.  Without a doubt his coal, chalk, and lime were being transported along the river, possibly by his brothers.  As a family, they appear to have been particularly successful in this trade.  Wherries were being built at Reedham, and I suspect that our ancestor may have been involved as a carpenter in the boat building trade.

All four Goffen brothers were born at Reedham, to Richard and Judith Goffen (nee Shepherd). Richard the senior was most likely born at nearby Strumpshaw in 1731.  I have no record of his occupation, but I wonder if he was also involved in the river trade, that inspired his four sons.

Marriage of Richard Goffen (senior) to Judith Shepherd at Reedham in 1793.  This was his second marriage, after his previous wife Ann (nee Mingay) passed away.

Their son, Richard Goffen (junior) also married twice. I believe that his first wife was one Elizabeth Scarll, who he married at nearby Cantley in 1821.  In 1843, he married our ancestor Elizabeth Nicholls, who then at the age of 21, was no less than 27 years his junior.  This didn't stop them having seven children between then and 1860.  Clearly his trade supported him well at the Brick Kiln inn.

Richard (junior) died in 1861.  Elizabeth went on to marry again, this time to a Matthew Bush of Freethorpe.

That's my family link to the classic icon of the Norfolk Broads.  The Norfolk Wherry.

Tas Valley - Local Day Trip

Another day off from work. I didn't want to go far today, the weather has turned pretty poor for photography and travel. So a couple of very close sites here in Norfolk. According to current genetic studies of the British Isles, the Roman period doesn't seem to have had any noticeable impact on the population genetics of the British Isles. I think that they are missing something.


Venta Icenorum

First of all, on the Roman front, I visited the site of the Roman town Venta Icenorum, at Caister St Edmund. A display at the site displays this geophysical display, and the following relief:





Entering the field, this is what it looks like:



Heritage groups have preserved the current site by protecting it from cultivation - hence the sheep. The town sat in the valley of a very small river called the Tas. The site is several miles to the south of it's medieval equivalent, Norwich. Questions are being asked, why was it here? The Romans of course were urban people, that controlled from towns, but why here? It was first laid out as a grand plan some decades after the local Boadiccan Rebellion. No sign of significant Iron Age on the site, but some suggestion of a nearby Roman military encampment.



The town has gone, and is best viewed with geophysical maps or by aerial reconnaissance photos. However, it's "defenses" or boundaries are still clearly visible.



The below is a nice feature. A clear perspex panel showing proposed building outlines over the field:



Years ago as I've said before here, I was a very keen voluntary field-walker, or as I'd have preferred "surface collection surveyor". So as I walk across the field, I can't help spotting Roman tile in the mole hills:



The area of Venta Icenorum is very rich in later Anglo-Saxon finds. They do seem to have been attracted to this site, even though the town had long been abandoned before they arrived from the Continent.



As is very common in both prehistoric, and Roman sites, a medieval church stands within the limits of the site. As a sign of continuity, as a scavenge of building material - but also in order to claim dominion over older beliefs, and a return to civilisation:



I hope that you enjoyed Caister St Edmunds. I still had some time to spare, so I decided to visit a site a few miles to the south in the same Norfolk river valley, that I hadn't visited before:


Tasburgh Enclosure

This one is an enigma. An enclosure in Norfolk. I always understood it as an Iron Age Hillfort. The word "hillfort" might not be appropriate in lowland Norfolk, especially as our iron Age enclosures were often in lowland river valleys. Norfolk has a long tradition of "doing different". Excavations have not found Iron Age finds! They have found some evidence of Anglo-Saxon activity, and an opposing hypothesis is that it was a prehistoric enclosure re-used during the wars with the Danes. My personal feeling is that it is late prehistoric, but wait and see - a sign that I found there today seems to suggest some fresh and local based communal research:



A local, rather mucky information board mapping the enclosure:



Outside the northern bank:



Once again, a medieval church sits inside the enclosure. This one, St Mary's, a classic Norfolk round tower job. I can also boast here, that this is one (there are many) of my own personal ancestral churches on my recorded ancestry. Two of my recorded direct ancestors married there in 1794:



I hope that someone out there enjoys my photo-reports.

A recent ancestral journey with the Daynes of Garvestone and Brandon Parva

An incredibly beautiful sunny day for mid April.  I had a day free, mustn't waste it.  Mustn't waste life.  So on the bicycle, no plan, or idea where I was going.  I ride just down the road intending to explore the local back roads, and I passed this old diesel train sitting at the Wymondham station of the Mid-Norfolk Railway, a heritage line that terminates close to my home. I couldn't miss the opportunity, so bought a ticket to the other end of the line at Dereham, and jumped on board the vintage train with my bike.

