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NOTES OF AN ADDRESS PREPARED FOR THE NORFOLK AND NORWICH ARCHÆOLOGICAL SOCIETY ON THEIR VISIT
TO OXBOROUGH ON 16TH JULY, 1890,
EDWARD M. BELOE, F.S.A.
The Norfolk and Norwich Archæological Society made its excursion in full force of members to Oxborough, on Wednesday, 16th July, 1890, and a pleasant sight it was to see them assembled under the tower and spire of its fine church, rising grandly over the landscape, and to hear within it the kindly words of welcome, and clear, simple description given by the rector, its guardian and keeper; and interesting above all was it to see the many pilgrims under the magnificent chestnuts of the park, listening to Father Bodley giving afterwards the history of the beautiful hall—its splendid gateway of brick sending its coloured shadows flickering in the sunlight on the moat, and he, the priest and chaplain of the family, which through all the changes of the times had retained the religious traditions of its fathers. And when he had finished, the listeners seemed to wish for more. But there was much to be seen, and though I had prepared something, I thought it would be better that the short time should be taken up with enjoying the gardens, the buildings, the library, and the king's room, with their social and historical associations. If I had spoken then I should have said as follows.
ITS SITE BY THE GREAT FEN LAND.
Oxborough stands on a promontory, stretching into the great fen. Its name may imply a fort. Its central position, commanding as it does a great tract of country behind it, was chosen by our very early forefathers as a place of strength and protection. The fens come close up to the higher land on which Oxborough stands. To the north an arm of the fenland goes inland, extending eastward some two or three miles to Shingham; and the passage from the opposite promontory at Stoke to the settlement at Oxborough is at the entrance of this kind of gulf, over which the road is carried on a dam and bridge with the clear rushing stream in its midst. The causeway is some half mile long, and on either side of the road it still is little better than a lake full of water. At the head of this gulf lies Beechamwell—at the time of Domesday two townships—Well and Beecham, Beecham being on the upper reach. Thus this village was a township forming the “beach ” or shore to the sea-like fen, in the same way as we have Waterbeach and Wisbeach on the fen border; the great fen in all its parts, especially where there was most water, was called by the name of the Well. We have the Upwell and the Outwell, and close here, at the head of another gulf, the Feltwell. Matthew Paris, in describing King John's disaster at Cross Keys, calls the Nene the river of Well,
and it is this bordering on the Fens that gives its name and interest to Oxborough and its surroundings.
Another inlet of fen runs from this north boundary, and at the head of it is Barton, the Eastmoor in Barton. All this country was thickly settled. Beechamwell and Barton had both three churches, telling perhaps of early tribes. Northward from Oxborough, and running north and south, is that ridge which forms the eastern boundary of the fenland, and a grand view it is when we walk on the road on its top, passing from Crimplesham to Stoke, to look over the stretch of fen country to the towers of Ely. The foot of this ridge which borders the fen is perhaps richer than any in British remains, though little are they cared for there. I stated in my recent paper on the fen road 2 that my friends and guides there were the smaller owners of the district. In my search in my own county, I have found in their places the labourer and the gamekeeper. Those that have the possession of the country now think the remains which tell of its past history far beneath their interest and care, and along this line the destruction has simply been disgraceful. A grand find was made at West Dereham, on the slope of this coast line of the fen, of vases of extreme interest and value. If you ask those whom you think would have the intelligence to take care of them, and by their position ought to do so, they know nothing whatever about them. At Wereham, fortunately, those of humble station have taken more care, and there is a fine collection of these remains still in existence in charge of an aged
1 To shew how much this is the fen, it may be mentioned that the fen part of the parish of Oxborough is taxed by the Fau Brink Commissioners, and the land also lying north, over which the road goes from Oxborough up some distance into the country, is taxed by them.
2 “ The Great Fen Road and its Path to the Sea,” Camb. Ant. Soc. Proceedings, vol. vii. p. 112. VOL. XIII.]
lady.' Still further on from Wretton, I have obtained some fine examples of stone celts and spear heads, and Fincham is a marked exception to the general indifference. It is just on this border which dips to the fens where the inhabitants seem to have rested, and where they have left these memorials. From Oxborough, from the very fen whose northward boundary I have just described, I have one of the finest flint weapons. The whole country teems with the remains of those early, very early settlers.
But we will return to Oxborough. It stands, I have said, on a promontory, having to its front the great fen itself, which runs up past it on the north. Southward the stream comes down from the hill, forming its protection on that side. And it is by this southern boundary that the earlier settlement appears to have been. Within this promontory, which was chosen for its natural defence, the land was covered with the remains of the life of early settlers. To the north-west was the trench, to the south-west were the tumuli and those curious depressions of the earth which until recent times were called Danes' graves, and by the side of what now is the rectory is the chapel, which marks probably the site of the older borough, and around which for acres are found the remains of many hundreds of those that were buried there. At the back, on the east side, runs the ancient way over Langwade—the Long Ford—and beside it the ancient Cross still called the Langer (Langwade) Cross.
THE DYKES. But it is not within Oxborough itself that all the interest of the country remains. From Narborough, where the British Camps still are, and which at Oxborough are gone, until it is lost in the village of Beechamwell, runs due south the upper portion of the
1 These are now in my Collection.