About UEA Landscape History

The Landscape History Group is based in the School of History at the University of East Anglia.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown

2016 will be the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown – the most well-known landscape designer of the eighteenth century (and probably of any century). As landscape historians we are interested in Brown and his work for a number of reasons – his landscapes are works of art in their own right, and by studying them we can understand the changing nature of society and culture in the eighteenth century. We can study their archaeology – earthworks, trees, lakes and buildings, for clues about their development and how they were created and maintained.

But how much do we know about Brown himself? He has been the subject of several biographies, including Jane Brown’s Omnipotent Magician (2012) and Dorothy Stroud’s Capability Brown, first published in 1950, and numerous other books and articles. We have recently completed a review of research on Brown for English Heritage which aimed to assess how much research has been done on Brown, but also where the gaps in our knowledge lie.

The park at Kimberley, landscaped by Brown in the 1760s.

The park at Kimberley, landscaped by Brown in the 1760s.

We held a workshop at UEA earlier this year to discuss our findings with a group of academics, researchers and representatives from organisations like English Heritage and the National Trust. This included a trip to Kimberley Hall in Norfolk, which was landscaped by Brown in the 1760s.

Professor Tom Williamson and other members of the group in the garden at Kimberley, including Professor Ian Rotherham, Dr Jonathon Finch and Dr Stephen Bending.

Professor Tom Williamson and other members of the group in the garden at Kimberley, including Professor Ian Rotherham, Dr Jonathon Finch and Dr Stephen Bending.

Looking at an ancient oak pollard in the Brown parkland, Kimberley in Norfolk.

Looking at an ancient oak pollard in the Brown parkland, Kimberley in Norfolk.

Our report has now been published as an English Heritage Research Report, and can be downloaded from their website. In it, we identify some of the problems of studying the life and work of Brown – many landscapes have been attributed to Brown which are probably not by him, whilst there are probably some Brown parks which have not been identified as such yet.

Despite his fame, there is still a lot that we don’t know about Brown and his work – hopefully the upcoming tercentenery will be a good opportunity to do more work on Brown, and to fill in those gaps in our understanding.

Download our research report on Capability Brown here.

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown: Research Impact Review Front Cover

Pathways to History – parishes of few paths

Following on from earlier posts about the density of rights of way in Norfolk, the map below highlights those parishes with the least dense networks of rights of way and those with no footpaths, bridleways or byways.

PROW map

Parishes shown in white are those with no public rights of way (in terms of footpaths/bridleways/byways). Parishes shown in blue are those with the least dense networks of rights of way.

The parishes with no public rights of way are:

Beeston St Andrew
Little Snoring
Pudding Norton
Shouldham Thorpe

A typical characteristic of these parishes is the presence of single dominant landed estate, often with a large park that accounts for most of the area of the parish. Anmer, Beeston and Houghton, for example, are all parishes where landscape parks dominate the landscape. The movement and closure of rights of way in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to create such landscapes is well documented, although will be the subject of further research as part of this project in terms of chronology and distribution. Other factors such as settlement shrinkage/desertion and military requisitioning (Stanford and Sturston) also loom large in the history of these parishes.

The following parishes all contain some rights of way, but in terms of density account for the 10 least dense networks in the county (excluding those parishes with no rights of way).

No Parish/Area PROW(m) per HECTARE
1 Kilverstone 0.08
2 Necton 0.13
3 West Walton 0.15
4 Scoulton 0.16
5 Morton on the Hill 0.18
6 Litcham 0.27
7 Bradenham 0.29
8 Spixworth 0.32
9 Hilborough 0.32
10 Sandringham 0.39

These parishes continue the predominant east/west divide seen across the county and again the presence of large landed estates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seems to be the key factor in most cases (e.g. Hilborough, Kilverstone, Sandringham). However, the figures are also misleading in some ways. For example Sandringham today is, by Norfolk standards, a very large parish covering over 4,000 hectares (making it the fifth largest in the county) and contributing to its low density value. Furthermore this fails to take account of the land which is now accessible to those visiting the Sandringham estate; or the nature reserves at Dersingham Bog and Wolferton Fen.

Sandringham and surrounding parishes in the 1880s. A typical nineteenth-century estate landscape in west Norfolk - parkland, plantations and large enclosed fields (most of which tend not to go hand in hand with dense networks of footpaths...)

Sandringham and surrounding parishes in the 1880s. A typical nineteenth-century estate landscape in west Norfolk – parkland, plantations and large enclosed fields (most of which tend not to go hand in hand with dense networks of footpaths…)

Pathways to History – Mapping Density

Following on from yesterday’s post, these maps show patterns of density across the county, this time taking account of roads as well as public rights of way. In each case the density of routeways has been worked out in terms of metres per hectare.

