Friday 12th May 2017
‘Norfolk Archaeological Trust (NAT)’ is a unique charity. Founded in 1923, it is still the only county Trust in England dedicated to the conservation of archaeological sites through purchase and good management and our work today is at one of their sites. The Roman site at Caistor-St-Edmunds, Venta Icenorum.
This site, which is only about three miles from Norwich City centre, has become increasingly popular as a visitor attraction in recent years. ‘NAT’ acquired the site in 1984 and eight years later bought the land surrounding the walled area. A programme of site management was established, both to permit public access and presentation and to ensure the highest possible standards of conservation of the monument from the standpoints of both archaeology and wildlife.
One feature of the improvements made by the ‘Trust’ was to improve the parking facilities, which in turn helped to promote the popularity of the site and is now a favourite with the general public and dog walkers in particular.
In an effort to improve access to parts of the site, the ‘Trust’ asked the ‘Norwich Fringe Project (NFP)’ to carry out some of this work. Although the site is owned by NAT, management of the site is carried out with the support of ‘South Norfolk District Council (SNDC)’. As NFP is partially funded by SNDC, we (Matt) were the nominated organisation (rather than SNDC’s own direct labour force) to carry out the ‘kissing gate project’.
We were to replace a stile with a ‘kissing gate’, repair a kissing gate on the southern ramparts and create a new access point on the eastern perimeter fence close to the church, in the form of a kissing gate.
Now installing two new kissing gates in one day is more than enough for us volunteers but if you hit a major obstacle then time just runs away with you and the project for the day is not completed. Our problem kissing gate was the one which was to replace a stile. This is situated on the eastern side of the site and lies in the valley created by the remains of the Roman wall and Stoke Road and is adjacent to the access track to the Church. It is there because the sheep, which keep the grass on the site under control have access to this part of the ‘valley’, which is a walk way along this side of the wall.
The problems arose when digging the post holes for the gate and the problem was underground rubble. Large chunks of flint, brick and what looked like lime mortar. My theory is that the rubble is the remains of the Roman wall, which was plundered for building material in the past, and the unwanted bits of the wall were discarded and ended up in the bottom of the ‘valley’ – where we were digging. Of the five post holes that were initially dug, only one remained in its original position. The most important post (the one on which the gate is hinged) has to be a little deeper than the other four as it carries a lot more weight. Moving the gate to another location was not an option, so we had to carry on where we were and dig out the rubble by hand without making the hole too big. All sounds very easy but when the hole is deeper than the length of your arm and you are trying to pull out lumps of flint by hand, suddenly time is against you.
We eventually finished but by then we were on overtime which meant ‘double time’ pay, by then Matt was getting a bit twitchy about getting the gate finished; we couldn’t leave the site unsecure because of the sheep (Matt’s always thinking about the labour costs!!!).
The other gate was straight forward and was completed with time to spare, so we will have to return another day to complete the work on the third kissing gate and carry out some other maintenance work.