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 – 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 –

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.

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.

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.


Centre of East Anglian Studies – Winter Lecture Series 2013

The Centre of East Anglian Studies winter lecture series will begin in February, with lectures from Dr Carenza Lewis, Professor Helen Cooper and Dr Jessica Sharkey.

Our first lecture, by Carenza Lewis, will present the results of more that 1,000 excavations conducted in rural villages, hamlets and small towns across the eastern region by members of the public, and consider the new light that the results throw upon the impact of the Black Death on the region.

Dr Carenza Lewis is an archaeologist based at the University of Cambridge. She is widely recognised for 13 years spent on the innovative, long running and award-winning Channel 4 archaeological series Time Team, and more recently for her involvement in Michael Wood’s The Great British Story. Outside of her television appearances, Dr Lewis has long-standing research interests in settlement development in medieval England. Since 2004 she has developed and run the Access Cambridge Archaeology programme  at the University of Cambridge. This aims to enhance educational, economic and social well-being through active participation in novel, important, fun and challenging archaeological activities. Members of the public, including school children, make new discoveries about themselves and the world around them, develop new skills and confidence,efficacy of ACA programmes, while the results of more than 1,000 Access Cambridge Archaeology excavations in rural villages, hamlets and small towns are providing important new evidence about medieval society and economy.

We do hope you will be able to join us on Thursday 7th February, at 7:15pm in Lecture Theatre 1 at the University of East Anglia.

All lectures are free, and open to all.


January 2013 – Winter at UEA

UEA Snow Jan 2013

The view from our office, Tuesday 15th January 2013


A belated Happy New Year to everybody. We’ll be gradually updating and adding to the blog over the next few weeks – we have a number of projects in the pipeline and hopefully numerous field trips to report on. Tomorrow we ought to have been enjoying the sights of Catton Park (Repton’s first commission) but once again the weather has intervened. Still, at least when it starts to thaw all of those earthworks will show up beautifully…

Autumn in Norwich

After 12 years in Norwich we still take great delight in wandering around the city, particularly on sunny autumnal afternoons. We’ll usually set off with a vague plan of ‘heading for the Cathedral’ and see what takes our interest. Today it was a chance to finally go and see the Jarrold Bridge across the Wensum, a ‘J’ shaped footbridge close to St James’ Mill, as well as revisiting a number of old favourites.

Trinity United Reformed Church, Unthank Road, Norwich. Designed by Sir Bernard Feilden.

St Giles, Norwich. Repair work currently being carried out on the tower.

Norwich Cathedral.

Repairs and repointing at Pulls Ferry.

Norwich Cathedral and the Great Hospital, seen from the riverside path along the Wensum.

Jarrold Bridge. A small but rather wonderful new footbridge across the Wensum designed by Ramboll.

Quay Side, River Wensum. Middle Saxon Norwich got going here (and on the other bank). They’d have probably enjoyed a J-shaped bridge too.

Upcoming Events

CEAS Research Seminars

This week sees the start of the Centre of East Anglian Studies research seminar series. The series kicks off on Thursday 8th November with a paper by Margaret Bird on ‘Drunkenness and Debt: the struggle of Norfolk innkeepers under the brewer’s yokr 1770-1810′. Margaret’s research is based largely on the detailed diaries of Mary Hardy, a brewer’s wife from Coltishall in Norfolk.

A more detailed synopsis of the paper, and more information on the Mary Hardy project itself is available on the project website.

The seminar will take place on Thursday, at 6:30pm in Room 2.16 of the Arts II building at the UEA – all are very welcome to attend.

A Celebration of Archaeology in West Norfolk

On Saturday 24th November Sarah Spooner, Jon Gregory and Rob Liddiard will be giving papers at a one day conference in Kings Lynn to celebrate 45 years of the West Norfolk and Kings Lynn Archaeological Society. Other speakers include Dr Richard Hoggett on the Anglo Saxon period in west Norfolk, Dr John Davies on the Iron Age and Roman period and Dr Clive Bond on prehistoric west Norfolk.

The conference is free and all are welcome, but booking is essential. All the details are in the conference poster, which can be downloaded by clicking on this link – WestNorfolkArchaeologyConference_121124[1]

Hope to see some of you there!