Dereham (formerly East Dereham), was the hometown of my father.  Thankfully I had very little cash with me, so could avoid the temptation of tasting the wares of the Dereham pubs.  The journey to Dereham slowly rattled along the old Mid Norfolk railway line.  Once there, I came up with the idea of cycling back to Wymondham via some of my ancestral parish churches.

Such a gorgeous day.  Perfectly warm enough in T shirt and shorts.  Yellow primroses.  Buzzards.  Narrow country lanes, hedrerows, and tracing the footsteps of some ancestors.  I followed a cycle route out of the Mid Norfolk market town, and headed for the village of Garvestone, where some of my mother's ancestors by the surname Daynes (or Daines), had lived during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The parish church at Garvestone is dedicated to St Margarets.  My 6 x great grandparents, Isaac Daynes and Mary Osborne, were married there in 1754.  I searched the grave yard for Daynes, but the only one that I found, was not of a direct ancestor.  I only found it with the help of a mapped index inside of the church, as the headstone had fallen down and was covered with lichens.  I literally excavated it from the vegetation:

Perhaps my Daynes ancestors were unable to afford headstones.  I decided to next follow their tracks.  They later moved a few miles to the parish of Brandon Parva.  Back on the bike:

I had to ride up a hill through a farm yard to reach the pretty church of All Saints at Brandon Parva:

My 4 x great grandfather Reuben Daynes was baptised here in 1785.  He later moved with his family to Besthorpe near to Wymondham, where my great great grandmother Sarah Daines was later born.  After visiting this church, I carried on cycling home in the sunshine.  Beautiful day.

A Norfolk Rising - Kett's Rebellion

I just read "Robert Kett and the Norfolk Uprising" Joseph Clayton. First published 1912.

I have read the story years ago, but reading this book brought to me just how a significant, and underplayed story this was. I don't think that it is well known outside of Norfolk. 16th Century English peasants were rebelling against a background of both religious strife, and from economic changes in agriculture - where many people were being cast aside as surplus to requirement, as land owners enclosed the old medieval communal arable fields to replace the old commonwealth with sheep pastures, that were becoming more profitable. Many English peasants were losing their livelihoods and homes, while at the same time, laws were introduced to punish the homeless poor with whipping, mutilation, slavery, and hanging.

Peasants uprisings were popping up all over England, but often lacked leadership, and were easily suppressed. However, here in Wymondham in 1549, a local land owner named Robert Kett, and his brother William, sided with the rebels, destroyed their own enclosures, then joined them. Robert Kett led the rebellion to the walls of the nearby City of Norwich. At it's peak, his peasant army reached an estimated 20,000. An army to suppress them which included Italian knights was sent from London. They were beaten by the peasants, who then took control of Norwich. Kett held courts in front of an oak tree, known as the "Tree of Reformation", on a wooded hill just outside of the City, where he held his main camp. Rebels captured wealthy landlords and farmers from the surrounding countryside, and they were tried for crimes against the people. None were executed. The maximum punishment was to be gaoled in the City. It seems that Kett was quite a humanitarian for his time, and in some ways reminds myself of another Norfolk man 300 years later, Thomas Paine.

A second more organised army with artillery was sent from London. The rebels withdrew from the City back to their hill camp. In the ensuing battle though, the rebels not only held, but appeared to be winning, to the point when the mayor and alderman started asking the army to leave. Then fresh reinforcements arrived from London, 1,500 Germanic knights. At the same time, desperate for resources, Kett abandoned his hill base, to fight the reinforced army in a dale on the edge of Norwich. This mistake cost him the battle. Some of the peasants bravely held out, to the point where the aristocratic general almost begged them to surrender, with personal promises of pardon. When they did surrender, he did of course, hang them, as was the practice in many suppressed uprisings in English history.

Robert and his brother were captured, tried in London, then brought back to Norfolk to be executed. Robert was hung and gibbeted from the walls of Norwich Castle. William was hung and gibbeted from the West Tower of Wymondham Abbey, only 150 yards from where I now live. 

From a population genetics point of view, I would be interested to know just how many ethnic German and Italians were in London at this time - that their mercenaries were so available to the Crown.

From a genealogical point of view, I do wonder if, or who any of my ancestors were in that 20,000 strong peasant army in 1549.

