Archaeology at Oxburgh Hall

Man digging in the ground as part of an archaeological dig

Have you ever wondered what’s hidden beneath the surface at Oxburgh Hall? We know from old maps, archaeological surveys and the research we’ve carried out to date, that there’s more to Oxburgh than first meets the eye.

There is evidence of two Roman villa sites, an early Saxon cemetery and a number of ring ditches scattered across the wider parish, that likely date back to the Bronze Age. In 1988 a ceremonial dirk was found in My Lord’s Wood, which was part of the original historic estate. This oversized Bronze Age dagger is now on display in the British Museum and supports what we know, that people have occupied the village of Oxborough since the pre-historic period.

The ghosts of buildings

A medieval settlement

When you arrive at Oxburgh Hall, did you know that beneath the car park are the likely remains of a medieval settlement? A road lined with buildings can be seen on old maps, which would have once formed part of the village, before the road was re-routed to where you drive in today. According to these maps, another medieval settlement is likely to exist within the wider parkland.

Old service buildings

If you stand with your back to the old entrance gate and look towards the gatehouse, you’ll see two areas of lawn on either side of the path. Trees now stand tall here, but beneath the surface are the remnants of the original service buildings. Old maps reveal a laundry, brewery, bakehouse, stables and possibly even kitchens. These were taken down before the 18th century, when the kitchen was incorporated into the hall and new stables built to the rear of the Kitchen Garden.   

The Great Hall

The description of this building is impressive. Demolished in the 1770s, it was rebuilt for another purpose during the extensive renovations of the Victorian period and is where you enter the house today. During prolonged dry summers, you can see parch marks on the lawn to the rear, which is part of the footprint of the original building and where a porch would have served as a back entrance to the hall.

Oxburgh’s hidden garden features

Oxburgh’s water garden

Did you know that there was once an elaborate water garden at Oxburgh Hall? Recorded at a time when the family were prospering, they were positioned close to where the formal gardens are now, next to the stream. This garden underwent several alterations based on what we can see from old maps, and included a circular waterway, swan pens and likely fish ponds. It was removed as a formal feature before the 1800s. 

Unusual oyster stone

Okay, so this is more of a geological discovery rather than an archaeological one, but deserves a mention nonetheless. In the Wilderness where two paths meet, you’ll find an unusual boulder, composed of hundreds of fossilised oyster shells. Dredged from the River Wissey, it shows how Victorian owners were interested in unusual and interesting things and liked to create points of interest around the garden. The University of East Anglia who helped analyse the bolder, have dated the oyster fossils back 165 million years – making it officially the oldest item in our care at Oxburgh.

Revealing Home Covert’s secrets

We’d love to do more archaeological surveys within this area of the estate in the future, to determine where traces of ponds, ditches and any other anomalies might be buried beneath the surface. 

The remains of a mill 

We know that there was a water mill in Home Covert until the 18th century, although we have very little information about the mill itself. It’s likely to date back to Tudor times, if not earlier. Our theory as to why it was taken down relates to its position on the River Gadder, as water would have had to be held further upstream and released to drive the mill, making it relatively inefficient. 

A burnt mound

Something else we’ve discovered in Home Covert is a pre-historic ‘burnt mound’. Burnt mounds are fairly common, but unploughed ones such as this are much rarer. These are mounds of shattered stones and charcoal that would have been used to heat water for cooking or bathing. This one at Oxburgh was ideally placed close to a water supply.

Oxburgh’s brick kilns

As you go further into Home Covert, you will find the remains of brick kilns. Initial excavations have revealed that the kilns are extremely well preserved and of an unusual design, with turret like reinforcements in each corner. They don’t date back early enough to have produced the medieval bricks that were used to build the hall, but the colour and fabric of the bricks does match those in the garden walls and cottages around the estate. 

The remains of one of Oxburgh's brick kilns
A brick kiln uncovered at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk
The remains of one of Oxburgh's brick kilns
Under the floorboards

We’re looking forward to carrying out more archaeology at Oxburgh Hall, as part of our big roof project. We’ll be working with archaeological surveyors before each phase of the building work, as we slowly raise the roof and reveal the building for the first time since the last work was carried out here. Then we’ll begin investigating the dust and inevitable underfloor finds, carrying out a graffiti survey and using dendrochronology to date the different phases of the building. It’s going to be an exciting project, so watch this space.