Public Rights of Way (Footpaths, Bridleways, Byways)

PROW map 1

Density of public rights of way in Norfolk. Blues and greens = low density; oranges and reds = high density.

Highest = Wacton (59m per hectare)

Lowest = A number of parishes with no public rights of way (more on this to follow in another post)

Public Roads (excluding PROW)

Road density map

Density of roads in Norfolk  (blue = low; yellow = medium; red = high)

Highest = Norwich (102m of public road per hectare)

Lowest = Sturston (0m of public road per hectare)

Public Roads and Public Rights of Way

Roads and Prow Map

Combined density of Public rights of way and public roads.

Highest = Norwich (103m per hectare) Sheringham a close second with 101m

Lowest = Sturston (no public roads, no public rights of way)

As research and mapping progress we hope to be able to look in more depth at changing densities over time. It has already become clear from examining seventeenth and eighteenth-century maps of a number of places that processes such as parliamentary enclosure could dramatically reduce the number of paths and roads within a parish. However, in some cases similar processes are evident even in parishes which were untouched by enclosure acts.

Pathways to History – A question of density

When looking at patterns of rights of way across Norfolk some are unsurprising, such as the greater number of footpaths and lanes in the south east of the county and the relative sparseness of the north west. Examining the historic development of such contrasts will form a key part of our Pathways to History project, but as we sort through the results of fieldwork and documentary research we’ve started to explore and map a range of other patterns.

Firstly, we’ve been looking at the modern density of rights of way (footpaths, bridleways and byways), calculated in terms of metres of rights of way per hectare of each parish. On this basis the densest network of rights of way is to be found in the parish of Wacton, to the west of the A140 near Long Stratton. Anyone who has ever looked at an Ordnance Survey map of this area won’t be surprised by this – the mesh of paths and tracks across and around Wacton Common is striking even in an area with as many footpaths as south Norfolk. It might reasonably be expected that the other most densely ‘pathed’ parishes in Norfolk would be in this area, but the distribution of the top ten is rather more widespread.

The top ten parishes in Norfolk on the basis of density of rights of way (metres per hectare)

The top ten parishes in Norfolk on the basis of density of rights of way (metres per hectare)

No Parish/Area PROW(m) per HECTARE
1 Wacton 59.95
2 Thurne 54.57
3 Downham West 40.00
4 Beeston Regis 39.59
5 East Beckham 37.82
6 New Buckenham 36.56
7 Burston and Shimpling 33.25
8 Runton 31.07
9 Yelverton 30.75
10 Drayton 30.37

Looking at these in a little more detail they can be divided into a number of categories. Firstly, there are those parishes which have high densities due to their diminutive areas, such as New Buckenham and Yelverton. Secondly there is Downham West, which scores highly here by virtue of the long bridleways and byways which follow the course of fenland rivers and dykes. Thirdly there are those parishes, such as Wacton and Runton where areas of common land survived much later than elsewhere in Norfolk. Indeed, Runton is one of the few places in this region where open field strips survived late enough to be included on the first edition six inch and twenty five inch Ordnance Survey maps of the 1880s. Drayton is a somewhat surprising entry in the top ten, particularly as there appear to be very few rights of way on modern maps. However, the definitive map for Norfolk includes a cluster of footpaths around Drayton Wood and Canham’s Hill which help to explain the results above. You can see them on Norfolk County Council’s interactive map here – http://www.countrysideaccess.norfolk.gov.uk/interactive-map.aspx

Runton Map

Strip fields around Runton on the north Norfolk Coast as shown on the OS 6″ to 1 mile map of the 1880s.

Further research, both fieldwork and documentary, will undoubtedly shed more light on these patterns; and on the more detailed history of rights of way within individual parishes.

Pathways to History – July update

Throughout June and July our Pathways to History project has been making steady progress, with the results of fieldwork surveys coming in from all over the county. We’ve also been invited to visit a number of parishes to take part in walks with local groups, making the most of an unusually hot and dry summer. Back in June we went to Felmingham and Beachamwell, parishes at opposite ends of the county but with some similarities in landscape terms due to their sandy soils and heaths. Until the nineteenth century many of Norfolk’s heathlands were criss-crossed by dense networks of tracks, many of which disappeared as parishes were enclosed. Walking from Felmingham church to Bryant’s Heath we followed one such track (now a public footpath) which has survived, crossing the heath and then leading on towards North Walsham. A number of other tracks can also be seen on the heath, some of them significantly sunken.

Felmingham Footpath

Footpath between Felmingham church and Bryant’s Heath, NE Norfolk.

The landscape around Beachamwell, as with many parts of Breckland, is today dominated by large scale agriculture. However, it is also covered by an extensive network of footpaths, the history of which is currently being researched by a group of local people working with the CPRE. We enjoyed an atmospheric late evening walk around some of these paths and lanes via Shingham and what was once Beachamwell rabbit warren. Once again we were struck by the richness of some of the lanes in terms of ancient trees and boundary earthworks, in a landscape more readily associated with the hawthorn hedges and conifers of modern fields and plantations. Beachamwell contains numerous important archaeological sites and it will therefore be interesting to see how the routeways within the parish have both influenced and been shaped by past activity.

Beachamwell Track

Looking back towards Shingham and Beachamwell from a track leading to Langwade Green.

Boundary marker

An eighteenth-century boundary stone (marked ‘PB’), now lying in a hedge near Beachamwell.

At the start of July we spent a morning exploring paths and lanes in Reepham, along with 30 eager assistants from Reepham Primary School’s year 3 class, the Avocets. Our walk included a very impressive holloway between Mill Road and Whitwell Road (see below) and an oak pollard on Back Lane with a circumference of 7 metres. The class provided plenty of thoughtful observations and more than a few challenging questions!

In addition to working on the Pathways to History project Reepham and Beachamwell (along with Thompson and Horning) are also taking part in the CPRE’s Connecting Threads: Exploring Our Footpaths project, which aims to “raise awareness and enrich knowledge of public rights of way so that local communities value them and (literally) explore them more, and are encouraged to engage in monitoring and protecting them”. You can find out more on the project website.

CPRE Project Page

Our most recent visit was to the parish of Carbrooke, one of many splendid examples in Norfolk of a small village with an enormous parish church. In the field to the south of the church are the earthwork remains of the commandry or preceptory of the Knights of St John. As with Beachamwell, it will be interesting to see what connections can be made between such a significant site and the current pattern of roads, lanes and paths in the parish.


Looking north towards Carbrooke from the end of a short footpath running between Summer Lane and Mill Lane.

An All Our Stories Weekend

Last weekend we were busy working with a number of local history groups as part of our Ideas Bank project, supporting groups who have secured an All Our Stories grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

On Saturday we ran a workshop on ‘Writing Up Your Research’ in a very sunny Cromer. We talked about different kinds of writing, how to write for different audiences and how to get the writing process started. There was lots of discussion about how to write as a group, and the importance of editing and reviewing work. The groups who attended (Quatrefoil, West Deeping Heritage Group and Little Waldingfield History Society) went away looking forward (we hope!) to getting stuck in to the writing-up process.

Andy and Sue from Little Waldingfield History Society and Maggie from West Deeping Heritage Group at the 'Writing Up Your Research' workshop.

Andy and Sue from Little Waldingfield History Society and Maggie from West Deeping Heritage Group at the ‘Writing Up Your Research’ workshop.

We will be running a number of other workshops over the summer, and into the autumn, for the groups we are working with – more details are on the Ideas Bank blog.

On Sunday, along with a handful of students, we went down to Suffolk to help with the Hoxne Heritage Group’s community dig in collaboration with the Suffolk Archaeology Unit. Hoxne is well known for its association with King Edmund, and for the Hoxne Hoard, a huge number of Roman coins and other artefacts found in 1992 by Eric Lawes, who was helping with the dig this weekend.

Jon and Simon excavated a very neat test pit, but unfortunately it didn’t contain many finds – they were philosophical in that sometimes no evidence is as interesting as a great many finds…

Test Pit 29 - opened by Jon and Simon, who found a large tree root and a handful of finds.

Test Pit 29 – opened by Jon and Simon, who found a large tree root and a handful of finds.

Sarah and Imogen hit upon a 19th and 20th century rubbish dump in a back garden which contained a mass of finds, including a handful of late medieval pottery sherds amongst the willow pattern. Josh helped with a test pit in a back garden near the boundary of the medieval park, before carrying on with Sarah and Imogen’s pit on Monday.

MA student Imogen Wegman working on Test Pit 4, which contained lots of 19th century pottery.

MA student Imogen Wegman working on Test Pit 4, which contained lots of 19th century pottery.

Two trays of finds from Test Pit 4 - mostly post-medieval and modern.

Two trays of finds from Test Pit 4 – mostly post-medieval and modern.

The full results of the dig will now be analysed by the Suffolk Archaeology Unit, but medieval pottery was recovered from a number of pits. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share some of the results here soon.

Pathways to History – Little Walsingham

Last week we made the most of the good weather and joined a group who were looking at the paths and lanes in and around Little Walsingham. We started off on an unclassified road to the south of the Abbey, leading to Great Snoring. Nineteenth-century maps show it as part of the wider road network but, unlike the roads which join it at either end, it has never been surfaced. It is clearly a well-established landscape feature: there are a number of large oak pollards along its length, as well as some significant field maple coppice stools. It is also notable that the first section of the lane forms part of the parish boundary between Little Walsingham and Houghton St Giles.

Walsingham Lane.

Lane between Little Walsingham and Great Snoring. The start of the lane is followed by a parish boundary and contains a number of large oak trees in its hedgerows.

Lanes such as this provide a good illustration of the way in which elements of earlier landscapes can be preserved, even where there has been intensive agricultural use in the surrounding area.

Walsingham Lane

Walking towards Great Snoring. This is the same lane as in the photograph above, though narrower and more overgrown at this point.

From Great Snoring we followed a path running along the edges of fields from Top Farm to Hill House Farm. Great Snoring was subject to a parliamentary enclosure act in 1811, which presumably shaped the landscape of this part of the parish – the paths follow straight hawthorn hedges around neatly rectangular fields. The paths are shown on late 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps, but appear only in part on the Tithe Award map of 1840 (leading to a gravel pit in one of the adjoining fields).

Great Snoring footpaths

Following field-edge footpaths in the north west corner of the parish of Great Snoring.

Returning to Little Walsingham via Abbey Farm we came across our first significantly sunken path, dropping down the hill towards the farm and parish church. The cows in the photo below show some indication of the variation in ground level. The distribution and depth of sunken paths and lanes is one of the factors we’ll be exploring as part of the Pathways project, in an attempt to understand how it relates to patterns of soil, slope and usage.

Little Walsingham footpath

Sunken path in Little Walsingham, leading to Abbey Farm

Thanks to all those who helped on the day, clearly showing the benefits of several pairs of eyes!

You can look at these paths on a range of historic maps and aerial photographs on the Norfolk Historic Map Explorer website (starting at grid reference 593142, 335924), and find out more about the Pathways to History project on our website – www.uea.ac.uk/history/pathways

Fifty Years of the UEA – Public Lectures

UEA50 Poster

As part of the UEA’s 50th anniversary celebrations there will be a series of free lectures taking place on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th June. All lectures will be at the Forum in Norwich, in The Curve Auditorium.

The lectures will be covering a broad range of topics and disciplines – you can download the full running order here.

In particular we would urge you to make space in your diaries for the following:

Tuesday 4th June – 11.00am

Professor Tom Williamson – How ‘natural’ is ‘natural’? Historical perspectives on Norfolk woods, heaths and commons.

Tuesday 4th June – 4.00pm

Professor Stephen Church – King John, Magna Carta and the East Anglians

You can find out more about various events taking place to celebrate the 50th anniversary here.


Pathways to History

We are excited to be able to post about a new landscape history project that we will be running over the course of the year.

Public Footpath

Pathways to History aims to investigate the history of public rights of way in Norfolk. The antiquity of the footpath network has never been fully researched and we are interested in a number of questions:

• How old are footpaths and green lanes in Norfolk?

• How has the number of public rights of way changed in the past?

• Do footpaths and green lanes have a distinct archaeological character?

• What were footpaths and green lanes used for in the past?

• Are there any local names or traditions associated with them?

• How do footpaths and green lanes relate to the wider landscape?

Green Lane

We are looking for volunteers from across the county to take part in the project – to help us carry out surveys of footpaths and green lanes and to carry out archival research into their history. We will be able to provide help, advice and training on fieldwork and research to both individuals and community groups.

We hope that surveying the physical character of footpaths and green lanes will help us to understand more about their history and development. Very old lanes and paths are often characterised as being deeply sunken or eroded, with species rich hedges and distinctive flora like bluebells, primroses and dogs mercury. On the other hand, unbounded footpaths are not always so clearly physically defined. How does this relate to the history and development of green lanes and footpaths? We are also interested in trying to trace the changing number of footpaths and lanes in Norfolk – many parishes were affected by processes like Parliamentary enclosure, so what impact did this have on the footpath network?

We will be running a series of introductory training sessions towards the end of May, and can also run training sessions with community groups who are interested in taking part.

More details are on the project website – http://www.uea.ac.uk/history/pathways

If you are interested in getting involved then please contact Dr Sarah Spooner by email or telephone – s.spooner@uea.ac.uk

01603 592663