Spong Hill Anglo-Saxon Cemetery to Gressenhall Workhouse

I recently visited Sutton Hoo, the ship-burial ground of early East Anglian kings.  However, Sutton Hoo, in south-east Suffolk, isn't the only known focus for the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.  Another exists closer to me, in mid-Norfolk.  Today I took a local field/road trip!

This blurry poor quality photo of a field was taken by myself earlier today.  I had to endure hunting around with grid references, and thorn scratches in order to take that.  I'm pleased.  I know what the legendary Spong Hill looks like now.  It doesn't look much does it?  However, this field has had the hell dug out of it over the past 250 years.  Why?  Because it yielded thousands of finds.  It is the site of a large and important Anglo-Saxon cemetery.  It is thought that around 3,000 people ended up here, the majority cremated.  That's a significant cemetery - 2,200 cremations dated to between 410 AD and 550 AD have been recorded here.  Many accompanied by stamped Anglo-Saxon urns, including some displayed in the Norwich Castle Museum exhibit below:

Cremations appear to have been the favoured method of disposing the dead in this cemetery, although later burials do exist on the site.  However, many of the early cremations here must have included the first wave immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon homelands on the Continent.  The most famous single artifact find in this field must be "Spong Hill Man".  The ceramic figure from an urn lid in the image at the top of this page.

My field trip today didn't end there.  Next stop had to be in the same parish.  A premium Late Anglo-Saxon site.  Again, it's appearance disguises it's former importance.  A low level ruin of a Norman chapel.  It is however believed that previous to being used as a norman chapel, and later as a medieval castle, it was the site of the very first Cathedral of East Anglia.

Today North Elmham is a village in Norfolk.  However, Spong Hill, and later, the Cathedral site, suggest that to the early East Anglians, this parish held far more importance.  North Elmham in mid-Norfolk was the first known ecclesiastical centre of East Anglia.  After the Conquest, the mantle was passed to Thetford briefly, before moving to Bury St Edmunds.  If you were not informed otherwise, today, you would have no idea that this village had once played such an important part in East Anglian, and English history.  An early base of the Anglo-Saxons perhaps?  Spong Hill had indeed been used by a significant local community.

Indeed, another site has recently been excavated - a Middle Saxon (AD 650 - AD 850) cemetery, only a few miles north of North Elmham, at Great Ryburgh.  This newly recorded site has hit the archaeological headlines for it's water logged timber coffins.

I love archaeology and all sorts of heritage.  However, I'm primarily a genealogist.  I'm of the school that 1) we should tell a story, and 2) we should embrace local history, archaeology and population genetics in order to tell a deeper story.  So how can I link the above sites to my family history?  Quite easily.  You see, I have lot's of recorded ancestors from my father's side - just a few miles to the south of Spong Hill.  Not all of their ancestry would have likely originated with the customers of the Spong Hill cemetery, or have venerated the timber cathedral at North Elmham.  However, in all likelihood - some of them would have.

So on this field-road trip, I venture only a couple of miles from Spong Hill, to a 19th century site of my ancestry that has a story worth telling.

Gressenhall Workhouse.  Built in 1779 to house the poor of the local hundred.  It transformed into a less friendly place with the Poor Law Union Act.  I have joked that this is the family estate, as a number of my father's ancestors were associated with it.  As inmates unfortunately.  My 2xgreat grandfather William Bennett Baxter was born here in 1846:

His birth was illegitimate, and his mother, Eliza would have been a Jacket Woman:

He was not listed in the workhouse during the 1851 census.  He did later, on in a marriage register, claim William Bennett (who was a young but married local miller) to be his father.  His known ancestry was all local to the Dereham and mid-Norfolk area:

Could this be his initials that I today saw there on a wall in what use to be the boy's courtyard?

He married Harriet Barber who had also been born in Gressenhall Workhouse!  She was born there in 1847.  Harriet was also of a local family - and one with a history of illegitimacy.  The below pedigree chart is of her mother, also Harriet Barber, born at nearby Swanton Morley in 1826:

Her family were mainly in Swanton Morley - and with that high level of illegitimacy, I have tongue-in-cheek, suggested that as Abraham Lincoln's paternal line were in that same village, that we could be related there.  The point that I'm making is that these were local, rural, poor people, with most likely, local ancestry in that area.  The people inhumed at Anglo-Saxon cemeteries nearby most likely did count within at least a part of their ancestry.

So both William and Harriet were born illegitimate in the workhouse at Gressenhall.  The surprise that follows is that so were their first two children some years later.  Then they settled down in the Swanton Morley and Northall Green area near to Dereham.

I'll finish off this photo-blog of today's journey through ancestry with a simple photo, of a local lane in the area: